Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
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. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Jesus, Matthew 11:29-30 NASB)
Literal meaning: a yoke, zygós “unites two elements to work as one unit, like when two pans (weights) operate together on a balance-scale – or a pair of oxen pulling a single plough.”
Figurative meaning: “metaphorically, used of any burden…transferred to the commands of Christ as to contrast them with the commands of the Pharisees which were a veritable ‘yoke’; yet even Christ’s commands must be submitted to, though easier to be kept…”
What we are “yoked to” when yoked with Christ (figuratively speaking) is (literally speaking) an ox.
But why this animal that is such an ordinary beast of burden?
The following commentaries offer insight as to the reason Jesus would use this metaphor, this animal, to enhance our understanding of “with Whom we are yoked”:
This explanation from biblestudytools.com reveals the value of the ox on the farm: ” There was no animal in the rural economy of the Israelites, or indeed in that of the ancient Orientals generally, that was held in higher esteem than the ox and deservedly so, for the ox was the animal upon whose patient labors depended all the ordinary operations of farming.”
From commenter Rob Stone at Quora.com here is more on the figurative aspect of the use of oxen in the Bible, “When the Bible uses the word eleph (translated as ox) it is probably referring to descendents of the Tribe of Ephraim. The symbol on this tribe’s flag is an ox.
“Ephraim (tribe members were) originally assigned to be preachers/teachers of Mosaic Law. Two oxen yoked together symbolizes the teacher/student relationship in Judaism – the older teaching the younger how to plow the field (meaning to prepare the world).”
Thus, when we are yoked “in servitude” with Christ in order to get the job done “on the farm,” that is, the field in which we work/minister, He, the patient, esteemed “lead” ox teaches us how to prepare, maintain, and harvest hearts and minds in our bit of spiritual pasture in need preparation, maintenance, and harvesting (another metaphor often used in Scripture to indicate the planting, watering, and harvesting of the seed of God’s Word sown in the minds and hearts of men and women).
And Jesus, the older, experienced, wiser–and patient–makes it easier on us and for us, and I would add, by extension, likely also for those in the fields of our ministries.
This is why elsewhere in Scripture there is the admonition to not become “unequally yoked,” which for literal oxen means trouble in the fields if one ox balks or rebels, and in the figurative, means trouble of another kind when the two yoked are not of one spirit, that is, one is a believer and the other is not, although, it should be noted, the unbeliever might appear to be of the same mind and heart. The proof is in the fruit, or, as Jesus put it:
Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit…” (Matthew 7:16-17, Berean Study Bible).
There are a lot of “unequal yokes,” that is to say, partnerships, whether human or circumstance, that keep us from not only Jesus, patiently leading beside us, but also keep us from our best path forward.
There is, of course, the classic unequal yoking of a partnership with an unbeliever, whether in marriage, at work, or elsewhere, noted in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
But there are also “partners” of that other kind, circumstances, whether they are external or internal, or a combination of both.
For example who has not, at one time or another, perhaps even now, found themselves yoked with anger, addiction, a broken heart, confusion, or betrayal?
Who has not, at one time or another, perhaps even now, felt themselves inextricably bound to self-doubt, “God doubt”?
Who has not, at one time or another…felt yoked with despair?
If you can relate to any of the above, please take heart, is what I pray for you as I write this, because I know that Jesus is near you, waiting patiently at the head of the rest of your path, your field, inviting you to put down your old yoke, and take on the one linked with Him, Who, as He told us, is patient, gentle, humble in heart, and with Whom you will find rest for your soul, for His yoke is easy and His burden, light.
The fields of our own lives are hard enough to plow, plant, and harvest, let alone help others deal with theirs.
Jesus knows this.
That’s why He willingly put Himself in the harness of the flesh, so to speak, on that cross, alone, as the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of all who trust Him, goaded by His own broken heart and love for we who, willingly and unwillingly both, have succumbed to the ravages of both our bad choices, free will being as potent as it is, and others’ bad choices working against us, perhaps even for a very long time.
He harnessed Himself in His own creation then, literally, and does so figuratively, now, so that He can show us, me and you, the path out–and forward.
If we, forsaking all others, allow ourselves to be yoked with Him.
He will help.
Image of oxen pair from wikimedia commons.
Graphic of oxen and plower from wikimedia commons.