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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Fifty-Second (Soul)

This week's topic is somewhat associated with last week's in that many have a bit of a misconception regarding it. We've talked about the soul quite a few times, but never focused solely on it previously. We're going to take a look at where it comes from scripturally and hopefully clear some things up, but we may find out there's a lot more questions to be answered!

The first place to start is with the word itself. We're going to focus mainly on the Hebrew to see what was originally intended by YHWH in terms of how it should be used and what its characteristics are. If you search for the word "soul" you'll find that there are three Hebrew words that are associated with it. The most prevalent by far is the one we'll be focusing on, but it's worth touching on the others in our study.

The first is נְדִיבָה, or nedibah (h5082). It actually only occurs once, and other translations (other than the KJV) use the word dignity or honor vice soul. These translations make slightly more sense in context because Job was talking about his prosperity and being terrorized in the same sentence, not necessarily his life. In fact, the next verse is where he mentions his soul, which means it wouldn't make sense that he would use a completely different word for the same thing in two consecutive sentences.

The second is נְשָׁמָה, or neshamah (h5397). It occurs 23 times, and means breath, but should not be confused with רוּחַ, or ruach (h7307), which we have looked at in detail and is used to mean spirit, wind, and breath. When scripture says Spirit of God or Holy Spirit, it uses the word ruach. Neshamah is used to mean the physical breath, not something associated with spirit or soul.

You may say, "but what about its use in Proverbs 20:27?" That seems to be a case where it should be used to reference spirit, right? Considering this is one of only two verses where neshamah is translated to spirit, it doesn't quite make sense that this translation would be the most accurate. When you look at this verse and the other, Job 26:4, they seem to hint at a deeper meaning associated with physical breath rather than this word suddenly meaning spirit in these contexts. For example, Job asks "whose neshamah comes out of you?" which is a clear reference to the fact that YHWH was the one that gave us breath to begin with (Genesis 2:7, which uses neshamah as well). And in the case of Proverbs, how would the spirit be a light to YHWH? Wouldn't it make more sense that this be a reference to what man does with his physical breath, since a person could either be walking in the spirit or walking in the flesh? This view also lines up with Yeshua who told us what comes from our heart goes out through our breath/speech (Luke 6:45).

So, that brings us to our focus word, נֶפֶשׁ, or nephesh (h5315). This is by far the most prevalent word, occurring over 750 times in scripture. However, you may find it interesting that words you've read previously were actually translated from this word but seemingly are not related. The very first verse in which it occurs, for example, is Genesis 1:20, and you won't find the word soul anywhere in that verse.

In fact, what you'll find is that actually the word "creatures" is translated from nephesh. Now, that is certainly confusing for the average Christian because the majority of us believe that animals, or creatures, don't even have souls. I was watching a video the other day from some ministry that was talking about where we go when we die, and the person in that video actually said that was one of the big differences between man and animal, the fact that we have a soul and they don't.

Actually, we get through the whole first chapter of Genesis without seeing the word "soul" despite nephesh occurring four times in that chapter. The first time we see "soul" is in chapter 2, and even then it's only in a few translations. In the KJV, among some others, we find that man became a living "soul" when YHWH breathed the breath of life into the man formed of the dust. Here we see the conjunction of the breath we saw earlier, neshamah, from YHWH and the dust of the earth, aphar, forming a living nephesh.

So, if animals have nephesh, and man has nephesh, what does that actually mean? Let's look at some other verses to try and figure that out. While we're not going to go individually through over 750 uses of this word, it's useful to see how many different ways it was translated. Soul is the most, at 475 times, life comes next at 117 times, with person coming in third at 29 times and mind and heart tying for fourth place at 15 times. The remainder of occurrences include everything from dead to appetite to body (of note, these are all according to the KJV).

