In our previous articles in this series, we examined all the occurrences of the Hebrew word for “soul,” nephesh, in the books of Genesis through Leviticus. We discovered eight possible meanings for this word from our examination of these books, which are as follows:
1. Any living creature of the land, sea, or air.
2. Any of the above creatures after they are dead.
3. What man is as a product of his body and his breath of life being mixed together.
4. The blood of men, or something connected to the blood of men.
6. A person’s self or being.
7. A dead person.
8. The emotions, strong feelings, and desires of men.
So we come to the occurrences of the word nephesh in the book of Numbers. Let us continue with our study and see what else we can learn about souls from this book.
Numbers 5:2. “Command the children of Israel that they put out of the camp every leper, everyone who has a discharge, and whoever becomes defiled by a corpse.
They are to put out of the camp everyone who becomes defiled by a dead soul. Of course, this was temporary, until they could be cleansed. Right away Numbers offers us more proof that the nephesh can die and be dead. This makes sense, since the nephesh is the person, and the person can die.
Numbers 5:6. “Speak to the children of Israel: ‘When a man or woman commits any sin that men commit in unfaithfulness against the LORD, and that person is guilty,
That soul is guilty who has committed unfaithfulness against the LORD. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 6:6. All the days that he separates himself to the LORD he shall not go near a dead body.
The one who took a Nazirite vow was not to go near a dead soul the entire time of his vow, even if that dead soul was a close relative of his. Again the nephesh can die.
Numbers 6:11. and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned in regard to the corpse; and he shall sanctify his head that same day.
The Nazirite who sins unintentionally by contacting a dead soul is to be purified in this way. The nephesh can die, and a dead body or a corpse is a dead soul.
Numbers 9:6. Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day.
On Passover day, there were certain men who were defiled by a dead soul and so could not keep it. A corpse is a dead nephesh.
Numbers 9:7. And those men said to him, “We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the LORD at its appointed time among the children of Israel?”
The men explain that they have been defiled by the dead soul of a man. The soul of Adam’s race, far from being immortal, can die and become a corpse. These verses spell it out for us by speaking of the dead soul of a man. We cannot doubt the facts. All we can do is believe or disbelieve.
Numbers 9:10. “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the LORD’s Passover.
The LORD therefore proclaims a rule for those who are unclean and unable to keep the Passover because of contacting a dead soul: they can keep it a month later. The nephesh can die and be dead.
Numbers 9:13. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the LORD at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin.
The man who has no such excuse and yet who fails to keep the Passover, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 11:6. but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”
The people of Israel claim that their souls are dried up. This is because they are desiring the delicious food they had in Egypt, and yet the only food they have to satisfy their hunger is the manna. The nephesh is the desires, here particularly the appetite for a variety of food.
Numbers 15:27. ‘And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering.
This speaks again of a soul sinning unintentionally. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 15:28. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
Again this speaks of the soul who sins unintentionally. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 15:30. ‘But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people.
The soul who sins purposefully and presumptuously, however, is to be cut off from among his people. The soul is the person.
Numbers 15:31. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.’”
This further explains why such a soul is to be cut off.
Numbers 16:38. The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the LORD, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.”
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram sinned against their own souls, that is, their own selves.
Numbers 19:11. ‘He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days.
One who touches the dead soul of an adam was to be unclean seven days. The nephesh of men can die and be dead.
Numbers 19:13. Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him.
The word nephesh occurs twice here. The first speaks of the soul of an adam who is dead. The second says the soul who does not purify himself from this shall be cut off from Israel. The nephesh can die, and the nephesh is the person.
Numbers 19:18. A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave.
A man is to sprinkle water on the souls that were present when they became unclean. Again nephesh are people.
Numbers 19:20. ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean.
The soul who refuses to be purified when he is unclean should be cut off from among the qahal. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 19:22. Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.’”
The soul who touches what the unclean touched shall be unclean himself until evening. The nephesh is the person, and here is particularly the person’s body! The soul therefore is not the opposite of the body.
Numbers 21:4. Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.
The people’s emotions became very discouraged during their journey around Edom. The nephesh is the emotions of the people.
Numbers 21:5. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”
They are tired of the manna, so they complain that their souls loath it. Their emotions and desires are no longer favorable to this bread, though it has sustained them all this time in the wilderness. They are desiring other food instead. The nephesh is the emotions and desires.
Numbers 23:10. “Who can count the dust of Jacob,
Or number one-fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
And let my end be like his!”
Balaam wishes his soul to die the death of the righteous. So the nephesh can die, and righteous souls too must die. Notice that Balaam’s wish was not fulfilled, for due to his wicked actions, his soul died the death of the wicked. Whether or not this removed him from hope of life in the kingdom of God remains to be seen.
Numbers 29:7. ‘On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall afflict your souls; you shall not do any work.
