anatomy02In our previous article in this series, “Souls in Genesis,” we examined all the occurrences of the Hebrew word for “soul,” nephesh, in the first book of the Bible. We discovered six possible meanings for this word from our examination of Genesis, which are as follows:

1. Any creature of the land, sea, or air.

2. What man is as a product of his body and his breath of life being mixed together.

3. The blood of men, or something connected to the blood of men.

4. People.

5. A person’s self or being.

6. The emotions, strong feelings, and desires of men.

At the time, we stopped the study there, leaving it up to the true student of the Word to continue the study for himself. Now, let us take this study further, and move on to the book of Exodus to see what the occurrences of nephesh here can add to our knowledge of the word, and what meaning our God gives to the word “soul” when He uses it.

Exodus 1:5. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already).

The descendants of Jacob who came into Egypt with him were seventy souls. Here, the soul is put for the person, and the New King James translators have interpreted this (rather than translating it) correctly as “persons.” The nephesh are the people themselves.

Exodus 4:19. Now the LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.”

Instead of speaking of those who sought Moses’ life, what He actually speaks of is those who sought Moses’ soul. Obviously, what they sought it for was to destroy it by death. So when someone is seeking to kill someone else, the Bible refers to this as seeking that person’s soul. Because of our ideas of the immortality of the soul, we would never use the word this way. It is clear our vocabulary does not align correctly with God’s Word. Translations that hide the word “soul” in passages like this one do not help. The nephesh here is Moses himself, and his enemies sought to kill his soul.

Exodus 12:4. And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb.

This is referring to the Passover feast, and the fact that they were only allowed to eat the Passover between sunset and sunrise. If any was left after the sun was risen, they had to burn it with fire. Therefore, they were to choose the right number of souls to be able to eat the entire lamb on Passover before sunrise, so as not to waste any of the meat. What is numbered here is nephesh, which is put for the persons themselves.

Exodus 12:15. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

Whoever ate leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, that soul should be cut off from Israel. Again, the nephesh here means the person. There was not some special part of the person which was to be cut off if he broke this commandment and ate leaven on that day. The person himself is what was to be cut off, so the soul here is the person.

Exodus 12:16. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you.

The only work that is allowed on the first and seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is preparing the food which every soul must eat that day. Again, the nephesh is put for the person here.

Exodus 12:19. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land.

The nephesh or soul who eats anything leavened during the feast shall be cut off from the qahal of Israel, whether he is a foreigner living in the land or a native Israelite. Again it is not some special part of a person which is to be cut off, but the person as a whole. The nephesh means the person here.

Exodus 15:9. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue,
I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
My desire shall be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword,
My hand shall destroy them.’

The enemies of Israel, the Egyptians, hoped to satisfy their souls on the Israelites. Nephesh here is translated as “desire,” and is put for the lust to plunder and destroy that the Egyptians had. We can see that “desire” is a good interpretation of the meaning of “soul” here, though it is not a good translation of the word.

Exodus 16:16. This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’”

The first word for “person” here is gulgoleth, which literally means “skull.” I suppose in English it would be more common for us to say “head,” like when we take a headcount. We would never say we take a “skull count.” But that is the idea here. They were allowed to gather one omer of manna for each skull, so the representative of each household was allowed to gather one omer for each person dwelling in his tent, according to the number of souls he had there. For the second word for “persons” here is “souls.” Again nephesh is speaking of persons in their entirety, and not some part of the persons.

Exodus 21:23. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,

If a man hurts a woman with child so that she goes into labor and delivers her child early yet no harm results from it, he is to pay a fine. However, if the child miscarries, they are to give soul for soul. These two words are both “soul,” not life. The soul of the one who destroyed the child must be paid for the soul of the child. Here nephesh has to do with the life of an individual, and the giving up of life is the same as the giving up of the soul.

Exodus 21:30. If there is imposed on him a sum of money, then he shall pay to redeem his life, whatever is imposed on him.

If a man owns an animal he knows is dangerous but does nothing to restrain it, if the animal kills someone, both the animal and the owner must be put to death. However, God does allow for mercy on the part of those involved. If they decide to lay a penalty of money on the man instead of demanding his death, then he is allowed to redeem his soul with the sum imposed on him. So the nephesh here is put for the life of the man. As long as he is a living man, he is a soul, and so redeeming his life is redeeming his soul.

Exodus 23:9. “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

The word nephesh is improperly translated by the word “heart” here. It was the soul, not the heart, that the Israelites connected with the seat of the emotions. Our translators made it “heart” to adapt this to the English figure, but this does nothing to help us understand the meaning of the word “soul.”

Israelites had reason to sympathize with the soul of a foreigner, since they had been foreigners in the land of Egypt. Here the nephesh is the emotions or feelings, particularly those that a foreigner has while living in a strange land.

Exodus 30:12. “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.

Whenever a census of the sons of Israel was taken, they were to give a ransom for their souls to the LORD. If they did not, the LORD would send a plague among them, as He did in the days of David. The nephesh here is again their persons, themselves.

Exodus 30:15. The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.

“Yourselves” should be “your souls” here, as the old King James had it. This ransom they were to pay was a flat fee. It was not a flat percentage, but a flat amount. No rich person was forced to give more for his soul, nor was any poor person allowed to give less for his soul. All had to give the same amount when making atonement for their souls. Surely there is an important lesson here about the value of a man’s nephesh!

Exodus 30:16. And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”

Again the old King James had it right, “make an atonement for your souls,” not “yourselves” as the New King James has it. The atonement money is again on behalf of their nephesh, their souls. The soul is put for the person himself.

Exodus 31:14. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath, that soul should be cut off from among his people. The word nephesh again has to do with the person himself, and is translated “person” here.

So we have added fifteen occurrences of nephesh or soul to our study from the book of Exodus. We have seen nephesh used for the person predominantly, but also for the life of a person, and for the desires of a person. We have not added too much to our knowledge of the word, but we have seen one important detail. That is, that the nephesh of a man may be in danger of death, or may be taken away from a man in death. As we continue our study into Leviticus, we will see this even more plainly. We will perform our examination of the word “soul” in Leviticus in our next study.

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