Why Is Fasting or “Afflicting the Soul” So Important?

Afflicting the soul is the path to spiritual greatness and many blessings and rewards!

The Bible teaches us that fasting or “afflicting the soul” is the key to intimacy with YHVH Elohim and to receiving spiritual power. This is something that YHVH commands his children to do at least once a year (on the high holy day of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement), and more often if one is serious about their spiritual walk. 

But how is it possible that a simple activity such as going without food for a period of time could be so crucial to spiritual transcendence? In this brief study, we will find the surprising answer this important question. 

As we study this issue, let’s keep in mind that the ways of YHVH are often contrary to the ways of man. Yeshua taught us that to live we must die to ourselves; to become rich we must be givers; that the way down is the way up, that to be a great leader, we must become a servant; and in the case of afflicting the soul, to feed our spirit man we must sometimes starve our flesh and soul (that is, our mind, will and emotions) man. 

What Is Fasting?

The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur is a day to afflict your souls (Lev 16:29 and 23:27) or literally “to humble ourselves.” The word afflict is the Hebrew word anah meaning “to oppress with the idea of humility or meekness in mind coupled with the idea of a suffering life rather than with one of worldly happiness and abundance” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, p. 682). The Jewish Publications Study Bible (or JPS) translates the phrase afflict yourselves as “you shall practice self denial.”Although this verse does not specifically mention fasting as a component of Yom Kippur, Jewish understanding on the term afflict your souls is firm that this refers to fasting (The ArtScroll Tanach Series Vayikra/Leviticus Commentary, p. 404). With this view in mind, the pre-eminent nineteenth-century Orthodox Jewish sage, Samson Raphael Hirch in his Torah commentary translates afflict your souls as “starve your vital spirits” (The Penteteuch-Leviticus, p. 678). However and more importantly, there is a scriptural proof that afflicting one’s soul as means fasting (i.e., abstaining from food). That link is found in Isaiah 58, which some Bible commentators believe is a reference to Yom Kippur. In verses three and eight, the terms afflict [one’s] soul and fast are used synonymously. The word for fast is the Hebrew word tsuwm meaning “to abstain from food.”We also see the connection between fasting and afflicting the soul in Psalm 35:13 where David states, “I humbled/afflicted my soul with fasting.”

Additionally, the Jewish sages teach that Leviticus 23:27 suggests five afflictions that one must endure on Yom Kippur: no eating and drinking, no washing oneself, no anointing oneself, no wearing leather shoes, and no cohabitation. It is suggested that these five afflictions correspond to the five times the term soul/nephesh are found in this passage (i.e., verses once each in 27 and 29, twice in 30, and once in 32; see Baal HaTurim’s commentary on Lev 23:27). Although these suggested “afflictons” are not biblical commands, they nevertheless provide us with insights into what if means to afflict ones soul.

Christian commentators Keil and Delitzsch begin to connect the dots for us as to why fasting is tied to atonement. 

If the general atonement made on this day was not to pass into a dead formal service, the people must necessarily enter in spirit into the signification of the act of expiation [atonement], prepare their souls for it with penitential feelings, and manifest this penitential state by abstinence from the ordinary enjoyments of life. To afflict (bow, humble) the soul, by restraining the earthly appetites, which have their seat in the soul, is the early Mosaic expression for fasting (oum) … ‘By bowing his soul, the Israelite was to place himself in an inward relation to the sacrifice, whose soul was given for his soul; and by this state of mind, answering to the outward proceedings of the day, he was to appropriate the fruit of it to himself, namely, the reconciliation of his soul, which passed through the animal’s death’ (Baumgarten) (vol. 1, p. 591).

The Purpose of Fasting

The purpose of fasting is not to torture or punish oneself for the sins that one has committed during the past year. Rather, it is a time to deeply reflect on one’s need for atonement, and to appropriate to oneself through deep heart reflection on the sacrifice for one’s sins that YHVH has made for us through Yeshua the Messiah, to whom all the animal sacrifices of the ancient Levitical sacrificial system pointed. 

