Massa: The BURDEN of Bad News

BURDEN/oracle/load: Massa. Masculine noun. (Strong’s 4853).

Root: מַשָּׂא

Sounds like: mas’saw

This week we remember the men and women who put their lives at risk in days of war. Many did not return home.

My great uncle, John Allan Fisher, was a Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He did not make it home alive, dying on 20 February 1945. He was 29 years old. Waiting at home was his young wife and infant daughter. 

I can’t imagine the overwhelming sense of loss that my Great Aunt Ruth would have felt.  Whether the news came from a telegraph deliverer, or a cleric, or a family member, I do not know, but it strikes me that the person delivering the tragic news also carried a heavy burden. To announce death may be the greatest of all burdens a human has to carry.

Photo by Diana Parkhouse (

That was the Biblical concept of a burden… it was carrying a heavy load, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was bearing Bad News. Not surprisingly, in Jewish Levitical Law it was prohibited to bear a burden or carry any load on the Sabbath (see Jeremiah 17:19-27). The Sabbath was to be a day of rest from toil, but it was also to be a day resting in the goodness that God had given. It was not to be a day for Bad News.

Feeling Overburdened

Massa is connected to the Hebrew word nasa. Massa meant to carry a burden yourself and nasa meant to bear, lift or carry the weight for someone else. The Hebrew word nasa stands out as one of my favourite Hebrew words. It pointed towards Yeshua, being lifted up on the cross so He could bear the weight of our sins.

But with massa we try to carry the burden ourselves.

As leader of the people who had escaped Egypt, Moses felt the sting of carrying the burdens of the Hebrew people upon himself:

Numbers 11:10-15

Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of YHWH was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to YHWH, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favour in Your sight, that You have laid the burden [et massa] of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’?

Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favour in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.”

God listened to Moses, and replied:

Numbers 11:16-17

“Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden [b-massa] of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.

YHWH took the Spirit which resided in Moses and shared it with the chosen people, so that Moses would not bear the burden alone.

Sometimes those who serve as leaders of God’s people (clerics, rabbis, youth pastors, teachers, missionaries or ministers), feel overburdened and overwhelmed. YHWH told us that those people needed support, and we were to provide it.

Deuteronomy 1:9-13

Moses: “I spoke to you at that time, saying, ‘I am not able to bear the burden of you alone. YHWH your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day like the stars of heaven in number. May YHWH, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand-fold more than you are and bless you, just as He has promised you! How can I alone bear the load and burden [u-massa’kem] of you and your strife? Choose wise and discerning and experienced men (advisors, not gender specific) [a’nashim] from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.’”

Anyone who takes a leadership role in their church is lifting God up for all to see. That comes with some risk and it’s not an easy task for anyone to take on themselves. But those in the congregation, who have the Spirit of God within them, need to help lift the burden. For a healthy congregation to flourish, it takes a team of active believers, not just one dedicated leader. 

In the early years of the Hebrew nation, carrying God was a physical task. YHWH was connected to the Ark of the Covenant. It was His dwelling place on earth, and while the people were living nomadically the Ark was always on the move. Once they settled in Jerusalem and Solomon built a House for God, the Ark could literally come off the shoulders of humanity and rest within the Temple:

2 Chronicles 35:1-3

Then Josiah celebrated the Passover to YHWH in Jerusalem, and they slaughtered the Passover animals on the fourteenth day of the first month. He set the priests in their offices and encouraged them in the service of the house of YHWH. He also said to the Levites who taught all Israel and who were holy to YHWH, “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel built; it will be a burden [massa] on your shoulders no longer. Now serve YHWH your God and His people Israel.”

The Burden of Old Age and Impending Death

Sometimes we, ourselves, feel like burdens. Job felt that his life was a burden (Job 7:20-21) and Barzillai felt like his old age was a burden… a burden he did not want King David to carry:

2 Samuel 19:31-37a

Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim; and he went on to the Jordan with the king to escort him over the Jordan. Now Barzillai was very old, being eighty years old; and he had sustained the king while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very great man.

The king said to Barzillai, “You cross over with me and I will sustain you in Jerusalem with me.” But Barzillai said to the king, “How long have I yet to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? I am now eighty years old. Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Or can I hear anymore the voice of singing men and women? Why then should your servant be an added burden [l-massa] to my lord the king? Your servant would merely cross over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king compensate me with this reward? Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother.”

Barzillai was nearing the end of his life and did not want to be a burden to anybody… and I think that’s how many of us feel. Who wants to be a burden to their loved ones as we age? But love conquers so many things. When you love someone the burden isn’t age, it’s watching someone die. The Hebrew word for burden, massa, is intrinsically linked to death and to life.

The Burden of Bad News

Bearing bad news was the key meaning of this word. It was so central to the meaning that translators have not distinguished it from a very different English word: ORACLE. For the Hebrew people an oracle was a burden of bad news, and a very heavy one to carry:

Isaiah 13:1-3, 11

The oracle concerning Babylon [massa Bavel] which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw.

Lift up a standard on the bare hill, raise your voice to them, wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles. I have commanded My consecrated ones, I have even called My mighty warriors, my proudly exulting ones, to execute My anger

…Thus I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.

