Jesus did not author a single book while He was here on earth. And just the only one time He wrote, His words have unfortunately remained anonymous to all. Even the Apostle John fails to capture them.
I don’t count myself to have received any special revelatory insight into what Jesus scribbled in the ground when the adulterous woman was brought before Him (John 8:1-11). I can only go as far as surmising from His manner of handling crucial matters as He went about His Father’s business. If you take time to study the life of Jesus, you find out His every single action always affirmed His statement of not coming to abolish the Law or the Prophets; He came that He might fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).
What did Jesus really write in the sand? Three things I would like to point out here:
- Jesus probably referred the accusers to the Messianic writings of the prophet Jeremiah, “Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth (“inscribed in the dust”—Complete Jewish Bible), because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.” (Jeremiah 17:13 NKJV). Prior to this incident, Jesus had already made a clarion call (on the climactic day of the Feast of Tabernacles) announcing to the crowd that He was the source of living waters to anyone who was thirsty and wanted to drink—another startling decree that would incite the anger of His critics (John 7:37-40). The Pharisees as usual would reject His claims with a top-up statement saying God’s curse was on them that believed in Christ for they foolishly followed Him, ignorant of the Law (John 7:47). Fast-forwarding to the scene of adultery; Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground, lifted Himself up, and again He stooped down. His not-so-cool response develops a conviction of conscience in the minds of the angry accusers with at least three options; 1.Remain with Jesus, accept their sins with its embarrassment and plead for forgiveness and a change of heart. 2. Depart from Jesus with their sins (which they cannot deny) and fail to surrender to the Master who held the power to forgive sins on earth. 3. Hurl their stones at Jesus with the intention to end His life because “enough was enough.” We needn’t guess the response to that as we are told they began to slip away one by one, beginning from the oldest until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman (John 8:9) depicting the forsaking of the Fountain of living waters just as it was prophesied by Jeremiah.
- Jesus’ act may have been in reference to the Mosaic Law that dealt with the trial for unfaithful wives— ordeal of jealousy (Numbers 5:11-31). If a man felt that his wife was being unfaithful, with or without evidence, this was the accepted ritualistic rite performed to prove his wife’s innocence or guilt. The husband would take his wife to the priest who presents her first before God. The woman is made to drink a potion (holy water mixed with dust from the floor of the tabernacle as directed by the Law (v. 17)) after which the priest burns an offering, made of barley meal, on the altar (v. 26). It was solely God’s prerogative (not the priest, not the Pharisees) to pronounce the final verdict; if she was innocent, she would be spared, if she was guilty as charged, she would suffer an abominable curse (her thigh would rot and her belly would swell). One may safely say (on the basis of mere conjecture) that Jesus’ finger in contact with the dust of the Temple grounds posed a question as to whether the culprit had been presented before the priest by her husband to be tried by that law. Had she already gone through the ritual of swearing an oath (invoking a curse on her if she told a lie) and drinking from the vessel that contained the holy water mixed with dust? The accusers who had knowledge of the Law had to answer that which leaned firmly against the door of their conscience.
- Jesus scribbled in the dust with no intended meaning to his writings. He wasn’t doodling in the dust to stockpile some time and process His thoughts as some believe. He remained silent for a while, the kind of silence that is as painful as a pin pricking the skin. James Hastings, the Scottish Presbyterian minister and Bible scholar in his commentary paints an interesting picture of how the accusers got more furious as Jesus’ silence began to bear intolerable weight on them. “Stop with the funny diagrams in the ground already and speak up!” They just couldn’t take it anymore. Hastings describes the unpleasant experience as a taste of Gehenna itself! It wasn’t as though their pain was His gain nor was He devoid of any decent reply. His perfect timing to utter His speech is not surprising at all considering how words fitly spoken are always like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11). Jesus made a very hard statement at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication, as He walked through Solomon’s Colonnade in the Temple. The crowd wanted to know if He was the Messiah or not but He said to them, “…I and My Father are One” meaning if you had seen Him, you had seen His Father too. His brief silence, as if not paying attention to the aggressive opponents wielding stones of different sizes and shapes, was something characteristic of His Father; God gives a deaf ear to men who are cozy with evil (Psalm 66:18 MSG). We read repeatedly of how God responds not to the petitions of the unrighteous and the wicked one. If Jesus really is one with God and claims to do whatever He sees His Father do (John 5:19), then His unwillingness to give a listening ear to the evil accusers is something we would have expected from Him. John Calvin, the Reformist, makes this interesting remarks about the person of Christ: “Christ intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if anyone, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show by any other sign that he was not attending to what was said.”
There are many more postulations to this event (though some may not be in harmony with God’s Word). My stance? Not an easy choice I must admit but my preference seems to skew more to the first of the three. As I said earlier, this is just a mere conjecture that seeks to help us search a little deeper than we always do. Charles Spurgeon once said that ‘nobody ever outgrows scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years’. It makes a lot of sense considering the many pieces we so often overlook when we read this Living Manual. There’s more to what we read than meets the eye. Good news is we have with us the Holy Spirit who searches the deep things of God revealing the deep mysteries of His Kingdom. It is hard to believe the soul that develops an insatiable thirst to know more about the person of Christ would be denied access to heavenly wisdom when there is a genuine willingness to be edified mentally and spiritually.
Remember this: That finger once pressed His commandments on stony tablets. It lifted up on behalf of the Israelites and their enemies were scattered. It inscribed words of judgment on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace against the immoral King Belshazzar. Before the woman’s accusers and I quote the deep thoughts of the English Anglican John Trapp, “perhaps He thus wrote to show that sin, which is written before God, and graven, as it were, with a pen of iron, and with the pane of a diamond, is pardoned and blotted out by Christ as easily as a writing slightly made in the dust.” If you deem thoughts such as these to be praiseworthy, you may want to think about them.