I've usually encountered the phrase "chaff before the wind" in the context of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I would like to know where it originates from historically and what imagery should come to mind especially in the following quote:

15 And now behold, I tell you by the spirit of prophecy, that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind.

Alma 37:15


Say you are a farmer, you've harvested your wheat or whatever, and you want to separate out the lightweight particles of bits of leaf, stem, etc. and leave just the grain. The lightweight particles are the chaff.

You pick a breezy day. Scoop up some of the harvest into a shallow pan and toss it gently in the air. The wind will blow off the chaff and the kernels of grain will fall back into the pan, because they're heavier than the chaff. Now you can pour the pure grain into the grain sack.

You're just using the relative density of the two materials, and the wind, to do the sorting.

Sorry, I can't help you with the religious part.

  • Haha no worries, the English side is good enough for this site :) – intcreator Jul 30 '15 at 4:54

"Sift" here is a wonderful word to use because of the echoes of its meanings other than to separate. The numbering, paraphrased definitions, and examples are all directly from the OED; the commentary is mine.

2a. To make a trial of a person. "The more...the Sincere man...is Sifted, the more he is intrusted."

2b. To subject to questioning. "He multiplied his Questions, and sifted me thoroughly."

  1. To scrutinize to get to the truth. "It is very hard to sift a Slander."

  2. To separate from impurities. "Sift it from stones and rubbish" (from a guide on horticulture)

The word brings to mind the questioning, the final Judgment, the determination of the truth of lives, and separation of the worthy form the impure. And Satan ends up with the latter.


Particles of dust and things circulating in the wind, being pushed and blown around with no say of where they will be placed. What to say these are even from? Unknown, but known it was of something before. Wherefore, if not. Would their be leftovers in the wind? Yea, even of God has created. They, that has transgressed the commandment of God, is no more than the dust of the earth.

The same dust that leaveth a shoeprint on a clean surface. It has no part of the shoe itself, only a trail behind.

I'm thankful the Lord, Savior, Jesus Christ died so all may come unto him and be clean. No one wants to be the dust left behind!

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! Please explain your answer, preferably with some supporting statements and references. While opinions are valued, they are not of much help as answers. – NVZ Oct 29 '16 at 10:34

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