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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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YOKE.—The yoke (ζυγός, Matthew 11:29 f.) supplied Jesus with one of His agricultural metaphors (cf. Matthew 13:38, Luke 12:17; Luke 15:14, John 15:1). It was ‘a bar which connects two of a kind usually—as the ox-yoke—fastened by bows on the necks of a pair of oxen and by thongs to the horns or the foreheads of the oxen. It consists generally of a piece of timber hollowed or made curving near each end, and fitted with bows for receiving the necks of the oxen, by which means two are connected for drawing. From a ring or hook in the bow a chain extends to the thing to be drawn’ (Lloyd’s Ency. Dict.). Another use of the word is found in Luke 14:19 (ζεῦγος, translation ‘pair’ in Luke 2:24), where it means a pair of draught-oxen. Now, while the facts of farm-life supplied the form for this metaphor of Jesus, it was not there alone that He found the idea of the metaphor. When from the fields His eye turned to the Scriptures to survey the story of His people, on many a page the yoke met His vision. There it is, in prose, poetry, and prophecy; about it have gathered the country’s glory and grief. To itself it has harnessed the people’s experiences. Ideas of opposing character—joy and woe, freedom and slavery, peace and war, plenty and poverty—are symbolized by it (Deuteronomy 28:48, Job 1:3; Job 42:12, Jeremiah 2:20, Isaiah 58:6, 1 Kings 12:4, Lamentations 3:27). Moreover, it is in His treatment of those bitter-sweet memories and realities of life that the teaching of Jesus, under this figure of speech, touches and keeps a lonely sublimity. Only once (Matthew 11:29 f.) He uses the metaphor. Now it is in everyday use. For He ‘touched nothing that He did not adorn.’ And He so adorned the yoke as to draw after it the whole gospel.

When Jesus turned His gaze from the fields of industrial life, and from the book of remembrance of the past to the book of the life of His own generation, He discovered a nation under the yoke, a race under the harrow. He hit the mark when He spoke of yokes. His audience was made up of those who were wearing yokes of all sorts and sizes, but no man with his own yoke harnessed on exactly as his neighbour’s. On the other hand, that audience was suffering under an intolerable strain. Three yokes were galling and killing them—(1) the yoke of the Law, (2) of Rome, (3) of sin. Their leaders (Matthew 23:4) bound grievous burdens on the people’s shoulders; nor would they remove them. Of some it was the constant temptation to throw off the yoke of the foreigner. The Zealots (Luke 6:15) were most restive under Rome. They were the political Nationalists of the day. Again, who of them all was not ‘sold under sin’ (Romans 7:14)? These were the yokes of the people. The yoke of Jesus was the will of the Father. He wore it always, never worked without it; never against it, always with it (John 8:29). Once He asked thrice if He might take it off (Matthew 26:39 ff.) for the road was steep. The yoke of Jesus was the welfare of man. He came to serve (Mark 10:45). To be Saviour was at once the lowliest, loftiest, and loneliest way of working out the welfare of man. And this yoke was tied on with cords of love (John 13:1) unto the end. The humanity of Jesus was His yoke. He was, not the angel (Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 2:16), but the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5); and He did the perfect will of the Father under this yoke, frail but firm—the body of His humiliation.

Literature.—Bishop Thorold’s The Yoke of Christ; Expositor, i. vi. [1877] 142, vii. [1878] 348, xi. [1880] 101; Exp. Times, iii. [1892] 512, vi. [1895] 176; Henry Drummond, Pax Vobiscum, 41; W. A. Butler, Sermons, ii. 320; G. A. Chadwick, Pilate’s Gift, 62; G. Macdonald, Hope of the Gospel, 152.

John R. Legge.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Yoke'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​y/yoke.html. 1906-1918.
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