~ Taken from Vincent Cheung, Commentary on Malachi, footnotes excluded ~
Many people believe that the word "burden," when used in a prophetic context, does not refer only to prophecy in general, but also to the pronouncement of judgment. Calvin says, "Whenever this word is expressed, there is ever to be understood some judgment of God." Verhoef elaborates, "We may concede to the opinion that in prophecy the word…generally acquires an ominous sense linked up with the catastrophic nature of many prophecies. In this sense the word usually denotes a pronouncement of utmost importance, a prophecy of judgment."
In Jeremiah 23, we read that the word had become a way for the ungodly to deride the prophets, who at times brought them messages about God's impending judgment against the people's sins. Jeremiah 23:33-34 says:
And when this people, or the prophet, or a priest, shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the LORD? thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? I will even forsake you, saith the LORD. And as for the prophet, and the priest, and the people, that shall say, The burden of the LORD, I will even punish that man and his house.
As Feinberg argues, it is better to translate "What burden?" in verse 33 as, "You are the burden!" – as in, "What a burden (you are)!" Because of the people's sins, God's prophets had been bringing words of judgment to them, prefacing the prophecies with "The burden of the Lord." But instead of repenting of their sins, the hearers had grown to find such messages burdensome. Thus they had begun using this term in their derogatory challenges to the prophets, saying, "What is the burden of the Lord this time?"
Nowadays, we find many people who likewise find the requirements of God burdensome. To them, God's commandments limit their liberty and seem to be outdated relative to the culture. Those who preach biblical principles without compromise are often said to be inflexible and intolerant, placing unreasonable demands on the people. On the other hand, John reminds us that to love God is to obey his commandments, and it should not seem burdensome to us: "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3, NIV).
The rebellious nature of the human heart has not changed since Jeremiah's day. Even then, the people had grown weary of the constant warnings and urgings of the prophets. Or, as some people would complain today, it seems that some ministers are always preaching sermons of "doom and gloom," of sin and judgment. But they do not realize that there may be good reasons for preaching these messages.
The people considered God's word burdensome, and would say to the prophets, "What is the burden of the Lord now?" To such blatant irreverence, God replied, "It's you! You are the burden!" Thus there is a play on words here in Jeremiah – whereas in one instance the burden refers to the message of prophecy, in the next it refers to the people as a troublesome group in God's eyes. He proceeds to note that this is one burden God would soon unload from his shoulders: "I will even forsake you, saith the LORD."
Not only those who call themselves unbelievers make such complaints against God. Professing Christians everywhere find it difficult to live the Christian life, and they would often complain against biblical requirements, and the restrictions that God has placed upon them. They enjoy calling attention to the "sacrifices" that they have already made, and how it would be unreasonable to ask them for more. Such "Christians" form what may be the greatest burden of the church. Of course, most of these people are false converts, who have never been regenerated and are still heading toward hell.
The ungodly and carnal tend to blame the godly and obedient for their problems. As Ahab said to Elijah, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" (1 Kings 18:17). But Elijah answered, "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim" (v. 18). It is those who "have forsaken the commandments of the Lord" that are the troublemakers of society, not those who faithfully follow God.
Family divisions are often blamed on those who have converted to Christianity. This includes how false converts who call themselves Christians persecute the true converts in the family who take their faith seriously. Such conflicts occur between parent and child, husband and wife, brothers and sisters, and among friends. Christians should say to their accusers, "It is you, not me, who is causing trouble in this relationship. It is you who is rebelling against the Lord, and therefore it is you who must change." Unbelievers also blame the Christians for other conflicts and divisions in society, and most who call themselves Christians are too cowardly to let the sinners know otherwise.
Christians who are faithfully following God are not responsible for family divisions and social conflicts. They are not to blame, as if they have done something wrong. No one has the right to compromise truth in order to maintain a false unity. It is those who are in opposition to the Scripture that God will hold accountable for the problems of society. Non-Christians, including false converts, are the problems of society. In fact, Christians are the only ones preventing society from getting much worse.
Every Christian should examine himself as to whether he considers God's word to be burdensome in any area, and whether he questions God's justice or wisdom in any way. Do we find it a burden to study or to pray? Do we complain that our relationships suffer because of God's claims on our lives? Do we bemoan the fact that biblical standards at times prevent us from profiting financially? These are indications of an unrenewed or even unconverted mind, whose attitudes are not submissive to God's word. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for the elect to obey God's word, and delight at his commands.