Furthermore, in sublimating the soul (the carnal mind, will and emotions) within each of us by afflicting it causes the spirit of man within to rise up. To have a deep and vital relationship with YHVH Elohim, the degradation of the soul with its earthly and carnal passions is necessary, since it is one’s personal spirit that most suffers as a result of the dominance and sin-bent tendencies of one’s soul. When the soul is “pushed down,” one’s personal spirit can rise up and connect to or commune more efficaciously with YHVH. It is the spirit in man, as activated by the Spirit of Elohim, which is man’s spiritual connecting link to his Creator (Rom 8:16; Job 32:8; 1 Cor 2:10–14; 1 John 2:20,27; 4:2–3; Prov 20:27). In brief, fasting helps us to transcend our physical natures and to focus without distraction upon YHVH. 

Of the Day of Atonement, Christian commentator, Matthew Henry says,

He that would do the work of [the] Day of Atonement in its day, as it should be done, had need lay aside the thoughts of everything else.… [T]hey must lay aside all their worldly business, that they might the more clearly and the more reverently hear that voice of joy and gladness.… They must mortify the body, and deny the appetites of it, in token of their sorrow for the sins they had committed, and mortifying of their indwelling corruptions. (Matthew Henry—A Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 539, World Bible Publishers)

More on Afflicting the Soul

The biblical holy day of the Day of Trumpet (Shofar Blowing or Yom Teruah, which occurs just ten days prior to Yom Kippur, is the day of the awakening blast signifying the time for the righteous to awake from spiritual lethargy and lukewarmness and to be ready for the coming of Yeshua, our Bridegroom.

How do we awaken spiritually?

  • We must seek the light of YHVH’s word to shine in our hearts and to illuminate the dark and sinful areas of our lives.
  • We must pray for the Set-Apart Spirit to reveal YHVH’s truth to us and to convict us in the areas where we fall short of his high spiritual standards.
  • We must enter into a time of serious reflection and self examination.
  • We must humble ourselves through repentance.
  • We must pursue consistent and persistent prayer and fasting by which we can become attuned spiritually to the heart and will of our Father in heaven.

To do these things, we must first realize that man is comprised of three parts: body, soul and spirit (1 Thes 5:23).We must be soberly aware of the struggle between the soul and the spirit for domination over what we do, say and think. (See Rom 7:14ff.) 

We must also grasp the fact that it is the soul (the mind, will and emotions) that sins (Ezek 18:4), for out of it comes all the carnal passions and impulses to go contrary to the Word and will of YHVH (Matt 15:19). The soul then directs the body to act. Because the soul in its natural or carnal state is in opposition to the Spirit of Elohim, this is why it must be afflicted or repressed or brought down, so the mind and Spirit of Elohim can now rise up and dominate and control what we say,  do and think!

Characteristics of the Soul 

The soul of man is squirrelly (or restless, nervous, unpredictable). Like Hagar, when the going gets rough, the soul man flees (Gen 16:1–6). The soul likes comfortable circumstances and resists being stretched or inconvenienced. This reflects the soul’s lack of character including lack of commitment, unfaithfulness, lack of reliability, lack of punctuality and inconsistency. In other words, the soul of man is unstable and inconsistent and often flows with the this way and that way with currents of circumstances driven by the winds of emotion and passion.

What’s worse, the soul man is innately rebellious to godly authority, for the Bible tells us that the carnal mind is at enmity with the will or Torah of YHVH (Rom 8:7).

The soul man also wants to cover its sinful tracks, to hide its sin. It hates the light of truth. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first act was to cover and to hide themselves from Elohim. Sinners hate the light of truth (John 3:19). The soul man resorts to blame, accusation, deception, lies, self-preservation, self-defense, and self-justification to cover its sins. Notice the prominence of self? The self is number one to the soul-controlled man.

The soul man is narcissistic; it loves, adores, idolizes, worships itself. It creates gods in its own image to serve. This is path is the downward spiral of humanism, which we see in Romans 1, and which leads to the sins of idolatry and to the sexual perversions of homosexuality.

The soul man acts like a spoiled, angry, rebellious, self-willed child. If it doesn’t get what its way, it becomes fretful, irritable, angry and throws a temper tantrum, sulks and pouts.

Like Esau, who the Bible describes as a “wild ass” of a man, the soul man is like a stubborn and rebellious donkey. By contrast, those who have experienced the working of YHVH’s Spirit in their lives are meek, easily entreated, sensitive, not talkative, arrogant, boastful, and opinionated. They are slow to speak, respectful, and transparent.

How Are We to Treat the Soul Man?

