The scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus with a woman who had been caught in adultery, reminded Him that the law required that such a person be stoned, and asked what He had to say. Jesus only answer was to stoop down and write on the ground. One by one the accusers left.
The story is familiar, but gives rise to the question of what Jesus wrote on the ground. Evidently it was not aimless doodling. There was a purpose to His action and it made the accusers feel that they were better off elsewhere. But why? That has been fodder for many an interesting discussion where various speculations were shared and we came no closer to understanding just what had taken place.
Several weeks ago I had coffee with an acquaintance who has given much time to studying Scripture and history. He mentioned that he had purchased a commentary on the New Testament written by a Jew. This commentator said that the scribes and Pharisees, being very well versed in Scripture, would have immediately associated Jesus’ actions with Jeremiah 17:13:
“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.”
Now, I cannot say for certain that this was the case, but it is really the most plausible explanation that I have heard. The AV translation says “in the earth” in Jeremiah and “on the ground” in the Gospel of John. The Louis Segond French translation says “sur la terre” in both places.
The implication would be that the scribes and Pharisees, who were so well versed in the law, and so scrupulous and righteous in obeying the law, had their names written in the earth. Then, when Jesus told the sinful woman “neither do I condemn thee,” the inference was that her name was now written in heaven.
This is the world turned upside down; and that is what Jesus came to do. We need to be reminded often that Jesus did not come for the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.