EXEGESIS: JOHN 8
Why Did Jesus Write In
Artist: Yongsung Kim
3. The scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before them, 4. And they said, "Teacher, his woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. What do you say?" 6. They said this to test him, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. 7. When they continued to question him, he straightened up and said, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her." 8. And again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9. When they heard this, they began to go away one by one, beginning with the older ones, until only Jesus was left, and the woman stood there near him. 10. Then Jesus asked her, "Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?" 11. "No one, Lord," she answered. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus said. "Go, and sin no more."
Why did Jesus write in the dust? Some say he was listing the sins of the men who were accusing the woman, so as to
shame them, but Scripture doesn't back that up.
I believe Jesus did it as a type of fulfillment of the verses in Jeremiah chapter 17, because the verses of Jeremiah could be a poetic and spiritual description of the events in John 8.
In the following verses of Jeremiah 17, I have colored the words in blue that I will then use to match with the happenings of John 8:
1. The sin of Judah is written with an iron stylus,
engraved with a diamond point
on the tablet of their hearts
5. This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind,
who makes flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the LORD.
6. He will be like a shrub in the desert;
he will not see when prosperity comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
7. But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is Him.
8. He will be like a tree planted by the waters
that sends out its roots toward the stream.
It does not fear when the heat comes,
and its leaves are always green.
It will not worry in a year of drought
or cease producing fruit.
9. The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure—who can understand it?
10. I, the LORD, search the heart;
I test the mind,
to reward a man according to his way,
by what his deeds deserve.
12. A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning,
is the place of our sanctuary.
13. O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who abandon You will be put to shame.
All who turn away will be written in the dust,
for they have abandoned the LORD,
the fountain of living water.
14. Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed;
save me, and I will be saved,
for You are my praise.
15. Behold, they keep saying to me,
“Where is the word of the LORD?
Let it come now!”
16. But I have not run away from being Your shepherd;
I have not desired the day of despair.
You know that the utterance of my lips
was spoken in Your presence.
17. Do not become a terror to me;
You are my refuge in the day of disaster.
18. Let my persecutors be put to shame,
but do not let me be put to shame.
Let them be terrified,
but do not let me be terrified.
Bring upon them the day of disaster
and shatter them with double destruction.
The Pharisees in John 8 wanted to test Jesus and trick him, but instead, Jesus tested their hearts (Jer. 17:10) with the words:
"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her." (John 8:7)
As well, they had turned their hearts against the Lord, (Jer. 17:5) and their hearts' and souls' abode was planted in a dry and parched desert place, (Jer. 17:6), represented by the dust in which Jesus was writing. They didn't believe in Jesus or his words, they were spurning him, and so they were not planted by the waters, (Jer. 17:8) to quench their dry, desolate understanding, and all Jesus could do with their heart and soul was manipulate it from outside of them, as represented by God's finger merely moving the dry dust around.
The "finger of God" is the Word of God. With just a Word, Jesus was able to back them away from the woman and get them to leave, but it wasn't because they were inwardly changed, but because they couldn't overcome his words, and they were being publicly humiliated. It was merely Jesus temporarily moving dust around in their hearts; dust that would soon fill back in and have none of the beneficial effects that water would have had, had they truly received Jesus. And too, as they slowly left, it was like they were moved away like dust particles by the finger, or Word, of God.
And so, all those who abandoned the LORD were put to shame, and those who turned away were written in the dust. (Jer. 17:13)
Was Jesus really writing their sins in the dust? I don't think what he was writing mattered. The imagery of Jeremiah 17, which was the scene taking place in John 8, was what I believe Jesus was conveying: They were tested, they were put to shame, and they were like dry dust blown away, from which no fruit of God could grow, because they refused the fountain of living water of Jesus. (Jer. 17:13)
And the woman could have said the words of Jeremiah, "Behold, they keep saying to me, 'Where is the word of the LORD? Let it come now!'" (Jer. 17:15) Because they wanted to stone her right then by the Law of Moses. She could have said to Jesus, "Do not become a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. Let my persecutors be put to shame, but do not let me be put to shame. Let them be terrified, but do not let me be terrified." ( Jer. 17:18) And this is what Jesus did for her.
Jesus could have looked up to the Father and spoken Jeremiah's words, "But I have not run away from being Your shepherd; I have not desired the day of despair. You know that the utterance of my lips was spoken in Your presence." (Jer. 17:16) Being the Good Shepherd, he did not desire the day of the woman's despair or condemnation, as the Pharisees had, and he set her free. And it was the utterance of his lips (Jer. 17:16b), given by God the Father, that kept her from being terrified. (Jer. 17:18)
And so, I believe this is why Jesus wrote in the dust on that day: to give an analogy, and maybe a type of fulfillment, to the prophecy of Jeremiah 17.
Jesus was saying: You men have turned away from me, the Fountain of Living Water, and so your hearts are as dry as dust. You desire the day of this woman's death, but like this dust that I can move with my finger, with just a word I will move you away from her, and I'll shame your hardness of heart; and like dry dust, you'll blow away and be gone; and when I bless her with my forgiveness, you'll be like a shrub in the desert, and you will not see the good I do.
The "finger of God" was the Word of God.
The dry, desolate dust was the hearts of the Pharisees.
With his finger, Jesus first stooped and moved the dry dust, as an analogy; then Jesus stood up, and with his Words, he blew away the dry-hearted Pharisees, and they departed.
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