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YOKE (מוֹט, H4573, an oxbow, ‘ôl, a yoke, tsemedh, yoke of Ox|oxen, an acre, i.e., as much land as a yoke of oxen could plow in a day, Greek zeugos, a team and zygos, yoke). In the literal sense, a bar of wood so constructed as to unite two animals, usually oxen, enabling them to work in the fields. Drawing loads and pulling instruments used in farming, such as the plow, were two chief functions the yoke made possible. Archaeology|Archaeological studies have shown that the yoke was variously constructed in different periods of history. It was commonly used all over the ancient world.


The verb mot means to waver, totter, and the noun describes the tottering motion of one carrying a burden or a heavy yoke. Thus it came to mean the bars of the yoke and the yoke itself (מוֹטָה, H4574). More frequently the term עֹל, H6585, is used for “yoke,” including the curved pieces of wood which are fastened to the crossbeam. The Hebrew צֶ֫מֶד, H7538, refers to a pair or team of animals called a “yoke.”

Biblical Usage and Meaning

The term “yoke” in its literal meaning refers to a heavy wooden frame used to tie two draft animals together for pulling heavy loads such as plows and carts (Num 19:2), where the Lord instructs Moses: “Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect...and upon which a yoke (עֹֽל) has never come.” This statement in the Pentateuch indicates that the use of yokes for draft animals is very old.

Generally, however, the term is used figuratively for slavery and the burdens and hardships people must bear. When Jehovah delivered Israel from Egypt|Egyptian slavery, he said, “I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect” (Lev 26:13). When the yoke of bondage or slavery became severe, it is termed “a yoke of iron upon your neck” (Deut 28:48). A yoke of affliction is mentioned in Lamentations 3:27: “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” Isaiah states that for every man the Messiah will break “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, and the rod of his oppressor” (Isa 9:4). “The yoke will be destroyed from your neck” (Isa 10:27). Sometimes the term is used to describe the burden of a person’s sin and its punishment: “My transgressions were bound into a yoke; by his hand they were fastened together; they were set upon my neck” (Lam 1:14).

Often in the Old Testament the term “yoke” refers to a “team of oxen.” King Saul warned the people in hot anger when “He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers” (1 Sam 11:7). Job, among many other possessions, had “five hundred yoke of oxen” (Job 1:3). In a double metaphor, the amount of land, perhaps an acre, which a yoke of oxen could plow in a day, was called a yoke (1 Sam 14:14; Isa 5:10). It was also used figuratively in the sense of Servant|servitude (Jer.27.1-Jer.27.22-Jer.28.1-Jer.28.17) and “the law of God.”

Various kinds of draft animals were hitched or yoked together, but generally it was oxen or cattle. It is interesting that the Mosaic law forbade the yoking of an ox and an ass together (Deut 22:10) because of the inequality of the work, a rubric which no doubt is the source of the familiar mandate of the apostle that Christians should not be “unequally yoked together (heterozygountes) with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14 KJV). Yoked animals were used for pulling plows, stones, carts and other types of road or field work. Archeologists have discovered that yokes of many kinds were used throughout the ancient world and very early, and that yokes were crude and simple or more complex in design, depending upon the period of history.

See Also

  • Jaw

  • Unequal yoke

  • Yoke-fellow