Connected upward, yet pulled downward.
That is the battle within your soul.
But it’s for a purpose. And it’s good.
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SUGGEST READING THIS FIRST. COMBAT ZONE SERIES: PART 1—YOUR SOUL
READING TIME: 3 MINUTES.
Ancient Israelites as well as those in the Second Temple period—including the first century with Jesus (Yeshua, his Hebrew name)—have long embraced a soul-body perspective.
Even philosophers from Homer to Plato and Socrates and onto the Hellenistic period and beyond have peered into this mysterious soul-body relationship.
This series explores that soul-body interplay in daily life and pulls from the Bible’s Hebrew wording as a gateway to deeper understanding of biblical text.
And because film/literature can help visualize the human-soul story, I later on (in a linked post) lightly explore a character in a Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria, via this soul lens. An unconventional approach? Maybe.
So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.
DISSECTING YOUR SOUL
Looking deeper, inward
The first stop: three revealing Hebrew words for soul that are used interchangeably throughout scripture.
The words that I’ll discuss in a moment—neshama/nishmat, ruach, nefesh—magnify things for us in certain Bible passages, when considering the context.
And they do something else. They’re a tutor teaching us that the soul . . .
(1) is breathed from God
(2) is unseen like a breath or wind
(3) can rise (to the things of God) and descend (away from His goodness)
(4) houses understanding and thought
(5) has emotions
(6) has a desire to cleave (negatively or positively)
(7) has an awareness of self
(8) is eternal and shares responsibility with the body for its actions/decisions (thus one of the needs for a bodily resurrection—more on that in another post)
Now let’s unpack it.
Soul Nuance #1: Breath of life, soul, attached to God
Neshama [neh-shah-mah ]—soul, God’s breath of life [in Hebrew, nishmat chayim נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים] that He breathed into Adam per Genesis 2:7. That divine breath animated, enlivened the body and sparked the soul’s dimensions. It gave Adam’s body—as it does yours and mine—life.
Think of it. That breath is your closest contact with God, His soul to your newly breathed soul. It’s His holy breath (nishmat) residing within you. How miraculous. A profound, loving gift from the King of Kings, the Ruler of the Universe. The One who sits High and lifted up on His mighty throne.
Soul Nuance #2: Wind, breath, spirit
Ruach [roo-akh] rises and descends—designed to move (like the wind) with the flow of God’s divine presence, His Shechinah, dwelling within. You hear the wind, feel it, but can’t see it.
The word ruach is also used for feelings/emotions. The question is, will you hear His voice and follow Him, drawing the entire soul-body upward, surrendering to Him and His leading?
As your life goes this way or that, upwardly seeking Him or not, so this Soul Nuance (spirit/wind/ruach) rises, descends.
Soul Nuance #3: Life force, soul, self, a person, rested breath, living (breathing) being
Nefesh [neh-fesh], taken from the Hebrew root nafash meaning to rest, similar to Exodus 31:17 where God tells Moses what to say to Israel about the Shabbat and how He rested (nafash) after six days of creation.
Genesis 2:7 reveals that God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the soul of life (nishmat chayim), so man became a living soul (nefesh chayim).
Like a glassblower, God’s action of exhaling a soul is like
the breath [neshama/nishmat] leaving His lips,
traveling as wind [ruach/spirit],
coming to rest [nefesh/nafash] in the vessel [our body].
—A poetic image about God breathing the soul into Adam (my inserts in red)—from the 18th century Italian-Jewish philosopher/writer, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.
The nefesh is often translated as self, suggesting it has an awareness of the physical world and of the body. It also has a yearning, a desire, appetite, and a cleaving (attaching itself either negatively or positively), per some rabbinic thinking.
That self-factor with a desire to cling is an important characteristic. Especially if the soul (nefesh) cleaves to things/desires mirroring those of the downward-focused, earth-tethered body, because it can wind up blocking the soul’s upward call (God’s desire).
Now add in what Rabbi Pinchas Winston (a lecturer/author on Torah philosophy) basically describes about the nefesh in his teaching of Exodus 35-38: it [nefesh] sets out to control and manipulate its physical surroundings in an attempt to “create a sense of self-reliance and security.”
No wonder that globally-and-generationally-known rabbi (who was so much more)—Jesus, the Messiah—taught this 2,000 years ago about dying to that negative self and turning your soul and body to God, surrendering to Him, serving Him, loving Him:
“Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
That brings us to the body, our earthly “tent.”
But before you read Part 2b’s: The Body Factor . . .
Take a sec to read three quick examples of how the translated word “soul” is synonymously used for those three Hebrew words (neshama/nishmat, ruach, nefesh) and even their equivalent in the New Testament Greek.
THREE EXAMPLES: SOUL-NUANCE SYNONYMS
1. Job said, “As God lives, who has taken away my right,
and the Almighty has established my soul (nefesh, my life force, rested breath).
For as long as my soul (nishmat, breath of life attached to God) is within me
and the spirit (ruach, breath, wind) of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will speak no injustice and my tongue will utter no deceit.
2. The spirit (ruach, breath, wind) of God made me, and the breath (nishmat, breath of life, attached to God) of the Almighty keeps me alive.—Job 33:4
3. There also are poetic uses of these synonyms, like the metaphor in the New Testament’s letter to the Hebrews (4:12) that vividly underscores the laser-like intensity of God’s Word (active, alive, sharper than any two-edge sword) to expose our thoughts and intentions . . .
It can divide the “soul”—(Greek is psyches like nefesh for self, human person, the consequence of God’s blowing life into a person)—from the “spirit” (Greek is pneumatos, like ruach for breath, wind, spirit).
Meaning: The razor-sharp sword of God’s Word slices through (divides) the intricately connected nuances of the soul much like it can slice through our physical joints from its innermost part, the heart-of-the-matter marrow.
READ PART 2b NEXT:
COMBAT ZONE SERIES: PART 2b—THE BODY FACTOR
THEN READ: COMBAT ZONE SERIES: PART 3—RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Hebrew wording based on Tanakh Hebrew for text and Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon.
Greek word for soul and spirit from Strongs on https://biblehub.com/greek/5590.htm
PHOTO CREDIT: Magnifying Glass photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash.com