These words in the Hebrew are both used figuratively of severe bondage, or affliction, or subjection ( Leviticus 26:13 ; 1 Kings 12:4 ; Isaiah 47:6 ; Lamentations 1:14 ; 3:27 ). In the New Testament the word "yoke" is also used to denote servitude ( Matthew 11:29 Matthew 11:30 ; Acts 15:10 ; Galatians 5:1 ).
(1) The usual word is `ol (Genesis 27:40, etc.), less commonly the (apparently later) form moTah (Isaiah 58:6, etc.; in Nab 1:13 moT), which the Revised Version (British and American) in Jer 27; 28 translates "bar" (a most needless and obscuring change). The Greek in Apocrypha (Sirach 28:19, etc.) and in the New Testament (Matthew 11:29, etc.) is invariably zugos. Egyptian monuments show a yoke that consisted of a straight bar fastened to the foreheads of the cattle at the root of the horns, and such yokes were no doubt used in Palestine also; but the more usual form was one that rested on the neck (Genesis 27:40, etc.). It was provided with straight "bars" (moToth in Leviticus 26:13; Ezekiel 34:27) projecting downward, against which the shoulders of the oxen pressed, and it was held in position by thongs or "bonds" (moceroth in Jeremiah 2:20; 5:5; 27:2; 30:8; 'aghuddoth in Isaiah 58:6, "bands"), fastened under the animals' throats. Such yokes could of course be of any weight (1 Kings 12:4), depending on the nature of the work to be done, but the use of "iron yokes" (Deuteronomy 28:48; Jeremiah 28:13) must have been very rare, if, indeed, the phrase is anything more than a figure of speech.
What is meant by "the yoke on their jaws" in Hosea 11:4 is quite obscure. Possibly a horse's bit is meant; possibly the phrase is a condensed form for "the yoke that prevents their feeding"; possibly the text is corrupt.
The figurative use of "yoke" in the sense of "servitude" is intensely obvious (compare especially Jer 27, 28). Attention needs to be called only to Lamentations 3:27, where "disciplining sorrow" is meant, and to Jeremiah 5:5, where the phrase is a figure for "the law of God." This last use became popular with the Jews at a later period and it is found, e.g. in Apocrypha Baruch 41:3; Psalter of Solomon 7:9; 17:32; Ab. iii.7,. and in this sense the phrase is employed. by Christ in Matthew 11:29 f. "My yoke" here means "the service of God as I teach it" (the common interpretation, "the sorrows that I bear," is utterly irrelevant) and the emphasis is on "my." The contrast is not between "yoke" and "no yoke," but between "my teaching" (light yoke) and "the current scribal teaching'; (heavy yoke).
See also UNEQUAL; YOKE-FELLOW.
Burton Scott Easton
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