But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So 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. 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.

John 8:6b-9

Jesus writes in the sand two times. We have no idea what He writes. We can speculate but if it was necessary for us to know, the Bible would tell us! However, we do know that this how children are taught basic principles. The teacher stoops down and writes the lesson in the dirt for them to see it. Remember, they did not have smart boards or dry erase boards! So, perhaps Jesus is telling them to “get back to the basics.”

In between the two times Jesus stoops down to write, He makes one simple statement. He tells the accusers to examine themselves first before they condemn this woman. After this, the accusers leave one by one beginning with the oldest man.

Whatever Jesus wrote, in combination with what He said, moved each of the men to examine themselves and realize they were wrong. Now, I do not believe this means that they were born again children of God who were penitent of what they were doing. So this begs the question, “what does it mean they were ‘convicted in their own conscience’?”

To answer that question, let’s first look at what they were doing. These men were not interested in upholding the character of the law of Moses. They were trying to use it to catch Jesus and get rid of Him. Further, they were not interested in helping this woman whom they had the responsibility for her spiritual education. They were sorely misusing and embarrassing her for their personal gain. They are acting just like the rich man in Luke, Chapter 16. He used and abused Lazarus. These men are showing their wicked and hardened hearts in what they are doing.

So, how is it they felt conviction? All reasonable men have a working conscience. This means that they have a set of standards by which they judge right and wrong. If this is written in their hearts in the new birth, then they have a pure conscience (Romans 2:13-15). However, the Pharisees judged themselves right many times when they were actually violating the word of God. So, whatever Jesus wrote caused them to examine their own way of judging and they had actually convicted themselves even with their still fallen minds!  

They had a working conscience but it was not based on the word of God. They had an outward standard derived from their interpretation of the law. Therefore, by that standard, they were convicted. They knew that both the man and the woman were to be brought and judged. They had only brought the woman. They were at least guilty of this. Depending on what Jesus wrote in the sand, He may have pointed out to them many other things that they violated in their own definition of morality.

The Apostle Paul describes this when referring to himself before Jesus changed his heart:

Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:6

Notice how Paul says “persecuting the church” and then “blameless.” He was certainly not blameless of murder according to the word of God, but, according to how the Pharisees interpreted the law, he had done nothing wrong.

The clearest evidence of the lack of repentance in these men is when you contrast their actions to that one the woman. She knows she is guilty. She is not accusing anyone of anything. She is hurting and needs mercy. And then there is this — when Jesus speaks to her, she calls Him Lord.

She was convicted in her heart but saw Jesus as her Lord and giver of mercy. What wondrous love is this!

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