The soul man must be suppressed so that the spirit man can rise up. Yeshua said, Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life or psyche (from the Greek word psuche) for my sake will find it (i.e., zoe life) (Matt 16:25; Luke 17:33). The soul wants to preserve itself so the flesh can dominate and have its own way or be its own god. On the contrary, the spirit man wants to submit to the Spirit (Rucah) of Elohim and wants the soul man to be subservient to YHVH, for it knows that this is the high way that leads to everlasting joy, peace and happiness and to an eternity in the presence of YHVH Elohim as a member of his spiritual family.

Why Do We Fast on Yom Kippur?

Fasting (abstaining from food) on the high holy day of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is a biblical command (Lev 23:27). The Scriptures teach us that it is the soul that sins (Ezek 18:4), therefore it must be sublimated to and be dominated by our spirit, which is connected to the Spirit of Elohim, and which cannot sin. When the mind of Elohim is in charge through his Spirit dominating our spirit, which in turn will dominate our soul, we can then walk in sinless righteousness. This in turn puts us in perfect accord with YHVH and in oneness with him.

The soul must be afflicted (meaning “to bow or humble,” Lev 23:27). It was the sins of our soul that caused an innocent person (Yeshua) to have to die as a sacrifice in our place and to pay the price for our sins. At the cross, Yeshua poured out his soul as a sin offering for our sinful souls (Isa 53:10,12).

YHVH requires us to deal with our unruly and rebellious soul, and fasting or afflicting the soul is one way to accomplish this. David teaches us that the soul must be afflicted or humbled with fasting (Ps 35:13). By fasting, we loose the bands of wickedness (Isa 58:6–7). The soul must be saved (Heb 10:39; Jas 1:21); be preserved blameless (1 Thes 5:23), be changed or have its thinking transformed (Rom 12:2); be weaned (Ps 131:2); be controlled (Luke 21:19); purified through obeying the Word (1 Peter 1:22); be shepherded by spiritual leadership (1 Peter 2:25); and be anchored so that we won’t grow weary and faint during difficulties (Gal 6:9).

Yeshua Is the Rock That crushes Our Soul.

Matthew 21:42–44 speaks of being broken on Yeshua who is the spiritual Rock. Elohim wants to grind our stoney heart or sinful soul man into powder. This occurs as we “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls” (Jas 1:21) Our souls needs saving. 

How does this work? At the time of our initial salvation when we first receive the Spirit of Elohim, our spirit man is reborn, and we become a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal. 2:20). If we resist Elohim’s Truth and Word, he will resist us because of our pride. Therefore, we must humble ourselves under YHVH’s mighty hand so that he can exalt us in due time (1 Pet 5:5–6). When we fall on the Rock and our stoney hearts are broken, the outer core of the soul is broken so that the inner beauty of the spirit man can shine forth. With that comes the release of YHVH’s miraculous, energizing or virtuous or dunamis power. The power and glory of YHVH were present in the holy of holies of the Tabernacle of Moses (a symbolic metaphor of the spirit man). But once have become spiritually regenerated, and as we grow spiritually, we must make the journey out of the holy of holies through the holy place (a metaphorical picture of the soul man) and out into the outer court (a picture of the body and this physical world). There, our spirit man is to shine forth and to be a spiritual light to the world.

Soul Man Must Be Broken and Retrained to Accomplish YHVH’s Purposes 

Jacob the patriarch had to deal with his soul, that is, to overcome it and learn to rule over it (Gen 32:32). After wrestling with the Messenger of Elohim, Jacob was wounded in his leg. His leg sinew, representing the strength of the flesh, only shrank. It was not removed. What does this signify spiritually with regard to our old soulish flesh nature? When one is regenerated by the Spirit, does he lose his natural soul (mind, will and emotions) nature? No. Rather, the soul must be transformed and renewed by the Spirit of Elohim to be conformed to YHVH’s perfect will (Rom 12:2). The soul-man will still try to assert dominance over our personal spirit which is connected to Elohim by his Holy Spirit, but our spirit man must learn to rule over the soul. In this way, our mind, will and emotions is slowly transformed to be in alignment with that of Elohim. Paul discusses this struggle between the two (that is the mind or soul of man and that of Elohim) for dominance in Romans 7:14–25.

In his book, The Merismos, Randy Shankle has some powerful insights about the struggle between the soul man and the spirit man. For example, Matthew 26:36–46 details Yeshua’s final hours in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Gethsemane means “wine press.” Gath was a vat used in treading down the grapes to make juice. Shemen refers to any form of liquid and is also the word for oil or anointing. The English word semen, or the substance of reproduction or life derives from this word. Grapes are put into a vat and pressed until the unhindered flow of the pure juice flows forth (p. 116). 

