Closely Related:
- Is fasting a requirement on the Day of Atonement?

NASB, Isaiah 58:6 - “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke | מוֹטָ֑ה, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke | מוֹטָ֑ה?

In Isaiah: Why does God specify "Yoke" twice - regarding a true fast?

Does "Yoke" appear twice to indicate two separate actions that one can perform in observing fasts as God intended?

1 Answer 1


Isaiah 58:6 uses the word "fast" figuratively, using the senses of "self denial", "avoidance" or "cessation" that are in the semantic field of of the word (צום). The verse is addressed to the leadership of the society and to the wealthy at a particular time in history, regarding a particular practice, servitude.

The verse starts with a rhetorical question, "Isn't this the fast (self-denial, cessation of) that I would choose?" (הֲלוֹא זֶה, צוֹם אֶבְחָרֵהוּ), and continues with a list of four distinct imperatives:

  1. Free (open) the bonds of wickedness (פַּתֵּחַ חַרְצֻבּוֹת רֶשַׁע)
  2. Undo the ties of the yoke [of servitude] (הַתֵּר אֲגֻדּוֹת מוֹטָה)
  3. Set (send) the downtrodden free (וְשַׁלַּח רְצוּצִים חָפְשִׁים)
  4. And break every yoke (וְכָל-מוֹטָה תְּנַתֵּקוּ)

The actions are likely representative of four legal aspects of servitude, possibly

  1. Immediate freeing of indentured servants
  2. Canceling the legal contracts of servitude
  3. Rehabilitation of those downtrodden by servitude so that they can be free
  4. Abolishment of the institution of servitude

The actions are progressive, starting from the immediate but reversible and concluding with the irreversible breaking of the institution of servitude.

The word yoke, referring here to servitude, is used twice, for clarity and undeniability. It might have been a euphemism in the vernacular of the time. Use of a synonym in the second instance could open the door for interpretation and provide wiggle room, which is the opposite of what the prophet intends.

  • @elikakohen Differentiation between servitude and slavery here is beside the point, which is unjust exploitation. The word "yoke' is used in dozens of verse in the OT as the standard metaphor for servitude, as in this verse. There is no reference to sickness in this verse. Verses 6-9 are a unit: cessation of unjust servitude, provision of sustenance for the poor, then you will be found to be just and your prayers will be answered. Verses 10-12 form a similar triple. In fact, the whole chapter is arranged in sets of three verses each.
    – user17080
    May 16, 2017 at 6:35
  • Those are great observations, thank you. +1 If I understand correctly, I think you are concluding that the repetition is simply for added emphasis: "The word yoke, referring here to servitude, is used twice, for clarity and undeniability" - and perhaps to ensure that every part of "releasing servitude" is observed. But, does the writer ever repeat words like this, elsewhere, for added emphasis?. May 16, 2017 at 15:22

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