The part of the body of man or beast that protrudes to the sides below the neck; by extension, a rounded or sloping part of a hill; also capacity for bearing burdens or responsibility.
Anciently, as today, it was customary to carry loads on the shoulders. (Ge 21:14; Ex 12:34) The ark of the covenant was to be carried, not on a wagon, but on the shoulders of the Levites. (1Ch 15:15; Jos 3:14, 15; 2Sa 6:3, 6-9, 13) A heavy load on the shoulders could denote oppression or slavery. (Ps 81:5, 6; Isa 10:27; 14:25; Mt 23:4) The tribe of Issachar was foretold to “bend down his shoulder to bear burdens.” (Ge 49:14, 15) In Israel’s history this tribe was willing to take responsibility and do hard work. It supplied many courageous fighters for Judge Barak and, later, provided Judge Tola; also, in the time of David, this tribe furnished many wise and valiant men.—Jg 5:13, 15; 10:1, 2; 1Ch 7:1-5; 12:23, 32.
An authority or responsibility was said to rest on one’s shoulder. Isaiah’s prophecy foretold that the princely rule would come to be on the shoulder of Jesus Christ. (Isa 9:6) Isaiah told unfaithful Shebna that Eliakim would take his place as steward over the king’s house, God putting “the key of the house of David” upon his shoulder. Since a key in such cases represented responsibility and authority, this prophecy may relate to Christ’s receiving the authority of the Kingdom as represented in the Davidic covenant. (Isa 22:15, 20-22; Lu 1:31-33; compare also Re 3:7.) It is interesting to note also that the breastpiece of judgment hung from the shoulder pieces of the high priest’s garments, evidently picturing certain authorities that would depend on or rest upon the shoulders of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ.—Ex 28:6, 7, 12, 22-28; see HIGH PRIEST.
After blessing Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob said to Joseph: “I do give you one shoulder [of land] more than to your brothers,” thereby designating Joseph as the possessor of firstborn rights. (Ge 48:22; compare De 21:17; 1Ch 5:1, 2.) Moses said of Benjamin, when he blessed the sons of Israel: “Let the beloved one of Jehovah reside in security by him, . . . and he must reside between his shoulders.” (De 33:12) This seems to refer to the fact that the kings of the line of David would have their seat of government in Benjamin’s territory. The same Hebrew word used here for “shoulder” is translated “side” or “slope” at Joshua 15:8 (AT, Mo, NW), speaking of a slope of the hill on which Jerusalem then stood.—See other examples at Ex 27:14, 15; Nu 34:11; Jos 15:10; 1Ki 6:8; Eze 25:9.