What did Jesus write in the sand? (John 8)
So, what exactly did Jesus write in the sand that day the Scribes and Pharisees brought the adulterous woman before Him (John 8:1-11)? Nobody knows for certain, the Bible does not disclose anything in the chapter other than He bent down to write in the sand. Whatever he wrote in the sand that day impacted the Scribes, Pharisees, and people watching so profoundly that they all walked away, one by one, until Jesus was left alone with the accused woman.
Let’s review the account in John 8 before going further into this topic:
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
Does the bible tell us by other means what Jesus wrote in the sand that day? Studying scripture often reveals deeper and more profound messages with each consideration. It is as if each time one carefully looks into it, more is revealed and the revelations get more extraordinary with every examination.
“For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” ~Hebrews 4:12
Looking into the account in John 8 can bring deeper revelation if you understand what Jesus wrote in the sand and why.
Of course, there are several theories as to what Jesus may have written in the sand. One theory is that Jesus wrote the name of each man holding a stone, from oldest to youngest. This would be a supernatural event of such magnitude that when they saw Jesus knew their name, they dropped their stone in conviction, shock and awe, knowing precisely whose midst they were currently standing. I’m not so sure about that. Simply identifying each man by name would not necessarily freak them out so much that they would drop their rocks and walk away. These were devout, law-abiding Jews, stone in hand, ready to do their civil duty. You would think they would get down on their knees and tearfully beg the Lord for their forgiveness. Or at the very least, stick around and see how Jesus was going to solve the conundrum the Scribes and Pharisees had set for Him with this scenario. Their reaction just doesn’t make sense, at least not to me.
These were devout, law-abiding Jews, stone in hand, ready to do their civil duty. You would think they would get down on their knees and tearfully beg the Lord for His forgiveness.
Another theory is that Jesus wrote the sins of each man, one man at a time, in the sand. This might have the same effect in the hearts of these men as having their name supernaturally known and spelled out by the Lord Himself. But, that doesn’t add up either. Why would Jesus write one sin when every person has a multitude of sins? All sin is breaking God’s laws and exists on a level playing field. According to James, if one law is broken, all of them are, and thusly, a lawbreaker is what we become (James 2:10). So, why would Jesus just pick one sin to write in the sand? Did He pick the worst one in each of them? I don’t think so. If they had been convicted of their sins in such a profound supernatural way by the newly-revealed Messiah, you’d think they would beg for mercy and fall down in repentance at Jesus’ feet, or recoil in fear in terror.
The theory that seems the most sensible, at least to me, is that He may have fulfilled a prophecy, one of many that would be fulfilled over the course of His time here on earth. This prophecy is found in Jeremiah 17 and suggests that Jesus may have written the names of the Scribes and Pharisees in the sand in order to fulfill the prophecy in Jeremiah.
“O LORD, the hope of Israel, all that forsake you 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." ~Jeremiah 17:13
Jeremiah 17:13 can be roughly mechanically translated as: “Oh YHVH, the hope of Israel, all those who leave your way (law) shall be put to shame through public humiliation/embarrassment, and will have their names written in the dust (sand) and blotted out, for they have departed from YHVH, the fountain of living waters.”
To understand what Jesus may have written in the sand that day, one has to look at a few cultural and legal elements of that time period to get a better perspective. When someone was caught in the crime of adultery, there were specific actions that were performed much like we have in our current court of law. The Hebrew law stated that when someone was accused of adultery, the man, the woman, and at least two witnesses were required to be present before an accused person could be judged. Where was the man with whom she committed adultery? Where were the two witnesses? Nothing reveals whether she was guilty of this crime or not other than the word of the Scribes and Pharisees that brought her forward.
The next step in the process is that the priest is required to bend down and write the crime along with the names of the persons accused in the unswept dirt on the floor of the Temple. Actually, they could write the names and violation anywhere in the Temple, just as long as it was not a permanent mark. So, typically they just wrote it out on the dusty floor to be swept away afterward.
The Scribes and Pharisees were violating the law themselves by not providing the man involved in adultery, the two witnesses, nor writing the names and crime somewhere for all present to see. But, Jesus, who is The Judge, wrote in the sand that day. What Jesus may have written was the violation of the law that the Scribes and Pharisees were committing right then and there as well as their rejection of Him as the Messiah. Jesus was publicly following legal protocol and revealing their violation to all present. He then stands up and states: “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”
Stones hit the ground one by one and they all walk away.
The Scribes and Pharisees could have accepted this public shame, admitted their sin and repented. But, they did not. Instead, they continued their rejection campaign against Jesus, refused to repent, and Jesus wrote their names in the sand. The Messianic prophecy in Jeremiah was fulfilled at that moment. The men dropped their stones because they remembered the prophecy which was common knowledge for a Jew with a lifetime spent in the synagogue as Jesus demonstrated it to them in that moment. Their eyes were opened and they departed from Him, the older men first (longer in synagogue), then the younger, from the living water (John 7:37-38, which interestingly enough, was quoted just prior to this scenario in John 8). They departed knowing much more than they are also sinners and have no right to judge. They also realized that the Messianic prophecy was fulfilled, of whom they were standing in the midst and precisely who to obey.
Deep! Deep deep deep deep deep….
Let’s get back to the woman who was accused of adultery. It is fairly obvious that the woman was truly caught in the act of adultery. At the very least, she was involved in some sin because Jesus sent her on her way admonishing her to “sin no more.”
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." ~Romans 8:1
Jesus, with such grace and mercy, saved her from her sin and forgave her. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to condemn her but Jesus redeemed her. Through Christ, we have redemption and hope as He demonstrated so perfectly on that day.
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