Agricultural References

An Orientalism:
A Custom or Mannerism in the Bible Times

Read Time: 6 Minutes

The culture in the bible times was largely agricultural, consequently there are many orientalisms and figures of speech that refer to farming and living off the land. It benefits our study of the Bible to understand the scriptures that make references to eastern culture and agricultural terms.

Isaiah 1
:3 The ox knoweth his owner,
        and the ass his master's crib:
Israel doth not know,
    my people doth not consider.

In the morning the animals in the village are gathered up by boys in charge of them and taken to pastures and water nearby. In the evening they are herded back into the village and the animals know where their own cribs, stalls and sheepfolds are. The animals never make a mistake, they know exactly where to go. God is stating that His chosen people, the children of Israel, are not as smart as their dumb animals who know where to return to for safety and protection. The animals know where to go at night without being led, they just return to their master's enclosures for them. But Israel has so strayed from God and His Word that they don't have sense enough to return to Him.


Oxen are used to pull the plows in the fields and the way they are kept in line is to use a goad, a long handled pointed instrument. When the ox would stray or pause the plowman would prick the ox with the goad. If the ox kicked back the plowman would have the goad read and the ox would kick against the goad, or prick.

Acts 9
:5 And he [Saul] said,
        Who art thou, Lord?
    And the Lord said,
        I am Jesus whom thou persecutest:
        it is
hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

The ox kicking against the goad is what is referred to in Acts 9 when Jesus was talking to Saul on the road to Damascas.

Another reference to plowing is in Judges. Prior to Samson marrying his Philistine wife Samson proposed a riddled to thirty young men, if they could not answer it they would owe him thirty sheets and thirty changes of garment, if they did answer the riddle Samson would owe them; they had seven days to figure it out. The young men threatened Samson and his house before his bride and she pressed Samson for the answer to the riddle. Samson finally told her on the seventh day and she told the young men.

Judges 14
:18 . . .  If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.

If the young men had not goaded Samson's bride they would not have found out the riddle.

Thorn in the Flesh

II Corinthians 12
:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, 
    there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, 
        the messenger of Satan 
    to buffet me, 
    lest I should be exalted above measure.

We can also get a deeper understanding of the impact that a thorn in the flesh would have by knowing the ways of the people in the Bible lands. People in the rural areas walk barefoot and sometimes pick up thorns in their feet. Typically they will allow the thorn to remain and the body will encompass it with a thick layer of skin and after a few weeks it can be cut out. They have determined that it is better to leave the thorn in then take it out, taking it out opens up the wound to contamination and infection. With the thorn remaining in the foot the person would limp around all that time and obviously not be as efficient and strong. So, the thorn in the flesh that Paul references is persistent and compromising. But what is the thorn in the flesh? God tells us in previous verses of scripture.

Numbers 33
:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; 
    then it shall come to pass, 
        that those which ye let remain of them 
            shall be
pricks in your eyes, 
            and thorns in your sides, 
            and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.

The people in the land are pricks in the eyes of the Children of Israel and thorns in their sides which means they will vex you in the land that they dwell. If you had a thorn in your side is it in your flesh?  It is people that is their "thorn in the flesh" and they will vex Israel. 

Here is another collaborating record. According to the context, God had given the Children of Israel rest from their enemies and gave them a rich inheritance. These words are a warning from God via Joshua at the end of Joshua's life. If the Israelites accept the other nations and their gods and make marriages with them the following will be the consequence:

Joshua 23
:13 Know for a certainty 
    that the LORD your God will no more drive out any of these nations from before you; 
    but they shall be snares and traps unto you, 
        and scourges in your sides, 
        and thorns in your eyes, 
    until ye perish from off this good land which the LORD your God hath given you.

Again, people are the thorns. For a more expanded teaching visit Paul's Thorn in the Flesh.

Now when you read II Corinthians 12:7 "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." You can see the impact, this is not just occasional troubles with people that were remedied without much thought but persistent troubles that buffeted Paul.