The Writing in the Sand

This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground (John 8:6, ESV).

In John 8, a woman caught in adultery was dragged before Jesus by an angry, self-righteous mob. The woman in the story was a pawn. How awful that her very life was at stake when this wasn’t even about her. The religious leaders weren’t concerned about her sin, her life, or her heart. They were using her to test Jesus, which refers to their obvious, evil intent. But before they could trap Jesus, they first had to trap her.

Think about that. Which is more shocking—the fact that a woman committed adultery or that the religious leaders were there to see it? The woman was caught in the very act of adultery. How?

Did the religious leaders have spies? Was it like a witch hunt? Did someone send a group text? “Get over here now! We have a live one!” How many watchmen set out to find this one woman? How many women did they track in order to catch one in the act of adultery? How many windows did they peer through to make this arrest? How many laws in Scripture did they blindly break to find someone breaking the law?

They whipped themselves into a self-righteous frenzy and arrived at Jesus’ feet with an ultimatum. I’ve found the Lord very unresponsive to my ultimatums. The leaders thought they had Jesus cornered and demanded, “So what do you say” (8:5)?


Picture the scene: The Pharisees were high and mighty, towering over the broken woman. They pressed on each other’s shoulders, trying to peer over the mob to gloat over the fallen prey.

And the Son of God said nothing and got down below them all. They got high; He got low. “Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground” (8:6). What did He write in the sand? We don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. If God wanted us to know, He would have included it in the Bible text. Perhaps we’re not supposed to know so we can think of some possibilities. Whatever He wrote, it was convicting.

Maybe Jesus wrote the names of the leaders who had engineered this trap and shamed this woman: “Ananias, Caiaphas, Gamaliel . . . ”

Maybe Jesus drew arrows to the people standing in the crowd.

Maybe Jesus wrote specific sins. Maybe He wrote the sins the leaders were committing in order to expose this woman’s sin.

Maybe Jesus was just kneeling down to hide His tears and the grief that He feels for the pain that His children cause one another.

We don’t know. We aren’t meant to know. We’re meant to see that when the self-righteous got high, the Son of God got low.

Maybe instead of towering high over sinners, we should kneel beside them.


  • What does the mob’s high, towering posture suggest about their hearts? What does Jesus’ low posture show about His?
  • What can we learn from Jesus’ response?

Lord God, when the religious leaders towered high, Jesus could have gotten higher. All authority in heaven and earth belongs to Him. He’s the second person of the Trinity, enthroned on high, ruling the universe. Yet He knelt before this broken woman and the angry mob. He got low. He responded to ultimatums with silence. He showed such power, such restraint, such humility, such love. Teach me to get low, and make me more like my Savior, Jesus, in whose name I pray, amen.