The Temple, The Feast of Tabernacles, and a Woman Caught in Adultery

No discussion of the woman in John 8 is complete without the contect provided by John 7:45-53. They go together. They are one story, even though they are separated into two chapters. John makes it clear to his readers that these events happened together, as a sequence. We miss it, because they are separated into two chapters and taught as distinct instances. This is how we make interpretive mistakes about the Woman, her sin, and the implications Jesus’ pardon might have for modern cultural questions; such as infidelity, capital punishment, adherence to a moral code, etc.

Lets first take time to read John 7:45-8:11 together, without gaps. Then we’ll break it down, and hit the finer points. Finally, we will draw some spiritual conclusions which we can apply to our own socio-historic position.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. 47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

No one ever spoke like this man. That was true. It lets us know that some of Jesus’ words were resonating with the officers sent to arrest Him. Even if their hearts had been rock hard to God’s words, they would not have been able to lay a finger on Him. God extended His grace to these men, by making them able to hear and evaluate Jesus’ preaching. They returned to the rulers and the Pharisees to give an account of their failure to arrest Jesus. They do not come with pretense or guile. They do not appear to have been too afraid to arrest Jesus, after all these were grizzled, experienced soldiers. And, it is equally unlikely that they feared the crowds who had gathered around Jesus. So, why the’re failure to do their duty? They discovered something they hadn’t counted on, and simply needed to return to give a report about the amazing Word of God. Of course, behind their report about what they’ve seen and heard in the person of Jesus, they harbor questions about the identity of Jesus. Namely, “Why would the rulers, or anyone for that matter, want to have Jesus arrested?” Based on what they had just experienced, this didn’t add up.

Their report is not believed by the rulers or the Pharisees, with, perhaps, one notable exception (but we’ll discuss him in just a bit). The simple, dare I call it, faith, of the officers is immediately rebuffed and rejected by the Rulers. The Pharisees ask the officers and each other this question, “If Jesus was the messiah then why don’t any of us believe?” As if a consensus of the religious leadership is the only qualification for a messianic candidate. They actually misapply scripture, whether by simple mistake we do not know, to exclude Jesus from the running. They proclaim that if someone were to search the scriptures, by which they mean the Law, The Writings, and The Prophets, then you would find no mention of any prophet arising out of Galilee.
Let’s talk for a minute about Galilee. Careful consideration of the scriptures will yield no mention of a prophet coming out of Galilee, in that regards the Pharisees know their Bibles. However Isiah Chapter 9 says plainly,

“1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,”

The Pharisees, cloistered away and insulated from any inconvenient acts of God, cannot see the great light which now shines from Galilee of the Gentiles. They must have been aware of this passage. These are men who could quote the entirety of the scriptures from rote memory. This leaves us to answer a series of questions. Did they not know this prophecy? Or, did they simply reject that these verses are messianic in nature? Or, if they do admit that they are messianic, do they refuse to apply them to Jesus?

Let’s consider something else. This story takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles also called the Feast of Booths, which the Jews call Sukkot. Sukkot is one of 3 festivals in which the Jewish nation was commanded to come to the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a feast of joyousness and merrymaking and thanksgiving, because it coincides with the Autumn Harvest. So, everyone had plenty to be thankful for. It is a pilgrimage Holy day, commemorating when the Jews wandered in the Wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, living in tents or booths.

Throughout the feast, which would have been 8 days, the priests would light Giant Menorahs. The huge lamps resided in the court of the Women, just outside of the Temple proper. Some sources claim these Menorahs were in the range of 40 feet tall, and able to light up the entire temple mount at night. You can imagine the profound and thrilling effect this would have on the people. They had no street lights, no light pollution, no cars shining headlights… all they had were hand sized personal lamps. They were not used to being able to see well at night. But these great lamps, called Menorahs could hold approx. 15 liters of oil in each cup, effectively banishing the darkness and making Jerusalem a shining city set on a hill.

I believe the lighting of the Giant Menorahs was a prophetic action meant to turn the world to Jesus, the great light which shines out of Galilee of the gentiles. Isn’t that something? Here they are lighting menorahs in the court of the Women, and at exactly the same moments Jesus is sharing the light of God’s word in the court of the Women.

That makes it all the more dramatic that on the very first day after the feast concludes, they bring Him a woman caught in adultery, to the court of the woman in the temple, on one of the holiest days of the year. Can’t you see the juxtaposition? Holy temple, unholy act. Court of the women, women caught in adultery. Light of the Giant Menorahs keeping Jerusalem well lit at night, Jesus the Light of the world bringing God’s word to light up the hearts of those yet to believe. John 1:4-5 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
Let’s read John 8-vs11NIV, keeping in mind what we we’ve just discussed regarding the Feast of Tabernacles. This will help us gain some insights on some of the specific things which are happening here.

8 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

It is the day after Sukkot, and there are still a great number of people in Jerusalem who haven’t left to go home yet. Remember that it is a pilgrimage Holy day, so there are Jews in town from all over the region. It’s awesome that God drew all these people from the far flung corners of Judaism, so they could hear and see Jesus all at once. What better opportunity could there have been for Jesus to preach the gospel to such a diverse array of the Jewish populace? As an added bonus, those who believed on him could go home to their villages, and tell all their family and friends about Jesus.

