Afflict Your Soul

Revelation from God is always a particularly satisfying experience. Whether it be a simple phrase ‘jumping out of the page‘ from the Bible that is incredibly relevant to something you have been seeking God on, or a major ‘penny drop‘ moment, when you finally understand something that was hidden from you for years, having your spiritual eyes opened is the true nourishment we need to survive.

Having the amount of time to spare that we do now, means that I have been able to seek God on many issues that I have failed to understand over the years. Things like the discrepancy between what Y’shua (Jesus) called The Sign of Jonah, and our understanding of what the gospels actually says when they describe three days but only two nights in the tomb, for me, are now solved. Or my lack of understanding about what the prophet Amos was speaking about, and what James referred to in Acts chapter 15, regarding the fallen tent of David, I now grasp. Revelation is sweet, like refreshing water to my spirit. By the way, explanations of both subjects can be found here on this blog, if you are interested. For The Sign of Jonah, can I direct you to a post from December last year entitled, Lost in Translation. And, for the issue of David’s tent, please see the two posts entitled A Tale of Two Tents – Part One, and Part Two.

And, it is this thirst for more revelation, more understanding of God’s word and His nature, which has been occupying my time of late. One thing that has troubled me for many years in the relationship between the three aspects of our being; that is, body, soul and spirit. Much teaching on this subject is confused and subjective to the preacher’s point of view. I have been looking for something definitive. With God, there is never any doubt. His truth resonates within us so that we know it to be true.

Now, let me first say this as a way of encouragement: If you don’t understand something in scripture or a concept that you hear bandied about in your church, then ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. His role is to counsel us on our walk. In fact, don’t take my word for it, try it now with regard to what I am writing here. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s truth about what I am writing. He will. But a word of warning; whenever you seek God for an answer to a question, He will always answer. But sometimes, God takes His time in answering. Like He has with today’s post.

The likely explanation for the apparent delay in answering my questions about it all are probably tied directly into my walk with Him. As the notion of a ‘walk with God’ suggests, we are on a journey. In order to get from one place to another we have to experience the journey and whatever it throws at us. God has answered me now because I have journeyed along the path far enough to fully understand the issue.

I was reading part of the book of Leviticus the other day when I stumbled across a phrase that I hadn’t really notice before. I mean, I had read it before, but not really took it in, if you know what I mean? Here’s the text:

“Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.” [Leviticus 23:27 NKJV]

You shall afflict your souls. That was the phrase that started the rocks tumbling in my head. What did this mean? I mean, what did this really mean?

Well, as usual, I like to check what other translations render the phrase as. The NIV, for example, simply says ‘deny yourselves‘. The Amplified Bible, on the other hand manages a little more with “you shall afflict yourselves [by fasting in penitence and humility]”. And there you will start to see the itch I have been unable to scratch for many years. The word soul is synonymous with yourself. To me, when the word yourself is mentioned, I have a tendency to think of a person in their entirety – all of them. However, if the soul wasn’t a separate part of us, why would God tell us to afflict that part? And, once I started to meditate on this little phrase, it opened up a load of other issues. Often, for example, we are taught that soul and spirit are the same. Another is that the word in the New Testament that we render as soul, is the Greek word psyche, which has found its way into modern English as the mind. Can you see what I mean? Only confusion. Nothing definitive. And, believe me, there is never any confusion with God. Confusion is all born of the father of lies, Satan.

So, I decided to stop and do some research. At the end of last summer I had been seeking God on a number of issues and I felt led to start to look at life from the perspective of a Hebrew. After all, Y’shua is a Hebrew, God’s people are Hebrews, the entire Old Testament (or Tanakh) is written in Hebrew. Over the months, as I have applied this perspective to everything I have been reading and seeking God on, my eyes have seen things afresh. My spiritual eyes, that is. I have noticed that much of what Y’shua talks about in the gospels is in response to the Oral Traditions of the Pharisees. They had build up additional laws to God’s written word for the purpose of achieving righteousness (or Torah) by means of following rules. Religious legalism, in other words. But I have noticed that a number of key phrases appear throughout scripture that often have a series of teachings attached to them in the Oral Traditions. Today, thankfully, these traditions are all written down in what is known as Mishnah. Whilst Y’shua clearly doesn’t want us to follow Mishnah, it does provide an excellent insight into Hebrew culture and the way in which they interpreted what God’s word says.

And what I learned in my research was something that acted, at first, like a light illuminating my mind, and then afterwards as a key, with which I am still opening doors that had been locked for years. Let me explain.

