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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51 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.
    • It comes directly from Christian reading of the Jewish Scripture. The post has tried to show that while it is that, it is also more than that.

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    • Dale, you're right that to "sin" is to "miss the mark" by failing to fulfill divine commands. Yours is a definition of how sin is committed, and my post tries to define the substance of sin (i.e., the physical make-up of the sin).
    • Here is a Scriptural definition from the New American Standard Bible: 1 John 3:4, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness."
  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!
    • George the participation in the course is not a large amount. Perhaps you should look for a sponsor for yourself.
  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!'
    • Hi Vida, yes all sins must be repented of and atoned for, whether they are intentional or unintentional (cf. Lev 4-5; Num 15). As I note in the post, murder is the gravest of all sins because it is the only one that destroys something made in God's image -- i.e., human beings (see Gen 9:6; Num 35) -- though sins like rape, for instance, are likened to murder and therefore similarly grave (see Deut 22:25-26).

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  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.
    • Nicely put, Terry. God certainly has a special concern for the less fortunate, and commands us to mirror that special concern. More, Paul tells us to "bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2), so your points certainly have biblical foundation. Thanks for your comments.
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