“burden.” The Hebrew is massa (#04853 מַשָּׂא), which means burden, load, and is then used of things that are a load or a burden. Many modern versions say something such as “oracle” or “word,” but that is not the proper meaning in the context of the prophecies of the prophets.
In their commentary on the Old Testament (note on Nahum 1:1), Keil and Delitzsch write:
[The Hebrew word] מַשָּׂא [massa] signifies a burden, from נָשָׂא, to lift up, to carry, to heave. The meaning has very properly been retained by Jonathan, Aquila, Jerome, Luther, and others, in the heading to the prophetic oracle. Jerome observes on Hab. 1:1: ‘Massa never occurs in the title, except when it is evidently grave and full of weight and labour.’ On the other hand, the LXX [Septuagint] have generally rendered it lēmma in the headings to the oracles, or even horasis, horama, rhēma (Isa. 13ff, 30:6); and most of the modern commentators since Cocceius and Vitringa, following this example, have attributed to the word the meaning of ‘utterance,’ and derived it from נָשָׂא, [the Latin] effari. …מַשָּׂא, which never means [the Latin] effatum, utterance, and is never placed before simple announcements of salvation, but only before oracles of a threatening nature.
In his commentary on Malachi 1:1, Ralph Smith (Word Biblical Commentary) writes: “It is best to read it here as “burden” referring to something the prophet must accept, carry, and deliver to others.”
It is easy to see why some translators would want to use “word,” “oracle,” or “message” instead of “burden” (or “burdensome message”). The vast majority of Christians have never had a “burden” or burdensome message from the Lord to deliver to another, so they have a hard time identifying with it. However, most people have been faced with difficult decisions about whether or not to confront another person and how to go about it. Confrontation is difficult, and giving bad news to someone is difficult too, and God called upon His prophets to do both, and it was difficult for them. It was indeed a “burden.”
Anyone who has received a prophetic message to deliver has experienced some of the burden of prophecy. Even if the prophetic word is generally favorable, the burden the prophet feels to deliver it at the right time in the right way with the proper emphasis is palpable. However, if the message is unfavorable, then that message is indeed a burden to the prophet and the one who hears it. The fact that the prophecy is a word from Yahweh is a given. The fact that it is a “burden” to the prophet and usually to the people who hear it is the truth that needs to be understood. The message given to a prophet to deliver to others is referred to as a “burden” in 2 Kings 9:25; Isaiah 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1; 21:11; 21:13; 22:1; 23:1; 30:6; Jeremiah 23:33, 34, 36, 38; Ezekiel 12:10; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Zechariah 9:1; 12:1; Malachi 1:1.
“Malachi.” The Hebrew word means, “My messenger.”