Threshing and Winnowing

A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them. (ESV)
A wise king separates out the wicked and drives the threshing wheel over them. (Holman)  Proverbs 20:26

Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of the grain from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. After the harvest has been threshed, winnowing separates the loose chaff from the grain so that the grain, no longer mixed with the chaff, can be gathered. When God uses threshing and winnowing as metaphors for how to deal with people, as in the verse above, He does not necessarily stick to the order these processes are performed in agriculture. The metaphors are used to convey how God deals differently with the wicked and the just (‘the just’ being those who by grace are justified in Christ the Messiah).

In the modern world, harvesting, threshing and winnowing is all done by the one machine, the combine harvester. Unless we’ve witnessed these processes in third world countries where they’re still done in the old ways, we are unlikely to appreciate what these processes looked like in ancient times.  In biblical days, the threshing wheel consisted of three or four heavy rollers of wood, iron, or stone, roughly made and joined together in a square frame, which was in the form of a sledge or drag. Rollers were said to be like barrels of an organ with their projections. Cylinders were parallel with each other and were stuck full of spikes having sharp square points. The driver sat on the machine, and with his weight helped to keep it down. (source)


Some cultures used really heavy stones for threshing. This one was used by Mennonites in Kansas.

Mennonite threshing stone


After the farmer had threshed the harvest, it had to be winnowed to separate the grain from chaff.  In its simplest form winnowing involves throwing the mixture into the air so that the wind blows away the lighter chaff, while the heavier grains fall back down for recovery.


Here is a diagram of winnowing.

winnowing diagram

Wind winnowing can also be used to remove weevils or other pests from stored grain.

His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. (ESV) Matthew 3:12

While we are confident that God will do it right in the end, we also long to see threshing and winnowing being correctly done by (and for) the people of God even now.

Do the images of winnowing or threshing have special significance fo you? What jumps out at you when you think about these images?

24 thoughts on “Threshing and Winnowing”

  1. (I am a history buff (fanatic) and my children have grown up on Little House on the Prairie videos so we are “schooled” in threshing and winnowing.) What comes to mind when I read this is that both wheat and chaff are in the fields, together, side-by-side, the naked eye not really being able to differentiate between what is “good” and what is “bad,” the chaff feeling, thinking, acting as if it were wheat, the farmer treating both equally, not discerning, until God blows a breath of wind and the truth comes out. The wheat stays, the chaff is destroyed. An unrepentant heart is chaff.

    (I still hope he will repent. I’m just not waiting (reconciling), or taking the responsibility on my shoulders, until he does.

    1. Definition of chaff, from chaff [Internet Archive link]:
      1: the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain
      2: something comparatively worthless

      You may be thinking of “tares”, which grow alongside grain plants and resemble it but can be manually separated by the harvest laborers.
      Definition of tare from tare [Internet Archive link]:
      1 a : the seed of a vetch
      b : any of several vetches (especially Vicia sativa and V. hirsuta)
      2: a weed of grain fields especially of Biblical times that is usually held to be the darnel

      Tares also represent evil doers, as Jesus explains in Matthew 13:24-30, and 36-43, NIV:

      The Parable of the Weeds
      24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
      27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
      28 “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
      “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
      29 “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

      The Parable of the Weeds Explained
      36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
      37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
      40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

      1. I see what you mean. I think I was trying to convey the idea that everyone outside (of the field / of my marriage) just looks at it as a “look at that lovely field of wheat” never distinguishing that among the wheat (i guess in this case, encasing and crushing the wheat or keeping it from being of value) is something ugly and life-controlling. I didnt explain myself very well, but I like the tares example as well.

  2. I liken it to the refining silver analogy. The purification process for both involves much pressure and intensity in order to remove the impurities or unusable parts from the precious and pure parts.

    With winnowing, we see the unusable “fluff” comes to nothing and blows away…has no value…it is trampled on and completely separated from the valuable harvest. Likewise, our qualities need to be threshed in order to remove the unusable portions that are left in us that have no lasting purpose to thereby expose the valuable portions that have grown through God’s Living Water and endured the process of threshing.

