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Winnowing is the process by which chaff is separated and removed from grain when it's harvested. Today, in the industrialized world, it's done by mechanical combines, but in ancient times it was (and in some parts of the world still is) done by tossing the grain (by hand, shovel or winnowing fork) into the air against the wind. The light chaff gets blown away, while the heavier grain falls straight back down to the ground. The old adage "separating the wheat from the chaff" is derived from this process.

Wheat Winnowing In Bible History

The people of Bible History were well familiar with the process of harvesting grain, and winnowing was often mentioned in both a literal and figurative sense, historically and prophetically. Because hills usually provided better exposure to wind for winnowing, threshing floors were often located on such elevations - one of the most famous of which was purchased in Jerusalem by David, a site known today as the Temple Mount, where God commanded David's son and successor Solomon to build the original Temple (see Temples).

"But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will buy it for the full price; I will not take for The Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings which cost me nothing." So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the site. And David built there an altar to The Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon The Lord, and He answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. Then The Lord commanded the angel; and he put his sword back into its sheath. At that time, when David saw that The Lord had answered him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he made his sacrifices there." (1 Chronicles 21:24-28 RSV)

"Then Solomon began to build the house of The Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where The Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite." (2 Chronicles 3:1 RSV)

"And He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your cattle will graze in large pastures; and the oxen and the asses that till the ground will eat salted provender, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork." (Isaiah 30:23-24 RSV)

"Say to my soul, "I am your deliverance!" Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! Let them be turned back and confounded who devise evil against me! Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of The Lord driving them on!" (Psalm 35:3-5 RSV)

A New Testament Analogy

John The Baptist once used winnowing as an analogy for Judgment, which also included an analogy for Baptism (which literally means to immerse) - the obedient will be immersed by the Holy Spirit, to eternal life (resurrected from the dead or transformed if alive on the day of The Return Of Jesus Christ), while the disobedient will be immersed in fire, the lake of fire, to total destruction (those who seek a "baptism of fire" in a religious sense may want to seriously reconsider just what they're asking for):

"John answered them all, "I baptize you with water; but He Who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of Whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." (Luke 3:16-17 RSV)

Fact Finder: Did Jesus Christ ever speak a parable in which angels will be like harvesters?
Matthew 13:36-43

This Week's Bible Quiz

1. How many people were there on Noah's ark?
(a) 2 (b) 8 (c) 40 (d) 155

2. What was the name of Moses' older brother?
(a) Abraham (b) Enoch (c) Aaron (d) Dathan

3. What was the name of the king that David succeeded?
(a) Saul (b) Solomon (c) Samuel (d) Abner

4. What prophet was given the Babylonian name Belteshazzar?
(a) Jeremiah (b) Micah (c) Ezekiel (d) Daniel

5. Of what Israelite tribe was Jesus Christ?
(a) Judah (b) Joseph (c) Levi (d) Zebulun

6. What king tried to have Jesus Christ killed right after He was born?
(a) Antiochus (b) Pontius Pilate (c) Herod (d) Caesar Augustus

7. In what city did Jesus Christ live after He left Nazareth?
(a) Capernaum (b) Jerusalem (c) Bethany (d) Magdala

8. How was John the Baptist killed?
(a) crucified (b) thrown to the lions (c) stoned (d) beheaded

9. What was the apostle Paul's original name?
(a) Josephus (b) Hiram (c) Saul (d) Mordecai

10. On what island did John write the book of Revelation?
(a) Cyprus (b) Malta (c) Patmos (d) Sicily

For the answers to this June 26 2001 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page

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