By Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner
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: 29-30)
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Most of us realize a yoke is a wooden device that goes across the necks of two animals, keeping them together as they pull a plow or a cart, or some other object. But the compact Oxford English dictionary also defines a yoke as anything restricting freedom or difficult to bear. It can also be a frame, that fits around a person’s neck and shoulders, enabling them to carry heavy loads, such as a bucket of water on each side.
I learned about yokes from my maternal grandfather, who, as a 12 year old, began plowing his father’s fields barefooted, behind a yoke of oxen. When I was four years old, granddad took me to the Markham Ontario Fall Fair. He stood me behind an ox that was tethered in a stall, and then explained to me how he had handled the team of oxen so many years before.
This ox was huge. His hide was covered with short curly tufts of brindle colored hair. As granddad explained the procedure, I learned:
There is always a lead ox. The yoke goes over the neck of the two animals, and a “U” shaped collar is placed under each animal’s neck…shoved through two holes bored into the top bar, and pinned with a wooden dowel. The lead ox is on the outside.
In tandem, the inside ox has no choice but to go with the lead animal, turning when it does… keeping pace with it. Often the lead ox is training its partner, which in turn may someday be yoked as a lead ox to train a younger one.
The yoke is a heavy object…and on a hot day, the animals perspire. My grandfather explained to me that the hair on the ox’s hide, tufted and curly, gets wet with the perspiration and these tufts will roll themselves into hard little balls. They grate upon the neck of the animal and cause great discomfort, so the handler must stop from time to time, and with a small knife, cut away any of these balled up tufts of hair.
Now you know where the expressions “riled up” and “hot under the collar” originated!
In these days of mechanized farming, the yoking of animals has been largely forgotten. But when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, and the roadways of Nazareth and Bethlehem, the yoke was understood.
In fact, not only were animals yoked, but the Roman Empire, rising at the time, had a government that “yoked” the population as well. Their “yoke” was a financial one called ‘taxes’. When Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden light, He means it. Try it and see.
If you are truly “yoked” to Christ, He will lead you, and guide you. Several passages of Scripture tell us God has a plan for our lives, and a path He wants us to walk. Yoked to Him, we will have no problem. When those little balls of hair become uncomfortable, He will cut them off.
They could be our insistence to do something our way, stepping away from his side. To do that is to leave ourselves vulnerable. With Christ at our right hand (the outside) we have some protection, and as the “inside ox” we are assured of His direction. The positioning of Christ’s Yoke is similar to the positions of man and wife in Marriage.
Bible Commentator Matthew Henry explained God’s gift of woman.
Taken from the side of man “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved!”
When Scripture tells us not to be ‘unequally yoked’ in marriage, it is for our protection. We don’t see much of this in today’s society but for many years it was customary for the man to walk on the outside of the woman. Protection for her.
God’s yoke is protection for his bride… and we are the Bride of Christ.
Is it any wonder that the Apostle Peter tells us to “cast all your anxieties (cares)” on Jesus, “because He cares for you?” (1 Peter 5:6)
Barry was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1935 and schooled to Grade 10, but continued educational pursuits until age 65 when he graduated from Open Word Bible College. He started working for Spitzer and Mills advertising in 1952, then moved to the Broadcast arena where for 62 years he was News Director and Talk Show Host at several Canadian Radio Stations. He was one of 5 consultants who managed to lobby for Christian Radio in Canada, and in the last five years before retirement, he was News Director of Canadian Altar.Net News, a network of 25 Christian Radio Stations across Canada from Charlottetown PEI to Campbell River BC.
Barry Kentner is a semi-retired pastor.