And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. Judges 6:11
The above verse is an excerpt of the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the captivity of the Midianites. Israel had sinned against God for the umpteenth time, and God allowed Midian to invade the land and keep it under captivity for seven years.
Midian Devastates Israel
Although this seven years period was the shortest of the seven times Israel was brought under servitude during the time of the judges, it wasn’t less painful compared to the other times that Israel had been invaded. The Bible recorded that the oppression was so much that the children of Israel abandoned their houses and fled to the mountains and caves and other strongholds. And because Midian, Amalek and other nations from the East knew the harvest season, they’d invade the land and destroy every agricultural produce of the entire Israeli nation leaving Israel with no sustenance whatsoever.
The destruction didn’t leave out the sheep, oxen, and donkeys in the land. So, not only were the farm produce destroyed, the livestock and beasts necessary for cultivation, harvest and processing of the harvested crops were also plundered. The Midianites would come like locusts in number and devastate the land, leaving Israel impoverished and in fear for their lives. And this continued for seven uninterrupted years, and the people of Israel wept and prayed unto God for deliverance.
One more interesting point to note is that the nation Midian was actually an offspring of Midian the son of Abraham, just as Israel was. The only difference is that Midian came from Keturah, Abraham’s second wife, while Israel (Jacob) is a son of Isaac that came from Sarah, Abraham’s first wife. (Scriptural references in Genesis 25:2-4; 21:1-3; 25:20-26). Abraham had anticipated how troublesome his other children would be towards Isaac and sent them away in his lifetime, but this didn’t completely stop Israel and Midian from fighting several times (Numbers 22:4-7; 25:15-18; 31:1-12; Joshua 13:21)
The devastation was so much that the vineyards of Israel were completely plundered by the Midianites. The only thing some of them had left was a little wheat that they had to harvest in hiding and thresh them little by little in hiding as well. The enemy probably arrived a little late this time or didn’t see the wheat farm that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. So, Joash and his family had a little wheat to keep them alive but not grapes for making wine and certainly not enough for sales to make money. They were able to feed to be alive but not to enjoy. And even the feeding had to be done in hiding, and the preparation of the meal is an unusual place – threshing at the winepress and eating in dens and caves.
There is something fundamentally wrong with threshing wheat in the winepress.
The winepress is the area where one goes to make wine by pressing the grapes that one has harvested from the vineyard. The device is constructed for that purpose, and it does its duty well. But taking wheat to the winepress is illogical because you couldn’t possibly wish to squeeze the juice out of the grains in the first place. Also, you don’t have the space for treading the wheat, and flailing wheat in the winepress is wrong.
The Threshing Floor
The wheat on the other hand is meant to be threshed at the threshing floor (gōren in Hebrew). A Threshing floor in ancient Israel was a large open flattened hard surface used to thresh and winnow grains. The land often dedicated for this purpose is mostly the soils that are not fertile for agriculture. The hardness of the surface is important because in Biblical times, to thresh wheat, one made use of cattle to tramp or stamp on the wheat, separating the grain from the stem. In fact, in 1 Timothy 5:18, we hear Apostle Paul talk about not muzzling the mouth of the oxen that tread the corn because oxen were used for this purpose, and they could munch on the agricultural produce while performing their duties. This is in reference to Deuteronomy 25:4 when Moses gave various laws to Israel.
Threshing Floor on an elevated Platform for Winnowing
So, the threshing floor is where the stem of the wheat is removed from the head. Then, the process of winnowing takes place, where the chaff is separated from the seeds. The threshing floors were constructed either in an elevated position or however at a spot that had good access to the wind. This was important because the wind makes the winnowing process easy. A scriptural reference could be seen in Isaiah 41:15 -16a:
15“In fact, I have made of you a new, sharp threshing implement with sharp edges;
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
And make the hills like chaff.
16“You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away,
And a high wind will scatter them;
So, lack of access to the threshing floor meant that even if you happen to harvest grain, you couldn’t do much because you couldn’t access the facilities the threshing floor offers. You can at most flail your grain in a little space, without access to the big open space, the cattle and the wind that the threshing floor offers. So, at most, you can make wheat for yourself and for your family for a few days.
Threshing Floor as A Place for Socialization
Because the threshing floors were built close to each other and almost every family had a threshing floor (Genesis 50:10; 2 Samuel 6:6; 24:18; 1 Chronicle 13:9; 21:15), usually in a place that had access to the wind (to help in winnowing the grains), the threshing floor also helped in socialization as families would come around to help one another thresh their wheat and chat about events in the village. They were more like squares during the harvest season and it helped to foster togetherness and exchange of information among families.
So, the enemy occupying the threshing floors or making them inaccessible through fear meant a stop to such vital moments in the lives of the inhabitants of the nation Israel. Meeting in such large groups would permit the captives to exchange vital information and perhaps plan an attack on their captors. No wonder the Midianites took them over. Moreso, the threshing floors were open spaces in or close to the villages, so, it’s easy for a Midian soldier to spot people coming around there. And when you no longer have grains to thresh because of the devastation caused by your enemies, what are you going to the threshing floor to do?
Non-agricultural Activities on the Threshing Floor
But more importantly, is the fact that many non-agricultural activities were performed on the threshing floor. Since grains are seasonal products, the threshing would remain unused after the period of the wheat harvest. While Daniel was interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2:35, he made a comparison of the destruction of the various parts of the image by the Stone to the threshing and winnowing that takes place during summer at the threshing floors. So, aside from this period, the place would be without activities. But this is not the case.
So many non-agricultural activities in the meantime took place on the threshing floor. The fact that these were non-agricultural activities doesn’t mean that they were less important. In fact, they were as important if not more than the threshing of wheat and winnowing of grains. These included the heave offerings (Exodus 29:27; Leviticus 7:30-34) where a portion of another offering, like the wave offering, is separated, or lifted up and reserved for the Priest’s use.
During the destruction of Israel orchestrated by the census David conducted (2 Samuel 24), the angel of destruction was at the threshing floor of Araunah when God asked him to stop. Gad quickly asked David to rear an altar unto God at the same spot. So, David bought the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite so he could erect an altar unto God and offer burnt and peace offerings to entreat God. Once that was done, the plague was stayed. In fact, Solomon’s Temple is built on this threshing floor of Ornan (same as Araunah) (2 Chronicles 3:1). This goes to show that God was quite intimately connected with the threshing floor because of the activities that took place there, especially the non-agricultural ones.
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