God announced bad news for all the enemies of the Hebrew people. Here is a list of Isaiah & Nahum’s oracles against the enemies:

The oracle concerning Babylon [Massa Bavel]: Isaiah 13:1 (see above)

The oracle concerning Moab [Massa Moh’av]: Isaiah 15:1

The oracle concerning Damascus [Massa Damasek]: Isaiah 17:1

The oracle concerning Egypt [Massa Mitzra’im]: Isaiah 19:1

The oracle concerning Edom [Massa Dumah]: Isaiah 21:11

The oracle concerning Arabia [Massa Ba’rav]: Isaiah 21:13

The oracle concerning Tyre [Massa Tsor]: Isaiah 23:1

The oracle of Ninevah (Assyria) [Massa Ninewah]: Nahum 1:1 (see below)

Nahum 1:1-3a, 7

The oracle of Nineveh [Massa Ninewah]. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

A jealous and avenging God is YHWH; YHWH is avenging and wrathful. YHWH takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies. YHWH is slow to anger and great in power, and YHWH will by no means leave the guilty unpunished…

…YHWH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.

Although most of the enemies of the Hebrew people were addressed, it wasn’t that much better for Israel:

Zechariah 12:1-3

The burden of the word of YHWH [massa d’var YHWH] concerning Israel.

Thus declares YHWH who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him,

“Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.

We have seen this in our lifetime. Is there any nation more oppressed, as a whole, than Israel? They are the target of so much vitriol and hate. Habakkuk felt the burden and questioned God about His silence in a time of perverted justice:

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 12-13

The oracle [ha-massa] which Habakkuk the prophet saw.

How long, O YHWH, will I call for help, and You will not hear?

I cry out to You, “Violence!”, yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted

…Are You not from everlasting, O YHWH, my God, my Holy One?

We will not die. You, O YHWH, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favour. Why do You look with favour on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?

It was bad news all around, and prophetic oracles from many voices, but YHWH made it clear that the prophets were to never present an oracle of YHWH/burden of YHWH… because YHWH is not a burden, nor is He Bad News:

Jeremiah 23:33-40

“Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, ‘What is the oracle of YHWH [massa YHWH]?’ then you shall say to them, ‘What oracle [mah massa]?’ YHWH declares, ‘I will abandon you.’

“Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, ‘The oracle of YHWH [massa YHWH],’ I will bring punishment upon that man and his household. Thus will each of you say to his neighbour and to his brother, ‘What has YHWH answered?’ or, ‘What has YHWH spoken?’ For you will no longer remember the oracle of YHWH [u-massa YHWH], because every man’s own word will become the oracle [ha-massa], and you have perverted the words of the living God, YHWH of hosts, our God.

Thus you will say to that prophet, ‘What has YHWH answered you?’ and, ‘What has YHWH spoken?’ For if you say, ‘The oracle of YHWH [massa YHWH]!’ surely thus says YHWH, ‘Because you said this word, “The oracle of YHWH [massa YHWH]!” I have also sent to you, saying, “You shall not say, ‘The oracle of YHWH [massa YHWH]!’”’

Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers. I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten.”

YHWH is not a burden. YHWH is not Bad News. We placed the burden upon ourselves the moment we chose to become gods ourselves in the garden of Eden. God never intended to weigh us down with the burden of sin and death. We are a beast of our own making! 

YHWH is the God of life and order; the Adversary promotes death and chaos. By calling for an oracle of YHWH, the people were asking for the Bad News of YHWH… but it was the message of Good News that He wanted to share! God’s Good News brings us face to face with Him, but those who called for an oracle (burden) of YHWH would be cast from His presence and forgotten.

Although they were not to ask for the “Oracle of YHWH”, the “Oracle of the Word of YHWH to Israel” was a different story, because the Oracle, or Burden, of the Word brought life and love, regardless of whether we accepted it graciously, or not:

Malachi 1:1-5

The oracle of the Word of YHWH [massa d’var YHWH] to Israel through Malachi.

“I have loved you,” says YHWH. But you say, “How have You loved us?” 

The disciple John focused in on the Messiah being the Word of YHWH.

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

What burden did the Messiah have to bear to show how much He loved us? The Bad News for the Messiah was that he would have to die to bring Good News. How have you loved us, indeed!

Yeshua bore the weight of our sin so He could announce Good News, but the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers of Yeshua’s day were the proud bearers of Bad News and burdens:

Matthew 23:1-7

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honour at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.

Luke 11:44-46

[Jesus said:] “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”

One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

The Burden of Carrying Sin… Lifted!

The greatest burden, of course, that we carry is sin. 

Psalm 38:1-8

O YHWH, rebuke me not in Your wrath, and chasten me not in Your burning anger. For Your arrows have sunk deep into me, and Your hand has pressed down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden [k-massa] they weigh too much for me.

My wounds grow foul and fester because of my folly. I am bent over and greatly bowed down; I go mourning all day long. For my loins are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.

Just as Yeshua bore our sins, we are to bear the burdens of others:

Galations 6:2-5

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Messiah. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.

We are to take the death grip off the people! We must look at ourselves and bear our own load… and then we are to stand tall and bear the load of others. People are weighed down carrying their own sins on their shoulders when they need not do so! Yeshua died to bear the weight of our sins. By introducing people to the overwhelming love of YHWH and the great sacrifice of Yeshua, we can lift the death grip off the people and set them free! We can all die to sin and live to righteousness!

1 Peter 2:24-25

…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Although the grave had a tentative hold on everyone, Yeshua’s sacrifice was the great plot twist that conquered the grave. Yeshua knew it was His mission:

Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Yeshua wasn’t saying that it was easy to follow Him. He was saying that the oracle, or announcement, that He had to share wouldn’t be a weight on your shoulders, rather it would lift the weight from you and help you to stand tall! It was good news. This was not an announcement about death; it was an announcement about LIFE… and life to the fullest!

Whereas the prophets of the Old Testaments announced death and destruction, Yeshua announced life and the building up of the Kingdom of YHWH. No longer fodder for the grave, we could now see YHWH face to face! Our burdens would be lifted… our chains removed… we would finally be free!

Next week: Good News/Tidings

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