Updated: Apr 7
Jeremiah chapter 3 emphasizes one particular word in describing Israel:
“Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done?” 3:6.
“…whereby backsliding Israel committted adultery…” 3:8.
“The backsliding Israel….return thou backsliding Israel…” 3:11,12.
“Turn, O backsliding children…” 3:14.
“Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings…” 3:22
Today, except in ‘religious chatter,’ we rarely use the word backsliding. We come across Jeremiah chapter 3 and Hosea 4:16 (“For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer…”) and fail to paint the full image in our mind. Let us return to our agricultural roots and enjoy the accuracy, the descriptive magnificence, of this term:
When my uncle was a boy on the farm, he had a goat cart. (Not go-cart; goat cart.) They harnessed a goat to pull a small boy-sized cart. They also harnessed “the team” for labour, such as plowing – tractors were just coming on and many farmers had not yet transitioned from beast to mechanical. The farmers harnessed anything that could pull or walk by shoulder yoking the beast and training it for the task.
Some animals yoked up better than others. The immature cow (an heifer is an immature cow) would suit up and pull, but then suddenly reject the task at hand. They would impetuously try to pull their head back through the shoulder stocks and go off in another direction. Their commitment to the task, and to the other beast that they were likely yoked up with, was lost. I suppose they imagined some better thing, some pleasure, and pulled back; treacherously breaking their master’s design.
“Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me…” – Jer. 3:20. Backsliding doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it places a great burden on the other yokefellow; thus we are instructed, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…” 2 Cor. 6:14. Some tasks, such as parenting, are made to be pulled as a team. One parent can train a child, but a team, yoked together in unity of purpose, makes the burden much lighter.
Finally, Jesus said “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me” – Mt. 11:29. His shared yoke…is easy. But to backslide, to pull your head out and your shoulders away, is to refuse his yoke. Perhaps, in our own immaturity, as an heifer, we imagine some vain thing. It’s not good. Look straight on, be a ‘steady eddy’ in the tasks you have; enjoy the burden and thereby find rest for your souls. And, thinking of others, your consistency will be a joy to work with through life’s struggles – “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me…” Phil. 4:3. Be a true yokefellow.