Jesus gave an invitation to put on His yoke.
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)
What did He mean by that? Exactly what is a yoke?
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to a plow or cart that they are to pull.
A yoke allowed two animals to share a load and pull together. Most of the wagon trains bringing people to settle the west were pulled by oxen using a yoke to keep them working together and to help them pull the wagons which could weight up to 2,500 pounds. In our own country before the modern tractor and farm implements, a yoke was used to help the farmer plow the fields for planting.
The Bible references for a yoke often referred to a heavy burden or duty. When King Solomon died and his son, Rehoboam, became king he warned his people that he would rule them with a “heavy yoke.” Their response was to desert him and create a separate nation with another king (1 Kings 12). The prophet Isaiah used the symbol of breaking a yoke to speak of freedom for the Israelites from foreign rulers. The prophet Jeremiah wore a yoke around his neck as he warned the people of Jerusalem of their coming capture by the Babylonian empire.
So why would Jesus use the image of a yoke to invite followers to come to him and take on a yoke? How would submitting to His yoke give us rest?
If we think of life as an allegory to plowing a field, we begin to understand how His yoke would give us rest. The oxen wearing a yoke help the farmer get the field plowed. But it is the skill of the farmer that directs the oxen so that the furrows are straight and at the right depth for the seed. So, as we allow God to direct us, we can rest in the knowledge that He will lead us in ways that are best for us. We can spend less time worrying and more time trusting in His direction.
He says we will learn from Him as we wear His yoke. I did some research on oxen and found that they are trained for months, even years before they are able to do the heavy pulling expected of them. Their owner spends time teaching them to respond to verbal commands like:
- “Step Up” – go forward
- “Gee” – turn right
- “Haw” – turn left
- “Whoa” – stop
- “Back” – back up
As we take up the yoke of Jesus, we begin to learn from Him. Through prayer, Bible study and just learning to hear the Spirit’s prompting we gain knowledge of God and grow in spiritual maturity. Just as it takes time to train an ox, our walk with God requires time for growth.
I like to think that when I accept the yoke of Jesus, I am now walking alongside Him. The daily burdens of life are easier because He is pulling with me. Thus, His yoke becomes “easy” because I am not facing life’s difficulties alone.
Doing research on oxen I found that owners must adjust the size of the yoke as the oxen grow. Doing this keeps the oxen from being hurt by bad-fitting yokes. Jesus’s yoke is “easy.” He knows us well and when we trust Him, the yoke He places on us is not restrictive but rather helps us in our work for His kingdom. I don’t pretend to understand all the physics, but I am told when an ox allows his owner to put the yoke on him, it actually helps him pulling the load. When we submit to the leading of God and His direction for our life, our yoke will fit perfectly. If we resist the yoke (the direction of God) then the load will become too much for us.
Does your yoke fit? Are you seeking God’s direction and willfully obeying Him?