The Law of Jealousy
Jan 18, 2008
In John 8:3-11, we read the story how the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman "caught in adultery" (vs. 3), demanding that He judge her according to the law in Deut. 22:22,
"If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from among Israel."
The woman's accusers insisted that she be stoned, as we read in John 8:5,
"Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?"
The next verse reveals that they were testing Jesus in order to have grounds to accuse Him. After all, if He gave judgment that she should be stoned, then they could accuse Him to the Roman authorities, who reserved for themselves the right to impose the death penalty on anyone. On the other hand, if He denied the law, they could accuse Him before the people of despising the law.
Jesus did judge the woman according to the law, but in order to judge her properly by Deut. 22:22, they should have brought the man as well as the woman who had been caught in adultery. The fact that they only brought the woman cast suspicion on her accusers and gave Jesus grounds to judge her by a different law.
Jesus judged the case by the law found in Numbers 5, which is the most important chapter dealing with various cases where it is appropriate to appeal to the Divine Court of Heaven. So in order to understand this story of Jesus, we must first study this law in question. Num. 5:12, 13 says,
" (12) Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, 'If any man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, (13) and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act."
This deals with the case of suspected adultery, where the husband believes her to have sinned, but cannot prove it in court because there were no witnesses or solid evidence. The passage instructs the husband (the accuser) to take her to the priest for judgment, representing the Divine court. In fact, verse 16 says,
"Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the Lord."
The priest was then to take some dust from the floor of the Tabernacle, put it in a glass of water, and make her drink it while taking an oath of innocence. She was also to remove the covering from her head (vs. 18), which signified that during this appeal to the Divine Court, her husband was not her goel, for she had placed herself under the direct authority of God. The oath of innocence left the judgment to God, for if she were innocent, nothing adverse would happen to her; but if guilty, she would become childless (vs. 22).
This is, in effect, a type of "trial by ordeal" in reverse. She was innocent unless proven guilty by God's intervention. In the Middle Ages, trial by ordeal took the opposite direction, because the clerics did not know the law of God. So they burned people at the stake saying, "If innocent, let God save them from the fire." Or they were weighted down and cast into the river, saying, "If innocent, God will save them and they will float." In other words, the people were guilty unless proven innocent. But that was a perversion of justice according to the Bible.
The priest trying the case in Numbers 5:23 was to write the curse (judgment) of the law on a scroll and then wash off the words into the water ("the water of bitterness"). Then if she continued to assert her innocence, she was to drink the water, indicating her acceptance of Divine Judgment (5:24). Verses 27 and 28 read,
" (27) . . . if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband . . . her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. (28) But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children."
This is the law by which Jesus judged the woman caught in adultery. It shows how the spirit of the scribes and Pharisees were more interested in judgment than in mercy, but Jesus favored the mercy factor. He knew that this case was being brought by flawed witnesses (if not false witnesses). If they had really caught the woman in adultery, they surely would have caught the adulterous man as well.
So Jesus assumed the role of the priest in Numbers 5. Having no paper handy, He stooped down and began to write the curses (judgments of the law) upon the ground (John 8:6). The accusers at first did not comprehend what He was doing, and so they continued to press Him for a verdict according to Deut. 22:22. Perhaps this irritated Jesus just a bit, for He stood up and told them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
In other words, if you are a proper witness in this case, the law says that the witnesses are to cast the first stone. They could not do so, of course, without violating the law of Rome. But it may also be that they were false witnesses. We are not told. But either way, if they had not stoned the guilty man as well, they would have been partial in their judgment--another violation of the law.
Jesus then resumed writing the curses upon the ground, and soon the accusers began to see what He was writing. The revelation then came to them that He was judging her according to Numbers 5, rather than according to Deut. 22. They knew then that He had beaten them at their own game. They knew then that there would be no stoning that day, because Numbers 5 does not command them to stone the suspected adulteress, but to let God Himself judge her.
They surely would have known the principle of the Divine Court, which says that any time justice is not done--or cannot be done because of various circumstances--one can always appeal the case to the Divine Court for full justice. In John 8, Jesus had every right to refuse to judge her according to Deut. 22, because even if she were found fully guilty, the justice of the law was superseded by Roman law. Jesus submitted Himself to the Romans as a "good fig" would (Jer. 24), and so regardless of her guilt or innocence, Jesus had to submit the case to the Divine Court for judgment.
The scribes and Pharisees probably also understood that when a case is appealed to God Himself, He judges all parties with impartiality. That means He judges the accusers and witnesses first. So by the time Jesus finished writing the judgments of the law upon the ground, the accusers had decided to leave before they came into divine judgment themselves.
With no witnesses in the case, Jesus set the woman free, saying, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on, sin no more." Deut. 19:15 makes it clear that no one can be accused of any sin without at least two witnesses. The woman had no witnesses to accuse her, so the case was dismissed.
This is a good example of how Jesus used the law to bring mercy, rather than judgment. This is the underlying spirit of the law. The law can be used either for judgment alone or with an underlying desire for mercy if at all possible. The scribes and Pharisees did not know the mind of the law's Author. Jesus did, because He was in fact its Author before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
It is unfortunate that so many people today think that the law of God is the problem, when in fact the problem is the legalism of so many who study and apply it without a true knowledge of the Author's heart, mind and character.
Dr. Stephen Jones