  3. Threshing = painful, crushing the outer shell, weight of the world running over you, more than one passage of thresher is possible

    Winnowing = strong whole kernel, unbound from chaff, unbroken despite great pressure being put upon it, able to grow

    This is such an interesting and thought provoking analogy you’ve pointed out in scripture.

    How often do we think of abusers as broken? I know I have thought that about Hyde. He is broken, but refuses to be healed and to become whole. Because he is not whole, he cannot grow. This is sad. I see his fate if he continues to live this way. Suddenly, praying again for his soul does not seem impossible for me. This post may have given me the perspective I have needed to let go of the hatred I’ve felt toward Hyde lately for his deliberate cruelty. Hate is an ugly, festering, consuming emotion. I will be thinking about this post a lot. Thank you again!

    1. Hmm…now I am confused after reading this post and its comments (Abuse Without a Word — Nonverbal Abusive Communications). Is it wrong to let go of the hatred for Hyde? I abhor every evil that has come from him, I do not want to associate with him, but I do not wish hell on him. I hope he repents and is truly saved for his sake because hell is forever. Plus, an active hatred toward him feels like he is getting free rent in my head.

      Can anyone clarify?

      1. Hi, Mth, I shall try to answer you later either tonight or tomorrow my time.

        And thanks to everyone who has written on this thread so far. What you’ve all shared has enlightened me. I grew up in the inner suburbs and have never lived on a farm.

      2. MarriedtoHyde
        I don’t think it is wrong to let go of the hatred for Hyde. And I totally get your feeling that: ‘an active hatred toward him feels like he is getting free rent in my head.’

        Your confusion may have arised from semantics. It depends what one means by the word ‘hatred’.

        If the survivor thinks of ‘hatred for the abuser’ as an active emotion that dwells vengefully, or unrelentingly, or obsessively on the emotion of hot or rancid hatred for the abuser [or for the church that dealt the survivor injustice], I think it is usually good for the survivor to let such a feeling go, or at least let if drop down several notches, so it doesn’t rule her every thought every day. If a relentless emotional state of hatred prevails in a survivor’s soul, it is likely to lead to poison and bitterness — doing damage to the survivor’s mental and spiritual health long-term.

        But if the survivor has previously suppressed or denied her feelings of anger and hatred for the abuser and his conduct [and the unjust church], it is healthy and godly for her to allow those emotions up to the surface — healthier than keeping them all pressed down and denied. So again, the backstory and fuller picture of each survivor’s experience is what is important, to work out what is better or worse, more godly or less godly for her.

        If the survivor has been living a lie (deep in the fog) and denying the reality of her anger and her justified hatred for the abuser’s / church’s actions, then NOT lying — and thereby allowing herself to feel the hatred — is a good step forward. But if she has been nursing or giving feelings of hate so much rental space in her head that the abuser is still ‘winning’ thereby, dominating her thoughts all the time even when she wants to think other thoughts, then it is godly for her to let go of that hatred.

        Have I made any sense here? Have I missed the mark, or left something out?

      3. On “married to Hyde” THANK YOU for the “hate” clarification! Yes, the denial of anger because you are not allowed to show it! I do see the difference. “Being afraid of our own anger “(which is NOT a sin) seems to be a common trait of victims of abuse. Its seems insidious that abusers can be angry (most of the time) AND sin with their actions, without remorse, but if I am angry because I am being abused, and are show it or even question his actions, I am “not responding in a godly way?!!!” Very one-sided. I fell for that for years. HUGE clarification, Barbara. Thank you!

      4. Barbara, thank you so much for taking time to clarify this for me.

        I was not allowed to be angry in my marriage. Showing anger or disagreeing meant being stonewalled and having all affection and camaraderie withdrawn. Living in near isolation (socially not physically) in another country, these penalties for anger were devastating to me. He was my primary source for everything: money, love, touch, praise, car, etc. Oh my gosh…I never realized, until right now, how he placed himself between me and everything I needed.

