Knowing and understanding the culture of a person could go a long way in understanding his or her behavior. Likewise, it is beneficial to have a working knowledge of Jewish culture when reading and understanding the accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry documented in the Bible. John Chapter 8 recounts the story of how the Pharisees and Jewish leaders brought the woman to Jesus, who was caught in the very act of adultery. Since the writer did not disclose exactly what Jesus wrote on the ground, one might think that it was not really that significant. However, since the Master’s words had not moved the Scribes and Pharisees to conviction before, chances are good that the statement, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”, did not, alone, prick their hearts to the core. These religious leaders were well versed in their culture and traditions, having been trained in such from their mitzvah.
Jewish law stipulated that whenever someone was caught in adultery, both the man and the woman was brought before the priest (Problem #1). The priest would then write the names of the accused in the dust or dirt, along with the sin committed (Problem #2). The secret to understanding this passage lies in Jeremiah 17:13.
O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake Thee shall be ashamed. “And they that depart from Me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.”21st Century King James Version
The Lord, who is omnipotent, certainly knew the parties involved and the sin committed. Imagine their surprise and embarrassment when the absent party’s surname was written. (I wonder if it was one of them?) Jesus showed them they had forsaken obedience to the law, and with their actions, according to their sacred law, had forsaken God – “they turned away with “egg on their faces”. They knew this passage of sacred text. It had been recited yearly during the ceremony of Yom Kippur (from about age eleven). Jesus, the Messiah, had identified himself as the “Living Water” to which the passage foreshadowed. Instead of repenting and accepting Him, they departed one by one, from the eldest to the youngest, leaving the woman alone with Jesus.
The Lord then turned to the woman in love, not condemnation, and uttered the words that made her free. “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (paraphrased). Why did He not deliver her to be stoned to death according to the law? Certainly, He did not condone her actions. He forgave her to show you and I that there is no place too far, too deep, too high, or too wide, where His love cannot save. He sees beyond the pain, guilt, shame, and hurt, reaching out with the lifeline of hope and a future. He knows the background and circumstances that brought you to this place. Yet, He still saves, to the uttermost!
Crosswalk.com. “What Did Jesus Write on the Ground?” Accessed July 25, 2022. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-did-jesus-write-on-the-ground.html.
Preach It, Teach It. “What Did Jesus REALLY Write in the Sand?” Accessed July 25, 2022. https://preachitteachit.org/articles/detail/what-did-jesus-really-write-in-the-sand/.