In the days of long ago, before farmers had tractors to do the work, donkeys, horses, or oxen were used to plow the fields. A wooden crossbeam, called a yoke, would be attached across the neck of the animal with reins that the farmer would hold to guide the animal in the right direction. The farmer held a plow and together with the plow and the yoked animal, straight rows would be furrowed, ready to then plant the seeds for the desired crop. While the yoked animal assisted greatly with the task at hand, it was only the skill of the farmer that could guide the animal to keep the rows straight.
I was thinking about the yoke earlier this week as I was reading in Matthew 11:28-30, “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.'”
This passage, upon first reading, can seem anything but helping to ease a burden. We picture a yoke as onerous and vexing. Why would anyone want to wear one?
If we concentrate merely upon the yoke, then yes, we get a picture that is oppressive and troublesome to even think about. The yoke definitely does not paint a pretty picture in our minds. Good news! It’s not about the yoke; it’s all about the farmer. It’s the farmer who has the skill to guide the animal in the right direction. In the above illustration; again, it’s not about the yoke, but about Jesus who guides us with every step we take. As the verse reminds us, Jesus teaches us the right way to go. He is gentle in His guiding and He uses everything in the fields of life to instruct us in His ways, and His ways are full of beauty.
If all we do is focus on the yoke, the difficulties of life that we face, then we will fail to pay attention to the One who instructs us into all truth, guiding us along the furrows of untamed soil, that we may reap crops of joy and peace and courage. The yoke is merely an instrument that our perfect Teacher uses to keep us close to Him so that we may feel His tugging here and His guiding to the right or the left there.
Without Him, we will be all over the fields of life, making senseless tracks that lead to destruction. However, with Him, we are always pointed in the right direction that promises fruits of goodness for all our days.
In our passage, the phrase “let me teach you,” is also translated “learn of me.” You see, as we become familiar to the guiding of the One who holds the reins, then we sense His gentle touch, we recognize His words of encouragement. As we learn His ways, what happens then? Trust grows. Faith grows. Therefore, joy in the midst of any unfurrowed field, grows, too. Why? Because our faith is in the One who holds the reins. We trust that He indeed knows the way we should go. Therefore, in gladness, we bear the yoke, and take off with His leading into the fields of uncertainty, at last realizing that He always knows the most wonderful way in which we should go.