(1.) Fitted on the neck of oxen for the purpose of binding to them the traces by which they might draw the plough, etc. (Num. 19:2; Deut. 21:3). It was a curved piece of wood called 'ol.
(2.) In Jer. 27:2; 28:10, 12 the word in the Authorized Version rendered "yoke" is motah, which properly means a "staff," or as in the Revised Version, "bar."
These words in the Hebrew are both used figuratively of severe bondage, or affliction, or subjection (Lev. 26:13; 1 Kings 12:4; Isa. 47:6; Lam. 1:14; 3:27). In the New Testament the word "yoke" is also used to denote servitude (Matt. 11:29, 30; Acts 15:10; Gal. 5:1).
(3.) In 1 Sam. 11:7, 1 Kings 19:21, Job 1:3 the word thus translated is tzemed, which signifies a pair, two oxen yoked or coupled together, and hence in 1 Sam. 14:14 it represents as much land as a yoke of oxen could plough in a day, like the Latin jugum. In Isa. 5:10 this word in the plural is translated "acres."
(1) The usual word is `ol (Gen 27:40, etc.), less commonly the (apparently later) form moTah (Isa 58:6, etc.; in Nab 1:13 moT), which the Revised Version (British and American) in Jer 27; 28 translates "bar" (a most needless and obscuring change). The Greek in Apocrypha (Sirach 28:19, etc.) and in the New Testament (Mt 11:29 f, etc.) is invariably zugos. Egyptian monuments show a yoke that consisted of a straight bar fastened to the foreheads of the cattle at the root of the horns, and such yokes were no doubt used in Palestine also; but the more usual form was one that rested on the neck (Gen 27:40, etc.). It was provided with straight "bars" (moToth in Lev 26:13; Ezek 34:27) projecting downward, against which the shoulders of the oxen pressed, and it was held in position by thongs or "bonds" (moceroth in Jer 2:20; 5:5; 27:2; 30:8; 'aghuddoth in Isa 58:6, "bands"), fastened under the animals' throats. Such yokes could of course be of any weight (1 Ki 12:4 ff), depending on the nature of the work to be done, but the use of "iron yokes" (Dt 28:48; Jer 28:13 f) must have been very rare, if, indeed, the phrase is anything more than a figure of speech.
What is meant by "the yoke on their jaws" in Hos 11:4 is quite obscure. Possibly a horse's bit is meant; possibly the phrase is a condensed form for "the yoke that prevents their feeding"; possibly the text is corrupt.
The figurative use of "yoke" in the sense of "servitude" is intensely obvious (compare especially Jer 27, 28). Attention needs to be called only to Lam 3:27, where "disciplining sorrow" is meant, and to Jer 5:5, where the phrase is a figure for "the law of God." This last use became popular with the Jews at a later period and it is found, e.g. in Apocrypha Baruch 41:3; Psalter of Solomon 7:9; 17:32; Ab. iii.7,. and in this sense the phrase is employed. by Christ in Mt 11:29 f. "My yoke" here means "the service of God as I teach it" (the common interpretation, "the sorrows that I bear," is utterly irrelevant) and the emphasis is on "my." The contrast is not between "yoke" and "no yoke," but between "my teaching" (light yoke) and "the current scribal teaching'; (heavy yoke).
(2) "Yoke" in the sense of "a pair of oxen" is tsemedh (1 Sam 11:7, etc.), or zeugos (Lk 14:19).
See also UNEQUAL; YOKE-FELLOW.
Burton Scott Easton