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-neckedand 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.

If you 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 Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.

Closer Look at Scripture

God’s Chastening: Be a Martha, Not a Mary

Martha was upset when Mary wouldn't help her serve Jesus and His followers.

Most Christians are familiar with the scene in Luke 10:38-42 in which two sisters welcome Jesus into their home. Ever the hostess, Martha is busy cooking and cleaning for Jesus and His followers. She is working for her Master. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, chooses to spend her time sitting at Jesus’ feet. She is worshipping her Master. Most people read this as a story about priorities, and it is. But the events that happen next are often overlooked. It is there that we learn an even deeper lesson about God’s chastening and uncover which sister is really the better role model for believers today.

The Original Lesson

In that first scene in Luke 10, Martha is upset. She is working hard to accomplish the earthly tasks set before her. For years, I could relate a lot more to Martha than to Mary here. After all, day to day things have to be done; there is no getting around them. When more people help, it lessens the burden on the rest. But then as my own relationship with Jesus was strengthened, I realized that Mary was the smart one after all.

She had Jesus right there in her very own house. What other thing could possibly be more important than sitting at His feet and soaking up everything she possibly could? So, when Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping her, Jesus chides her for her stress and lets her know that Mary is actually the one who is doing the right thing. She has “chosen the better part,” and He will not take that away from her.

The Next Scene

Fast forward to the next scene in John 11. Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus has died.  As friends of the Messiah, they had sent for Him when their brother was ill, hoping that He could come to heal him. But Jesus had purposefully stayed away an extra two days in order to show the great miracle of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. When He gets to their town of Bethany, Mary and Martha have a house full of people who were there to comfort them. It is the next verse that speaks volumes about the kind of servants the two sisters really were and gives a great lesson for us to learn.

Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.”

John 11:20

The Sisters’ Reactions

God corrects His children. That’s how we know that we are His and He loves us. When Jesus chided Martha in that first scene, she probably felt embarrassed and remorseful. (I know that feeling all too well, don’t you?) After all, she was doing her best to serve her Master. She had missed the mark, and Jesus corrected her. The Bible doesn’t say what happened next, but I imagine her taking off her apron at that very moment and using it to dab a tear trickling out of one eye as she sat down on His other side. He had chastened her, and she had to repent. But, after her brother died, and she heard Jesus was coming to town, she ran to meet Him.

Mary, on the other hand, “sat still in the house.” When she heard Jesus was coming to town after her brother was already dead, she didn’t make a move to greet Him. Was she upset? Was she wondering how Jesus could have possibly let her down after she had been so devoted to Him? She had sat for hours listening, and later, she was the one who anointed His feet with ointment and wiped her tears with her hair. She was a great and devoted follower who prioritized time with Him over all other things, but when something happened in her life that she didn’t understand, she refused to run to Him. Maybe she even took offense. 

It’s The End That Matters

In the Bible, it is never the beginning of thing that matters; it is always the end. Someone who starts as a great servant can fall away. Someone who gets it wrong but repents at God’s chastening can be restored. Now, despite her momentary hurt, Mary still belonged to Jesus. She came when Martha told her that He was calling for her. And, I’m sure when realized that Jesus was there to resurrect her brother, she probably repented of her earlier actions and apologized for doubting Him. I have been there too.

In fact, I don’t know about you, but I feel like at different times in my life, I have been both sisters at all points in this story. There are times when I’m the devoted one, forsaking everything just to sit at His feet. And there are times when I’m too busy serving Him to spend time with Him. Sometimes, I’m the one who runs to Him. And there have been times, to my shame, that I’m the one who has to repent for wondering how He could “let me down” in a time of need.

The Takeaway

In John 11:5, the Bible says that Jesus loved both of the sisters, but it mentions Martha by name. She listened to His correction and ran to Him in love. As Christians, we will all endure God’s chastening. It is in those times that, like Martha, we must repent and run to Him with our whole hearts, never taking offense when we don’t understand His ways. After all, He has our best interest at heart.

If you to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Or, try Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28. Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.

