O my people, crushed on the threshing floor . . .
In that day the Lord will thresh . . .
Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say. When a farmer ploughs for planting, does he plough continually? Does he keep on breaking up and working the soil? . . . Does he not plant . . .? His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.
Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a stick. Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing-cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind grain. All this comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.
“See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them . . . But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa 21:10; 27:12; 28:23-29; 41:15-16)
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one . . . who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 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.” (Matt 3:11-12)
There are so many nourishing grains in this passage, it’s hard to know where to start threshing them out!
We can tell this is important to understand from the way Isaiah starts off: “Listen,” ” hear,” and “pay attention.” This is not something to speed-read, skim over or ignore.
Isaiah’s message is both clear and relatable. Everyone could understand this agricultural analogy because they either participated in it or witnessed it as part of the normal course of life. Although farming tools are different now, the realities of soil preparation, planting, harvesting and processing are the same. The essentials are timeless.
Producing a crop is a process, not an event. Different crops need different soil conditions, methods of planting, and harvesting tools and techniques. The farmer has learned all this because “His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.” The essential details of getting at the grain without destroying it in the process “comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.”
How well, I wonder, have we learned this lesson? How often do we approach our work asking for God’s instruction? Even calling it “our” work is a clue. Our calling is to do God’s work. Though God’s work is what I want to do, I recognize that I often go about it my own way. It’s my default position, and unless I consciously determine to listen, hear and pay attention, it’s so easy for me to end up there. But here’s the difference:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8-9)
I need to listen, hear and pay attention to God’s thoughts and instructions, not mine. Otherwise, I won’t know how to prepare; what, where and how to plant; or what to do with the harvest. I may try to harvest something I’m not equipped to do.
God has built His design into each one of us — and each part of His body — and it’s not one-size-fits-all. He has many purposes for His people, and they all fit into His overarching plan. We don’t have to know every detail of the whole blueprint, but we do have to search out our part in it. My part may not — and probably won’t — look like my neighbor’s; my fellowship’s work not exactly like those of others. Attitudes and motivations should look the same: the desire to honor God and show His love. It’s the working out that will take place in various fields of differing sizes, because the crops and equipment are not identical.
There is a time, a process and a purpose for God’s work to come to fruition. He alone knows the preparation needed, the right time for planting and harvesting. He alone knows the process that will produce the optimum result from the harvest. Each kind of harvest needs to be handled appropriately. What works for one will destroy another.
God’s work in us is just as individual. Preparation time, type of seed, and the means of getting to the grain will be unique to each person and group. How many churches spend far more time and effort in learning about “successful” churches (read: big numbers attending), and implementing the resulting formulas, than they do asking God what He wants? Then they take a threshing sledge to what needs a stick and wonder where it all went wrong. Or they end up with a church that’s a mile wide and an inch deep, as one pastor described it — long on numbers and short on spiritual growth.
The bottom line: God’s work requires His instruction and His way. If I’m not getting my ongoing instructions from God, then it’s only my version of what I think is God’s work. In the process, I may end up doing more harm than good.
As the process unfolds, it’s way easier to be the thresh-er than the thresh-ee.
Threshing was a well-established symbol for judgment in the Old Testament. At times, Israel was the implement God used to thresh His enemies. At other times, they were on the receiving end.
Just as God gave farmers instructions for producing a good harvest, He gave his people instructions for producing righteousness. A threshing floor was any hard surface where grain could be separated from chaff; there were no soft landings involved. So, when God did His threshing, which would His people be: wheat or chaff?
Even with God’s ongoing guidance, producing a harvest is hard work. In getting to the end result we may feel more or less beaten, or even beaten up. Paul is a prime example. But, unlike us, God always knows what He’s doing, and He’s doing it for good reasons. We don’t have to know the reasons; we do have to know our God. Whether His threshing of us is with a rod, a stick, being rolled over or trampled on, it takes some real knocks to separate the grain from our chaff. Holding on to Him is essential to bring about a fruitful harvest in me and for His wider purposes. Whatever the trials, the result is worth it — both now and for all eternity.