Soul: nefesh (Strong’s 5315)
Root: נָ֫פֶשׁ (nun, pey, shin) [Sounds like: na-fesh]
The Hebrew word “nefesh” is usually translated in the Tanakh (Old Testament) as “soul”, but also can be translated as living being, life, creature, himself, herself, mind, desires, appetite, persons… All these varied translations muddle up the process of trying to define the word.
In fact the word “soul” has never been perfectly defined, mostly because there are so many questions surrounding it. What ARE souls and what are they made of? Are they containers to hold our Spirit? Do animals have souls? Does GOD have a soul? Are souls the ghosts of our afterlife? And just what happens to souls after death?
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about “the soul” so let’s attempt to answer each of those questions by seeing what we can glean from the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament).
#1 What ARE souls and what are they made of?
Isaiah 58:10-11 is generally translated something like this:
And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
In the Hebrew text, however, the word for “yourself” is nef’shaka and the Hebrew word for desire in this text is nefesh. So a literal translation would sound more like this:
And if you give your soul to the hungry and satisfy the soul of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like noonday. And YHWH will continually guide you, and satisfy your soul in scorched places, and give fat to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
What this tells us is that your soul is YOU. It is Your Self. It is what distinguishes you from everyone else around you. It is your uniqueness, your emotions and your reactions and how you view your life experience. Some may call it your essence. The truth is, you do not HAVE a soul… you ARE a soul.
Think of your soul as the very fibre of your being. Check out the following verses that have the word nefesh and try substituting the words “every fibre of your/my being” in place of “my soul”:
“Hear, O Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with every fibre of your being, and with all your might.”
It came about when she [Delilah] pressed him [Samson] daily with her words and urged him, so that every fibre of his being was annoyed to death.
Every fibre of my being longs and even faints for the courts of YHWH; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
I will rejoice greatly in YHWH. Every fibre of my being will rejoice in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness…
Yeshua: “Every fibre of my being is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.”
Your soul is the shape of who you are. But it is flexible. Your soul (your self) learns and matures and grows under the guidance of the Spirit. Your soul can become rich with the Spirit, but without it your soul can become bitter, hard, and corrupt. For this reason you must make the time to take care of your soul:
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently (naf’sh’ka meod) so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life…”
Remember who you are! You are a child of YHWH, and you need to take care of yourself/yoursoul!
#2 Are souls containers to hold our Spirit?
Yes… and No. I used to think that the soul was this little storage space for the Holy Spirit to reside in. But your soul is not something you can compartmentalize and put in your pocket. Your soul is YOU, and within you is the Spirit of God… so the soul is the container, or temple, (not your body), which holds God’s Spirit:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Do you not know that you, yourselves, are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
#3 Do animals have souls?
So, knowing that we don’t HAVE souls, the better question here is: ARE animals “souls”?
Yes, it is absolutely Biblical that animals are souls. In fact animal souls came to existence before human souls did:
Genesis 1:20a, 21a
And God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living souls (nefesh chaiya)”… And God created great sea creatures and every living soul (nefesh h’chaiya) that moved which teemed the waters, according to their kind…
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living souls (nefesh h’chaiya) after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so.
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the gasps of life; and man became a living soul (nefesh l’chaiya).
By these definitions a soul is a creature, a being, a life unit. And the first souls were sea creatures, followed by land creatures, and then, finally, humans.
#4 Does God have a soul?
God created living souls, sea creatures, animals, humans, but does God also have a soul… or rather, IS God a soul?
According to the Tanakh God is, indeed, a soul:
YHWH: “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.”
In the words of YHWH, His own soul delights in His Servant, Messiah, who will bring forth “justice to the nations”.
This tackles the long discussed topic of humanity being created in God’s image. Perhaps His image that we are created in, is not our physical body at all, but our soul. God has a soul, and we have a soul.
The body, after all is just a vessel for who we really are. We have souls- feelings and emotions that shape us. God expresses joy, anger, frustration, delight, sadness, empathy, compassion… we also experience those things. It is what makes us human. Animals are souls too, with a range of emotions, but arguably not to the full extent of how God and humans express them. For this reason I suggest that the “image” that we share with YHWH is our soul and not our physical form. So the idea of an old bearded man on a big throne in the sky is a bit silly and, quite honestly, self-centered. For when we focus on the beauty of the body it detracts from the beauty of our soul. God cares not for outer image, he cares for what is in your heart.
1 Chronicles 28:9b
Serve Him with a perfect heart and a willing soul, for YHWH searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
#5 Are souls the ghosts of our afterlife?
First of all, the definition of ghost is this: an apparition of a dead person that is believed to appear or become manifest to the living.
The English words ghost and spirit have somehow become united in their definition. But in Hebrew the Spirit (ruach) of God was breathed into humanity at the beginning of time. A ghost is an apparition of a dead person. It is not the same thing. Our soul which hosts the Spirit within us has a part to play in the afterlife, but not so much as a vessel to haunt the living, but more as a vessel that leads us to the hand of God.
#6 What happens to our souls after death?
When the great matriarch Rachel died in childbirth her soul “departed”:
Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni [son of my sorrow]; but his father called him Benjamin.…
Biblically your soul means every fibre of your being. It is the very essence of you. So when Rachel’s “soul was departing” the very essence of who she was departed her body… leaving behind only a shell.
I find it very comforting to think that when we die, the very essence of who we are goes with us.
The term save your soul is a Christian catchphrase. But how do we preserve our soul? According to Hezekiah’s prayer it is God who can keep us from “the pit of nothingness”.
“Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness. It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You. Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today”.
#6b So what does God do with our souls?
According to scripture God requires our Soul! But for what purpose?
YHWH: “And surely I will require the blood of your souls; at the hand of all the living I will require it. And at the hand of every man, and at the hand of his brother, I will require the soul of man.”
Ezekiel 18:4, 30-32
YHWH: “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die…Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”
God requires our souls but He does not do seek them merely to tally us up like the conquered. Rather, He gathers our souls to save us! He redeems our soul! YHWH loves His creation and so He sent a Redeemer.
Psalm 49:7-9, 14-15
No man can, by any means, redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him. For the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever— that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay… As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd and the upright shall rule over them in the morning, and their form shall be for Sheol to consume so that they have no habitation. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.
We cannot do it on our own, but for those who have a relationship with Him, YHWH has a plan. He sends the Messiah as a Redeemer. The Messiah is the opposite of the Shepherd of Death, leading the sheep to Sheol. The Messiah is the Shepherd of Life, redeeming our souls and leading us to the hand of God!
Yeshua: I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd, and the sheep are not his own. When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf pounces on them and scatters the flock. The man runs away because he is a hired servant and is unconcerned for the sheep.
I am the Good Shepherd. I know My sheep and My sheep know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in as well, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock and One Shepherd.
Seek out YHWH. Call upon Him to free your soul from death… He will listen and redeem your life.
You drew near when I called on You. You said, “Do not fear!” O Lord, You have pleaded my soul’s cause; You have redeemed my life!
The redemption of your soul is costly (Psalm 49:8), but Yeshua paid the price.
Bonus Question: Do soulmate’s exist?
There is only One who completely knows and understands every fibre of your being. God wants to be your soulmate. Don’t let anything stand in His way!
Next week: Wonderful