The Yoke of Babylon
Open Your Bible
Jeremiah 27:1-22, Jeremiah 28:1-17, Deuteronomy 4:29, Deuteronomy 13:1-5
BY Guest Writer
I’m grateful God gives us earthy metaphors to help us grasp spiritual truths. Whether it’s using a mustard seed to represent our faith, sheep to illustrate the waywardness of human beings, or salt to reveal how we can flavor and preserve the world—God often provides familiar word pictures to drive a message home.
In today’s reading, God tells Jeremiah, “Make chains and yoke bars for yourself and put them on your neck” (Jeremiah 27:2). A yoke was commonly used to harness oxen as they pulled carts or farming equipment. Two animals would be placed side by side and hoops would be hung under their heads. The hoops would be strapped to a horizontal wooden bar placed across their necks. This yoke would force the strong oxen into submission and labor.
Jeremiah obeyed God’s instruction and strapped a heavy, wooden yoke around his own neck. How strange for a man to harness himself like an animal! The shackled prophet was a shocking picture of what God’s unfaithful people would soon experience. The nation of Judah would be captured, enslaved, and exiled to Babylon: Farewell, freedom! Farewell, promised land! Because of their insatiable idol chasing, God would use Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment. Judah would be forced to submit to a foreign power and to labor against their own will.
Jeremiah’s yoke was a picture of God’s severe judgment, but it also revealed God’s severe mercy. Even without Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, the people of Judah were already slaves. Despite God’s repeated warnings through His commands and prophets, they had shackled themselves to false, foreign gods and they were blind to the chains of idolatry around their own necks. God longed for His people to recognize this bondage, turn away from idolatry, and return to Him with all their heart and with all their soul (Jeremiah 29:12–13). Only then could they really be free.
We all worship something. We all bow the knee and chase something or someone in which to put our hope. We may harness ourselves to health, beauty, wealth, family, achievements, or even our own good deeds. But worshiping anything other than God chokes the life right out of us. Our idols promise much, often the kind of peace we all long for, even the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28:6). And when the promise is made, the chase begins. Our idols fail to deliver, yet they demand more. As the chase goes on, we become more weary, despairing and defeated. But in His mercy, God interrupts our destructive spiral. He points us to the only one who, when we are harnessed to Him, delivers life instead of death.
Patti Sauls lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Scott and daughters, Abby and Ellie, where they serve alongside the people of Christ Presbyterian Church. Prior to living in Nashville, the Sauls planted churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis and served at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. A trained speech therapist, Patti also enjoys serving behind the scenes, hiking with friends, and reading good books.