“The Wiles of the Devil” series (post #11)
And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.” (Luke 22:31, N.K.J.V.)
The Jews of ancient Israel were well acquainted with sifting. It was the last step in producing usable wheat that could be ground into flour. Step 1 was planting the wheat. Step 2 was harvesting the crop. For step 3, the harvested wheat stalks were taken for threshing to a site known as a “threshing floor.” A threshing floor was a flat area of hard dirt or rock where freshly harvested wheat could be piled. Such sites were always located on hilltops.
At the threshing floor, the wheat stalks were beaten or trampled in order to loosen the inedible chaff from the pure wheat. For smaller operations, workers simply beat the wheat with a tool. For larger operations, cows, donkeys, or oxen were employed to walk in circles over the stalks (Deuteronomy 25:4). Some farmers even owned a sled-type device that had pieces of metal or stone set into the bottom of it (Isaiah 41:15). This device was pulled by an animal across the wheat stalks over and over again to speed up the work.
The threshing was followed by step 4, the winnowing. The farmer used a winnowing fork (something akin to our pitchfork) or winnowing shovel (Isaiah 30:24) to gather the stalk remains off the ground and throw them up into the air so the wind could blow away the chaff (Jeremiah 13:24). The usable grain fell back to the earth and was collected.
Now the wheat was ready to be sifted to further purify it by removing the remaining chaff as well as the dust, dirt, and pebbles the wheat had picked up from the ground. This sifting was done by use of a sieve. A sieve was a round and somewhat large filtering device, usually two to three feet in diameter. Its sides were made of wood and its bottom was made of woven reeds, woven grasses, or woven wood. After placing a small amount of wheat into the sieve, the worker violently shook the sieve to create the sifting dynamic. Consequently, the good part of the wheat collected itself in the bottom center of the sieve.
Jesus warned Peter that Satan had asked for permission (and been granted it) to sift Peter like wheat. That meant that Satan was about to shake Peter violently. Of course we know how this shaking soon manifested itself. Jesus was arrested and Peter ended up denying knowing Him three times that same night (Luke 22:47-62). Peter, consider yourself sifted.
A good question is: Why would God allow Satan to do such a thing to Peter? A good answer is: God knew that the sifting would remove the imperfections from Peter’s faith. The story is one of multiple passages in which God allows Satan to do bad in order that God can bring good from it. It is Romans 8:28 in action even before the verse was written:
And we know that all things (including Satan’s sifting of Peter) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, N.K.J.V.)
The Peter that came out of the sifting was a broken man. After his third denial of Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). I wonder if he had forgotten the promise that Jesus had made him regarding the sifting. Jesus had said, “But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:32, N.K.J.V.). That promise told Peter three things. First, even though his faith would be shaken, it wouldn’t fail. Second, ultimately he would return to Jesus. Third, Jesus would use the now sifted Peter to strengthen other believers.
Several commentators note that the Greek word translated as “you” in Luke 22:32 is plural. This leads to the idea that Satan had asked for permission to sift all of the apostles, not just Peter. It also indicates that Peter’s experience with Satan wasn’t unique. The other ten apostles, minus Judas Iscariot, surely had their faith violently shaken as well by Christ’s arrest, crucifixion, and burial. This explains why not one of them expected Jesus to resurrect on that third morning following His death. They truly believed that the whole “Jesus movement” of which they had been a part for three years was as dead as Jesus’ lifeless corpse lying in the tomb.
But does God still grant Satan permission to sift believers today? Oh, I’m sure that He does. As a matter of fact, I’m convinced that I myself have been sifted. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice is to say that a few years back Satan shook me and my family violently by way of a series of events that left us as demoralized as Peter was following his denials. It was enough to destroy our faith, but Jesus must have prayed for us because we stuck with Him through it all.
And did the experience further purify our wheat and make us better servants of Christ? I have to admit that it did. It gave us a crash course in how Satan uses people to get his work done. It opened our eyes to just how much sway Satan has over worldly situations. It showed us just how differently the committed Christian thinks and operates from the lost person or the carnal Christian. It definitely made us better soldiers in the ongoing war between Satan and God because it gave us firsthand battlefield experience fighting the devil.
I say all this to encourage any Christian who suspects that he or she is either currently being sifted by Satan or has been sifted by him. Being sifted is never pleasant, and you won’t come out of it the same person you were going in, but the good news is that you’ll come out of it better. You’ll be more pure, more refined, and more free of spiritual contaminants. As such, you’ll be better equipped and better experienced to serve Christ and be a good soldier in His army. Like Peter, you’ll be able to use your sifting to strengthen, encourage, and instruct your fellow Christians. That’s another piece of good that God brings out of it. You see, sifting isn’t something for which you should volunteer, but if it does happen to you, you can rest in the knowledge that God will use it not only to help you but also to help others through you.