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Moses' second speech, Part 10

Jul 27, 2012

Deuteronomy 5:18 says, "You shall not commit adultery." This is the Seventh Commandment.

The Hebrew word translated "adultery" is na'aph, a root word that cannot be broken down further. It is always used in Scripture to denote a sexual relationship with another's husband or wife, unless it is being used metaphorically about the national crime of committing adultery with other gods. Leviticus 20:10 tells us the penalty as well:

(10) If there is a man who commits adultery with another man's wife, one who commits adultery with his friend's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

The tendency in many cultures is to punish the woman but not the man for adultery. Sometimes it requires multiple witnesses to convict a man of adultery, making it improbable that any man would ever be found guilty, while a single testimony or accusation against a woman is assumed to be true.

The Bible applies the law of God equally, of course. The only stipulation is that, like all other crimes, no one can be convicted except by two or three witnesses, that is, by at least two solid pieces of evidence. Deut. 19:15 says,

(15) A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.

In John 8:1-11, we read the story of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus for judgment. Many have used this story as evidence that Jesus put away the law, in spite of the fact that Jesus clearly said otherwise in Matt. 5:17-19. The Pharisees had an ulterior motive in bringing the adulterous woman to Jesus. They wanted to trap Him in His own words, because if He refused to judge her, they could accuse Him of despising the law, but if He condemned her to death, they could stone her and then report Him to the Roman government. In those days the Roman government required that all capital cases be referred to them for judgment.

Jesus knew their hearts, and He knew the law. The law made provision for cases where justice was not possible, whether it be from a lack of two witnesses, false witnesses, a bribed judge, or (as in this case) a foreign authority. Men were to attempt to resolve their disputes privately (Matt. 18:15) and, if necessary, present the evidence and witnesses to the offending party (Matt. 18:16). If they can come to no resolution, they may then take it to the court (Matt. 18:17).

When an earthly judge justifies one and condemns the other, if the man losing the court case believes that justice was not accomplished, he may appeal his case to the Divine Court.

When the adulterous woman was being accused by the Pharisees, who expected Jesus to adjudicate her case, they wanted Him to judge her according to Lev. 20:10 (quoted earlier). But because such capital crimes could only be judged by the Roman government, it was obvious that justice could not be done. Furthermore, the Pharisees had brought the adulteress, but not the adulterer. Worse yet, the witnesses obviously had ulterior motives, which any biblical judge was supposed to discern.

So Jesus knew that true justice could not be done in this case. Hence, He took the woman directly to the Divine Court according to the law of jealousy in Num. 5:12-31. In such a case, the jealous one, lacking proof or credible witnesses, was to take her to the priest (judge), where the priest would administer an oath of innocence to the woman. In Num. 5:23, we read, "The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll."

Jesus had no scroll to write upon, and so He stooped and began to write with his finger on the ground itself. He was writing the curses of the law upon the ground in order to appeal the case to the Divine Court. At first the Pharisees did not comprehend what He was doing, and so they persisted in demanding His judgment in the case. He put them off saying in John 8:7, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." After all, the law called for the witnesses to lead the way in any execution (Deut. 17:7), so that if they were later found to be false witnesses, they could not make any excuse for their crime of murder.

When Jesus had written enough for the Pharisees to figure out that He was appealing the case to the Divine Court, they knew that He had foiled them once again. One by one they gave up and walked away, knowing that God would judge all parties involved in the case without partiality.

When Jesus finished writing on the ground, He looked up and found no accusers and no witnesses remaining. John 8:10, 11 says,

(10) And straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" (11) And she said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more."

As the Judge in this case, even Jesus Himself could not condemn her without witnesses and without someone bringing charges against her. So the case ended with a simple admonition to "sin no more." In saying this, Jesus neither condoned sin, nor did He put away the law.

The big cultural problem today is that in the quest to destroy the family unit and to establish Secular Socialist Democracy, adultery is seldom (if ever) prosecuted as a crime. Fornication itself, in most of its forms, has long ago been legalized and is prosecuted only when it is a commercial act or when it involves minors.

Laws regulating sexual behavior are among the most important in preventing the decadence and ultimate destruction of a nation. Genesis 2:24 makes it clear that God Himself ordained marriage and is therefore the ultimate source of law to regulate all sexual matters. For this reason, the Seventh Commandment, like all the others, is rooted in the First Commandment. When a nation refuses to recognize God as the Sovereign Creator, the way is paved for man to change the laws to accommodate the lusts of the people as their moral standards erode over time.

Marriage was originally based upon the idea that a man and a woman would be in full agreement with each other. This is essentially a New Covenant marriage, as I have explained in my book.

But with the fall of man came also disagreements, selfishness, and tendencies toward sin. For this reason God had to institute judgments of the law to judge all sin, including that of adultery. If all marriages were perfect, no divorce legislation would have been necessary. For this reason also, it was necessary to make provision for divorce, which God did in Deut. 24:1-4.

In God's law, divorce must be done in writing, so that the woman has proof of that divorce. This prevents a jealous ex-husband from denying the divorce and prosecuting her for adultery. Deut. 24:2 permits the woman, on the basis of that lawful divorce, to remarry whom she will. Verse 4 denies the ex-husband the right to claim her again, even if she is divorced from her second husband.

This law differed from the law of Hammurabi (Nimrod), which was the common law of Canaan during that time. Hammurabi's law allowed verbal divorces if the husband said three times, "I put her away" (Par. 141). There is no doubt that such verbal divorces resulted in much injustice toward women in those days.

God's law demanded a written "bill of divorce" before a man could put away his wife (i.e., send her away). Jesus said that if a man merely put away his wife without such papers, he would cause her to commit adultery (Matt. 5:32), because she might remarry without being lawfully divorced. Likewise, any man who would marry her would also be committing adultery.


This is the tenth part of a series titled "Moses' Second Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.

Moses' Second Speech


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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones


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