Now, those who were listening (the people who were part of the great crowd which Jesus was preaching to) were primed to hear Jesus, because they have just spent 8 solid days worshiping God, prophetically performing rituals meant to remind them about His provision for them.

The first question I have about these proceeding is this: What was the motivation of the Pharisees who had brought the woman caught in adultery? Did they have zeal for the law; desiring that the nation would be free of sin? Were they a band of woman hating busy bodies sticking their noses in where they didn’t belong? Were they friends of the husband who this woman had betrayed, seeking retribution for his damaged pride? Is this about Justice? No, they are using her as a pawn. Its exploitation, pure and simple.

They didn’t care about her sin or her soul. She was a convenient way to put Jesus on the spot. This is a shame culutre. This culture was about casting shame, and exposing publicly the weaknesses of your enemies. Honor and dishonor were closely guarded. If a religious Jew wanted to know something of his rabbi, he would ask in private, so the rabbi could save face if he did not know an answer. These rulers brought their concerns to Jesus publicly, as a way to shame him, or trick him into saying something detrimental to his cause. This would show his followers that he could not perform up to par, and disqualify him as legitimate prophet.

Jesus’ behavior seems kind of odd. He appears to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the woman, and the requests of the rulers to judge her. His body language says, what does this have to do with me? It reminds me of when two brothers come to Jesus, in Luke 12;14 arguing about the inheritance. One is not pleased with how it is divided up, and asks Jesus to tell the brother who got more to give him a larger share. Jesus replys, “Who made me a judge or arbiter over you?” In other words, I want nothing of your petty dispute, it is beneath me, and I am in no way responsible to settle this matter for you.

Many times over Jesus proclaimed that he was not sent, and it was not his intention, to abolish the Law or Prophets, but to fulfill them. In fact, he says heaven and earth shall pass away, before the Law will pass away. But, isn’t Jesus ignoring the Law, or refusing to keep it. Because the woman did the deed, she does deserve the penalty. Some people teach that Jesus came to re-interpret the OT, but I don’t believe that. God’s word does not need a modern interpretation. It means what it says. The problem was the actual meaning had been distorted by years of corruption, and Jesus was merely restoring the intention of what the Scriptures had meant in the first place.

Jesus knows they are not actually following the Law which Moses gave, because it mandated that both the man and woman be executed. He would actually be participating in their hypocrisy, if he allowed them to stone the woman without the man. For more on that particular law, you can read Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10. Notice that Jesus does not extend her clemency, nor did he pronounce sentence upon her. He is uniquely interested in frustrating the Ruler’s attempts to corner him. He was not about to allow himself to get sucked into their game. He kept clean hands. They sought to put him into a lose-lose situation, but don’t you know that he is creative and wise enough to create a third way! He is wise enough to see the trap, avoid it, and in the process indict the entire lot of those hypocritical enough to be involved with such a sham trial.

Jesus created time and space for the raucous crowd to cool their passions. Notice that the older ones are the first to feel their own guilty consciences. I’ve noticed that older people have naturally cooler passions, they aren’t as impatient, hot under the collar, or overzealous. They are generally more level headed than the young, and less prone to being carried away. The older ones recognized right away that the standard Jesus presented was not one they could live up to. See the Pharisees thought they were putting Jesus on trial. The woman thought she was being put on trial. But, Jesus called each one to bear witness against his own sins, by their inability to be the first to stone the woman.

Look at the way the regard the woman. She is a means to an end. Folks, whenever you treat other human beings like scenery or like objects, then you are outside of God’s will for your life. Human kind is made in the image of God. We don’t have a right to spitefully use each other, or ignore one another, because this reduces the God given intrinsic value they ought to enjoy. The Pharisees treated this woman as a means to an end… a rather despicable end at that. If Jesus seems callous toward her, or uncaring, please know that is the farthest thing from the truth. The heart of Jesus overflows with love for those outcasts on the margins of society, but He also cares about doing things the right way.

Jesus doesn’t tell her, “No sweat, girl, adultery is cool with me.” He doesn’t discourse on the moral evil of capital punishment. He doesn’t deny that the Law is righteous. He doesn’t tell her it’s no big deal. He doesn’t deny that she did the deed, and deserved the penalty. He merely leaves it up to the Father to render justice, and when the angry mob goes home to contemplate its own shortcomings, he commands the woman to “Go, and sin no more”. Jesus reveals that the heart of God, because of his loving mercy, covenant kindness and fatherly affection, is that repentance would occur rather than judgment. God gives every opportunity to turn away from sin, thus avoiding the wrath that is to come. Isn’t that at the center of God’s attention, all throughout the Law and Prophets?

This week see if you can identify someone you’ve been treating like an object or scenery. Or, maybe you need to you need to forgive someone who wronged you. Remember that God has forgiven you so much. Is there someone you’ve been withholding love or forgiveness from? If so, you are in sin. You are the hypocrite. Let’s pray.

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