Something carried; a load, literal or figurative. Various Hebrew and Greek words are used in the Scriptures to denote a “burden” or “load,” sometimes relating to material that is carried, but often to such figurative things as responsibility, guilt or a message from God. A burden is generally viewed as a heavy load.
Chiefs of forced labor were placed over the Israelites in Egypt “for the purpose of oppressing them in their burden-bearing,” and compelling them to carry and use such building materials as clay mortar and bricks. (Ex. 1:11-14; 2:11) But, Jehovah brought them “out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Ex. 6:6; Ps. 81:6) When the tabernacle and its articles were moved from place to place, the Kohathite, Gershonite and Merarite Levites had their specific loads to carry. (Num. chap. 4) Later, Solomon came to have seventy thousand burden bearers in his large work force. (1 Ki. 5:15; 2 Chron. 2:18) Burden bearers were also needed and used when King Josiah repaired the temple (2 Chron. 34:12, 13), and years later when Nehemiah supervised the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall.—Neh. 4:17; see COMPULSORY SERVICE.
Animals were also often used to carry loads in ancient times, and the Israelites were told that upon seeing the ass of someone hating them lying down under its load, rather than leave it, one was “without fail to get it loose.” (Ex. 23:5) The amount of material an animal can carry can also be called a load, such as “the load of a pair of mules.”—2 Ki. 5:17.
The Hebrew word mas·saʼʹ, often used for a literal load or a burden, can denote a “weighty message,” such as the one King Lemuel’s mother gave him in correction. (Prov. 31:1) It can also pertain to a pronouncement. (Isa. 13:1; 14:28; Ezek. 12:10; Nah. 1:1) Usually the pronouncement is one of denunciation for wickedness and thus is like a heavy burden of judgment. However, a pronouncement can also be a prophetic utterance involving something good that gives rise to joy. (Zech. 12:1; Mal. 1:1) In this sense mas·saʼʹ has been defined as meaning “something taken up with solemnity upon the lips, whether threatening or not.”—The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. I, p. 528.
The person faithful to God can throw his figurative burden, or the lot that has been given to him in such things as trials and cares, upon Jehovah. Thus, David declared: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” (Ps. 55:22; compare 1 Peter 5:6, 7.) David was also moved to exclaim: “Blessed be Jehovah, who daily carries the load for us, the true God of our salvation.”—Ps. 68:19.
A “burden” can be a burden of responsibility imposed by Christ. (Rev. 2:24) The holy spirit and the Christian governing body favored adding no further “burden” to Christians except necessary thinks, that is, “to keep yourselves free from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.” (Acts 15:28, 29) In another sense, Paul assured the Corinthians that he would not become a burden to them and was not seeking their possessions, but would “most gladly spend and be completely spent” for their souls. (2 Cor. 12:14-18) As an apostle of Christ, Paul justifiably could have been an “expensive burden” on Christians in Thessalonica. However, he did not even eat food from anyone free and could remind them that “by labor and toil night and day we were working so as not to impose an expensive burden upon any one of you,” not because of lacking authority to do so but to serve as an example they could imitate.—2 Thess. 3:7-10.
Jesus scored the scribes and Pharisees, saying: “They bind up heavy loads and put them upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves are not willing to budge them with their finger.” (Matt. 23:2, 4) Jesus was evidently referring to minute rules and burdensome traditions that these men laid upon the common people, being unwilling to lift even one small regulation to make things easier for them.—Matt. 23:13, 23, 24.
On the other hand, Jesus freed persons spiritually from such oppressive traditions. (John 8:31, 32) He invited those who were toiling and loaded down to come to him, to take his yoke upon them and to become his disciples, for he was mild-tempered and lowly in heart and they would thus find refreshment for their souls. He said: “My yoke is kindly and my load is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) Christ was not harsh or oppressive, but kind, and those coming to him would receive proper treatment. Christ’s yoke, by comparison with that placed upon the people by religious traditionists, would be a comparatively light one. Jesus may also have meant that those weary of the burden of sin and error should come to him for spiritual refreshment. Carrying Jesus’ light “load” evidently involved acquaintance with and the fulfilling of divine requirements, something Jesus did with delight in his earthly life and ministry. (John 17:3; 4:34) Paul later likened the Christian career to being on a racecourse and urged fellow believers to unburden themselves, telling them to put off “every weight and the sin that easily entangles us,” and to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” while looking intently at “the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.”—Heb. 12:1, 2.
CARRYING OTHERS’ BURDENS
Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Go on carrying the burdens [or “troublesome things”] of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) Here for “burdens” the apostle used baʹre, the singular form of which is baʹros, a Greek word always used to denote something burdensome or heavy. Certainly the sin and hence the burden of a man taking some “false step” (referred to in the preceding verse) would not be light but heavy. However, in verse five the apostle states: “For each one will carry his own load,” or “load of responsibility.” (Compare NW, 1950 and 1961 editions.) For “load” Paul here used the Greek word phor·tiʹon, signifying something that is to be borne or carried, without any reference to the thing’s weight. So he drew a distinction between “burdens” and “load” or “load of responsibility” in these verses. Likely, this was done to show that if a Christian got into spiritual difficulty that was very hard for him to bear, fellow believers should aid him, thus helping to bear another’s burden. Such persons would be displaying love and would thus fulfill the law of Christ. (John 13:34, 35) This harmonizes with what Paul had just said, as recorded in Galatians 6:1, about endeavoring to restore a man spiritually, something that may be possible through love, kindness and prayer. (Compare James 5:13-16.) Yet, as the apostle proceeded to show, bearing the burdens of one another does not mean carrying another person’s load of spiritual responsibility to God. In the same context, Paul makes clear that a person is deceiving his own mind if he thinks that he is something when he is nothing, and the apostle urged the Christian to “prove what his own work is,” for “then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.” (Gal. 6:3, 4; compare 2 Corinthians 10:12.) It was then that the apostle observed that “each one will carry his own load” of responsibility before the Supreme Judge, Jehovah God.