She would forever remember the day that He wrote in the sand

Have you ever wondered what Jesus wrote in the sand?

Do you remember the occasion? It was when religious leaders came to Him with a woman caught in adultery.

Some readers might immediately be thinking. “Oh boy! Another one of those nutters! No one really knows what Jesus wrote in the sand!” That’s what I might have thought if I came across a post like this.

Significant Action

More revealing than “What did Jesus write in the sand?” is “Why did Jesus write in the sand?”

I believe that Jesus was being very intentional when He wrote in the sand. Yet, despite being intentional in His actions, I’m not sure that He was necessarily trying to write anything in particular. I believe that His writing in sand was a prophetic action that pointed to a particular passage in the book of Jeremiah the prophet.

If you read the passage where Jesus wrote in the sand in its broader context and then compare it to a particular passage from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, then I believe that you will understand why Jesus wrote in the sand. It was an announcement of God’s judgment.

See for Yourself

Firstly, Read John Chapters 7 & 8

To get a fuller context of the occasion read John Chapters 7 & 8. For ease of access, here are some significant extracts from these chapters for you:

7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him…7v37In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water

(The clear rejection to the point of wanting to kill Him continued among the religious leaders. Then, the incident with the woman caught in adultery occurred the day after the announcement Jesus made at the feast.)

The Incident

8v1bAnd early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

8v12 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself,…the Father that sent me beareth witness of meYe neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also….it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him

The second passage to read is Jeremiah 17:5-13

Here is the important reference and connection to Jesus writing in the sand:

17v13O 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.

Context is Key

Let’s consider the context of the woman being brought to Jesus. Keep in mind that the Jews had already wanted to kill Him (see John 7:1). Also, the day before the incident, “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7v37). Although some that heard Jesus showed signs of belief, a negative sentiment continued, especially among the religious leaders.

So, clearly, the incident occurred in the broader context of Jesus (and therefore God) being rejected. Similarly, the context of the passage in Jeremiah is God being rejected. In Jeremiah, God said that He would write in the earth those who reject Him, the living water. Likewise, by writing in the sand, Jesus was, at the very least, referring to this passage in Jeremiah. He was pointing to God’s judgment on a people that had rejected Him, the source of living water.

What Jesus May Have Written

In the tricky situation that He was in, this picture illustrates what Jesus may have written 🙂

What Jesus Wrote in the Sand

The second time He probably followed up with, THANKS, DAD!

More seriously, if Jesus wrote something intelligible, some have suggested that He might have written the names of those around Him who had rejected Him.

I personally think that writing out that portion from Jeremiah the prophet would have made the point.

Nevertheless, simply mimicking God writing in the earth, as in the passage in Jeremiah, would have been sufficient to make the point. Intentional doodling in the sand spoke volumes! Besides, had he written anything legible, surely it would have been too marvelous not to mention in the account.

Jesus = God

Jesus said elsewhere, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” He also said that He only spoke what His Father was speaking and that He only did what He saw His Father doing. With that in mind, we know that Jesus’ actions had significance and that the recording of them is significant too.

Our response to a clear revelation of Jesus is really our response to God. Rejecting Him is to reject God, the source of Living Water.

Rob Morley

  1. […] more on this go to What did Jesus Write in the Sand (on my blog Restore My […]

  2. Alice Baker says:

    It was customary to sit and teach and write in the sand. Jesus knew what was in their hearts. They were wanting to kill Jesus right from the get-go. They wouldn’t really mind condeming the woman but what they really wanted was a reason to kill Jesus. But instead he wrote about the ones who rejected him, the source of living water. Thank you for the answers.

  3. Vicki says:

    I think Jesus might have wrote either all 10 commandments or simply “thou shat not commit adultry”! All the men that were gathered there with stones may have committed adultry with said woman who was to be stoned.