Again they are commanded to afflict their souls by fasting on the tenth day of the seventh month. The nephesh is the desires, here especially for food that they are fasting from eating.
Numbers 30:2. If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
This speaks of a man who binds his soul by some agreement. His nephesh is himself.
Numbers 30:4. and her father hears her vow and the agreement by which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement with which she has bound herself shall stand.
The father hears his unmarried daughter bind her soul by vow. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:5. But if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her agreements by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the LORD will release her, because her father overruled her.
If her father overrules what she has bound her soul to, then she is free from her vow. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:6. “If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself,
This speaks of a married woman who binds her soul by a vow. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:7. and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand.
If the husband does not overrule her vow, then the agreements she bound on her soul shall stand. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:8. But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the LORD will release her.
Her husband can overrule what she bound on her soul, however. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:9. “Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.
If a widow or divorced woman binds her soul, that stands regardless. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:10. “If she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath,
She binds her soul by an agreement with an oath. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:11. and her husband heard it, and made no response to her and did not overrule her, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement by which she bound herself shall stand.
The agreement she bound on her soul shall stand if her husband does not overrule it. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:12. But if her husband truly made them void on the day he heard them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the agreement binding her, it shall not stand; her husband has made them void, and the LORD will release her.
The agreement binding her soul shall not stand if her husband made it void. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 30:13. Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void.
Every vow or binding oath that a wife may make to afflict her soul if she does not keep it, her husband may confirm it or make it void. Her nephesh is herself.
Numbers 31:19. And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day.
Whoever had killed any soul in the war with Midian and in the execution of the captive women who were not virgins was to remain outside the camp seven days. He was to purify himself and his captives on the third day and the seventh day. When a man was killed in the war or a woman was killed during the executions, this was a soul killed. Killing a soul is the same as killing a person. When someone is killed, his soul does not remain alive. To kill a man is to kill a nephesh.
Numbers 31:28. And levy a tribute for the LORD on the men of war who went out to battle: one of every five hundred of the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep;
The New King James Version has utterly ignored the word soul here, perhaps not liking what its use here implied. They were to take one soul of every five hundred of the adam, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep. This shows that the Word of God considers not just Adam’s race, but also cattle, donkeys, and sheep as souls. A nephesh is a person or an animal.
Numbers 31:35. and thirty-two thousand persons in all, of women who had not known a man intimately.
When they counted up the spoil after their defeat and destruction of Midian, they had thirty-two thousand souls of the women who were yet virgins. The nephesh are the women themselves who were captives.
Numbers 31:40. The persons were sixteen thousand, of which the LORD’s tribute was thirty-two persons.
The word nephesh occurs twice in this verse. This is now listing the half of the spoil that was for the men of war. Half the women who were captured was sixteen thousand souls, of which the LORD’s tribute among these was thirty-two souls. The nephesh are the women themselves who were captives.
Numbers 31:46. and sixteen thousand persons—
This is listing the half of the spoil that was for the congregation of Israel, rather than for the men of war. The congregation here is the ’edah, the fixed assembly of the leaders of the people. Their half included sixteen thousand souls. The nephesh are the women themselves who were captives.
Numbers 31:50. Therefore we have brought an offering for the LORD, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.”
This offering was to make an atonement for their souls before the LORD. The nephesh is the person.
Numbers 35:11. then you shall appoint cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person accidentally may flee there.
There were cities where a manslayer who accidentally killed any soul could flee. To kill a man is to kill a soul. A nephesh can die, and a nephesh can be killed.
Numbers 35:15. These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there.
Again, there will be six cities where anyone who kills a soul accidentally can flee. To kill a man is to kill a nephesh.
Numbers 35:30. Whoever kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses; but one witness is not sufficient testimony against a person for the death penalty.
The word nephesh occurs twice in this verse. Whoever kills a soul, the murderer is to be put to death on the testimony of witnesses, though one witness is not sufficient testimony against a soul for the death penalty. To kill a man is to kill a soul, and to execute a person is to execute a soul. The nephesh is the person, and the nephesh can be killed.
Numbers 35:31. Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.
There is to be no ransom for the soul of a murderer who is guilty and liable to the death penalty. He could not buy pardon for his soul, for his soul must be put to death. The soul of the murderer is destroyed when he is executed. The nephesh is the murderer himself, and can be put to death.
So we conclude our study of the word “soul” in the book of Numbers. We have learned nothing new from this book, though we have solidified the definitions we had already learned, as listed at the beginning of this article. Particularly confirmed here was the truth that a soul can be either a man or an animal. Also confirmed was that a soul can die. Anyone who denies this in the light of such evidence as we have seen it in this book is simply denying the facts in the case. Plato may have taught that souls are immortal, but the Bible has no such teaching. The Word of God, when properly translated, clearly teaches that the souls of men and animals can die. Let us be found believing the Bible, then, rather than the teachings and traditions of men.