When we think of “sin,” we might imagine an abstract concept that affects the sinner psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. While sin can impact us in these ways, in Hebrew thought, sin is a much more concrete thing. According to the ancient Israelites, sin is an actual, physical weight—a heavy burden that the sinner must carry.

 The idea of sin as a burden to bear appears first when Cain murders Abel. After committing this crime against his brother, “Cain said to the Lord, ‘My sin (עון; avon) is too great (גדול; gadol) to carry (נשא; nasa)” (Gen 4:13). Sin has manifest itself as a heavy weight upon Cain’s shoulders, and since the murder of another human being is among the gravest of all sins because we are made in God’s image (Gen 9:6), Cain complains that the sin that has attached itself to his back is too big and weighty for him to bear.

The understanding of sin as a burden makes sense of Israel’s sacrificial ritual on the Day of Atonement: “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities (עונות; avonot) of Israel… putting them on the head of the live goat…. The goat shall carry (נשא; nasa) on itself all their iniquities (עונות; avonot) to a barren region” (Lev 16:21-22). The goat takes Israel’s sins upon itself and physically carries those sins away from the people. This method of removing sin by bearing it away foreshadows Yeshua bearing our sins on the cross: “He himself bore our sins on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24).

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27 COMMENTS

  1. sin has a very simple definition. Sin is disobeying God, which means doing something He said not to do, or failing to do something He said to do. This definition comes directly from scripture. We often try to complicate this.

  2. 1 Pet 2:24 has a sense only if properly understood that Jesus’s sacrifice as an example of the final cause (of Aristotle’s four causes) to follow for every believer. Without that, it becomes a useless “pious” reading

  3. i am very much interested in this course and I don’t want to miss it. i had started my registration process but stopped when you demanded for credit card number. My question is weather you can send me the account details to pay in so that I can make the dollar transfer from my local account as the money comes in. thank you for accepting me like your kind manner should be Dr. FAVOURED UDOJESUS EVERGREEN

  4. This is why Jesus says “cast your burdens onto me because I care for you.” Scripture also says we must take His yoke because his yoke is light. Imagine exchanging a heavy yoke or burden for a yoke that is free from sin!

  5. Perfect picture’! Definitely a ‘heavy load’ to drag! But isn’t ‘sin’ sin, whether a lie, stealing, unforgiving, adultery, anger, murder, etc, and ‘ALL’ must be repented of? Why is murder categorized as the gravest? God had given instructions how to sacrifice to HIM. Cain disobeyed. Didn’t Cain created the weight by disobedience, leading to jealousy, murder, trying to hide it from GOD, as did Adam, then argues with GOD about it. Cain kept dragging what he was chained to, then gets rolled over by it. ‘All have sinned and come short of the GLORY of GOD!’

  6. Dr. Schaser, thank you for the clarity. I understand a little better. I will read the Scriptures you have given and post my comments and/or questions. Thank you very much!

  7. Thank you for enhancing my understanding of sin, the Day of Atonement, and Yeshua bearing our sin.

  8. I read all the crying out in the Old Testament because of the burden, the weight of the carrying of sin and I hear Jesus. Instead of Jesus just stepping in our place to take the punishment, did he not have to take ownership of ours, telling his Father, “they are my sins” for the payment to be complete and fully satisfy justice?

    • Thanks, Randall. Jesus didn’t quite “take ownership” of our sins or assign them to himself, since he was “without sin” (Heb 4:15). However, he certainly did need to carry the full weight of those sin in order for his atonement to be efficacious.

  9. Taking the sin as a physical burden thought a bit further, it might be said that the obligation to social justice and helping the less fortunate was raised from a being a mere moral obligation to being a sin has its roots in the burden concept. Those less fortunate have a greater (physical) burden than we do; therefore, we have an obligation to God to help them lift that burden, and helping those to carry this burden is not just a mere moral obligation, but it is actually an obligation to God, and thus failing to do so is a “sin” against God.

  10. Dear Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I have a question for you.
    When do you think free will begin? Before or after Adam eat from the tree of knowledge?
    I think since God forbid to eat it is a commandment, not a choice.
    Only after the knowledge, someone can choose.
    Boldly I think that God wants Adam to eat. The serpent is only a subterfuge.
    Adam was like a child with a bag of candy in front.
    On the tree of life, God put a flame so the man cannot reach it. The tree of good and evil do not have a flame
    Thank you.
    Vaz Azevedo M.D.

    • Interesting conjecture, Vaz. Free will came before eating the fruit, since the first man and woman made a choice to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us what God’s intention is regarding the fruit, but since the Lord commands the primordial couple not to eat it, we should assume that God did not want them to eat it.

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