Grain Harvest

Harvest in Scripture

Harvest time was a regular and essential reality in the life of the ancient Israelites; consequently, it served as an important marker in their yearly calendar, in addition to being background for many accounts in Scripture.

Exodus 34:22 (KJV) “And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks [Shavuot], of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end.”

1 Samuel 6:13 (KJV) “And they of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it.”

Threshing Floors

It is not enough simply to gather the ripe grain from the field. The stalks must be processed in order to separate the inedible straw (called chaff) from the grain kernels. This work would be done at a threshing floor—a place set aside for this very purpose—such as this one at Gibeon.

Matthew 3:12 (NIV) “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.”

Tools for Threshing

This photo, taken at Yad HaShmona Biblical Garden, shows recreations of several tools that would have been used at a threshing floor. Of special note are the flat boards, called “threshing sledges.” These would be equipped with teeth and then dragged over the grain stalks in order to break them apart.

Isaiah 41:15 (NET) “Look, I am making you like a sharp threshing sledge, new and double-edged. You will thresh the mountains and crush them; you will make the hills like straw.”

Chaff as a Symbol

Psalm 1:4 (NET) “Not so with the wicked! Instead they are like wind-driven chaff.”

Job 21:18 (NET) “How often are they like straw before the wind, and like chaff swept away by a whirlwind?”

Psalm 35:5 (NET) “May they be like wind-driven chaff, as the Lord’s angel attacks them!”

Isaiah 33:11 (NET) “You conceive straw, you give birth to chaff; your breath is a fire that destroys you.”

Hand Mills

This set of grinding stones from the Neolithic period is representative of what many ancient people would have used to mill their grain. A person would work the upper millstone, using it to grind grain against the heavier lower millstone.

Job 41:24 (NET) “Its heart is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.”

Deuteronomy 24:6 (NET) “One must not take either lower or upper millstones as security on a loan, for that is like taking a life itself as security.”

Commercial Mills

Ancient mills were not limited to small, primitive examples, however. This millstone from a bakery in Pompeii demonstrates how large commercial mills could be. A machine such as this would have been powered by men or animals, and large operations could have several millstones grinding simultaneously.

Revelation 18:21 (KJV) “And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.”

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Related Websites

For historical images of grain harvest, see Life in the Holy Land. For a book of the Bible closely related to harvest time, see our pages on Ruth.

Old Testament Laws: Harvest Seasons of Ancient Israel (Grace Communion International). An explanation of how Israel’s various harvest seasons relate to the festival calendar.

Agriculture (Penn Museum). A short page discussing the methodology and tools of ancient farming.

Growing and Harvesting Grain (Ancient Hebrew Research Center). This page features some excerpts from Fred H. Wight’s Manners and Customs of Bible Lands regarding the life of an ancient farmer.

Agriculture in Israel: History & Overview (Jewish Virtual Library). This longer, more academic essay from the Encyclopedia Judaica offers a scholarly Jewish perspective on the history of agriculture in Israel.