In the Old Testament the English word "burden" is translated from the Hebrew word massa [a'C;m]. It is used of a donkey's burden ( Exod 23:5 ). In Numbers 4:15 it is used of the items the sons of Kohath carried as they moved the tabernacle from place to place in the wilderness. Another kind of burden is described in Numbers 11:11, 17, where Moses is bearing the burden of the people and the Lord tells him to gather the seventy elders so that "they will help you carry the burden of the people." In that instance, the burden is not physical but psychological and spiritual. David uses the word in the same way when he is leaving Jerusalem and says to Hushai, "If you go with me, you will be a burden to me" ( 2 Sa 15:33 ). Job asks God if he has become a burden to him ( 7:20 ).
The same Hebrew word is used in reference to a prophetic utterance describing a threat or punishment on a nation or people. Isaiah uses the term in chapters 13 through 23. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all have similar sections. Recent translations have tended to render the word "oracle" instead of "burden." The basic concept seems to be that Israel's sinful actions have caused God to be burdened. Therefore, in righteousness he is compelled to judge them.
In the New Testament phortion [fortivon], the Greek word used for burden, denotes the troubles of this life. In Matthew 23:4 Jesus describes the heavy burdens the Pharisees laid upon the people "but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them." Obviously this is a burden of legalism. This same Greek word is used to describe a man's load of imperfections and sins in Galatians 6:5. Jesus uses the same word to describe his burden in Matthew 11:30: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." The reason for having a light burden is described in the previous verse: "I am gentle and humble in heart." Burdens will come in this life but they will be light if we have Jesus' approach to life.
Another Greek word, baros [bavro"], is used to describe the decision of the first church council in Jerusalem: "We will not place upon you any greater burden than these" ( Acts 15:28 ). Baros [bavro"] is also used in Galatians 6:2 to describe our Christian responsibility.
Alan N. Winkler
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Burden'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".