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.
I generally do not find the image of a yoke enticing, and connotations of the term in scripture tend to be negative: subjugation of Israel by various other nations and of the Israelites by Solomon and Rehoboam; Israel’s weight of guilt (La 1); and legalistic requirements of Judaizers (Acts 15, Ga 5). But Christ invites us to take His yoke and even links it to rest.
A possible interpretation is that we are under the headship, direction, and teaching of Jesus—one who surpasses Solomon in wisdom—rather than being left to wander and pursue vain ends. What a learning opportunity! Earlier in the chapter Jesus said that the Father is known only by the Son and those to whom the Son reveals Him, indicating one aspect of our learning is receiving that revelation through the Word, Spirit, and teaching in Christ’s church.
Jesus’ standing as the paragon of true humility and loving kindness encourages us, the slow and fitful learners. ”A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out” (Is 42:3, reference suggested by D.A. Carson). And humility, which for us includes recognition of our utterly hopeless position absent God’s mercy and Christ’s work, is the first lesson we must learn from Him. (“Unless you become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Mt 18:3) Such an attitude is necessary for entering the kingdom and then for learning and sharing further spiritual truths. Such an attitude, moreover, ultimately gives rest for our souls (here Jesus quotes Jeremiah 6:16, which notes that by walking in the “good way” Israel could find that rest) rather than endless striving. We have confidence that as we are yoked to Christ, he will never leave us nor forsake us; nothing can separate us. Because we know how the story of this life ends, we need not quiver as we turn the pages. “Take heart, I have overcome the world.” A restful yoke indeed.