When the hand of God wrote in the Old Testament, it was on stone, and in the New Testament, it was on sand. Praise God for the difference!
All of the Bible is the Word of God, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit and recorded by men God specifically chose for this purpose (2 Timothy 3:16). Many of the words of Jesus, Son of God and God Himself, are recorded in the Scripture, as are words of God speaking as the Trinity (Genesis 1) or as God the Father (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 9:35).
Yet there are special instances in the Bible where the hand of God actually wrote, and these would seem to have unique significance. The first time we are told of God writing, He uses His finger to engrave the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, not once, but twice, which was necessary because Moses in his anger destroyed the first set of tablets (Exodus 31:18; 32:15-16, 19; 34:1).
The Ten Commandments, or the Law, cannot save anyone, but rather serve as a mirror reflecting man’s sin (James 1:22-25). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), so no one (except for Jesus Himself; Hebrews 4:15) is capable of keeping these commandments perfectly. We sin not only against God, rebelling against the first four commandments (Exodus 20:1-11), but also against one another, breaking the remaining commandments, which follow in a hierarchy or logical progression.
The fifth commandment is a transitional commandment between loving God and loving our neighbor, as it commands us to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12), who represent our first authority figure and hence become a model of how we will relate to God. The next three commandments prohibit killing, committing adultery, and stealing (Exodus 20:13-15), which are sinful acts against our neighbor. The ninth commandment prohibits lying (Exodus 20:16), which is sinful speech; and the tenth commandment prohibits coveting, or craving something belonging to someone else (Exodus 20:17), which is sinful thought.
Jesus extended this logical progression even further by stating that even looking at a woman with lust is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28), and that anger is equivalent to murder in the heart (Matthew 5:22). This made it abundantly clear that no one can keep the Ten Commandments, because to keep them perfectly requires controlling not only one’s actions, but one’s words and even one’s thoughts and emotions.
The Law, written by God’s hand on tablets of stone, therefore represents God’s judgment – He judges man by this absolute standard and finds that we are all sinners deserving eternal punishment in hell. Only by the perfect sacrifice of His Son to pay our sin debt in full can sinful man be reconciled to holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Colossians 1:20-22; Hebrews 2:17).
When God looks at those who put their faith in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son (1 Corinthians 15) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), He sees not our sins, but the perfect righteousness of His Son (Romans 4:5-8). In an amazing and mysterious transaction, our sin was credited to Jesus’s account, and His righteousness was credited to our account. God’s judgment no longer will result in our eternal punishment in hell; instead, His grace offers us eternal and abundant life with Him in Heaven (Romans 5:10-21).
The second time we see God’s hand writing, it also delivers a message of judgment, written on the plaster of a stone wall in a royal banquet hall (Daniel 5). Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was guilty of desecrating the sacred gold and silver vessels of God’s temple, allowing his princes, wives and concubines to drink from them as they toasted their pagan gods (v. 2-4). He was therefore committing idolatry (not to mention adultery and using precious objects his father stole from God’s temple), dishonoring God and honoring his own false gods.
He also committed the sin of pride (v. 22) and rebellion against God, even though he had seen the severe punishment God had given his father Nebuchadnezzar for stealing the sacred vessels, being prideful, and failing to acknowledge that it was God Who gave him all his power and glory (v. 18).
Daniel interprets the written message for Belshazzar: Daniel 5:26 MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. 27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. 28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
Just as the Ten Commandments convey God’s judgment against all sinners, this message reveals God’s judgment against the king for the sins of pride, rebellion and idolatry, and should serve as a sober warning to all rulers who falsely think they obtained their power through their own merit instead of as a gift from God. As predicted, Belshazzar was murdered that very night, and Darius from Medes seized the Chaldean kingdom (v.30-31).
The third time we see God writing, the wording of the message is not revealed, yet the effect was similar: it made those who saw it aware of their sin. A woman caught in adultery is brought to Jesus by angry Pharisees, asking whether He agrees or disagrees that she should be put to death as commanded in the law of Moses (John 8:4-5). He almost seems to ignore them, yet begins writing with His finger in the sand (v. 6). Finally, He says, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” then continues to write on the ground. One by one, the accusers leave, convicted by their own guilty conscience (v. 6-9).
Unlike the Old Testament incidents of God writing, this incident shows Jesus writing not indelibly by etching the message into stone, but by tracing the words in the dirt where they could easily be blown away by the wind, covered by footprints, or washed away by the rain. His sacrifice on the cross allowed our judgment to be erased and gone forever. Man in his rebellion cannot escape God’s judgment, any more than Moses breaking the first set of tablets in anger meant that God would revoke the law He commanded His people to keep.
But Jesus’ own words reveal that He came not to judge or to condemn (John 8: 11,15), but to forgive, love, and pay our debt to God the Judge so that all who have faith in Him will have their sins forgiven, their judgment repealed, and their freedom assured for all eternity.
Romans 5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.