By Irvin Himmel
The way of transgressors is hard (Prov. 13:15). The burden of sin is terrible. The service which Jesus demands brings rest to the soul and joy to the heart.
In Bible times plowing was done with oxen yoked together in pairs. Archaeologists have discovered yokes of many different kinds that were used in the distant past, but the common yoke was a heavy pole, shaped to fit over the neck with curved pieces of wood around the neck fastened to the pole. The front of the plow was hooked to the center of the pole. This rather simple device enabled the oxen to pull the plow by pushing against the yoke.
The yoke already was commonly used when the law of Moses was given. In one of the purification rites, the Israelites were commanded to bring “a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke” (Num. 19:2).
Frequently, the Bible uses the word “yoke” in a figurative sense to denote burdens, hardships, and oppressions. For example, Jehovah told Israel that he brought them out of the land of Egypt, “and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright” (Lev. 26:13).
In warning of the awful curses that would result from disobedience after their entrance into the land of promise, Moses said, “and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Deut. 28:48).
Following the death of Solomon, when Rehoboam was petitioned to reduce the “heavy yoke” which his father had put upon the people, the heir to the throne answered roughly, “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:4, 13-14). This sparked the revolt of the ten tribes against the rule of the house of David.
The prophet Jeremiah, at one period during the rapid Lord to make “bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck” (Jer. 27:2). Jeremiah’s wearing of this contraption was to symbolize that Judah and neighboring nations would be taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Hananiah took the yoke from off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it, predicting that the yoke of Babylon would be broken, but Hananiah prophesied falsely (Jer. 28:1-17). God said through Jeremiah, “I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him . . .”
Peter referred to the law of Moses as “a yoke . . . which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15: 10). Paul called it “the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
In the great invitation, Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28- 30).
The “yoke” of which Jesus spoke is the obedient service which he demands. The Jews were burdened with tithing, animal sacrifices, feast days, fleshly circumcision, holy days, trips to Jerusalem, and endless ceremonies. To all of this they had added cumbersome human traditions. Then there was the tremendously heavy burden of sin. Their animal offerings could not take away their sins and give them clean consciences (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:1-4). Jesus offered rest from all such heavy burdens.
The Master explained, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” He demands no unreasonable thing of us. Indeed, as the apostle John put it, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his command decline of the kingdom of Judah, was commanded of the ments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). Christ’s yoke is borne in love. It is not forced upon us. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). His yoke is easy by way of comparison. The way of transgressors is hard (Prov. 13:15). The burden of sin is terrible. The service which Jesus demands brings rest to the soul and joy to the heart.