Read John 8:1-11.
Early in the morning Jesus went to the temple, making himself available to teach those who would come. And a crowd of people did come, and he sat down to teach them. But suddenly, the scribes and the Pharisees interrupted Jesus’ teaching. They brought into the midst of the crowd a woman who they caught in the act of adultery.
They said to him: Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses commands us to stone her. What do you say?
They set all this up so they could trap Jesus. If he agreed to stone her, he would lose his reputation as a friend of sinners. If Jesus were to pronounce a sentence of death by stoning upon this woman, the type of people Jesus spent time with, prostitutes, corrupt tax collectors, and others in a fallen condition, might become unreachable.
Another aspect of this particular trap was that the Roman government had laws on the books that prevented the use of capital punishment by the Jews. So if Jesus were to pronounce a judgment of stoning, the Pharisees could turn him into the Roman government for violating Roman law.
On the other hand, if he doesn’t pronounce a judgment of stoning, the Pharisees can say he doesn’t abide by the law of Moses.
If you still don’t think this is a trap, consider the question: Where is the man? Adultery takes two but only one person is dramatically presented in the midst of the crowd. Some scholars speculate that the man was complicit in the plot with the Pharisees to set Jesus up.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened next. Jesus bends down and writes with his finger on the ground. As he does the Pharisees continue to chip at him.
Jesus stands up and says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Then he bends down and starts writing on the ground again.
After this, one by one, the accusers drop their stones and leave, beginning with the older ones. Eventually Jesus finds himself alone with the woman standing before him.
He stops writing, stands up, and says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She says, “No one, Lord.”
Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Finger Of God
It’s interesting to me that Jesus writes “with his finger on the ground.” Because of the scripture from Jeremiah: “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth . . .” (see Jeremiah 17:13)
And it was the finger of God that wrote the tenth commandment on the stone tablet, part of which is, “. . . you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife . . .” (Exodus 20:17)
And as Belshazzar drank wine from the vessels taken out of the Jewish temple, it was the finger of God that wrote on Belshazzar’s palace wall “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin,” where “Tekel” is translated, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.”
Now we see Jesus, God incarnate, writing with his finger in the earth. He might have written that part of the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” in which case every one of the men present would be guilty. (see Matthew 5:27-28)
And/or he might have written, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting,” followed by the names of the men present.
Or, as some Bible expositors have suggested, he might have written the names of the men present, with each name followed by the name of a woman he had sinful thoughts toward, or even sinful behavior with.
Whatever was written, it was written by the finger of God. And it pierced the souls of the men present. So much so, that every one of them dropped his stone and left.
By strict interpretation of the law, at least two witnesses were required to find an adulterer guilty. But now there was only Jesus and the adulteress. And Jesus, the one person who was without sin, the one person qualified to judge the woman, was without a second witness. So technically, she could not be condemned under the law.
What God Wants
I think this is a beautiful revelation of the heart of God. Sin is sin. Sin is destructive. If you know anyone whose spouse has committed adultery, you know the destructive power of this sin. The pain and devastation are deep and wide ranging. Adultery is a sin, and the wages of sin is death, the death of relationships. Jesus’ last words to the woman reveal that, for our own sake, God wants us to live a life free from sin.
And yet, God is looking for a way.
Whatever the sin, Jesus is looking for a way to show mercy. The same finger that wrote the ten commandments into the stone tablets, wrote something in the dirt to drive away the adulterous woman’s accusers, so God could save her from condemnation.
God wants to show you mercy. So He’s looking for a way He can spare you condemnation. Even if He has to get creative to find a way. Even if He has to get His hands dirty to find a way.
Even if it costs Him the life of His only Son.
God wants to show you mercy.
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
References and Resources:
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, InterVarsity Press, 1993
[Image of stone via pexels.com – Creative Commons]