My Yoke is Heavy and Stings Like a Scorpion
Is Jesus really reigning as king over the universe? Or should we expect someone else? Is he going to build a glorious kingdom like Solomon? Or will it be a kingdom of another kind altogether?
“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.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
These words from Jesus’ lips are among the most familiar sayings of his. However, the Old Testament episode to which they allude is not so familiar. Seeing Jesus’ words in the context of that story reveals something about the nature of Jesus and His kingdom.
After Solomon passed away and the people had gathered to make his son Rehoboam king, they appealed to Rehoboam to give them a lighter yoke than his father Solomon had. Solomon had built a great empire through forced labor and the people were weary. Their question was, “What kind of king is Rehoboam going to be?” The people gathered that day would be happy to serve him as king if he were a different kind of king. Led by Jeroboam, the people declare:
“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:4)
Rehoboam told them to give him three days and then come back for an answer (1 Kings 12:5). Meanwhile, he consults the elders of the people who had served his father Solomon. Their advice?
“If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” (1 Kings 12:6-7)
Rehoboam rejected their advice, however, and instead sought the counsel of his friends, those he had grown up with. They responded,
“These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” (1 Kings 12:8-11)
After three days, the people returned to hear Rehoboam’s answer and since he followed the advice of his own counselors, doubling down on Solomon’s type of leadership, ten of the tribes rejected Rehoboam as king and the nation was divided into two (1 Kings 12:12-13).
Back to Jesus
How does this background inform Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:28-30? First, the chapter begins with some of John the Baptizer’s disciples coming to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). An odd question in our ears, but since John was rotting in prison, and Jesus hadn’t rescued him, it raised questions either about Jesus’ identity as the coming king, or about John’s expectations regarding what the Messiah and his kingdom would be like.
The rest of that chapter addresses various people’s false expectations of Jesus and culminates in Jesus calling them to take His yoke upon them. The people, in various ways were expecting a Solomon-like kingdom (with palaces, riches, and world dominance). That kind of kingdom, however, always comes with a heavy yoke—especially upon the lowly, underprivileged people. Jesus came to bring another kind of kingdom because he is another kind of king. It would not be a kingdom built on the backs of the lowly.
Like Rehoboam, Jesus also took three days to reveal the kind of king he is. He suffered and died (rather than retaliate against those who falsely accused and condemned him). And after three days he returned alive. He is a king who conquers through his own suffering, not theirs. He is a king who does not build armies (armies sting like a scorpion, just ask the families who have lost a husband, father, or son to war).
Jesus is not a king in the likeness of Solomon, nor of Rehoboam. Jesus is another kind of son of David, building a house for God (1 Sam. 7:13; Eph. 2:21-22). Jesus’ kingdom does not come complete with palaces, riches, and world dominance. Rather, it awaits the glories of its inheritance until after suffering and death. It is not built on the backs of the lowly with heavy yokes and scorpions’ stings. It is made possible with his own flesh and blood and not the flesh and blood of the people who make him king by force (John 6).