Photo credit to Psyche Angelik Mendoza Villacillo-Zuhura
“The burden of the word of the Lord in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel shall be toward the Lord.” Zechariah 9:1
What do a burden, a tribute, and a song have in common? A lot more than one would think here. Because I’m reading this verse that starts, “The burden of the word of the Lord,” and I’m asking, what does it mean that the word of the Lord is called a burden? That’s pretty heavy stuff isn’t it? No pun intended there. Isn’t a burden a heavy thing, a heavy load to bear? And if the word of the Lord is such a heavy load, how can one bear it?
Maybe I read to much into things, or maybe the problem is we don’t read enough into things. But when I stopped to ask about this word “burden” represented by the Hebrew word massa, more than leading to meaning a burden or tribute, it’s also singing. Now how does that come together? And the origin of the word itself comes from the word nasal which means to lift. But these definitions don’t clear everything up for me.
If I hop around Scripture looking and asking, I find massa being used of an ass lying under his burden. Actually, it’s the ass of an enemy struggling under his burden, and then being encouraged to help the ass for the enemy’s sake despite his hatred of you. I find massa when the tent of meeting is being readied to travel and the “sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath…” (Numbers 4:15) Aaron and his sons, the priests, were to take the Kohathites in to perform their service of carrying things by appointing them personally to each of the holy items that had already been covered to do his service and to care for his burden and live. (Numbers 4:19) And then there were the Gershonites who carried the things like the curtains and hangings of the tabernacle. It was their service and burden. Were these things too hard? Were these things a chore and drudgery? Isn’t that what we think of burdens today? Or does this concept of a burden in Your word, Lord, mean something more?
It’s not that it’s a light thing either. Definitely, a burden is attached to some weightiness. Here is Moses in the wilderness and the people of Israel are complaining about manna, manna, manna. I mean, here’s God’s provision. They are living and not dying. Their clothes aren’t even wearing out. They have water in the desert. They are safe. “All we get to eat is manna!” And the manna falls and they gather it to eat and what is their response? They are weeping and not for joy. They are weeping with ungratefulness and complaining hearts. They are weeping for what they want and not what God wants. And Moses comes to You Lord and says, “Why have You afflicted your servant? And why haven’t I found favor in Your sight, that You lay the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? Have I begotten them, that You should say unto me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child, unto the land which You swear unto their fathers? Where should I have flesh to give unto all this people? For they weep unto me, saying, ‘Give us flesh, that we may eat.’ I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11: 11-14)
Moses was so right. This was all too “kabed” for him. It was not intended for him to handle what the people were looking to him to handle. It was not for You, Lord, to be asked to handle things according to the people’s will either. Kabed means “to be heavy, weighty with respect.” But that weight of glory was supposed to be being placed on the Lord, not on their own desires and their own hearts, nor on a man (no matter how great before God) named Moses.
So Lord, You answer Moses. And You tell him to gather 70 of the elders and You will take of the spirit that is upon Moses and share it with these 70 elders so that Moses will not be alone, so that Moses will have other men to help him. So these men and Moses will all bear the burden of the people together. And I wonder if You did that because You were teaching Moses something about himself by giving him what he “thought” he needed. Because wasn’t that the same thing the people were doing? And after You square Moses away, You square the people away. You are going to give them what they asked for and more. The meat was coming. And Moses seems to doubt how You could do that. Why do I say Moses seems to doubt You? It sounds like Your words I hear. “And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? You shall see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not.’” Let’s keep meditating on all these things. Hold on to it, like Mary, and hide it in our hearts for You to bring together, Lord. In Deuteronomy, Moses shares, “How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?” while speaking to the people. This is over this same situation of the appointing of the 70 leaders, just another perspective. Who’s cumbrance, burden, and strife was the problem? Let’s just meditate on that.
And if this hasn’t gotten weighty enough to think about, it’s expressed as song twice in 1 Chronicles 15:22. “And Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was for song: he instructed about the song, because he was skillful.” How can it be a burden and a song? Well, I do suppose a song is a type of tribute to God. Now I see how it can be a song and a tribute, but relating those with the burden… I’m still searching.
How about a tribute? We have that represented in 2 Chronicles 17:11 where some of the Philistines brought Jehoshaphat all kinds of tribute like silver. And the Arabians brought flocks, rams, and goats. Again, how do these three words- burden, tribute, and song come together in nasah? It brings me back to Moses and another incident.
