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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31 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.

      • Dr Eli, Totally agree to lighten sin and make it a minor thing is totally incorrect. Sin is gross wickedness and a definite attack on the Holiness of our God who cannot look upon sin. When convicted by the Holy Spirit we are awakened and see our own black heart a burden to heavy to bear. Our Lord alone could/did bear it at Calvary. Thank You Dr Eli.

      • “[sin] is also more than that…” sin being more than disobeying God? do we have Scriptural authority on that?

    • 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).

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  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).

      • “As I note in the post, murder is the gravest of all sins…” – not according to James 2:10… also Romans 6:2 “For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”, our final kinsman-redeemer. in Christ, gabriel

        • Gabriel, I affirm your citation of Romans 6:2, but James 2:10 does not contradict the idea that murder is the worst of all sins.

  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!

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

      • Dr. Schaser. The Scriptures you provided, ‘all’ came together. It is truly the gravest of all sins! Capital punishment is a MUST to prevent the land from being polluted (by blood). This helps to bring even more life to the vital importance of the ‘tzitzit’ which I am learning about. We MUST remember GOD all the time, for it is truly life or death (physically and spiritually)! Thank you!!! Shalom!!

  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.

  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.

  11. How do I have to read Roman 5;12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin?
    In my youth I learned the word erfzonde, translated as original sin and me was told that the heritage of Adam (the fitrst Adam)was sin and the heritage of the second Adam i.e. Jesus Christ, forgiveness.

    • Thanks for your question, Wien. Paul is not referring to “original sin” in Romans 5. Augustine, writing centuries after Paul, interpreted Rom 5:12 as a reference to an “original” sin, but this interpretation is based on the Latin translation of the Greek and doesn’t reflect what Paul actually says. Rather than describing original sin, Paul says that sin entered the world through Adam, and death came as a result of sin, “so death spread to all people because all sinned” (5:12b). That is, everyone dies because they follow Adam’s proclivity to sin, not because we are stained with an “original sin” at birth.

  12. I like sin’s portrait in Luke 17:2 “it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” Jesus himself paints the allegory of sin as a very tangible, heavy weight.

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