“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” Mathew 11:29 NASB
Yoke – Yeshua quotes Jeremiah 6:16 in this famous passage. The context of the Jeremiah citation should help us understand the key words here. Those words are “rest” and “yoke.” But when you read the passage in Jeremiah, there isn’t any mention of a yoke at all. So why should we be looking for a Tanakh context to Yeshua’s choice of the word ‘ol (Hebrew for “yoke”)? The answer is found in the cultural ethos of the audience.
When we think of the yoke of Yeshua, what do we have in mind? Most Christians think first and foremost about the “law of love.” We imagine that this yoke is the urging to live a morally upright life, to encourage good behavior and acts of grace. But it is highly unlikely that anyone in the audience that day would have had these thoughts. Why? Because the connection of Jeremiah and “yoke” could only have meant one thing – Torah!
Look at the context of Jeremiah. First notice that it is YHWH who speaks. He says, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths; where the good way is, and walk in it.” What are the ancient paths? What is the good way? YHWH can only mean His instructions found in Torah. After we have found the ancient paths and walked in them, then “you will find rest for your souls.” And what of the “yoke”? The Mishnah and the Midrashim call the Shema kabbalath ‘ol malkhuth shamayim, “taking on oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Every Jew who said the Shema three times daily would have known what yoke Yeshua spoke about. It was the same yoke YHWH gave His people, the same yoke YHWH encouraged His people to renew in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the same yoke that governed the life of Yeshua. The only difference, and it is a very big difference, is that Yeshua calls this His yoke. No one except YHWH could ever make that claim.
The crowd understood. This was not a “new” commandment. This was a prophetic call that echoed Jeremiah. Come back to the ancient paths. Walk in the ancient ways. Take the yoke of the Kingdom upon yourself. Follow Yeshua in learned obedience. And discover that this burden brings rest.
Topical Index: yoke, ‘ol, rest, Jeremiah 6:16, Matthew 11:29