A yoke is a powerful tool. It takes the power of two individual animals and increases their ability to carry a load. The yoke takes of different imagery throughout the Bible. The last time we encountered the word “yoke” was in Exodus 6 about being enslaved by Pharaoh. At the end of last week’s chapter, we see Solomon move from a King of God-given wisdom to a tyrant in the image of Pharaoh enslaving his own people for the sake of building his empire. Chapter 14 of The Story begins with Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, being visited by the leaders of Israel asking for the harsh conditions brought on by Solomon to be rectified. Rehoboam does the wisest thing we will see him do in his reign. He sends them away for three days while he seeks counsel. From this quick scene in the story we learn two lessons on leadership. Win people’s hearts and they will choose to be yoked to you forever. Or, you can force a heavy yoke on them and they will be forced to be your slaves. When the heavy yoke of slavery is placed on the unified nation of Israel, the ten northern tribes find a new leader: Jeroboam.
Jeroboam is promised the ten tribes by God. This split in the kingdom was intended as discipline, not as a divide. God is intent on keeping His covenant with Abraham, His promise to David, and continues to look fondly on Jerusalem…which is now located in the southern Kingdom of Judah. In 1 Kings 12:26-27, Jeroboam realizes that if the people continue in their YHWH worship, they will look to stay connected to the line of David (Rehoboam) and he will lose his position of authority. The purpose of every leader is to point the people towards God. Jeroboam is not a good leader. He exchanges the yoke of slavery for the yoke of idolatry. He sets up gods for the people in the same image of that of Exodus 32 and cuts off their connection with the House of David. Jeroboam takes what was supposed to be a political division and turns it into a religious one! Religion for Jeroboam is a political expediency, a means of manipulating Israel’s loyalty in his direction instead of pointing them in GOD’s direction.
The yoke of slavery to the state and the yoke of slavery to an idol are equally heavy. Both yokes force you to carry something that will not carry their end of the load. The yoke in this case is a burden. Isaiah 46 points to these gods having to be carried by the people and set in place. The people must carry the burden of these gods so that they can worship them. We have a God who says, “You do not carry me on your back, I carry you on my back!”
You will always be yoked to something. Even the person who refuses to be yoked to anything yokes themselves to themselves and the burden is too heavy. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus gives this promise, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Be intentional in what or who you yoke yourself to or you will always carry a heavy burden.
What are you yoking yourself to that needs to be placed at the foot of the cross? National identity? Sexuality? Race identity? Gender identity? Finances? Your job? The image you project of yourself? What can we as a church help you lay down so that you can pick up the cross of Christ?
Take a moment to reflect on Romans 8. I want to end this reflection on our reading with verses 31-39. I’m continually ministering to people who are carrying heavy burdens in their lives. This passage is the one I keep coming back to for the Hope we find in Jesus Christ:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.