What is the Bible talking about when it mentions a threshing floor?
A threshing floor is a smooth, flat surface that was used in the process of harvesting grain. Before there was machinery, farmers used a threshing floor to separate the grain from the chaff. The harvested produce would be spread over the threshing floor and then animals (cattle or oxen) would be led over it, to crush and break the sheaves apart with their hooves. At times, people used sticks to beat the sheaves apart (Ruth 2:17; Isaiah 28:27). The grain would be separated from the husks, or chaff (Deuteronomy 25:4; Isaiah 28:28) and then tossed into the air so that the wind could blow the chaff away, leaving only the good, edible grain. This was called "winnowing."
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A threshing floor is important in the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz. In those times, if a woman's husband died, it was very difficult for her to survive on her own, and very often, the woman would be "redeemed" by her husband's nearest kinsmen (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 2:20). Ruth was encouraged by her mother-in-law, Naomi, to go down to the threshing floor where Boaz was winnowing barley. She was to wait until he had finished eating and drinking and was lying down for the night, and then uncover his feet and lay down at his feet, for this was a symbol of her desire to be redeemed by Boaz (Ruth 3:1-18). The connection between the kinsmen redeemer and the threshing floor in this story is likely not incidental.
The threshing floor is symbolic of judgment in the Bible. Old Testament prophet Hosea prophesied that Israel would be "like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window" (Hosea 13:3). Of the nations who will come against God during the end times, the prophet Micah says "they do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor." The idea is that Israel will demolish their enemies like oxen trampling grain on the threshing floor" (Micah 4:11-13). Chaff is referred to in the Psalms as a symbol of the destruction of the wicked (Psalm 1:4). Also, John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the one who would separate the good grain from the chaff with a winnowing fork, gathering the grain into his barn and burning the chaff with "unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). This is a symbol of heaven and hell.
The threshing floor has spiritual significance as the place where good and evil are separated. Ruth symbolizes the believer, or spiritual Israel, for she was a Gentile who converted to Judaism (Ruth 1:16). Boaz is a symbol of Christ—the Redeemer. When Ruth comes to the threshing floor she is in need, and has responded to Boaz's previous kindness and generosity (Ruth 2:8-13). She has learned that he is a good man, and she trusts him. The fact that her petition takes place at the threshing floor, among the grain and the chaff, is a beautiful symbol of man's need for redemption and God's identity as Redeemer (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Psalm 78:35). The difference between the grain and the chaff, between good and evil people, is not their good or evil works. The grain is gathered into the barn by faith, by the gift of God, who provides righteousness and spiritual safety through Jesus Christ, our kinsmen Redeemer (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:22-24; Hebrews 2:11-15).
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