    • Thanks for sharing Vicki. Perhaps!
      However, the Biblical parallel to John Chapter 7, where Jesus says that they who thirst should come to Him, and 8, where, in trying to test Him using the incident of the woman caught in adultery, certain people show their rejection of Him, the source of living water, is found in Jeremiah 17:5-13. Jeremiah 17:13 reads, “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.”

  4. Gherrrie says:

    I have been convinced for a while now that the real significance of Jesus’ scribbling in the sand is NOT in what he actually wrote but what He communicated with the gestures.

    Essentially, what He’s saying is … “I wrote the Law, and now I’m rewriting it.”

    When they invoked the law, He refrained from answering but made a gesture of writing. That’s Him saying “I wrote (gave you) that Law.”
    And when they pressed Him more, He said “… cast the first stone.” And then He made another writing gesture. That’s Him saying, “I’m writing this, now.” And that is, of course, because He was here to take the stoning upon Himself that that woman deserved under the law.

    I’m thinking of what He actually wrote had any significance, there’d have been a hint somewhere for someone to figure out what it was. But as it happens, I have not seen even a small pool of consensus on renderings of what He wrote.

    • Gherrrie, I agree that it is more probable that the audience was to interpret the gesture of writing in the sand than any actual content, especially because John also gave no report of what was written.

      In the light of this incident happening immediately after Jesus had announced Himself as the Living Water, I personally think that Jesus mimicked Jeremiah 17:5-13 which reads, “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.”

      Interestingly, Paul appears to speak of Christ Jesus as “the hope of Israel” in Acts 28:20.

      • gherrrie says:

        If I may, the way I see it, the immediate audience were affected solely by the incisive impact of Jesus’ phrase “he…without sin …stone”. They would not have understood the rewriting issue.

        The message of the gestures, though, was meant for those seeking instruction in the Word, …us, through the ages.
        St. Paul speaks of the scriptures as useful for instruction…

  5. Though they easily misinterpreted Scripture, they were a Jewish audience who were well aware of the content of the Scriptures and were testing Jesus regarding them. They, however, failed interpret the Scriptures in the light of their own sin and see the need for Jesus as their Messiah.

  6. Joel says:

    We know by this passage that Jesus was literate. Something uncommon at the time. The scribes and Pharisees would have been able to read what Jesus wrote but a commoner—the point of view of the audience for the story—would have been ignorant (uneducated) to what was written. This puts every audience in the same vantage point as the original onlookers—which includes the adulterous woman herself. We, then, become the sinner in the story.

    Jesus was educated not only in the law (He wrote it, of course), but in the rhetorical logic to *apply* the law to “turn” the arguments (tricks) the Pharisees presented. He writes in two parts. The first thing he wrote had to be an indictment of every single scribe and Pharisee. The second part was the “turn”.

    Is it not possible then, that Jesus wrote a broad statement, possibly similar to James 4:17: “If you know what is right and do not do it, you have sinned.”

    Okay, if I’m a pharisee, I’m self-righteous. I know the law (what is right), so what?

    We need the second part. The turn. Jesus possibly wrote the law stating that in order to accuse someone of adultery, both the man and woman, plus two witnesses, must be brought forth. Perhaps finishing with: “Thou shalt not bear false witness” for the younger ones who haven’t figured out what is going on yet. Maybe he writes their names.

    No Pharisee present could throw a stone with those two statements written on the ground.

    But the lesson is a precursor to the obligations of the resurection. Jesus saved the woman (see above; we are the sinner in the story’s point of view) from death due to sin. *But she (we) has an obligation in this salvation matter as well!*

    Go and sin no more.

    That is a huge part of the lesson often overlooked, I believe. We focus on the action and postulating what Jesus wrote, and maybe miss the true point. Jesus saved us from death. Now we must do *our* part by not consciously sinning (or worse, believing Jesus’s crucifixion is somehow a “Get out of Jail Free” card that allows us to sin—so long as we claim we are Christian). Now, that last part also pertains to James 4:13-15. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Don’t sin today and think you can just repent tomorrow.

    I think it all ties together.

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