Scriptural Insight Archive

 
by Gene Van Shaar (& assoc.)

 

 


First Stones

Gene Van Shaar

May 27, 2020

 

After Rome conquered Judea in about the year 6 BC Roman leaders usurped the authority to appoint the Jewish high priest. The high priest controlled the Sanhedrin and the temple, including extensive donations. Eventually, the position was given to whoever was willing to pay the Romans the biggest bribe. This process gave the Roman government increased influence over Jewish culture and religion, and increased the corruption and wealth of the high priest and his clan. (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias, 27-28,49,98-99)

 

The famous account of Jesus casting the "money changers" out of the temple was not merely the correction of a reverence problem. The "money changers" were no doubt in cahoots with the corrupt high priest in the systematic rip-off of devout worshipers. At the beginning (John 2:14-17) and end (Matthew 21:12-16) of his ministry, Jesus deliberately challenged the devious high priest by casting his minions out of the temple.

 

Since Jesus was a threat to their wealth and power, the corrupt priests often tried to discredit or destroy him. Eventually, they expressed it this way: "If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation…[and] from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death." (KJV John 11:48,53)

 

The gospel of John includes the account of a clever trap that was set for Jesus during the Feast of the Tabernacles: "And early in the morning he [Jesus] came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him."  

 

Before proceeding, it will be helpful to consider some specific elements of this story. If the woman was caught "in the very act" of adultery why wasn't the man also dragged out and accused? The answer is that the woman was probably ensnared by a man who was part of the plot and trap.

 

Further, what were the priests going to accuse Jesus of? If he answered that they should let the woman go, he would be contradicting part of the Law of Moses (which they all revered) and he would be discredited and ejected from the temple. If Jesus answered that the law must be upheld, they would have immediately stoned her to death. And if they had stoned her, nearby Roman guards would have demanded who was responsible for breaking the Roman law which forbade execution, except by Romans. The priests would have pointed at Jesus and said that he was the one who pronounced the judgement. At that point, the Roman guards would have arrested Jesus and charged him with wrongful death. The priests thought that Jesus would be caught in a trap from which he could not escape, but they had underestimated him.

 

Now back to John's account: "But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. When they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground."

 

Those who are not familiar with the Law of Moses may not understand the brilliance with which Jesus had just completely turned the tables on the accusers. According to the book of Deuteronomy, the witnesses were required by law to cast the first stones, and bearing false witness in connection with a capital offense was punishable by death. (Deuteronomy 17:7, 19:16–19)

 

In addition, it is possible that most of those present knew and believed in what is now known as the apocryphal Book of Susanna which sheds important light on this incident.  The story from the Book of Susanna reads as follows:    

 

There dwelt a man in Babylon, called Joacim: And he took a wife, whose name was Susanna, the daughter of Chelcias, a very fair woman, and one that feared the Lord… [and there were two elders who were inflamed with lust for her and] then appointed they a time both together, when they might find her alone. And it fell out, as they watched a fit time, she went in as before with two maids only, and she was desirous to wash herself in the garden: for it was hot. And there was no body there save the two elders, that had hid themselves, and watched her…

 

Now when the maids were gone forth, the two elders rose up, and ran unto her, saying, Behold, the garden doors are shut, that no man can see us, and we are in love with thee; therefore consent unto us, and lie with us. If thou wilt not, we will bear witness against thee, that a young man was with thee…With that Susanna cried with a loud voice: and the two elders cried out against her. Then ran the one, and opened the garden door. So when the servants of the house heard the cry in the garden, they rushed in at the privy door, to see what was done unto her...

 

And it came to pass the next day, when the people were assembled to her husband Joacim, the two elders came also full of mischievous imagination against Susanna to put her to death…And she weeping looked up toward heaven: for her heart trusted in the Lord. And the elders said, As we walked in the garden…a young man, who there was hid, came unto her, and lay with her…Then the assembly believed them…so they condemned her to death…"

 

Just as Susanna’s sentence was to be carried out, a young man named Daniel who was filled with the spirit, came to Susanna’s defense, and proposed an extremely sensible course of action. He declared:

 

Are ye such fools, ye sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth ye have condemned a daughter of Israel? Return again to the place of judgment…Then said Daniel unto them, Put these two aside one far from another, and I will examine them. So when they were put asunder one from another, he called one of them, and said unto him, O thou that art waxen old in wickedness, now thy sins which thou hast committed aforetime are come to light…Now then, if thou hast seen her, tell me, Under what tree sawest thou them companying together? Who answered, Under a mastick tree…  

 

So he put him aside, and commanded to bring the other, and said unto him…Under what tree didst thou take them companying together? Who answered, Under an holm tree. Then said Daniel unto him, Well; thou hast also lied against thine own head: for the angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two, that he may destroy you. With that all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and praised God, who saveth them that trust in him. And they arose against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth: And according to the law of Moses they did unto them in such sort as they maliciously intended to do to their neighbour: and they put them to death…From that day forth was Daniel had in great reputation in the sight of the people." (Susanna of the King James Bible 1611)

 

Thus we see that Jesus, in a few wise words, warned the men who accused the woman taken in adultery to back off or he would initiate an inquiry concerning the circumstances of the woman's guilt and the associated conspiracy, which could result in the execution of the witnesses. In fact, Jesus may have been writing incriminating details on the ground.   

 

John’s account concludes this way: "And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." (KJV John 8:2-11)

 

Jesus rescued the woman, maintained his honor, and defeated the conspirators by requiring them to vouch for the woman’s guilt and their innocence with their own lives. Centuries previous Moses said that the Lord wrote the Ten Commandments in stone with his finger. In this gospel account, Jesus wrote saving words on the temple floor with his finger. This story powerfully illustrates that Jesus is the mediator between us and the law. He saved the woman, he can save us, and he delights in doing so.

 

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