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Moses directs. For they hoped to entangle him in the necessity either of condemning the woman to death, which would be construed into “making himself a king *,” and infringing the Roman authority; or of acquitting her, and thereby exposing himself to the censure of counteracting the law, which the Jews held sacred. “ But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.”
Considerable light is thrown upon this action by the relation of a writer of good credit †, who lived ten years in Barbary, and informs us, that “ when the Bedouins or Arabs converse, they sit down in a circle : the man who speaks, first makes a smooth place with his hand on the sand, then with his finger continues his discourse ; and again smooths this spot from time to time, to begin again with his strokes." These people derive their origin from Ishmael and Abraham, and still retain several customs mentioned in sacred history, It will be recollected that Jesus is expressly said to have been sitting, probably upon the ground, and instructing the people, who flocked to hear
• Chap. xviii. 31, and xix. 12.
+ Letters from Tripoly by one of the family of R. Tully, Esq. the British Consul. Vol. I. page 47.
him. If then we suppose the same manner of conversing to have been familiar in Judea, which we are assured prevails at this day among the Bedouins before mentioned, nothing could be more natural than this conduct of Jesus, who pursued his discourse without seeming to advert to the importunity of those who had interrupted him. His subsequent reproof is another instance of his consummate wisdom, and intimate knowledge of what was in man, carrying to the consciences of those evil-disposed persons a conviction which they were unable to withstand : “ He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Now, though it is very right that offenders should be punished, it is very wrong that we should be forward to accuse them; especially when it is done not with the dispassionate mind of reason and justice, in support of public morals, or public security; but, as in this case, from malice and envy. When Jesus said to the woman,
Go, and sin no more,” He, who knew all things, may be supposed to have seen that this sinner was inwardly touched with a sense of her guilt, and might yet repent and be saved. Previous to this it is said, that “ Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst;" which is only
to be understood as regarding those Scribes and Pharisees, who had brought the woman before him, but now," being convicted of their own consciences,” had silently withdrawn. His other auditors were probably still about him, and to them he continued to address his following discourse, declaring that he was come as a light into the world, to dispel the clouds of superstition and ignorance, and to instruct mankind in the true knowledge of God, and of all things necessary to salvation. To the Pharisees, who objected to him that he brought no witnesses in support of his pretensions, Jesus replies, that God the Father, who sent him, had born ample witness to his truth, by the miracles which were wrought by him, and by the prophecies which were accom. plished in his person. But independently of these open attestations, his record was true; for he came from heaven, and knew the truth of what he affirmed; but they were too much blinded by worldly prejudices to comprehend his divine and spiritual character.
Ver. 15. It may be thought extraordinary that He, who was to be the judge of quick and dead, should say, “I judge no man.” The meaning is, that his judgment was not of this world; he did not trouble himself with the things of this world, by which they were influenced. Had they been qualified to admit the doctrines which he taught, they would have acknowledged both Him and his Father.
Ver. 21. Jesus then said unto them, that he should quit this world, while they would in vain expect a temporal Messiah, and in that expectation would die unregenerate, and unable to follow him into the mansions of bliss. For their minds were low and worldly, and incapable of communion with him, who was altogether free from worldly affections. Yet was it only through faith in Christ, that their sins could be pardoned; and what he said unto them, he says unto all, that if they believe not in him, they must“ die in their sins.”
Ver. 25. His audience seem to have been struck with the dignity with which he spake, and ask him therefore, “Who art thou?" To which Jesus returns an answer explicit enough not to be misunderstood, yet such as could not be wrested to any malicious purpose; re-asserting, at the same time, that all which he said, or did, was in compliance with the will of God the Father. But the surest evidence of his being indeed the Messiah would be reserved for that time when he should rise again after having been crucified.
Ver. 30. Then of those who heard him, many, we are told, believed on him ; but
believed not, and began to cavil, as is the manner of unbelievers unto this day; men, who resisting the truth, invent specious arguments, and bring forward frivolous objections, to mislead the unwary.
Ver. 33. It may seem contrary to all truth to say that the Jews had “ never been in bondage to any man,” considering their long servitude in Egypt, and in Babylon. But the expression probably took its origin from the history of Sarah and Hagar, the free woman, and the bond woman. St. Paul has taught us to understand this in a spiritual sense of the church of Christ * ; but the Jews boasted that they alone were the descendants of the free woman, the children of the promise ; and whatever may have been their condition for a season, they vindicated to themselves the privileges of the true seed, and acknowledged the sovereignty of no man. Upon this plea was raised the sedition of Judas the Galilean, who, when the Roman emperor ordered the nation to
* Rom. ix. 8. Gal. iii. 29. and iv. 22.