A lovely story illustrating the value of virtuous living is personified in the tale of Susanna, found in the Apocrypha. While the Apocrypha is not canonical — some parts of it are true, others are not — the Lord taught the Saints, “whoso is enlightened by the spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom” (Doctrine and Covenants 91:5). We learn that there is much that is good in the Apocrypha and it can be discerned as we read under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
This is certainly true as we study Susanna, whose narrative is so compelling that it comprises a chapter in my book, "On to Victory: Women Empowered by the Gospel," set for release this spring by Deseret Book.
The wife of Joakim, a widely respected leader of the Jews in ancient Babylon, Susanna was “a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses” (Jerusalem Bible, Daniel 13:2–3).
While Joakim and Susanna practiced virtue, this was certainly not the case with all the elected leaders with whom Joakim associated. Two of the judges were evil and, “Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people’ ” (Jerusalem Bible, Daniel 13:5–6).
As was the custom of the day, this conclave of Jewish rulers frequently met at Joakim’s home. After they left, Susanna would often walk in the garden and sometimes bathe there. These two men noticed Susanna and, unknown to one another, began to secretly observe her “every day as she came to take her walk, (and) gradually began to desire her. They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue” (JB, Daniel 13:8–10).
When the two inadvertently stumbled on one another, they joined into a conspiracy. Shortly thereafter, one hot day, Susanna went to the garden to bathe. Her maids left and closed the garden gate after them. Out came the two men and demanded, “We want to have you, so give in and let us!” They followed their vulgar, lustful demand with a threat: “Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away” (JB, Daniel 13:19–22).
Susanna’s peril was real. The word of a woman would never overrule the testimony of two exalted judges in a court of law. To refuse their advances meant death, to accede meant violating laws of chastity and virtue before God. With a clear understanding of the choice before her, Susanna boldly proclaimed, “‘I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’ Then she cried out as loud as she could.” At her calls for help, the evil elders “began shouting too, putting the blame on her” (JB, Daniel 13:23–24).
True to their word, Susanna was charged and, on the basis of their testimony, convicted and sentenced to be stoned to death. At the verdict, Susanna’s only recourse was to cry out, “as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’ ” (JB, Daniel 13:42–43).
Although God’s purposes will be served and sometimes virtuous acts go unrequited in this life — though not in eternity — on this occasion the Lord heeded her cry. A young man in the crowd, Daniel, the same Daniel of the lion’s den fame, was “roused by the holy spirit” and stepped forward to Susanna’s defense. He challenged the testimony of the two judges, who for far too long had used their power to seduce and compel women to be immoral.
Daniel separated and interrogated each judge independently. When their testimony conflicted, Daniel charged them, “Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.” In keeping with the Law of Moses the two judges were the ones put to death and “the life of an innocent woman was spared that day” (JB, Daniel 13:59, 63).
Susanna’s commitment to virtue was impeccable. She embodied God’s command that we “should not fear man more than God” (Doctrine and Covenants 3:7). She prized chastity and sought God’s approval over the approval of the world.
One of Satan’s great tools is to encourage individuals to compromise God’s law of chastity and virtue, often one small misstep, then another, then another, until the individual inevitably topples off the cliff into a moral abyss. Thankfully, repentance can repair mistakes, but it's better they are not made.
Susanna sets a wonderful standard for those seeking to lead virtuous lives. Examples of virtue exist in the world today and more are greatly needed. Blessings and power from on high will be bestowed on those who hold fast to virtue.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World."