Summary: Jesus shows the adulterous woman mercy and reveals the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites.
Jesus amazed Jerusalem by teaching profound doctrine even though He had no formal training. But the leaders weren’t amused; they wanted Him dead and had sent out a task force to arrest Him. But the officers refused to touch Him because they could see something unique about Him. The leaders pushed harder for legal action until Nicodemus (also a leader) insisted that they must follow the Law. But the Jews weren’t interested in protocol; they wanted Jesus dead. And so the meeting ends abruptly and every man goes to his own house. Sometime during the night another plan is hatched and the next day it’s carried out:
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 2And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
This is the setting of the trap. The Son of God came to save the world; He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He didn’t come to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He’s a friend of sinners and He gives hope to the Samaritans and the Gentiles. But will He keep the law of God? Is there any way He can be discredited? After all, to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. And so the Pharisees hatch a brilliant plan. They will catch Him in a contradiction in front of all His disciples. If He keeps the Law no one will believe His claimed purpose; if He sticks to His purpose then He’ll deny the Law of justice. Either way no one will follow Jesus of Nazareth any more after this:
3And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.
These leaders catch this woman in the very act of adultery. She’s not just accused; she’s been caught. From what I’ve been able to gather it appears adultery wasn’t really a big issue during this time. Everyone was doing it and this woman is probably just as surprised as anyone else. But they need something to lay the trap and she’ll work perfectly. So they grab her out of her bed, drag her down the street, and toss her into the middle of this Bible study.
It’s odd that she’s taken to a Bible study and it proves their intentions. If they were really so concerned about justice and purity they would have taken her to the proper authorities. As far as they’re aware, Jesus has no authority in such a case. But what they really want is to discredit Him: “Moses says ‘stone her’ but we’re betting you’ll say something else. Tell us, what do you say?”
But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
If you’re a little confused about what just happened you’re not the only one. I’m not sure that anyone knows with absolute certainty, but I can tell you that these Jews had absolutely no idea what was going on right then either. There’s a lot of speculation about what He wrote or why He wrote it, but very little of it seems like anything more than speculation. I think if we’re going to answer it we have to have something from the immediate context and hopefully something from somewhere else in the Scripture. If we can’t find anything as solid as that then we should just say we don’t know and leave it at that. Some things aren’t meant for us to know and that’s ok.
But I think there’s at least one explanation that seems legitimate enough that it’s worth entertaining. Remember that in 7:37-38 Jesus said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that beleiveth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shal flow rivers of living water.” But the rulers rejected Him and planned to arrest Him. Now, on the next day, they come to Him again and this time He writes something on the ground.
Now I want you to look back to Jeremiah chapter seventeen:
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. 8For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. 9The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? 10I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. 11As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool. 12A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. 13O 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. 14Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise. 15Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the LORD? let it come now. 16As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee. 17Be not a terror unto me: thou art my hope in the day of evil. 18Let them be confounded that persecute me, but let not me be confounded: let them be dismayed, but let not me be dismayed: bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy them with double destruction (Jer. 17:7-18).