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His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. – Matthew 3:12

In our modern society, the simple things are often overlooked. We usually have our bread, fruits, vegetables, and other foods brought to us in big trucks. Rarely do we see the hard work of the farmers behind the scenes. These everyday workers are often forgotten.

The beauty of the Bible is that it can remind us to look beyond what is right in front of us. Today we are going to look at how God uses the idea of the threshing floor, chaff, and the winnowing fork to remind us of His judgment, redemption, and presence. 

What Does ‘Threshing Floor’ Literally Mean?

The threshing floor was (and still is) a common enough place. Most farms had their own threshing floors. A few smaller farms would sometimes share a threshing floor.

For most of its history, the threshing floor was an outside space. The grain was spread out over a stone or hard-packed dirt. Then an animal (an ox, donkey, or horse) would walk across the grain to break the kernels. So the outside shell of the grain would then need to be separated from the good part of the grain.

This is where the farmer would use the natural wind to help separate the grain from what was called “chaff.” The word “chaff” means “rubbish.” So this was just the other parts of the grain that wouldn’t be used. The farmer would use what is called a “winnowing fork” to throw up the chaff and the grain that was mixed together. This was just a shovel that looked like a fork. The wind would blow away the chaff and the heavy grains would fall back onto the threshing floor. The process then was repeated until only the grain was left.

Symbolism in Biblical Examples of Threshing

Because this was a common practice, we see God use this analogy throughout Scripture. Specifically, in Psalm 1 believers are compared to the grain and unbelievers to chaff. It says “That person (who meditates on God’s word) is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.”

Also in the prophets, especially Isaiah, the enemies of God and His people are called “chaff.” (Isaiah17:13, Isaiah 29:5Isaiah 40:23Isaiah 41:2)

Immediately the people reading Isaiah’s words would have known the prophet was speaking about the processing of threshing. Joel used the threshing floor to symbolize abundance. Joel 2:24 says that if the people repent, “The threshing floors will be filled with grain. The vats will overflow with new wine and olive oil.”

In Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 Jesus talks about His ministry and compares those who believe His words and those who don’t. Sometimes it is hard for us to know who are true believers. Christ assures us God will separate the true believers and unbelievers with his “winnowing fork.” This is not to cause us to fear, but to assure us that God knows our hearts. If we are truly following Him, we will not be separated from Him.

God’s purpose for His people has always been that we be set apart. (Leviticus 19:2John 17:15-18) So it is easy to see why God would use this imagery of threshing to show us the importance of being separate from the world. We cannot let the worldly thinking invade our mindsets. (Romans 12:1-2

( to be continued)

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