Despite nephesh sometimes being translated to heart, we find that there is actually a distinction between the heart and the nephesh. We see that YHWH told the Israelites they will find Him if they seek Him with all their heart and all their nephesh (Deuteronomy 4:29). In fact, multiple times the heart is distinguished from the nephesh (Deuteronomy 10:12, 11:13, 11:18, 13:3, 30:6, 30:10).

We also find that nephesh is associated with emotion in various places. The Danites threaten Micah that angry nephesh will attack him (Judges 18:25). David was distressed about people stoning him because their nephesh were grieved (1 Samuel 30:6). A nephesh can also have desire (1 Kings 11:37) and bitterness (Job 3:20, 1 Samuel 22:2).

So, nephesh is not the heart and it can have emotion. It also is distinct from the spirit, as you likely could have guessed (Job 12:10), and distinct from the flesh (Job 14:22). We find in one verse that while it is distinct from the word that means life/alive/living, it also has the ability to become tired/weary (Job 10:1). But even more interesting is that it has the ability to choose (Job 7:15). In other words, it has will.

All this creates an interesting conundrum, because we either generalize nephesh to mean simply the embodiment of life or we make it specifically about what we would consider a soul. If it's the latter, we are perfectly comfortable with all living things having "life" but because of what we've been taught we're less comfortable with animals having souls. We could also consider that possibly, despite YHWH using the same word for animals as man, there is a different type of "life" in animals versus in man, and that perhaps that difference equates to us having souls and animals not.

Let's not jump to that conclusion though, because we're actually going to find that cannot possibly be the truth. When we look back at when Noah and his family finally exited the ark, and take a look at YHWH's dialogue with him, He gives Noah some direction in what to consume for food. Among this direction, He states that Noah is not to eat any meat that still has the nephesh blood still in it (Genesis 9:4), which connects blood to life. And later we see an even more definitive statement that blood is the nephesh of the flesh (Leviticus 17:14).

So, we see we cannot make a distinction between us and animals in this respect because we find that we both have nephesh which is our blood. Now, can we say that this nephesh works the same in animals as it does in us? Not for certain, but if we focus on man and further scripture describing it, we also see that it can receive repercussions of a judgment by YHWH. While certain translations call it "sorrow of heart," when you look at the Hebrew the word for sorrow is actually associated with diseases (Leviticus 26:16).

Additionally, we see that nephesh can leave and return to a person, where in the interim the individual is considered dead (1 Kings 17:21-22). This returning of the nephesh is the same returning that YHWH can do for us (Psalm 23:3, called "restoring" but same Hebrew word) and that the Law does for us (Psalm 19:7). And we see that nephesh is associated with redemption (2 Samuel 4:9, 1 Kings 1:29) as well as being associated with the pit/grave (Job 33:18) and sin (Micah 6:7).

This is a lot, right? What does that all mean? To me, it means there is more to blood than any of us realize. If it truly is where our emotions, our will, and our earthly life come from that creates a whole host of questions that I don't think any of us could answer on our own. On the other hand, it could also explain a lot of things if we try to connect some dots. I mentioned a video last week that I watched about the heart, and you can find it here.

In it, a doctor explains that it's not even physically possible that our heart is a pump given it's walls are too thin and it doesn't produce enough pressure to push the sticky substance of our blood through vessels and capillaries that would circle the earth almost three times if laid out in a line. In fact, our blood is actually what's moving by its own power and the heart not only slows it down rhythmically but also knows to send particular blood cells to particular locations in our body (at about minute 23, he talks about these vortices).

With this information, I have come to believe that while the blood comprises or contains our fleshly life, or what we would call our soul, the heart is the place where our spirit connects to, or interacts with, our soul. We can either let that interaction dominate our lives, where our spirit is directing, or we can let that interaction be submissive, where our blood/soul/flesh is directing (See #92, Soulish). I encourage you to look into these things for yourself and let the Holy Spirit lead you to your own conclusions. Whether you come to the same ones or not, I hope something in all this was at least somewhat enlightening for you!

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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