International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. In the Old Testament:
In the Old Testament more than one word is rendered "burden."
(1) massa', from a root nasa' "he lifted up." Thus literally any load is called massa' (Exodus 23:5 Numbers 4:15, 24, 27 2 Kings 5:17; 2 Kings 8:9). Figuratively, people are a burden (Numbers 11:11, 17 Deuteronomy 1:12 2 Samuel 15:33; 2 Samuel 19:35). A man may be a burden to himself (Job 7:20). Iniquities are a burden (Psalm 38:4). Taxes may be a burden (Hosea 8:10).
(2) In both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) massa' is translated "burden," as applied to certain prophetic utterances; but both the American Revised Version, margin and the Revised Version, margin have "oracle." Examples are Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 14:28, and often; Jeremiah 23:33, 36, 38, no marginal reading; Ezekiel 12:10 Nahum 1:1 Habakkuk 1:1 Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1 Malachi 1:1. As was natural under the circumstances, such oracles usually denounced judgment upon place or people. Hence, probably the translation "burden." But some of these prophetic utterances do not contain denunciation or threat (Zechariah 12). The passage in Jeremiah, moreover, implies that the prophet used the term in the sense of "oraele," for scoffers are reproved for perverting the word and giving it the meaning "burden." Massa', therefore, means something taken up with solemnity upon the lips, whether threatening or not, and the rendering, "burden," ought most likely to be given up.
The word mas'-eth, of the same derivation as massa', is applied to foolish oracles (Lamentations 2:14 the King James Version, oracles the American Standard Revised Version, burdens the American Revised Version, margin, burdens the Revised Version (British and American), oracles the Revised Version, margin; Amos 5:11, burdens the King James Version, exactions the American Standard Revised Version and the Revised Version (British and American)).
Massa' is used also in Proverbs 30:1 and Proverbs 31:1, and is variously rendered prophecy (the King James Version), oracle (American Revised Version), burden, or the name of the speaker's country (Revised Version margin, the American Revised Version, margin), oracle (Revised Version). The reading is doubtful, but probably the reference is to the speaker's country-"Jakeh, of Massa" (compare Genesis 25:14), "Lemuel king of Massa."
Other words translated "burden" are from the root cabhal, "to bear a load" (Nehemiah 4:17 Psalm 81:6 1 Kings 11:28; King James Version margin, charge the King James Version, labor the American Standard Revised Version and the Revised Version (British and American), burden the American Revised Version, margin and the Revised Version, margin, Exodus 5:4, 5; Exodus 6:6, 7 Isaiah 10:27 Isaiah 14:25).
2. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament several Greek words mean "burden."
(1) baros, "something heavy." Burdens of the day (Matthew 20:12), the burden of duty to be borne, a difficult requirement (Acts 15:28 Revelation 2:24). The burden of one's moral infirmities (Galatians 6:2).
(2) phortion, "something to be borne." The obligation which Christ imposes (Matthew 11:30); the legal ordinances of the Pharisees (Luke 11:46); a man's individual responsibility (Galatians 6:5). Whether any clear and consistent distinction can be made between these two words is doubtful. Probably, however, phortion refers to the load as something to be borne, whether heavy or light, whilst baros may be an oppressive load. According to Lightfoot baros may suggest a load of which a man may rightly rid himself should occasion serve, but phortion a burden which he is expected to bear, as every soldier carries his own pack. But most likely too much weight should not be given to these distinctions.
(3) There is also the word gomos, "the freight" of a ship (Acts 21:3); compare ogkos, weight or encumbrance which impedes the runner's progress to the goal (Hebrews 12:1), with particular reference to the superfluous flesh which an athlete seeks to get rid of in training (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24-27), and figuratively whatever hinders the full development of Christian manhood.
George Henry Trever