The yoke, literally “a coupling,” is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals such as oxen are joined at the heads or necks for the purpose of working together” (Merriam-Webster). But, used figuratively, the word has reference to severe bondage, affliction or subjection. It is also used to denote an obligation, service or servitude (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). The yoke typically signifies a burden to be carried or an oppression to be borne. In Scripture, the word is almost always used in a negative sense.
1 Timothy 6:1 says, “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed.” This of course has reference to the yoke of slavery. The next passage, Galatians 5:1, is self-explanatory: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” At the Jerusalem Council, when the apostles and elders came together to consider questions concerning whether Christians should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Peter responded, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Each of these passages serves to adequately and accurately bring out the negative figurative meanings of the word.
But there is at least one passage of Scripture where the word “yoke” is used in a positive way. It is the well-known, much beloved text where Jesus invites all who are burdened and struggling to come to Him for rest. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
In contrast to the difficult and burdensome yokes of men and man-made religion, Jesus describes His yoke as being easy and His burden as light. Because Jesus is “meek [gentle] and lowly in heart,” He is able to “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray” (Heb 5:2). When we “learn from Him” we put on His yoke and are joined together with Him. As our yokefellow, He helps us bear our burdens and carry the load. The yoke of Jesus provides spiritual comfort and true rest. So, if this has not been your experience, perhaps it is not the yoke of Jesus you are wearing.