        Hyde sinned against me so many times–denying me the child we’d planned (prior to marriage) to have together, denying me any say in our sex life, failing to attempt to build a relationship with my son as he had been prior to marriage, blaming me for his work-induced anxiety, withholding all financial information from me–and every time I hid my anger and showed him love and unearned forgiveness. Eventually, I started trying to hold him accountable for being neglectful of my needs and this evolved into a cycle of arguments where I would respectfully bring up something he did that hurt me and he would stonewall, I would go off into another room in frustration and anger and cry, then an hour or so later I would apologize to him for bringing up my hurt and being angry. My therapist pointed out we had an argument, but I played both parts.

        Thank you for describing the different forms of hate. I have definitely felt the hot righteous hatred, especially during legal negotiations where he is attempting to scare me and deny what is rightfully mine–it is a hatred of injustice and ongoing abuse. The ugly hatred where I feel capable of tearing him apart in anger seems to come from remembering the past, realizing a loss he caused me, and his acting like I never existed (my friends and family tell me about his social media). This second type of hate is what makes me feel bad…it also is not constructive like the first type.

        You have given me such insight. I understand so much better why I feel hate/anger and why some of that feels unhealthy. Thank you!

      5. Eventually, I started trying to hold him accountable for being neglectful of my needs and this evolved into a cycle of arguments where I would respectfully bring up something he did that hurt me and he would stonewall, I would go off into another room in frustration and anger and cry, then an hour or so later I would apologize to him for bringing up my hurt and being angry.

        That is exactly my life! Thank you for describing it so succinctly. (I’m not sure exactly what “stonewall” is but mine would yell, deflect, turn it around, blame me, anything but just look at it objectively and maturely so we could actually “problem-solve.”) I love the “played both parts” comment. Did your counselor explain what the 2 parts are? I would be interested in being able to pinpoint those. Barbara’s insight about anger was very helpful. Welcome to truth and may you find healing here.

      6. Hi Debby.

        No, she did not explain, but from my understanding I was both Confronter and Confronted. I was ConfrontER when I gently raised the issue. He would stonewall (refuse to acknowledge my presence; he would literally stare straight ahead with his arms crossed. If I got in his field of vision he’d avert his gaze). Deflecting and blaming are other tactics to avoid constructive dialogue. Since he’d refuse to engage I would get upset and then feel guilty for my actions and go apologize, thereby taking responsibility for his role as the ConfrontED party.

        In normal, healthy communication when the confrontER raises the issue, the confrontED would respond either acknowleding or denying the issue. If confrontED was wrong, then s/he would apologize. If confrontED was justified in whatever the issue was, then s/he would explain his/her position to help confrontER understand his/her actions. In this normal scenario both parties come to a point of agreement about the issue, and most of all…both parties respect the other’s dignity. Stonewalling, blaming, and deflecting do not honor a person’s dignity, in fact they aim to strip that dignity away.

  4. I grew up on a farm and vividly recall the time of harvest. It is a season of diligence. The crop must be brought out of the field and readied for storage, etc.

    Relevant to this scripture is the part the wind / violent movement plays. The separation is not a gentle process. While the hull and chaff can try to hide with the grain, it will yield poor return. In crop farming, I can’t think of a dirtier picture than a combine cutting through a field of soybeans. It is reminiscent of the dust bowl era. Enough force / wind is required to break open the pod and release the beautiful fresh beans. From a distance, one cannot even see the combine only a great cloud of filth rolling through the field. The beans are useless except they be released from the prison of the pod.

    The beans are ‘carefully handled’ as gold to the farmer. The beans are dried and moved to the storehouse. They are fruit of heavy labor, even in the 21st century. Harvesting wheat seems to be a gentler process, cleaner. But the the principal remains the same. A farmer would be a fool to work the ground and plant seed in the spring, wait expectantly for harvest, and allow chaff to fill the storehouse. He knows the important value of a strong, violent wind to accomplish the separation. It is as important as putting the seed in the ground.

    For me, that strong violent movement of wind is a picture of God powerfully dealing with that chaff which considers itself entitled to hide out in the store house.

  5. What comes to my mind is that God knows when to separate the good seed from the bad in his perfect timing. I might not see vendication right away, but it will come sooner or later.