In Deuteronomy 6:16, Moses is warning the people by bringing up an incident in the past. “You shall not test the Lord your God, as you tested Him in Massah.” Why is there a place named Massah, like the root of the word nasal? Exodus 17:7 tells us, “And he called the name of the place Massah, and Maribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?’” Paul reminds his readers of this time in his letter to the Hebrews. He warns them not to harden their hearts as at this time when the people provoked God and put God to the proof even after seeing His miraculous care and provision. The author of some of the Psalms looks back at that day. It seems it had nothing to do with Your desire but all to do with their own lust and desire. The author accuses them of turning back and limiting You. Actually, it’s pretty strong stuff. They “lusted exceedingly.” Maybe this story can help bring it all together.
“You shall not test the Lord your God as you tested in Massah.” God, You say don’t do it. I’m not to test You. No one is. How do I worship You properly? How do I understand what to do and what not to do? Is the burden of the word of the Lord to understand and serve in that right understanding? What does Your history teach? Could this be about You testing our faithfulness? Could life be a test of that designed for us? I mean, after all, You inherently are faithful. You can’t be unfaithful. To test Your faithfulness is to cast doubt on You and to say You are not faithful. Who are we or the Israelites to say that? To say, “You aren’t doing right by us. You aren’t meeting my needs. This isn’t how it should be happening in my life,” are all hardened hearts wanting their own way and not Yours. They’re all saying, “I know better than You, Lord. Straighten up Your act and get right according to me.” Really? Yes. How sad. And I’ve been guilty of that, of testing You because I’ve been one of those complainers who asked You to change the situation instead of asking You to change my heart.
What if a burden is a test? Sure, it carries weight, it’s heavy, it’s hard. Isn’t that how tests are designed? Aren’t they designed to be the proof of our true capabilities whether in math or science or welding, or in this case, our trust and submission to You, God? I mean, what was really happening at Massah? “God, You’re not taking care of us. Neither are You, Moses. You guys are impotent. You’re indifferent to our needs. We don’t want to follow You because You don’t listen and do what we say. If You want us to follow You, prove Yourself to us and prove You care for us our way!” But it was never and never will be about You following our will. If faith is dependent upon You doing things for me, then that’s not faith at all. You are God, not a genie. What an insult. Like You don’t know how to care best for Your own people, Your own creation? Really? Like You are under anyone’s control? Like the created can control the Creator? Are we kidding ourselves. And the One who is Good, needs to be told what is good?
The burden of the word of the Lord, then, maybe, is to see You for who You are and to act accordingly based on that knowledge and experience. To carry the burden any other way is “rebellious disobedience, a refusal to accept the character of God as the basis of obedience.” (Skip Moen)
God gives us every evidence of His goodness. To rebel and disobey in the face of it is sin. To say God does not care is to ignore evidence and commit sin. God cares. You manifest as You see fit. It’s not our decision. it is Your choice how to show it. All we need to know is that You care. I don’t tell You what to do. I‘m Your servant. I don’t deserve consideration but I’m blessed that You consider me. If I think I deserve more, I better look back at history. I can also learn that it’s dangerous to question God. I mean, You have no requirement or duty to act on my behalf and yet, You choose to. That’s all because of Your faithfulness. My appropriate service is gratitude. “Gratitude is the basis of faith, but gratitude arises from who [You are}, not what [You do].” And the truth is, Jesus didn’t die for my sins. That was secondary. Jesus died for the love and obedience of the Father because He wanted to be all about Him. My forgiveness, the death of my sins through His sacrifice, is a byproduct of His obedience. He trusted the character of You, Heavenly Father, so much, that He went to the cross as my sacrifice. I can place my sins on him as I place my trust in a God who is faithful and worthy of being trusted.
The burden of the world of the Lord is the truth of who You are. It’s heavy because You are heavy. Your holiness is described as a weighty thing. You are worthy of tribute. Anything I have, anything I do, You deserve presented back to You because it all came from You in the first place. And when I start seeing the weightiness of who You are, how can I help but burst out in songs of praise and worship and adoration and thankfulness.
“The burden of the word of the Lord in the land of Hadrach, and Damascus shall be the rest thereof: when the eyes of man, as of all the tribes of Israel shall be toward the Lord.” My eyes can be on myself, like the eyes of the Israelites at Massah. Or my eyes can be reminded to be on you because only in You will I find that rest. Only in You will I be consoled as You care for me as Your own bride. Only in You will I find my true rest as You give me a home and an identity and a purpose and You abide with me and I abide with You. Finally, when You are in control, what work do I have left other than to walk in Your ways and enjoy the blessing of Your presence? I can carry Your burden and be defeated under it. Or I can let You carry Your burden and be blessed as You hold the load for me and I follow in obedience and love and adoration and awe. The choice is mine, the burden and work is Yours. That’s faith. That’s trust. That’s how not to repeat the past but how to learn from it.