Closer Look at Scripture

What Did Jesus Write In the Dust?

In John Chapter 8, the Pharisees, seeking to trap Jesus by His own words, bring him a woman caught in the act of adultery. They ask what should be done to her according to the law. In response, Jesus stoops two times to write in the dust, and they depart from the eldest to the youngest. What did Jesus write in the dust? Some say he was writing a list of the sins of the accusers or the names of those who had also been with the woman. But Jesus’ own words the day before coupled with a little known prophecy from Jeremiah tell a completely different story about what He wrote. And the situation itself is a prophetic picture of what will happen when Jesus comes again and a warning to us all.

The Feast of Tabernacles

The whole thing starts on the seventh day of an eight day festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. Also called the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Sukkot, this celebration required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple and offer sacrifices to the Lord. People celebrated it around harvest time, and many still acknowledge it today. It’s meant to be a remembrance of God’s life-giving provisions during the Jew’s exodus from Egypt into the Promised Land (manna from Heaven and water from a rock). It is also an acknowledgement that God still continues to provide for His people.

The seventh day was known as Hashana Rabba, or “the Great Day.” The people celebrated a joyful ritual called the Water Drawing Ceremony. In it, a whole parade of worshippers and flutists led by priests trekked to the pool of Siloam. While the priest filled a golden pitcher with water from the pool, a choir of Israelites chanted Psalm 118. Then everybody headed back to the Temple through the Water Gate.

When they got there, a trumpet sounded, and the priest approached the altar. He carried that golden pitcher of water and another golden pitcher filled with wine. He poured the wine into one of two silver basins as a drink offering to the Lord. And, he poured water from the pool of Siloam into the other. The purpose was to thank God for His bounty and to ask for rain for crops in the coming year. (Water was scarce at that time in the Middle East, so they understood their dependence on God to provide.)

Jesus’ Offense to the Pharisees

All of this happened the very day that Jesus said:

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

JOHN 7:38

So during a festival meant to celebrate God’s provision of water during the Exodus with Moses striking the rock, Jesus is comparing Himself to the rock, who is God. 

  • PSALM 78:35 “And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.”

He is also reminding them of the scriptures that say that the very rock, or stone will be rejected by the people.

  • PSALM 118:22 “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
  • ISAIAH 8:14  “He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”

The Pharisees Want Him Arrested

When the people hear Jesus speak, they start to murmur among themselves. They are wondering if He could be the Christ they were waiting for. But the Pharisees and the chief priests reject His message. They get angry and send a security team to arrest Jesus. But, when the men hear Him speak, they refuse to arrest Him. Now the priests and Pharisees are really angry, and they deride the officers for their foolishness in believing in Him.

They accuse both the officers and the people of not knowing the law. Ironically enough, their quick comeback is that no prophet ever came out of Galilee. This is in direct opposition to Isaiah Chapter 9 which says that the Messiah Himself will come from Galilee “…by the way of the sea beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles.” And later in Isaiah 9:6, it says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Pharisees Try to Trap Jesus

So someone comes up with a great idea to trap Jesus and humiliate Him in front of His followers. The next day is the last day of the festival, a day Holy to the Lord when the people are called to gather together. Early in the morning while He is teaching in the Temple, they bring Him a woman caught in the act of adultery and ask Him what should be done with her.

It’s a catch 22, a no-win situation. If He says they should have mercy, this challenges God’s law. The sin of adultery required a punishment of death by stoning according to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22. This would have appeared rebellious and sinful, even though the Pharisees were distorting that very law by bringing only the woman when the law required both man and woman to be punished. On the other hand, if He recommends stoning, He would be authorizing a death penalty. This is something that the Roman authorities of the time forbade. Plus, it would be antithetical to His purpose on earth: to provide a propitiation for sins.

Christ Stoops Down and Writes in the Dust.

Now, there was a protocol for accusing someone of sin in those days. The priest would kneel down and write both the name of the accused as well as the the law that had been broken in the dust of the Temple floor (or somewhere else temporary). I believe this first time, though, Jesus wrote Jeremiah 17:13, a prayer and a prophecy:

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

This was a common prayer recited at end of the Feast of Atonement each year. As such, each of the accusers would have heard this prayer every year of his life from the time he was twelve years old. As Jesus is writing, the men continue to ask Him about His decision. They are trying to pressure Him one way or the other. He then raises Himself up and says to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Then He stoops again and continues to write. 

This time, I believe He is fulfilling the prophecy from Jeremiah 17:13 when he writes the names of the Pharisees standing before Him, possibly alongside the very sin they had come to accuse the woman: adultery (against God). Pricked by their consciences in order of seniority (and the number of times they had heard that prayer repeated every Feast of Atonement), the men depart. They realized that they, themselves, were the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Why Did Jesus Stoop Twice?

Saying or doing anything twice in the Bible is like an underline or a bold. It means that the actions are important, like when Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say unto you…” Another reason I believe He stooped twice is because this scene is both literal and symbolic. He was highlighting the significance of the scene both in real time and as a foreshadowing of the day when He will come again to the earth and receive Israel to Himself.

Go And Sin No More

When the men depart, Jesus is alone with the woman. The law required at least two witnesses or accusers for someone to be condemned to death.  When no one is left to testify against her, He tells her to go and sin no more. This woman is actually a symbol of Israel herself. She was taken, that very day, in the sin of adultery against her God. But Jesus’ mercy on the woman that day will be replayed again at His Second Coming. On that very spot, Jesus will forgive the sins of Israel and accept her to Himself. In Ezekiel, we see again the picture of the cleansing waters. On that day, the Holy Spirit will flow out of the Jewish people who accept Jesus as their Savior and God.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27

The Warning

Mark 12:37 says about Jesus, “…And the common people heard Him gladly.” When Jesus came the first time, many people heard Him and believed. But some of the very ones who rejected Him were the ones who should have known better. All of the Jews were God’s chosen people. The Pharisees were teachers of the law and righteous before men. They should have discerned the time of their visitation, but they were too caught up in tradition and the narrative they had constructed in their minds for how things would go. They honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. Was it pride that kept them blind to the truth? Was it their unwillingness to surrender control?

In Acts 7:51, Stephen sums up the problem when he chastises them, saying, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” It is a sobering thought and one that should keep every one of us humble as we search the scriptures for the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Let us never be prideful or unwilling to surrender to what the Spirit is revealing. Even if it contradicts what we thought would happen. Even if it contradicts the teachings of men. We must seek Him with our whole hearts. It is only then that He will be found by us.

Other Resources

If you like to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Or, try A Different Interpretation of the Pearl of Great Price. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email. Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.

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