“They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” – John 8:4-11
The Pharisees set a trap for Jesus by bringing before Him a woman caught in the very act of adultery, a sin which the Torah (Law of Moses) demanded she be stoned to death for. Jesus responded by both revealing He knew their wicked hearts and that He alone is the Righteous Judge.
The Finger of God
“In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.” – Daniel 5:5
The most famous verse concerning the finger of God is probably Daniel 5:5. It is important that Bible students connect Daniel 5:5 to John 8:4-11 because there is a clear message being presented for those who have ears to hear. The elephant in the room of John 8 is the question all of us paying attention have at some point asked. “What was Jesus writing in the dirt?” As is the case in both Daniel and John, the finger of God is associated with judgment and the breaking of God’s perfect law. This fact is a hint at what Jesus did in fact write. The fact that Jesus even wrote in the dirt is no mere coincidence or poetic triviality. This act was symbolic of Christ’s position as the true Great High Priest. The High Priest would write alleged crimes against the law into the dirt before making judgement, so that he could erase the crime or judge it. When Jesus began writing in the dirt, He assumed the authority and role of the High Priest, ironically demonstrating that the current High Priest had no authority in the matter and was acting without divine authority. Jesus was also demonstrating that the Torah these corrupt Pharisees were pretending to care so much about was in fact His written Law that had come from His finger at Mount Sinai.
“And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” – Exodus 31:18
God is a spirit and has no flesh and bone, therefore in both the cases of Daniel 5:5 and Exodus 31:18, it was the pre-incarnate Christ who personally and physically wrote out the Torah and judgment.
The Content of Christ’s Writing
It was common for the High Priest to write out the law that had been broken and then the accused names. It is possible and likely Jesus wrote out Leviticus 20:10 and Matthew 5:27-38.
“And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” – Leviticus 20:10
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28
According to Leviticus 20:10, there should have been two parties brought before the High Priest. In this farce of a trial, only one had been brought forth. Jesus addressed that fact by writing the Law in the dirt, thus demonstrating the Pharisee’s zeal for the Law was false and motivated out of setting a trap for Him. These self-righteous hypocrites claimed they loved the Law of God while simultaneously attempting to destroy the Son of God. It is at this point in the narrative that Jesus posed His famous challenge:
“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.” – John 8:7-8
After giving them this challenge, Christ stopped back down and wrote something else, and it is at this point that the Pharisees began leaving, starting from the oldest and ending in the youngest. What happened at this point in His writing that made the older men leave quickly and then caused the younger ones to catch on and follow suit? Many sermons, lectures and books address this, but I feel few go deep enough into this mysterious event. The obvious truth is that the older men would quickly realize they were not without sin and would feel convicted sooner, yet I do not believe this is the half of it.
“And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” – John 8:9
The answer, like so many in the New Testament, must be found in the Old Testament. In stooping a second time, Jesus was fulfilling a prophetic verse from the words of Jeremiah.
“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.” – Jeremiah 17:13
Jesus began writing the names of those Pharisees in the dirt. This was done for two reasons. First, Jesus was demonstrating His authority as the true High Priest by writing the names of guilty men in the dirt. These men knew they were just as guilty as the woman and some probably even were her acquaintances. Secondly, Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic words of Jeremiah in writing down the names of men who knew who He was, yet forsook Him as their Messiah and God to maintain their power and position. They knew He was the Fountain of Living Waters and they rejected Him. Therefore, Jesus justly wrote their names in the earth and put them to shame.
Rev. Kenneth D. Willis