The word in Hebrew for soul is nepas, or rather NeFeSh, pronounced nay-fesh (as in mesh). Sadly, in the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of all Bible words, the word nepas is listed with dozens of different possible meanings. But, the Hebrew understanding of it is fascinating. NeFeSh means appetite. Its literal meaning is throat, but whenever God’s word said NeFeSh, the true meaning was appetite. I was a little taken aback, until I tried to use it: ‘afflict your appetite‘ or ‘deny your appetite‘. Interesting isn’t it? And then the light came on.

I saw that to deny my appetite is to fast. But I saw much more. I thought of Isaiah chapter 58 which talks of true fasting and gives advice on what fasting is. God doesn’t mention food. More a state of mind towards other people. He talks of humility and mercy. To deny one’s appetite. As I started to pray and meditate on this I saw more, the light got brighter. I saw that the soul, our appetite, was unquenchable; that, under certain conditions, we could never, ever satisfy it. I saw the soul as a black hole. Think about it.

Over the past few days I have been looking at the subject of the soul from lots of different vantage points to check that what I saw holds water. Here’s what I think is the explanation, not so much of what the soul is, but more of what the soul does. The role it plays in our lives.

Until the moment in which the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes and ears to the truth of the gospel, we know that we are spiritually dead. Up until that moment, our souls, our appetites, have been focused entirely upon what the fleshy part of us desires. The flesh is fallen. Paul describes us as being dead in our sins. So, because we are spiritually dead at that point, the soul craves only the things that will satisfy the flesh. Only, the flesh is really the black hole, because it doesn’t matter what you feed it, it will never be satisfied. And I’m not just talking food here. Think about everything that the flesh desires; it’s not all food. Recognition, achievement, security, love, lust, adoration, money – all are desires of the flesh. When we are spiritually dead, the soul only knows how to crave these fleshy things. But, the moment the Holy Spirit awakes us from slumber, we are spiritually alive – born again. And suddenly, the soul has the option of satisfying the desires of the spirit. Now, all sounds good doesn’t it? Except, that what begins in that moment of spiritual birth, is actually a battle between two opposing factions within us – the flesh and the spirit.

This battle will never end whilst we are confined to these earthly bodies. The process of salvation, or to give it the correct term in Hebrew teaching, deliverance, is not something that happens on a single day in time when the Holy Spirit open our eyes and ears – that is our conversion. The process of deliverance is a gradual one that takes many years, during which our appetite changes from feeding the flesh, to nourishing the soul. This ongoing process can also be termed as sanctification. We are being made clean in the process. The deeper we walk with God, the more our souls crave the spiritual things. Read Romans chapters six, seven, and eight with this in mind and you will see what I mean.

All of us begin our journey with God in exactly the same way – we are born again spiritually and our souls start to see our spiritual needs and crave its satisfaction. Of course, many will know that the fervour we have initially for God’s spiritual nourishment, can often wear off. People soon fall back into satisfying the cravings of the sinful nature. This is why living our lives according to the Spirit of God is vital. The reason why it is so vital is that if our flesh is driving us, then our hearts will desire fleshy things and will steer us in those directions. However, if we live according to the spirit then our hearts will pull us in that direction.

Think of our hearts like a rudder steering a ship. In our hearts we can choose to be influenced by either the flesh or the spirit. To afflict the soul is to suppress the appetite for the things that the flesh desires. It is whilst we are fasting that we can learn to live by the spirit. As with all things, the longer we practice doing things in a certain way, the more natural it becomes. Naturally, we are prone to satisfying the desires of the fleshy sinful nature, but as we draw near to God, He leads us on the Narrow Path by His Spirit. The more we learn to follow the Spirit’s lead, the more natural it will become. When God was telling the Hebrews to afflict their souls, it was because they were entirely driven by the desires of the flesh. He gave them the Law in order for them to see that, but they failed mostly. There were a few that grasped God’s message, like David for example. Until Y’shua came and gave us the Holy Spirit, people were entirely given to the desires of the sinful nature. Y’shua showed us how God wanted us to live – a life led by His Spirit, and then He gave His Spirit to us to help us to do that.

The soul acts as the throat or appetite for both the flesh and the spirit. The further we journey with God, the easier and more natural a spirit-led life becomes. We use the Holy Spirit to steer our hearts in order to walk further with God.

I like to think that King David grasped this. Some of the psalms he wrote testify that he understood that what the flesh desired only leads to death, whilst the spirit brings life. In fact, many of the psalms reveal this once you see the soul as the appetite. I will leave you with one such song that testifies to this:

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul for You, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” [Psalm 42:1-2 NKJV]

Read the entire psalm. Take it in. God’s word is food for our spirit.

And so, what started as illumination, has now become a key. The key opens doors to the true walk with the Living God. In order for that to happen we need not afflict our souls for a single day, but rather adopt a stance that rejects everything that the flesh desires, in favour of only the things that nourish us spiritually. The Spirit gives life. Chose to have that life in abundance.

Shalom

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