What is sin? The Bible depicts sin in many ways. Previously I’ve written about the Hebrew and Greek words that define sin as ‘missing a mark’, ‘rebellion’ and ‘perversion’. But how else is sin described?


Another word used to describe sin is the Hebrew word ‘shagah’. This word literally means ‘straying from a correct path’, but can also be translated as an ‘error’ or a ‘mistake’.


The word can describe sheep that have gone astray. In fact, God uses the word to describe the Israelites as sheep that have strayed because their shepherds have not looked after them. In Ezekiel’s prophecy we read: ‘The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered (shagah) over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them”’ (Ezekiel 34:1-6).


So the word ‘shagah’ gives us a good picture of sin. God has shown us the path of life but we wander off his path. What is God’s path? His law. His instructions. Proverbs says ‘Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray (shagah) from the words of knowledge’ (Proverbs 19:27).


Some sins clearly show a wandering from God’s laws. For example, Isaiah describes drunkenness as ‘shagah’: ‘And these also stagger (shagah) from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger (shagah) from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger (shagah) when seeing visions, they stumble  when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth’ (Isaiah 28:7-8). Drunks literally wander all over the place. But they also spiritually wander from God’s commands.


Also, Proverbs also describes the sin of adultery as ‘shagah’: ‘Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife? For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray (shagah) by his own great folly’ (Proverbs 5:20-23). If you commit adultery you literally wander away from your spouse. But also from God’s law.


Sadly we have all wandered from God’s paths. We have not kept God’s commands. Except for Jesus. The lamb of God never wandered from God’s path. And if we trust in him, God treats us according to Christ’s faithfulness, not according to our unfaithfulness. So do you trust in Jesus Christ for all the times you’ve strayed from God’s paths?

Joel Radford