Breaking a Yoke

A yoke is a wooden beam placed on the necks of two animals so that they can pull together. That’s the literal definition. Throughout the scriptures, the term is also used metaphorically to represent servitude or oppression. Perhaps that’s because the Hebrew word for yoke—ol (עֹל)—is related to the verb alal (עָלַל), which means to abuse, to treat severely.

After Isaac unintentionally blessed Jacob that he would rule over his brother, he gave Esau a compensatory blessing. “You shall serve your brother,” he affirmed, “but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck” (Genesis 27:40, English Standard Version). (Note that the King James Version says “when thou shalt have the dominion,” but most other translations render the Hebrew word tarid (תָּרִ֔יד) as “become restless.”)

Isaiah spoke several times of broken yokes. The Messiah would bring joy to Israel by breaking the yoke of their burden (Isaiah 9:4, 2 Nephi 19:4). God would break the yoke from their necks and destroy it, because of the anointing (Isaiah 10:27, 2 Nephi 20:27). He also taught that the purpose of fasting is “to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

When Captain Moroni confronted Zerahemnah, during a pause in a heated battle, he pointed out the sharp contrast between their motivations for fighting:

Behold, we have not come out to battle against you that we might shed your blood for power; neither do we desire to bring any one to the yoke of bondage. But this is the very cause for which ye have come against us.

Alma 44:2

And the chief judge of the Nephites, Pahoran, later wrote to Moroni:

We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.

But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.

Alma 61:12-13

In March 1836, Joseph Smith offered a prayer to dedicate the newly completed temple in Kirtland, Ohio. During that prayer, he pleaded for relief from the severe persecution which he and other church members were experiencing:

Thou knowest, O Lord, that thy servants have been innocent before thee in bearing record of thy name, for which they have suffered these things.

Therefore we plead before thee for a full and complete deliverance from under this yoke;

Break it off, O Lord; break it off from the necks of thy servants, by thy power, that we may rise up in the midst of this generation and do thy work.

Doctrine and Covenants 109:31-33

He subsequently prayed for fellow church members in Missouri, who faced even harsher persecution:

We ask thee, Holy Father, to remember those who have been driven by the inhabitants of Jackson county, Missouri, from the lands of their inheritance, and break off, O Lord, this yoke of affliction that has been put upon them.

Doctrine and Covenants 109:47

Today, I will recognize that the Savior has the power to lift our burdens, including those burdens which are imposed upon us by other people. I will pray for Him to deliver people from the yoke of bondage. I will also do what I can to lift people’s burdens and to “break every yoke.”

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