  6. (Airbrushing very, very carefully through the fog…)

    I have lived in regions containing the dusty combining of wheat and / or the dirty, dirty business of reaping legumes (of which soybeans were one).

    Thanks to Barb and Seeing Clearly for the evocative reminders.

    And thanks to Robert Simpson’s inclusion of the Parable of the Tares for another reminder of the past. Stubble burning after the harvest was used to complete / finish the process.

    Some days, the wind was stronger, leaving the air relatively clear. Some days there wasn’t a breath of wind, the airborne dust and dirt almost suffocating.

    At one point in my life, I was indirectly accused of “trying to explain things that are beyond my pay grade”. (A slight modification of an ACFJ post title. 🙂 )

    In this circumstance, it was my “dad”. (Omitting many, many details for my protection….of me, of the innocent.) Because he did not understand my method, he would have me re-do my work. The results would be the same, but less effective or easily modified.

    At one point in my “marriage”, my anti-x tried to use his “education” to go against what I was being led to do by the Holy Spirit. I went against my anti-x’s advice, and the desired result was obtained.

    God does not tell us to turn off brains and follow false authority without question. This is what my “dad’ was asking for…

    God does not tell us to put man / woman above the Holy Spirit. This is what my anti-x was asking for…

    Right now, I run into this everyday, a ball bouncing back and forth in the vaults of my mind. And I get bound by fear.

    I follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, moment by moment.

    I am faced with advice from the world on my financial situation.

    I continue to follow the Holy Spirit, His healing breath clearing the fog / cobwebs from my mind.

    The fear remains, always in the background.

    I am praying for resolution.

    Game, set, match to God?

    1. At times in the clearing process, or winnowing process, fear can become a quiet tool. It announces a time of necessary, aggressive separation of grain from chaff. It is perhaps a time when the victim-survivor will need to be strong and fierce inside. The victim and the Holy Spirit know, together, what needs to stay and what must be discarded.

      The grain that must stay is the victim’s confidence that she (or he if the victim is male) has a good brain and abilities. But, often, holding one’s own, living by truth, can feel brutal and demeaning. Fear tells you, at times, it seems easier to sit down and shut up, play dumb.

      As regenerate Christians we [are] grounded in amazing ways that our devaluing family members know nothing of.

      1. Hi Seeing Clearly, I edited your comment a little to make it more general.

        For example, I changed “It is perhaps a time when you will need to be strong and fierce inside,” to “It is perhaps a time when the victim-survivor will need to be strong and fierce inside.”

        I hope you don’t mind what I’ve done.

  7. (Airbrushing…through the fog…praying I find the words I need…trying to be gentle…)

    Thank you, Barb, for judiciously editing Seeing Clearly’s comment. Even so, I triggered. This sounded so much like my family of origin.

    I am choosing to use my financial situation for what I write…

    Copying from my comment:

    I am faced with advice from the world on my financial situation.

    Before I married, I lived alone. I was debt-free. Put money into savings.

    When I married, being naive, I used my savings to pay down my “husband’s'” debt. “That’s what you did in a marriage.”

    There was debt when we divorced.

    I had always been the responsible one, giving up whatever was necessary for me to make ends meet. Clothing. Food. Health care.

    (There is a phrase I use, but it would be a dead giveaway…)

    He spent money on whatever.

    I was blamed for the debt. If I said anything about the paucity of basics in my life, I was told “It was your choice.”

    The short-term relationship left me massively in debt. The circumstances made eviction difficult.

    Again, I was blamed. And ridiculed. (Other details omitted.)

    (Omitting a significant quantity of identifying details.)

    With time and God’s help, I became debt free.

    And debt-free I have remained.

    There were occasions I turned down my family of origin. They quoted my phrase back at me, the one that would be a dead giveaway. To them, their occasion was more important than my circumstances.

    I do not want to be placed in the position of owing money ever again, yet following the Holy Spirit feels like I am being led in that direction. (Again, omitting details for my protection.)

    I am being called to radical trust.

    Yet promises were always broken.

    Either way, I will be the one to blame.

  8. Barbara, thank you for wisely editing my comment. It is never my in intention to bring harm to another.

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