The very title of this article is a sort of half-truth. It is certainly the starting point of the story but the context and outworking point to a larger sin and judgment than that of this one woman. The men who cornered her and dragged her up to the Saviour (and where was the man?) wanted to make the story all about her and about the predicament they thought they would land the Teacher in. If He exonerated the woman He would go against Moses and the Scriptures He himself said could not be broken. If He agreed to her stoning then He placed himself in opposition to the Romans, who alone claimed the right to inflict capital punishment. They saw this as an easy win either way.
But Jesus surprised them with His answer. He wrote on the ground. Silent. This act puzzled them. It has also puzzled countless writers ever since. The translators of the KJV unhelpfully provide the gloss “as though He heard them not”. Other commentaries suggest various other guesses which are pointless to go into.
The point, I believe, is not what He wrote but that He wrote. This is where context comes in. Two passages are important to keep in mind. Just the day before Jesus had spoken of the “living water”. John 7:37-39. This is the first passage:
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
His hearers, especially those well-versed in the Scriptures – might very well have noted the connection with Jeremiah 17:13. Certainly the scribes and Pharisees should have known this passage:
“O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.”
Note the offense and the judgment. They forsake the Lord, the Living Water. John 7:39 shows that they are forsaking the Holy Spirit.
What is the judgment? They are “written in the earth“. (See also Jer. 17:1)
Their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They are not written in Heaven. They are written in the earth.
I believe this is the point of Jesus stooping on the ground.
1. For those who think that this passage has a questionable provenance I suggest that read a number of older commentaries. By far, the majority see this passage as not only inspired and from John, but also in the proper place. This is my view as well.
2. From John Gill’s Commentary:
“See Jer 17:13, “they that depart from me shall be written in the earth”. It could be that Christ was writing their names in the earth, thus fulfulling this prophecy in Jeremiah. They knew the Old Testament and this passage, and were convicted in their hearts. Editor.) … In vindication of which, he cited the passage in Ho 4:14; and this agrees with their own account of the times of the Messiah, and the signs thereof, among which stands this Deut 17:7″