Take my yoke: invitation

Yoke 3Jesus’ Invitation. The last three verses of the chapter contain many echoes of the invitation of Jesus Ben Sira (Sir 51:23–27; cf. also Sir 6:24–31) for men to come and learn from him and take up wisdom’s yoke, so that they may find rest. No doubt Jesus and his hearers knew and valued this book, but Jesus’ invitation reveals a higher authority: it is his own yoke that he offers, and he himself gives the rest which Ben Sira had to win by his ‘little labors’.

In its own way these verse spell out the implication of the unique relationship of the Father and the Son. Just as only God knows Wisdom (Wis 8:4; 9:1-18), so only the Father knows the Son. Just as only Wisdom makes known the divine mysteries (Wis 9:1-18, 10:10), so Jesus is the revealer of God’s hidden truths. As the personified divine Wisdom calls people to take up her yoke and find rest (Sir 51:23-30; Prov 1:20-23; 8:1-36), so Jesus extends the same invitation. For Matthew, Jesus is not the messenger of Wisdom, but is identified with the heavenly Wisdom of God; he speaks not only for Wisdom, but as the divine Wisdom.

The yoke was sometimes in the Old Testament a symbol of oppression (Isa. 9:4; 58:6; Jer. 27–28), but was also used in a good sense of the service of God (Jer. 2:20; Lam. 3:27). Later it came to be used commonly in Jewish writings for obedience to the law—the ‘yoke of the law’ is one every Jew should be proud to carry.Such a yoke should not be oppressive, for after all the function of a yoke (the sort worn by humans) is to make a burden easier to carry. But through the seemingly arbitrary demands of Pharisaic legalism and the uncertainties of ever-proliferating rabbinic case law the law had itself become a burden, and a new yoke was needed to lighten the load. Jesus’ yoke is easy (chrēstos normally means ‘good’, ‘kind’), not because it makes lighter demands, but because it represents entering into a disciple-relationship (learn from me) with one who is meek and humble of heart (cf. 2 Cor 10:1). The words echo the description of God’s servant in Isaiah 42:2–3; 53:1–2, and specially the words of Zechariah 9:9 which Matthew will pick up again at 21:4–5. It is also the character Jesus expects, and creates, in his disciples (5:3ff.)

You will find rest for your selves is an echo of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 6:16 (lxx), where it is the offer of God to those who follow his way; Jesus now issues the invitation in his own name!

Notes

Matthew 11:28 labor: We are accustomed to hearing the word “weary” – Come to me, all you who are weary. The word used is kopiao which means “to be engaged in hard work, implying difficulties and trouble.” The NAB “labor” is accurate, but passes on the figurative use of kopiao: “to become emotionally fatigued and discouraged,” e.g., “to give up, to lose heart” [EDNT 2:307].

burden: The word phortizo (v. 30 = phortion) come from the word for a ship’s cargo (phortos). Generally in the NT, they are used symbolically of the burden of keeping the law. Both words are used in Mt 23:4/Lk 11:46: And Jesus said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.”[EDNT 3:437]

rest: anapauo (v. 29 anapausis) Many scholars think that Jesus’ use of “rest” echoes Jeremiah 6:16 – “Thus says the LORD: Stand beside the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old – Which is the way to good, and walk it; thus you will find rest for your souls.” These same motifs of laboring, the yoke, and rest are prefigured in Sir 6:18ff (v. 28); 51:13ff (v. 26) and reveal Jesus as the personified Wisdom. In the OT and Judaism the promise of rest as one of the benefits of salvation is always connected to divine instruction (b. Šabb. 152b; 2 Bar. 73:1) [EDNT 1:86-7].

Matthew 11:29 meek and humble: One should hear an echo of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:5) and as well be prepared for this description as applied to Jesus in 12:15-21 and 21:5.

Matthew 11:30 easy: Jesus’ yoke is described as “easy” (chrestos; only one letter different from christos = “Christ”). This word does not mean “not strenuous,” but (1) “being superior for a particular purpose or use” – old wine is better than new wine (see Lk 5:39). Jesus may be saying that his yoke is better than any other yoke; (2) “being useful and benevolent, being good” – “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). Jesus may be saying that his yoke is more beneficial than others; (3) “being kind” – “Do you not know… that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4. Jesus may be saying that his yoke is kinder than any other yoke; (4) “being pleasant or easy, with the implication of suitability” Jesus may be saying that his yoke fits us well – it is suitable for our human condition and abilities.

Sources

  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 38
  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994) 271-75
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2000)
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007) 439-51
  • R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 202-5
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) 166-71
  • Daniel J. Harrington, “Matthew” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris(Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 879
  • Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009) 256-61
  • John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message 3 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990) 125-8
  • D. Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 164-67

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)

Scripture – The New American Bible

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