a overly heavy yoke, hard to bear; rebellious resistance of oxen
“Your father made our yoke heavy;
now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father,
and his heavy yoke which he put on us,
and we will serve you.”
1 Kings 12:4
Scripture only used H7185 in a metaphorical sense, which means we can’t derive the literal definition by examining multiple passages. So we will rely on the definition from TWOT.
The root apparently came from an agricultural context. It emphasizes, firstly, the subjective effect exerted by an overly heavy yoke, which is hard to bear; and secondarily, the rebellious resistance of oxen to the yoke.
1 Kings 12:4 gives the closest application of the literal sense, in the account of Israel’s demand that Rehoboam lighten the tax burden.
“Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Granted, it is a figurative application but it nicely shows the literal meaning. The passage tells of the people complaining about their required service under Solomon, that it was an unbearable burden. They used H7185 to compare the burdensome service to an overloaded yoke. Not only that, but the passage could have used H7185 to describe the people who were balking against the heavy burden of service, just as oxen might balk at a heavy yoke. Thus, we can see in this passage how these two literal meanings of H7185 relate to one another, which will help us understand the metaphorical implications.
As a metaphor, H7185 employed both the concept of a heavy yoke and of rebellious resistance. One example of the ‘heavy yoke’ type of application is in the command regarding bondservants, when their time of service ended.
“It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do. Deuteronomy 15:18.
The master was not to view releasing the bondservant as a heavy burden, but freely let him depart. 1 Samuel 5:7 provides a second example, when the Philistines were trying to figure out what to do with the captured ark in the face of the plagues from God.
And when the men of Ashdod saw how it was, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is harsh toward us and Dagon our god.”
They employed H7185 to describe how the plagues which God brought upon them were a grievously heavy burden.
In the ‘resisting a master’ type of application, H7185 usually described people rebelling against God. In these instances, the English bibles usually translated the word as ‘hardened’ or ‘stiff-necked,’ using these words figuratively. This makes it tricky to derive the metaphorical definition because we would have to be certain of the English metaphorical meanings. However, the contexts that used H7185 figuratively often paralleled it with another word or phrase which clarified the figurative meaning.
One example is 2 Kings 17:14 which described the sad history of the Northern kingdom of Israel, how they turned away from their God.
Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.
The surrounding context tells of how God sent prophets to declare His word, but the people refused to listen. The writer set H7185 in parallel with the phrase, ‘would not hear’. Thus, H7185 figuratively described how the people refused to heed God’s commands. Like oxen who balked, they were rebellious against God.
In this next example, the messengers from Hezekiah used H7185 as they urged the people to come down for the Passover.
“Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. 2 Chronicles 30:8
They used H7185 as a contrast to yielding to the Lord, calling the people to not be rebellious against God. Finally, this last verse used H7185 in the same way as the earlier verse, setting it in parallel to the idea of disregarding God’s commands.
And testified against them, That You might bring them back to Your law. Yet they acted proudly, And did not heed Your commandments, But sinned against Your judgments, ‘Which if a man does, he shall live by them.’ And they shrugged their shoulders, Stiffened their necks, And would not hear. Nehemiah 9:29
These are a few of the passages which employ H7185 to describe people as those who refused to heed God’s commands, rebukes, and warnings.
When translated as ‘hardened’ in our English Bibles, the context clarifies that H7185 had the same meaning as when it was translated ‘stiff-necked.’
“But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments. They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them. Nehemiah 9:16-17
The people didn’t heed God’s commands and rebelled against Him.
Scripture only used H7185 in its figurative senses. One sense spoke of a heavy burden which was hard to bear. The second sense was usually used to describe people who refused to heed God’s rebukes and commands.