The Yoke’s On Me

Some imagery in the Bible speaks clearly, even if we are far removed from the time and place in which it was first said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.)

You don’t even need to know that a yoke is used to hitch farm equipment to an ox or donkey. The point is clear: Jesus offers rest to the weary, and is gentle to our souls. His burden is light.

The people he spoke to weren’t far removed from the imagery, though. Oxen pulling plows across a farmer’s field would be a common enough sight even for city dwellers who traveled the open roads connecting Jerusalem and Bethlehem and Jericho and Capernaum and more.

For those who knew the writings of the prophets, Jesus’ message would have been even clearer. While we read the words and think how wonderful it is that Jesus offers rest, we don’t necessarily get that he is calling us to take off one yoke before putting his on.

His listeners got it.

Yoked by Sin

When Jeremiah wrote of Jerusalem’s downfall – the long prophesied consequence for the people’s unfaithfulness to God – he spoke for the city and personified it in its suffering:

My sins have been bound into a yoke. (Lamentations 1:14.)

The sins of the people were a burden, a yoke of oppression that bore them down. Jesus’ listeners would have heard his words and possibly thought of that ancient lament of the oppressive yoke of sin. Jesus offered of a light yoke of rest and peace that goes into one’s very soul, a yoke that is not burdensome but gentle.

Jesus did not offer a yoke to people who had no burden, then, but to those who were weighed down and weary from the yoke they bore. No one who is without a yoke; it just depends on whose yoke you are under.

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Luke 16:13.)

You have a choice. You can wear the yoke of sin that weighs you down, or shed that yoke and take on the yoke of Christ who gives you rest.

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8 Responses to The Yoke’s On Me

  1. David says:

    At that time, a “yoke” was figurative speech for a Rabbi’s teaching and way of life. Christ’s teaching was not and is not easy or light, but it paradoxically brings peace the world cannot give. And we never have to carry it alone. Shalom.

    • Tim says:

      Here, yoke must have a broader term than merely meaning teaching, because Jesus didn’t come to teach us how to be nice people or to act morally or righteously, or how to earn God’s favor. None of those are actually the gospel message.

      Jesus came to give us eternal life. He said that his yoke is easy and the burden is light. That’s a blessing for everyone, because otherwise the world weighs us down.

  2. Jeannie says:

    I was also thinking about the “yoke of slavery” and “yoke of bondage” that Paul talks about in Galatians — how we are free because of Jesus and no longer subject to the yoke of slavery. I’ve been reading a book called Bold Love by Dan Allender in which he says (in a chapter about being “warriors”), “We are not free men or women, but people bought with a price and called to fight on the side of good.” I’m not finished the book yet so I want to see the whole picture (and he’s a very metaphorical writer so he may be just pushing the image to make a point) — but that sentence brought me up short because it seems to contradict the statement that Christ has made us free. (I’m not sure if this comment is actually even directly relevant but it’s what your post got me thinking about!)

    • Tim says:

      That’s a good question, Jeannie. It’s true that we are going to serve somebody, whether God or someone else. But in Jesus we are able to be who and what God created us to be; we are no longer broken but healed; we are no longer bound to sin but set free in the Spirit.

      On yokes, from what I could find when writing this post the Old Testament speaks of yokes as images of bondage many times, almost always in the context of foreign oppression: the yoke of Egypt, or Assyria, for example. Lamentations speaks of the yoke as a metaphor for sin, though. It’s interesting to see prophets use the word for rulers who are not God, whether earthly powers or the powers of sin and Satan.

  3. Ooh I didn’t know that verse in Lamentations, and I never connected the two ideas of the ‘yoke’. How interesting. Also there is Isaiah 58:6 ‘[Rather] is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke?’ (Amp)

    It’s just as well you didn’t spell the title as ‘The Yolk’s On Me’ otherwise you’d have had egg on your face.

    • Tim says:

      I had to struggle not to extend the pun too far, sfk. I like the Isaiah passage’s use of yoke as well, and how it reflects the work of God in people’s lives both spiritually and physically.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    Thank you for writing this, Tim. I love this metaphor, though as a woman raised in suburbs, the whole oxen/yoke idea is far from my everyday life.

    (A lot of Biblical images are. The concept of being “dead in sin” is difficult and has lost its force, for example, in part because it’s familiar to church people and because I don’t deal directly with death, ever. I’ve never had to deal with the bloody, smelly, gruesome bodies of once-live creatures; if I were a butcher, coroner, mortician, or homicide investigator, I would. But I’m none of those things. But the first century people didn’t live in a middle-class American bubble like I do. I imagine many heard the words “dead in your sins” and were horrified because they handled that bloody reality of death daily: killing animals for dinner or sacrifice, preparing the dead for burial, seeing dead bodies in war, smelling the blood and decay, etc.)

    • Tim says:

      Good point, Laura. We are far removed from experiencing death and what dying is really like. We think it’s like when the TV remote goes dead and needs new batteries.

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