The Bible mentioned about yoke in the Old and New Testaments. The more famous and well known verse about yoke Christians like to talk about is 2 Corinthians 6:14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
However, yoke is more than just this verse Christians fancy most. The earliest mention of the word “yoke” is concerning servitude of a people.
Genesis 27:40: And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.
This verse concerns the people of Esau. They would be put under the dominion of Jacob’s descendants. The yoke the children of Jacob applied on the children of Esau would come to an end when they finally dominate over Jacob’s children.
The next verse that talks about yoke has to do with the children of Israel living under bondage as slaves to serve their masters in the land of Egypt. It was a horrible yoke which Jehovah God eventually delivered them by the hands of Moses who led them out of Egypt.
Leviticus 26:13: I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.
In actual literal practice, yoke is applied to an animal. However, some animals when they were not put under the yoke for agricultural purposes, they became sacrificial animals for the purpose of cleansing rituals for the children of Israel.
Numbers 19:2: This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:
Deuteronomy 21:3: And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
Deuteronomy 21:4: And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley:
Deuteronomy 21:5: And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
After the children of Israel were delivered from the yoke of Egyptian bondage, they were warned that another more terrible yoke would come upon them when they rebel against God and fail to keep their covenant with the Lord.
Deuteronomy 28:48: Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.
Usually, the enemies put the children of Israel under the yoke of bondage. Unfortunately, even the kings of Israel put them under severe bondage. After the death of king Solomon, the people requested Rehoboam who ascended the throne after Solomon to lighten their burdens. But king Rehoboam took counsel from those whom he grew up with to impose a even heavier yoke upon the children of Israel. Hence, the kingdom became divided.
1 Kings 12:4: Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
1 Kings 12:9: And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?
1 Kings 12:10: And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.
1 Kings 12:11: And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
1 Kings 12:14: And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.
Throughout the writings of prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Nahum, the yoke continues to be a source of heavy bondage and servitude. It was not something positive and joyous celebration for the children of Israel. This was just the way it was due to sin and rebellion against God.
One of the most prominent mention of the word “yoke” is found in Lamentations. Jeremiah was lamenting bitterly concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple as well as the captivity of the children of Israel. Although he was not put to death by the Babylonians, he felt the pains of his people and the tragedy that fell upon Israel for their disobedience and rebellion against the God of Israel.
Lamentations 1:14: The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.
Interestingly, Jeremiah mentioned something positive about bearing the yoke.
Lamentations 3:27: It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
The reason Jeremiah could relate positively to yoke bearing is the realisation of the goodness of the Lord and trusting the Lord in times of adversity. Most importantly, the yoke is not permanent and hence it is good to bear the yoke in the youth. The Lord is just and knows what He is doing with them in spite of the burdens and sufferings of being put under the yoke.
Lamentations 3:28: He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
Lamentations 3:29: He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
Lamentations 3:30: He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
Lamentations 3:31: For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
Lamentations 3:32: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
Lamentations 3:33: For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
Lamentations 3:34: To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
Lamentations 3:35: To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
Lamentations 3:36: To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Lamentations 3:37: Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Lamentations 3:38: Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Lamentations 3:39: Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
Lamentations 3:40: Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
Lamentations 3:41: Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
Coming to the New Testament, yoke bearing takes on a new dimension. While yoke always portrays the idea of bondage and sufferings, it has become something desirable. Most glaring are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ who implores His people to take on His yoke.
Matthew 11:29: Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Matthew 11:30: For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The yoke in the world causes a lot of trouble and sufferings but the yoke of the Lord is the complete opposite. Taking on the yoke of the Lord brings rest to our souls.
Whenever a Christian complains it is so hard to live the Christian life, he is lying. The Lord tells us His yoke is easy and His burden is light. They are meant as a source of comfort for His people and not another form of terrible bondage impose upon His people to punish them.
The law of Moses imposed upon the children of Israel for their own good was a form of yoke the children of Israel found it hard to bear. So when a sinner believed and received the Lord, some Jews sought to impose the bondage of the law upon them.
Acts 15:10: Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Galatians 5:1: Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
This yoke was decisively and conclusively rejected by the apostles when issues pertaining to observance of the law of Moses by the New Testament Christians were brought into question. Surely the Lord does not lie for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Now for the very familiar verse Christians usually apply to marriage, this verse actually covers more than just marriages.
2 Corinthians 6:14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
On the surface, this verse does apply to marital situation and there is nothing wrong with the application. However, the context of this verse is exemplified by the following verses.
2 Corinthians 6:15: And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
2 Corinthians 6:16: And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
2 Corinthians 6:17: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
2 Corinthians 6:18: And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
So it is not merely for the case of Christians marrying non Christians. It is for Christians not to become yoked with encumbrances with the unsaved in many areas and not just on marriage. This however does not mean a Christian should avoid the unsaved like a plague because the apostle Paul clearly instructs that this would be unrealistic and impossible to do.
1 Corinthians 5:9: I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
1 Corinthians 5:10: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
So common sense prevails over how a Christian should avoid yoking up with an unbeliever and this applies more than just a marital union. This is the negative aspect of yoking in the New Testament.
In all practical purpose, yoking must be done with equal partners. In the business world, yoking is a synergistic partnership between companies to further their business venture for mutual benefits. If one party is a dominant party, such yoking is no longer an equal partnership. It would become a merger and acquisition scenario where the dominant company buying over the weaker company. Pains would be hard to avoid under such yoking arrangement as positions would be made redundant and employees could be retrenched. Hence, being unequally yoked brings no tangible benefits but pains to one party.
The positive aspect of yoking is to become engaged with like-minded brethren in the gospel work. This kind of yoking the Lord is obviously well pleased.
Philippians 4:3: And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.
Living in this fallen world, it is unavoidable that there would be a master and servant relationship. Salvation of a sinner does not abolish the present world system for the child of God. Such a Christian is encouraged to serve his master faithfully where the yoke is regarded as part of the Lord’s service.
1 Timothy 6:1: Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.
So becoming a Christian does not exempt the child of God from yoking. He is encouraged to yoke positively in the Lord’s work. He is also required to serve his master under the yoke as a form of service to the Lord to ensure the Lord’s name not be blasphemed. Of course, the child of God has to be careful not to become unequally yoked with unbelievers in all aspect of his life for his own safety and comfort as well as blessings from the Lord.
The Chinese has a saying.
吃 得 苦 中 苦 方 為 人 上 人
A person who can endure hardship is a superior man.
Hence, according to the scripture as written by Jeremiah: It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. (Lamentations 3:27)
The apostle Paul also exhorts Christians to be a good soldier for the Lord by enduring hardness.
2 Timothy 2:3: Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Those who have gone through some form of military service would understand the challenges and the toughness require from a soldier.
It is good training to prepare for adversities in the youth. He will stand a greater chance of survival in this spiritual warfare that is waged against him by the flesh, world and the devil. How many Christians have fallen in the battlefields and the scars are too numerous to document because they have failed to heed Lamentations 3:27: It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
As such, Christians are exhorted to be strong to take the yoke of the Lord which is easy and the burden light. The yoke of man is truly miserable.
1 Corinthians 16:13: Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
Ephesians 6:10: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
2 Timothy 2:1: Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.