Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Lifting the Burden of Sin

After his opening sketch, Gary Anderson, in Sin: A History , examines the old biblical image of sin as a burden that needs to be lifted.

The most common image is sin (awon) as burden that needs to be lifted (108x), followed by sin as something to be forgiven (17x) and sin as something to be wiped away (6x).
But most Bible translations blend these all into “forgive”; Anderson’s contention is that they are missing an important metaphor: sin is predominantly a weight that needs to be lifted off one’s back. Or, if one does not come clean, sin is a burden that the sinner must carry. This made me think of the novel A Scarlet Letter because Dimmesdale carries his burden while Hester Prynne’s burden was mostly lifted because she had born her punishment.
And Anderson observes that the verb can mean either “carry” [load] a burden or “lift” [unload] a burden. He points to Num 11:11-14 and 16:15 (see below after the jump).
Another example that shows sin as a burden is found in Isaiah 1:2-4:


1:2 Listen, O heavens,

pay attention, O earth!

For the Lord speaks:

“I raised children, I brought them up,

but they have rebelled against me!


1:3 An ox recognizes its owner,

a donkey recognizes where its owner puts its food;

but Israel does not recognize me,

my people do not understand.”

1:4 The sinful nation is as good as dead,


the people weighed down by evil deeds.

They are offspring who do wrong,

children who do wicked things.

They have abandoned the Lord,

and rejected the Holy One of Israel.

They are alienated from him.


See also Isa 5:18; Ezk 4:4-6. And of course Lev 16, Yom Kippur, where sin is a burden.

Other texts from above:
Numb 11:11 And Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you afflicted your servant? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of this entire people on me? 11:12 Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your arms, as a foster father bears a nursing child,’ to the land which you swore to their fathers? 11:13 From where shall I get meat to give to this entire people, for they cry to me, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat!’ 11:14 I am not able to bear this entire people alone, because it is too heavy for me! 11:15 But if you are going to deal with me like this, then kill me immediately. If I have found favor in your sight then do not let me see my trouble.”

16:15 Moses was very angry, and he said to the Lord, “Have no respect for their offering! I have not taken [lifted] so much as one donkey from them, nor have I harmed any one of them!”
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John W Frye

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:40 am

When we reduce sin to that thing God forgives as if sin is something only God has to deal with for us, we lose the variety of ways that sin wrecks us as Eikons of God. Sin, like diseases, comes in an array of kinds and distorts both soul and body. We lose urgency in doing our part to stop sinning (as much as we can in the wrecked world).

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Your Name

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:09 am

Good points, John! Your analogy to the body and disease is well made. Sin, is like a tumor- it is a disease that becomes ‘part’ of us; like a tumor that grows it’s own blood supply, saps the body of life and energy, then crowds out everything that is life giving…

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Justin Brierley

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I think that a visual skit can be a helpful way of bringing this point home. The following Youtube evangelistic sketch aims to show the idea of Sin becoming a binding, force that pulls us down, which Jesus takes from us onto himself.

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Terry Tiessen

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:31 pm

So Bunyan got it right in Pilgrim’s Progress! I remember, as a child, my delight whenever reading (or hearing, if being read to) about Pilgrim’s burden rolling off at the cross.

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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Terry, I thought of the same event.

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Scot McKnight

posted December 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm


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