Summary: Sometimes things that hurt are those things that cause the most good in our lives.
Last week we started our new series on baking bread with the harvest. We learned that in order to make bread, we need to follow four steps: harvest , threshing, grinding into flour, and finally combining with other ingredients to bake into bread. We also learned, more importantly, that the time for harvest is now, but only through the harvest can we actually begin to live in Christ.
Tonight we will continue this series by discussing the second step -- threshing. Threshing wheat simply means separating the actual wheat kernel from the chaff, which is a coarse, dry, and scaly covering. The chaff is not edible and really doesn’t have any use as far as humans are concerned. A good example of chaff for those of us who have never been on a wheat farm is that dry, papery stuff around a peanut right after it’s shelled. That’s the chaff of a peanut! Unfortunately, in order to get rid of chaff, you need to do a lot of hard work.
One of the first methods people used to get rid of the chaff involved animals -- they would spread the wheat on hard ground -- either rocky or hard-packed dirt. They would then make oxen or donkeys walk in circles on the kernels. The weight and force of the animals stepping on the wheat would force the chaff to separate. Afterward, the people would gather up the wheat kernels in baskets for the next step.
If oxen, donkeys, or other large animals were not available; they would thresh the wheat by hand. This was accomplished via a threshing flail, a long pole connected to a shorter rod by a short chain. The dimensions were different depending on what they needed to thresh (wheat versus rice versus barley, etc) but wheat flails typically had a 5-foot handle connected to a 3-foot rod. People would pile the wheat kernels up on a wooden or stone floor and beat it with the flail until the chaff had separated. One could expect to thresh around sixty pounds of wheat per hour -- that’s about 480 pounds of wheat threshed by hand per day.
This is a brief video that shows the old method of threshing.
As a side note -- threshing flails are thought to be the origin of nunchucks. Japanese and Chinese farmers would use their threshing flails as makeshift weapons against bandits, robbers, or overzealous tax collectors sent by the emperor.
Back to threshing. Farmers have already done a lot of work -- but they weren’t done yet! The oxen and the threshing flails couldn’t get all of the chaff separated -- there were still several bits stuck onto the kernels. In order to remove the last pieces of chaff, they would toss the kernels using a pitchfork-type tool or a special basket to let the wind blow away the remaining pieces of chaff. The heavier kernels would then fall back down to the ground. This is called winnowing.
Compare this to what a modern combine harvester can accomplish. One man with a harvester and one man with a truck can harvest, thresh, and winnow more than five tons of wheat per day, compared to 480 pounds per day when doing it by hand.