A weight or load, on body or soul; often used figuratively, to denote afflictions, failings, sins, Ps 38:4; 55:22; Ga 6:2; services under law, Mt 23:4; official responsibilities, Ex 18:22; De 1:12; and especially prophetic messages, not always of a threatening character, Isa 19:1. In this last sense the Hebrew word may be rendered "oracle," "divine declaration," or "prophecy," as in 1/31/type/hcsb'>Pr 31:31,1.
(1.) (1.) A load of any kind (Ex 23:5). (2.) A severe task (Ex 2:11). (3.) A difficult duty, requiring effort (Ex 18:22). (4.) A prophecy of a calamitous or disastrous nature (Isa 13:1; 17:1; Hab 1:1, etc.).
The word so rendered in the OT is derived from a root which means to 'lift' or 'carry.' It has the two senses of an actual burden and a prophetic utterance. Instances of the former are 2Ki 5:17; Ne 13:19; Nu 4:15. Related usages are frequent; in Isa 22:25 the word suggests the pressure of something hanging on a peg, in Nu 11:11 the responsibility and in Ho 8:10 the privilege of government, in Ps 38:4 the responsibility for sin. The second sense is that of a solemn utterance, and the marginal alternative 'oracle' (Isa 14:28 et al.) is to he preferred. It was customary to explain this use of the word as due to the threatening character of the utterance; but many of the utterances are not threatening (cf. Zec 12; 9:1,9-17; in Pr 30:1; 31:1 RV puts 'oracle' in the text and 'burden' in the margin), and the word-play in Jer 23:33 ff. involves a reproof of the men who were disposed to regard the oracle of God as literally a burden. Most utterances of the prophets, moreover, were of necessity from their occasion minatory. 'Burden' in this second usage denotes simply something taken up solemnly upon the lips, both weighty in itself and weighty in its communication. It is not used of merely human utterances, but always carries with it the suggestion of Divine inspiration, actual or falsely assumed (La 2:14).
In the NT, Ac 21:3 is an instance of the literal use. The figures are easy. The word is used for the ordinances of the Law as interpreted by the Pharisees (Mt 23:4; Lu 11:46), for the prohibitions of the Apostolic decree (Ac 15:28; cf. Re 2:24), for the pressure and load of life (Mt 20:12), for an exacting or even legitimate charge upon others (2Co 11:9; 12:13 f.), for the imagined difficulties of following Christ (Mt 11:30). Two other kinds of burdens with their right treatment are contrasted. Other men's errors and sorrows must be shared in sympathy (Ga 6:2); though in the service of Christ there can be no transfer of obligations, but each man must carry his own kit and do his own duty (Ga 6:5).
R. W. Moss.
Besides the common use of this word, it occurs at the commencement of several prophecies; as 'The burden of Babylon,' 'the burden of Moab.' Isa 13:1; 15:1; etc. The learned are not agreed as to the force of massa in such places: its natural meaning would be 'a judgement that lies heavy on the people;' but some take its meaning to be 'an oracle or sentence pronounced against them.' The word occurs also in Jer 23:33-38, where it is 'the burden of the Lord.' The false prophets were not to use this expression, as if they had a message from God. If they did, it should bring judgement upon them. The same word is translated 'prophecy' in Pr 30:1; 31:1.