Life in Bible Times—The Farmer
“[Jesus] said to his disciples: ‘Yes, the harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.’”—MATTHEW 9:37, 38.
JESUS often used farming methods and farm equipment to illustrate important teachings. (Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 4:3-9; Luke 13:6-9) Why? Because he lived in an agricultural society. Many who listened to him followed farming traditions that had remained unchanged for centuries. They appreciated his references to their daily activities. He could relate to them, and they were moved by what he taught.—Matthew 7:28.
We can deepen our appreciation for Jesus’ illustrations and for other Bible accounts if we know a little about the first-century farmer—the crops he planted, the tools he used, the challenges he faced.
Watch as a farmer goes about his work. Read the cited scriptures, and see what you learn.
A Time to Sow
Shielding his eyes from the sun’s first rays, the farmer stands in his doorway and sniffs the moist air. Rains have softened the sunbaked soil. Plowing time has come. He hoists a light wooden plow to his shoulder and heads for his field.
There, the farmer gathers his oxen, yokes them together, and goads them into action. The plow’s iron tip bites the stony ground. It does not turn the earth but only scratches it, digging a shallow trench, or furrow (1). Stumbling left and right, the farmer struggles to keep the furrows straight—he never looks behind, or the plow would wander off track. (Luke 9:62) He needs to stay within his boundary markers and make the best use of his small plot of land.
The field, now combed with furrows, is ready for sowing. Carrying a bag of barley in one hand, the farmer sweeps the other hand left and right, scattering the precious seed (2). Hard-packed foot paths cut through his field, so he takes great care that the seed lands on “the good soil.”—Luke 8:5, 8.
After sowing comes harrowing. The farmer hitches thorn branches to his oxen and drags the branches across the field. Flocks of birds squawk and peck, stealing seed before dirt covers it. Later, the farmer uses a mattock (3) to loosen the earth and remove weeds that could choke his seedlings before they mature.—Matthew 13:7.
A Time to Reap
Months pass. Rain falls. Heads of ripe barley now sway in the sun, making the fields look white.—John 4:35.
Harvest is a busy time for the farmer and his family. A reaper grabs the stalks of grain with his left hand and swings an iron sickle with his right (4). Others gather the grain, bind it into sheaves (5), and load it onto the donkeys or carts (6) that will take it to the village threshing floor.
The sun burns a white hole in the center of a clear blue sky. The family briefly rest in the shade of a fig tree. They laugh and talk and share their quick meal of bread, parched grain, olives, dried figs, and raisins. They finish with rapid gulps of springwater.—Deuteronomy 8:7.
In a nearby field, gleaners gather leftover grain (7). Some are poor and do not own land.—Deuteronomy 24:19-21.
Later, at the village threshing floor, the farmer spreads the sheaves on an elevated, hard-packed floor. Oxen pull a heavy sledge round and round (8). (Deuteronomy 25:4) Sharp stones and metal pieces embedded in the undersurface of the sledge slice the stalks.
The farmer waits for the evening breeze to come up. (Ruth 3:2) In the twilight, he slides a pronged wooden fork, or “winnowing shovel” (9), under the threshed sheaves and hurls the load into the air. (Matthew 3:12) The heavy grain falls to the floor—the lighter chaff wafts away. Over and over he hoists his fork until he winnows all the grain.
At sunrise, the farmer’s wife and daughters begin sifting (10). They shake sieves full of grain and grit. The barley falls into baskets, while the rubbish is tossed aside. There has been a bumper crop. Workers store some surplus grain in jars (11). The rest will be poured into storage pits.
Atop the threshing floor, the farmer straightens his back, stretches his tired muscles, and surveys the fields that surround the village. He views with satisfaction the parchment-colored plots, covered in stubble—evidence of days of backbreaking labor. He watches workers tend vineyards and groves of olive, pomegranate, and fig trees. Nearby, a neighbor waves a greeting as he digs in a small garden plot. The ground will yield cucumbers, lentils, beans, leeks, chickpeas, and onions. The farmer pauses, raises his eyes heavenward, and offers a brief, heartfelt prayer, thanking God for the good gifts that He gives.—Psalm 65:9-11.
[Pictures on pages 28-30]