“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30
I’m learning more about this well-known quote from Jesus as I study more closely the Old Testament and culture of the time. I used to think that in this verse he only meant that he felt sorry for me and that he would give me rest if I was tired and burdened by my heavy load. As it turns out there is a bit more here to learn about what Jesus was saying in this often quoted scripture.
First of all in Jesus day, the main rabbis all had a system or set of beliefs that allowed you to interpret God’s word through their system. Each one’s system was a liitle different than the others. This system was called their “yoke of Torah”. Jesus’ “yoke” or way of interpreting scripture was the Shema, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus said this in Matthew 22:37-40 when asked what the most important commandments were. Every situation in life was to be looked at through that filter. Jesus is saying in the Matthew 11 passage, “I have a new way to look at keeping the Torah and it won’t be as burdensome as what the Pharisees teach. It may be hard to do, but it is simple to understand.” Secondly, he is making some new profound messianic claims in this passage. These claims can only be seen if you had an intricate knowledge of the Hebrew Bible like they did Let’s look at some of those.
- “I will give you rest” – look at Exodus 33:14 when God told Moses – “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” The Jews would have known and picked up on that verse from the Torah instantly. He will give us rest?, is he claiming to be God?
- “You will find rest for your souls.” – look at Jeremiah 6:16 – when the Lord says,”look for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus was claiming to be the ancient paths to God and if they would walk that ancient path, they would find rest for their souls. This was another obvious messianic claim.
- For “I am gentle and humble in heart” – look at Numbers 12:3. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” The Jews knew the words of the Torah in Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18 where God says to Moses, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him… I will put my words in his mouth”. Philip told Nathanael in John 1:45 – “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.” And Jesus said in John 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” So, again, Jesus was claiming to be God by quoting Old Testament passages that hinted at his deity. He was the prophet like Moses.
If you knew your Hebrew Bible, when you heard Jesus make the statement he made that is recordedin Matthew, you knew he was saying. “I am the one who was foretold about, I am the Messiah, God’s son that you have been looking for .”
Learning these few cultural facts and studying the scriptures that Jesus would have memorized gives us a much fuller meaning of the words he spoke in Matthew. Now, I am looking at everything Jesus said and trying to trace it back to the Old Testament roots. Amen.