What Does “Plough” Mean in the Bible?


In the pages of Scripture, we find numerous references to ploughing and ploughshares. On the surface, these may seem like mere agricultural terms. But when examined more closely, the themes and symbolism surrounding ploughing in the Bible contain rich meaning for followers of Christ.

In this comprehensive study, we will explore the biblical significance of ploughing. We will look at how ploughing is used metaphorically throughout the Bible to teach spiritual truths. Key themes we will cover include:

  • The importance of preparing our hearts to receive God’s word
  • Ploughing as a metaphor for repentance and spiritual renewal
  • Jesus’ references to ploughing in his parables and teachings
  • Ploughshares as symbols of peace and a transformed life

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Join me as we dig deep into Scripture to uncover the true meaning of ploughing. By the end of this study, you will have a renewed appreciation for this agrarian motif and how it applies to the cultivation of an upright heart before God.

What Does "Plough" Mean in the Bible?

What is a Plough?

To understand the biblical symbolism of ploughing, we must first understand what a plough is. In ancient Israel, ploughing was a central feature of agriculture and daily life. A plough (or plow) is a farm tool used for initial cultivation of soil in preparation for sowing seed. It has a blade to cut the soil and a moldboard to turn over furrows. Ploughs were typically pulled by oxen in biblical times (1 Kings 19:19; Job 1:14).

Ploughing breaks up compacted soil and allows air, water and nutrients to reach the seed. It uproots weeds and grass that would otherwise choke out crops. Ploughing was one of the most labor-intensive aspects of ancient farming. But it was vital preparation before sowing seed to ensure an abundant harvest.

Ploughing as a Metaphor for Spiritual Preparation

Scripture often uses the metaphor of ploughing to describe preparing our hearts to receive God’s word. Just as a farmer ploughs hard ground before planting seed, we must break up the “soil” of our hearts so God’s truth can take root. Consider the following examples:

Seeking God with Repentant Hearts

The prophet Hosea pleaded with Israel to repent and seek the Lord with sincere hearts:

Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12)

Unploughed ground is hard, packed down and unable to receive seed. Hosea chastised Israel for hard hearts that shut out God’s word. He urged them to “break up” their unrepentant hearts through full confession and turning to the Lord.

Receiving the Gospel Message

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, only the seed that fell on good ground yielded a harvest:

“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)

The Lord explained that the good soil pictures those with receptive hearts who hear and retain the word of God (Luke 8:11-15). Just as ploughing prepares the soil, God’s word helps break up hard hearts to receive the gospel.

Making Straight Paths

John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by calling people to repentance in order to “make straight” their hearts for the coming Messiah:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” (Mark 1:3; cf. Isaiah 40:3)

John’s ministry ploughed hearts through baptism and confession of sins (Mark 1:4-5). He called all people, not just Pharisees and priests, to repent in preparation to receive the Christ.

Ploughing as a Metaphor for Repentance

Repentance is a major biblical theme associated with ploughing. To repent (Heb. shub) means to “turn back” or “return” to God (1 Kings 8:47-48). When we repent, God’s Spirit convicts and reshapes our hearts, uprooting sins and idolatry.

Plough Up Wicked Hearts

The prophets often urged Israel to collectively repent and return to the Lord. Jeremiah commanded them to:

“Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts…” (Jeremiah 4:3-4)

He said their hearts were unrepentant and sinful like unploughed, weed-choked soil. True repentance requires “circumcising” or cutting away hardness of heart.

Create New Hearts

Ezekiel urged Israel to repent so God could give them new, tender hearts of flesh:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Like a plough breaking up compacted ground, repentance allows God to reshape hardened hearts to receive new life.

Bear Fruits of Repentance

Even tax collectors and soldiers repented through John’s baptism (Luke 3:10-14). When religious leaders sought baptism without repentance, John rebuked them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” before undergoing a symbol of inner transformation (Matthew 3:7-8). True repentance reshapes the heart’s desires and transforms how we live.

Ploughing Imagery in Jesus’ Parables

Jesus frequently drew from agrarian life to illustrate spiritual truths in his parables. His references to ploughing emphasize key lessons about focus, perseverance and repentance.

Keep Eyes Forward

In one parable, Jesus warned a man not to look back after putting his hand to the plough:

“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Ancient ploughmen had to focus intently on keeping the blade in the soil. This teaches that following Jesus requires wholehearted commitment without hesitation or distraction.

Persevere Through Hardship

Jesus also encouraged listeners not to give up when facing trials:

“No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

Like ploughing, kingdom service can be difficult. But we must persevere to enjoy a fruitful harvest.

Seek the Lost

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus pictured God pursuing sinners:

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:3-4)

God tirelessly seeks lost souls. This parable reminds us to join God in pursuing the unsaved with the life-changing gospel message.

Ploughshares as Symbols of Peace

In Scripture, ploughshares (the outer blade of the plough) frequently symbolize peace and a transformed life devoted to God rather than war and hostility.

Transforming Weapons

The prophet Isaiah described a future when God would bring lasting world peace:

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4; cf. Micah 4:3)

In God’s kingdom, the implements of war are transformed into tools for nurturing life and providing sustenance.

Pursuing Peace

When soldiers asked John the Baptist how they should repent, he told them:

“Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:14)

Rather than strong-arming others, he called them to pursue peace, honesty and contentment.

Serving God, Not Money

In the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus warned against materialism:

“The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater…’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you…’” (Luke 12:16-20)

Rather than working to store up wealth, Jesus calls us to cultivate spiritual riches serving Him.

Key Takeaways on the Biblical Meaning of Ploughing

  • Ploughing as physical cultivation represents spiritual preparation of the heart to receive God’s word and bear spiritual fruit.
  • Repentance and seeking the Lord are likened to breaking up hard, unploughed ground so His truth can penetrate hearts.
  • Ploughing imagery in Jesus’ parables conveys the need for wholehearted commitment in following Him and persevering through trials.
  • Ploughshares beaten into tools for pruning and harvesting picture how God’s peace transforms weapons of war into implements that nurture life.


Ploughing may seem like a mundane agricultural metaphor. But this symbolism contains profound insights into the process of preparing our hearts before God.

The next time you read Scripture passages about ploughing, consider how they apply to your spiritual life. Is your heart receptive soil for God’s word? Have you thoroughly confessed and repented of sin? Are you wholly committed to Christ without distraction or hesitation?

Ask the Lord to keep ploughing and reshaping the soil of your heart. As He removes hardness, weeds, and sin, His truth can take deeper root to grow spiritual fruits that bring glory to God. By staying tender to His touch, our lives become “ploughshares” that cultivate peace and life in a fallen world.

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