by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Prophecies, or inspired messages, given to the prophets in the Old Testament were sometimes called “burdens.” These messages burdened the heart of God and of the prophet, for they were given in times of moral laxity and religious infidelity. They were unpopular messages, calling people to the hardest action of all, that of repentance. They held forth a threat./1
The prophet Jeremiah received a burden about the way the people used the word “burden.” The passage is a bit longer than what we generally quote, but well worth our time. Don’t go away. Read this:
The Lord said to me, “Jeremiah, when one of these people, or a prophet, or a priest asks you, ‘What burdensome message do you have from the Lord?’ Tell them, ‘You are the burden, and I will cast you away. I, the Lord, affirm it! I will punish any prophet, priest, or other person who says “The Lord’s message is burdensome.” I will punish both that person and his whole family.'”
So I, Jeremiah, tell you, “Each of you people should say to his friend or his relative, ‘How did the Lord answer? Or what did the Lord say?’ You must no longer say that the Lord’s message is burdensome. For what is ‘burdensome’ really pertains to what a person himself says. You are misrepresenting the words of our God, the living God, the Lord who rules over all. Each of you should merely ask the prophet, ‘What answer did the Lord give you? Or what did the Lord say?’ But just suppose you continue to say, ‘The message of the Lord is burdensome.’ Here is what the Lord says will happen: ‘I sent word to you that you must not say, “The Lord’s message is burdensome.” But you used the words “The Lord’s message is burdensome” anyway. So I will carry you far off and throw you away. I will send both you and the city I gave to you and to your ancestors out of my sight. I will bring on you lasting shame and lasting disgrace which will never be forgotten!'” (23:33-40 NET).
The Lord called the false prophets and those who followed them a burden. They took lightly the meaning of the term “burden,” made a mockery of it, so that the Lord forbid them to use the word.
This is, first, a warning to call Bible things by Bible words with Bible meanings and not to use terms lightly.
It is, second, a condemnation of irreverence in spiritual things.
And, third, it calls attention to the need for repentance among a people who disregard the message of God and his will.
Such a burden will crush those who misuse God’s words. People who disrespect him will be thrown off and discarded.
One need not go far to see the misuse and abuse of words like grace, church, praise and faith. What foolishness to twist God’s words! Such people are “are misrepresenting the words of our God, the living God, the Lord who rules over all” (v. 36).
They willfully forget that it “is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
It is a truth that God’s faithful people must never forget either.
1/ See R.L. Harris, et. al., Theological Wordbook of the OT, 1421e.