28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”–Matthew 11
Firstly, we are long past the day when we can assume that everyone knows what a “yoke” is, especially regarding children.
As pictured, a yoke is a crafted piece of wood, used (as we would a harness for horses) for beasts of burden (oxen, etc.) to pull a cart or plow. (The carpenters Joseph and Jesus may have made such an everyday item in Nazareth.) A young ox would learn to plow by yoking it with an experienced ox.
The second obstruction to learning, in our evangelical memory verse world, is that we keep hearing verse 28, “Come unto me…,” quoted all by its lonesome.
Jesus gives us three charges: “Come…Take…Learn…”
The Zeitgeist impels us to grasp the benefit, “rest,” without the process, “take” and “learn.” As is common, we see the chiasmus, put simply, an A-B-B’-A’ structure.*
A–The invitation offers “rest”
B– This has a condition: taking Jesus’ “yoke” involves learning
B’--”…learn of me”
You do not get the “rest” of A/A’ without B/B’. The key is Jesus, coming to him, taking his yoke of instruction and learning from him, that is, being a true disciple.
“To be a follower of Jesus is to be a disciple and therefore a learner.”–Leon Morris
“Disciple” and “learn” are cognates in Greek.
In the Old Testament background, “Jeremiah describes [apostate (see 5:5f)] Israel’s true relationship with Yahweh as a yoke which the wayward shake off (Jer. 2:20; 5:5).” [DNTT] This yoke which they discarded was the “knowledge of Yahweh and his law” (Torah).
Yoke is a “well-known metaphor for obedience.” Though Israel has thrown off the yoke of Yahweh for the yoke of captivity, Jeremiah ends in a future promise. “Yahweh says, ‘Once again…I will satisfy the weary ones…’” (ch. 31).
That ultimate satisfaction comes in Christ to those who accept his invitation to come and learn from him.
*cf. Matthew, Gundry for more detailed analysis.