Sheep v. Goats, Wheat v. Tares, Wheat v. Chaff

America has become increasingly urban. The twentieth century dawned with about 40% of the population living in urban areas and 60% living in rural areas; By 1990, it was 75% urban and 25% rural ( Farmers and farm workers made up 69% of the labor force in 1840; This dropped to 38% in 1990 and just 2.6% in 1990 (

This urbanization of America has, unquestionably, lessened the average person’s familiarity with agriculture. However, numerous Biblical illustrations concern agriculture. It is our aim in this writing to clarify some comparative illustrations from agriculture.

Sheep v. Goats

Can you tell the difference? Even the novice can easily identify some sheep as sheep, and some goats as goats. However, there are varieties of each that are more difficult to distinguish to the untrained eye. They are so closely related that can reproduce, thought the offspring is sterile.

Here are some basic differences: (1) Sheep have 54 chromosomes. Goats have 60 chromosomes. (2) Sheep graze low to the ground. They eat grass, clover, and other low vegetation. Goats prefer to grace on higher things such as leaves, twigs, vines and shrubs. The eat the tops of many plants. They even stand on their hind legs to stretch for food. Some even climb into trees. (3) Sheep have a divided upper lip. Goats do not. (4) Sheep tails typically hang downward. Goats tails typically go upward. (5) Sheep have scent glands between the toes. Goats have scent glands beneath their tails. (6) Sheep have a stronger flocking nature. Goats are more independent and curious. (7) Most goats have horns. Many sheep do not. Goats horns are typically narrower and less curved than sheep horns. (8) Most goats do not have coats that require shearing. Many sheep need shearing. (9) Many goats have beards. Some sheep have manes. (10) A typical domesticated goat produces about four times as much milk as a typical domesticated sheep( most info came from

Farmers in Israel were familiar with sheep and goats. An experienced shepherd could distinguish between the two.

Even so, Jesus can distinguish between sheep (righteous) and goats (unrighteous). There is coming a day when He will divide the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-33). Contextually, the distinguishing characteristic mentioned is how we treated others (Matthew 25:34-40 cf. Matthew 25:41-46). Such should not be construed to mean that such is the only distinguishing characteristic. However, Jesus does notice our character, and distinguishes accordingly.

Wheat v. Tares

Cereal grain was a common crop in Israel. Moses spoke at the abundance of wheat and barley (Deuteronomy 8:7-8). Wheat requires more water, than does barley. Areas blessed with adequate rainfall preferred wheat production. Areas with less rainfall grow barley.

Tares are a grassy weed. Neil Lightfoot has written, “There were several varieties of tares or darnel, the one most probably referred to in the parable is called ‘bearded darnel.’ This darnel looked very much like wheat, and in its early stages of growth was practically impossible to distinguish from wheat. But as soon as the grain began to head, anyone could tell the difference” (Parables of Jesus, part 1, p. 37). The French called this plant ‘darnel’ (meaning ‘stupefied’) due to its intoxicating properties. It caused trembling, inability to walk, hindered speech, and vomiting.

Sometimes a wheat field would be corrupted with tares. The wheat roots and the tare roots became intertwined. When this happened the following options existed: (1) If the tares were few and isolated they could be removed with limited damage to the total crop. (2) Sometimes the wheat grew taller and could be harvested over the tares. Afterwards, the field could be burned. (3) If neither of the aforementioned options were possible, if this was not an isolated situation, and if there wasn’t a consistent heighth difference, one option remained. Wait until the harvest to seperate the wheat from the tares. This prevented the damaging of the wheat by a pre-harvest uprooting of the tares (ibid).

The point of the parable of the wheat and tares is that there is a separation coming. In this world, the wicked and the righteous live side by side. At times we may wonder, if the wicked are scot-free. The truth is, a separation is coming. God does distinguish between wheat (righteous) and tares (unrighteous).

Wheat v. Chaff

The harvesting of the wheat plant from the field was not the end of the farmer’s labor. The wheat needed to be threshed (that is, the grain or seed needed to be separated from the rest of the plant, the husk and straw). The common method was to: (1) Take the wheat to a threshing floor.”The threshing floor was constructed in an exposed position in the fields, preferably on a slight elevation, so as to get the full benefit of the winds. It consisted of a circular area 25 to 40 feet in diameter, sloping slightly upward at the edges and was usually surrounded with a border of stone so as to keep in the grain. The floor was level and rolled hard” (The Zondervan’s Pictoral Bible Dictionary, p. 278). (2) Beat the wheat with a stick and/or trample the what under the weight of oxen feet and a pulled threshing sled (Deuteronomy 25:4; Isaiah 28:27). (3) Winnow the wheat. The plant was tossed into the air with a winnowing fan (pitchfork) or a shovel. This was usually done at night to take advantage of the night breezes. (a) The wind blew the light husks (chaff) and fine particles of straw (chaff) out of the threshing floor (Job 21:18; Psalm 1:4; 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; 29:5; 41:15-16; Daniel 2:35; Hosea 13:3; Zephaniah 2:2). (b) The heavier straw (chaff) the wind blew; However, such did not always escape the walls of the threshing floor. The wind carried such to the edges of the threshing floor. Sometimes this straw was put to some use (ISBE Vol. 1, p. 589). Frequently, it was simply gathered and burned (Isaiah 5:24; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). (c) The grain (wheat) being heavier was not blown away by the wind as the chaff. It fell back into the bowl of threshing floor. (d) The grain (wheat) was next sifted to remove stones and other impurities. (e) Finally, the grain was removed and stored in barns (Luke 12:18).

The Bible says of Jesus, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). The meaning, once more, is that He makes a distinction, and there is coming a separation.

We’re approaching the end of another year. It’s a good time for each to do self examination (2 Corinthians 13:5). Let’s honestly ask how God judges us… sheep or goats? Wheat or tares? Wheat or chaff?

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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