Ask The Rabbi - But What Do You Say?

Rough hands pulled her away from the arms of her lover. Before she realized what was happening she was out in the street being pulled along by firm, cruel hands. Already a mob seemed to be gathering. She heard their cries, "Adulterer!" She had been caught in the very act. She was lightly clad but there was no room for modesty – shame and guilt filled her every pore. She began to weep. She did not seem to notice her body began bruising with the jostling of the crowd as they pushed her to her punishment.

Death by stoning had been law since the days of Moses. By the mouth of two or three witnesses, an adulterer would suffer the death penalty – and her accusers were many. She wept, uncontrollably.

Suddenly, the crowd stopped and she was standing before the famous Rabbi from Galilee. She had heard of Him, and His teaching was widely accepted, some even believed He was the promised Messiah. But what could He do? She had been caught in the very act of her sin – she was an adulterer – deserving of death. Would He mock her also?

Then she heard her accusers ask, "Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?" (John 8:4-5)

It was customary for a Rabbi to be asked for his understanding of a law or passage of Scripture. However, since the Law of Moses clearly states that the wife of a man who commits adultery should be put to death, by stoning, the sincerity of the question seems dubious. She had not been the first to commit this crime, so why should they ask Him? Indeed, why would they ask His judgement about something that was straightforward – she was guilty, her witnesses were many, and she deserved death? Those asking the question were seeking another goal.

"This they said, testing him that they might have something of which to accuse him. But Yeshua stooped down and wrote on the ground with his finger, as though he did not hear." (John 8:6)

Unfortunately, the religious leaders wanted something by which they could accuse the famous Rabbi. Sadly, this poor woman was the means to that end. Her sin was only expedient to their cause. She was nothing to them; the fact that she was a daughter of Abraham was of no consequence.

Yeshua did not reply immediately. He stooped down and acted as if He did not hear them. Throughout His ministry, Messiah Yeshua spoke often with His Heavenly Father. On one occasion He told them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself; but what he sees the Father do; for whatever he does, the Son also does in like manner." (John 5:19) and again, "For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that his command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak." (John 12:49-50)

The accusing mob could have seized the moment of silence to take the woman away and issue her sentence of death, but they persisted and demanded an answer from Yeshua. "So when they continued asking him, he raised himself up and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.'" (John 8:7)

Whilst it was common for a Rabbi to respond with something insightful, no one expected such a profound response from Yeshua. Not only did His response honour the Law of Moses, but also Yeshua's response allowed them to see something very significant, which the Law pointed to, something which they had overlooked.

The Law shows the way – not only to death but also to life. For anyone who disobeys the Law, there is punishment. The life of the Law is in obedience, not disobedience. The joy of the faithful is not founded on the death of another. The Law commands holiness, it is unbending, yet it points to the righteous way – the life to live. The Law is perfect. It is not the Law that is deficient, but those who keep it. The keepers of the Law are prone to sin because of the evil inclination found in humanity.

The Law, because it is unbending, has the capacity to condemn the disobedient, but its primary function is to promote holiness and encourage keepers to a life trusting in the LORD and depending on His goodness. Man, because he has an evil inclination, needs atonement, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

There is none who is righteous before the LORD God. Every person needs atonement. These men, though religious and devout needed atonement for their sin. They were as guilty as the woman whom they accused.

Whilst they may have considered that she had committed the greater sin, her sin was no greater a blemish on Israel, the Chosen People, than any of their sins. She was, as they were, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Any sin, regardless of its degree, diminishes the glory of the LORD God. The Law points to this because it commands Israel to be holy as the LORD is holy. "For I am the LORD . . . you shall be holy, for I am holy." ( Leviticus 11:45)

By keeping the Law, Israel would be a Holy People. The nations would see the LORD in His Chosen People, who would imitate Him. Because, "The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." (Psalm 145:9)

The men who came accusing the woman to Yeshua, may have been devout but it was not the life of the Law they kept. Indeed, they were far from this point. Messiah Yeshua pointed to these truths, and they were convicted by their own evil inclinations. They came as the accusers. But because of their own sins, they stood as the accused. Because of their sin they were worthy of death, just as much as the woman they accused. As sons of Abraham, they had fallen short of the mark, and their sin had been exposed.

"Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Yeshua was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst." (John 8:9)

Normally, by this time the woman would have been facing death by her stone-wielding accusers. Instead, her accusers were gone and she stood alone with the Messiah. She had escaped death, and it was because they had stopped to ask Yeshua.

Since there were none to accuse her, the woman was free to go, but she lingered – what could she do for the man who had just saved her life?

"When Yeshua had raised himself up and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, 'Woman, where are those accusers of yours?' Has no one condemned you?'

"She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Yeshua said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 8:10-11)

Not only did she escape death, but also the woman was released to begin a new life. It was a second chance to live the faith, as a true daughter of Abraham. She was urged to leave the past life dominated by sin, which only led to darkness and death, and was encouraged to begin a new life submitted to the LORD, and to walk in His ways – the true light of life.

"Then Yeshua spoke to them again, saying, 'I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.'" (John 8:12)