Closer Look at Scripture

A Different Interpretation of the Pearl of Great Price

A picture of a pearl of great price inside an oyster shell.
Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay 

The parables of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great price are back to back in the book of Matthew. Both stories are prefaced with “The kingdom of heaven is like,” and both stories seem to tell the same tale. Someone finds something of great value and gives up everything to possess it. Like many people, I have always interpreted both of them to mean the same thing: when people find Jesus, they will give up everything worldly to follow Him. But recently I came across another interpretation for the pearl story that is also worth examining.

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

Unlike the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, in which a man just happens upon some treasure, in the parable of the pearl of great price, a merchant is actively searching for something very specific. He is an expert in pearls and knows exactly what he is looking for. When he finds the most precious one, he must have it. He goes away and sells everything he has to buy that one pearl.

In the typical interpretation, the pearl is salvation in Jesus Christ, the same as the treasure. But why a pearl and not a ruby or a diamond? And why repeat the same exact idea twice in a row? What if, instead of the pearl being Jesus Christ, Jesus is the merchant? 

Jesus is the Merchant

Jesus is the one who does the seeking. In Luke 19:10, it says, “…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He is the expert. He knows what He is doing. In fact, people aren’t even able to accept Him without God’s intervention, much less seek Him for themselves. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jesus actively pursues us. He chooses us. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “ But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

He seeks us, He chooses us, and He buys us with the greatest possible payment: His own life. We are precious to Him, bought with a price. We are His beloved bride. That makes the pearl in this parable the church. Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

The Church is the Pearl

As most people know, pearls are the only jewels that come from a living organism. They come from oysters. A pearl is made when something foreign, called an irritant, gets into the oyster’s shell and injures the soft tissue there. Instead of ejecting the particle, the oyster begins to coat it with something called “nacre,” a shiny, iridescent substance that we know of as pearl. Layer upon layer is secreted onto the nucleus, that original piece of debris, until the beautiful pearl is fully formed.

Think about it. The center of the pearl is some sort of debris, like dust or dirt. When God created Adam, He formed him out of the dust of the earth. The dirt hurts the oyster, much like original sin hurt God. It damages its flesh, like the marring of the skin of Jesus Christ at His crucifixion. Instead of ejecting the debris, thrusting it out and away from itself, the oyster’s solution was to cover over the painful object with its own substance. Layer upon layer of pearl covers over the dirt until that irritant is slowly transformed into something beautiful and valuable. 

We are the dirt: the foolish, weak, and base. After we are saved, the process of sanctification begins. Over time, reading the Word of God and applying it to ourselves, learning to hear God’s voice and obey, and spending time in the presence of God, we start to mature in Christ. He transforms us. We start to be less and less like our dirt-y self and more and more like our priceless Savior.

Ephesians 25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

The Parables

Jesus spoke in parables so that those who would seek to know the truth would be able to discern it, while those who were indifferent would not understand. Some, He explained to His disciples. Some, like the pearl of great price, He left for us to discern for ourselves. When we read with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is like a treasure map, leading us to precious nuggets of wisdom from above. And that, like the pearl, is priceless.

If you to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Or, try Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28. Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.

Special thanks to a dear brother in Christ for suggesting I look into this topic. Please check out his YouTube channel at Michael Samuel Smith where he looks at the prophetic story of Israel.

Closer Look at Scripture

Twinkly Trash: A Closer Look at Job 28

A mine shaft with a beam of light symbolizes the true treasure found in the analogy in Job 28.

Reading the Bible is an essential part of discipleship. When the Holy Spirit gets involved, things can get quite exciting. How many times have you been studying the same patch of scripture you have read 5, 10, or even 100 times and found that the 6th, 11th, or 101sttime, the verses open up to a whole deeper meaning that you have ever seen before? I love it when that happens. It’s even better when the meaning is connected to a situation in your life. That is what happened to me last week. I was driving to work when I had the thought, “Twinkly Trash.” I wasn’t sure what to make of the phrase, but I love analogies and alliterations, so I started pondering. Nothing was really connecting, though, until I got into my prayer closet that night. I found that my bookmark was at Job 28.

An Overview of Job

The book of Job, as you probably know, is about a devoted man of God. God tests Job when He allows Satan to take away his material goods, his family, and even his very health. It is all in an effort to prove that Job is a loyal and righteous man. Job does his best to keep a stiff upper lip through the whole thing. Even when his three friends show up to tell him how wicked he must be if God is allowing all this calamity. (In fact, he probably is getting off lightly for whatever terrible thing he has done). Job first tries to assert his innocence, but ends up admitting that he really doesn’t understand why God does the things He does. He wishes for a mediator between himself and God or at least that he could be dead already. Petulent, his friends are insulted that he isn’t listening to their great wisdom. They accuse him of more wickedness for his apparent lack of the fear of God.

