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Religion
Scriptural Concepts

Yoke
על

Hebrew Word

The Hebrew word ol means "yoke".

Because of a passage in Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), the Jews of first century Judea called a system of teaching -- how a sage studied of Torah and interpreted of Torah, the parables and sayings he shared, and his practical lifestyle -- a "yoke".

This is what Yeshua spoke of about himself in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me all you who labor and are burdended, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you shall find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Yeshua also speaks favorably about the yoke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:2-4.

In Acts 15:10 the Apostles speak of a similar, commonly used image: the yoke of treating Torah itself as a sage of which to be a disciple.

Meaning in Ancient Israel

Some form of sage-disciple relationship was in place in ancient Israel, in which a prophet would become a temporary father-figure for his disciples as they tried to learn the prophet's ways. The details are no longer known.

Consider the common use of the phrase "sons of the prophets", and how Elisha called Eliyahu "my father" while asking to receive a double inheritance like a natural son.

The Tenach does not record the word ol being used to refer to the system of teaching being passed down in a sage-disciple relationship in the time of the ancient Israelites. (It uses ol metaphorically only to mean "burden".) But the concept was certainly present.

Meaning in the First Century

By the first century, the sage-disciple relationship had become more formalized.

The Jewish people still sometimes used the term "son" for a sage's disciple in the first-century (Luke 11:19, Second Timothy 1:2).

The disciple pledged allegiance to his sage. But even more, the disciple was pledged allegiance to the sage's system of teaching.

(Consider a similar situation in a very different culture: a samurai, before a duel, would declare his name and the name of his sword-school. The name of his sensai was not as significant because the system of teaching would outlive that master.)

Before seeking a sage, a man would make preparations to live as a disciple for several years, and say a temporary goodbye to his family. Thus Yeshua was acting appropriately when he spoke to the unprepared men in Luke 9:60-62, and when he stresses being prepared for discipleship in the two stories of Luke 14:26-33 (planning to build a tower, preferring the sage over family). Peter was also speaking appropriately in Luke 18:28-30 when he said Yeshua's disciples have (temporarily) "left everything".

The sage-disciple relationship was so valued that the Mishna (Bava Metsi'a 2:11) teaches the losses or captivity of disciple's sage take priority over those of the disciple's father, unless the father is also a scholar.

Meaning for Yeshua's followers in Modern Times

Why should Yeshua's followers be interested in his first-century methods of worshipping, worldview, use of scripture, and lifestyle?

Yeshua asked us to be his disciples. We can be his disciples because he is still alive. (You cannot be the disciple of a dead person! The sage-disciple relationship is much more than simply studying the life and sayings of a wise man.)

To be his disciples we must carry his "yoke", and help his other disciples to do so. Thus we should study his methods of worshipping, worldview, and use of scripture. We should memorize his parables and sayings. We should think twice before departing from his manner of lifestyle.