Job responds with the last ounce of his optimism. He asserts that there IS a mediator between God and man in Job 19:35. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth…” (This is an obvious reference to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.) Then his patience runs out. Job’s friends criticize him for being wicked, and they talk back and forth. Job gets a little testy, lamenting that wicked people often seem to prosper while the innocent suffer. His cries in chapter 27 take an abrupt swerve to a new track from a literal discussion about God and man to an analogy between wisdom and mining in chapter 28.

Job 28: The Analogy

Job 28 starts with the idea of how mankind works so very hard to dig precious, sparkly items like silver, gold, and iron out of the depths of the darkness of the earth. These mines are dim and gloomy. And, often people on the surface even forget about the ones toiling away under the soil where food is grown. In fact, people find valuable items so deep that no birds of prey, even with their eyesight, can see these trails. No beasts dare to go there. The work is dangerous, too. Mankind cuts through rock, dams up streams, and digs under mountains. They excavate the mounds to find every hidden and precious thing and bring them to the light. But as hard as they work and as much as they risk, at the end of the day, all they have are temporal treasures, shiny baubles that will mean nothing in eternity.

Job 28:12 says, “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its worth, and it is not found in the land of the living.”Here is where we are brought back into the discussion between Job and his friends. Job makes the analogy of man digging for treasure in the heart of the earth and searching for wisdom and knowledge in the natural. Mining operations take skill and know-how. While men will spend their lives perfecting their craft, they neglect to seek after the knowledge that is really worth having.

The Lesson in the Chapter

True wisdom can’t be found in nature or in things that man says have value. But, where can we find it? It’s not in dark caverns or at the bottom of the sea. We can’t buy it with gold, silver, or jewels. It is hidden from the living, and if mankind were to dig so deep that we hit the realm of the dead, occupants there would say that they have only heard rumors of it but have no true understanding. No one, in fact, has understanding but God. He sees and knows everything. He controls the wind, the rain, the lightning, and thunder because He made them. The chapter then ends with the money shot. God says, “‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

The Lesson For Today

So many people these days find themselves like the minors of old. They are searching, seeking, and toiling in dark and dangerous conditions for physical wealth or earthly wisdom, an inundation of often useless information. It is all little more than twinkly trash in the scheme of things. This earth is passing away. The most valuable thing that we can possess can’t be found in any physical places. We can only receive it from God Himself, and that is the fear of the Lord. This true, reverential fear makes us concerned and alert that we don’t offend a holy God so that we turn from the sin that separates us from Him.

To fear the Lord and continue in sin is not possible. Wisdom causes us to make an earnest effort to cease from all sin and offense. In fact, 1 John 3:6 says, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.” Yes, born again, red hot believers still sin sometimes, but we keep short accounts. We ask for forgiveness immediately and examine ourselves with regularity. 

The Rest of Job

Job’s point in this chapter is that if we would spend as much effort seeking after the Lord as we do seeking after wealth and earthly knowledge, we would be a lot better off And, that is the path that he will choose to take. The rest of the book of Job has more accusations of Job’s wickedness from a fourth friend who shows up right before God has enough. Through a series of rhetorical questions, He makes sure everyone understands that He is God and we are not. Job agrees, and this pleases God so much that He allows him to intercede for his friends who have now upset God with their treatment of Job and their faulty advice throughout the book. 

One Bible commentary said about Job 28, “What God does not reveal, we can’t know.” That’s as appropriate for Job 28 as it is for the rest of the Bible itself. We must read and study God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit to get to know and understand the great and wonderful Father God who calls us His children. He is our great treasure hidden in a field and our pearl of great price. Everything else that seems to sparkle and shine is little more than twinkly trash.

If you to look closely at scripture, try Three Simple Instructions From God to Us. In it, we look at Hebrews 3-4. Like to read more from Evangelical Christian sisters who “tell it messy, true, and wonderful because we are His”? Check out Telling Hearts.