It is in our own Gethsemane, the place of pressure, that the vessel of our soul man must be broken resulting in the pouring forth the true anointing of YHVH in our lives. The more the vessel is broken, the more the presence of YHVH comes forth, and the quicker the Spirit of Elohim can flow through us (Shankle, p. 72). 

An example of this is when Gideon’s army’s clay lamps were broken, the light within shone forth, Israel’s enemies were defeated. Metaphorically, the clay lamps represent the body and soul of man, while the candle within is the spirit of man as activated by the Spirit of Elohim. When the soul man is broken, the Spirit of Elohim within us can shine and we will have victory in our lives.

Afflicting the Soul Is the Key to Coming into the Presence of Elohim

What does it mean to deny the self as spoken of in Matthew 16:24? It is speaking about denying the soul its lustful appetites. Those who would follow Yeshua must deny the soul the right to live, to move, or to chose independently of YHVH. This is what Paul meant when he said, “I die daily… (1 Cor 15:31). When we do this we lose our lives (psuche) and we will find the life (zoe) of the Spirit. We must lose our soul-life (Matt 16:25) in order to gain the abundant spiritual life Yeshua promised (John 10:10, Shankle, p. 137).

This is what afflicting the soul on Yom Kippur is all about. As the soul is pushed down or afflicted, the spirit man can rise up, and then it can connect with the Spirit [word and will] of Elohim. When all Israel afflicts their souls on Yom Kippur, then it is possible for all Israelites to come into alignment with each other through the sacrifice of Yeshua resulting in being reconciled to YHVH and coming into at-one-ment with Elohim through the blood, the spirit and the water of Yeshua, which are one (1 John 4:6,8).

The altar of incense before the veil is the picture of this. The 12 tribes of the Israel come together at the table of show bread (on Yom Teruh) in the Tabernacle of Moses as pictured by the 12 loaves of unleavened bread. When united in fellowship, they become united in prayer and worship before Elohim, which is pictured by the altar of incense, which is located before the ark of YHVH’s Presence or before his throne. There, on Yom Kippur, they present themselves as the chaste, virgin righteous-robed bride of Yeshua ready to enter into the wedding chuppah of the holy of holies on Chag haSukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles.

Coming into the presence of YHVH is a process that traditionally starts 40 days before Yom Kippur. Joel chapter two talks about this. It begins with the blowing of the shofar, sounding the alarm and warning about the coming of the day of YHVH’s judgment and calling the bride of Yeshua to prepare herself for the coming of the bridegroom. Verse 12 and onward begins speaking about the fall feasts how we are to prepare for that day.

When Soul Is Broken, the Zoe Life of Spirit Comes Forth 

Yeshua said that he is the Good Shepherd who would give his life (psuche) for his sheep (John 10:10, 11, 17, 18). He laid down his life, and the soul (or his self will) was squeezed out of him at Gethsemane and the cross. From him flowed the anointed, life-giving substance or seed, which would have the power of reproduction (Shankle, p. 124–125). We must go through the same process. This will happen again and again in our lives. If we do not understand it when it takes place we may end up resisting the purposes of YHVH, and we will fail to pass our spiritual test necessary to move us to the next level in our spiritual growth.

We must eventually learn to live as Yeshua lived, not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to be poured out for the benefit of others. Communion is a picture of this—the broken bread and the poured out wine (Matt 26:26–28). When taking communion, we are symbolically drinking the life that Yeshua poured out. We are identifying with the revelation that as we drink, our lives have ceased. We are no longer our own. We have become broken bread and poured-out-wine, broken and distributed to others to take to them the zoe life of YHVH (Shankle, p. 126).

YHVH cannot distribute us to be a blessing to or to “feed” others until we are broken of our own self-will, selfishness, self-pride and self-worship. We are to become broken bread and poured out wine. You will never become broken until you fall on the rock and say, “YHVH, in Yeshua’s name, take your mighty hand and work brokenness within me. I want to be broken by the hand of the Master. Take out of me resistance, anger and hostility. Take out of me arrogance, haughtiness, and pride. Take out of me those things that are my opinions, views, and ideas. Make me something in the hands of the Master so that you can take me, break me, and distribute me to people in need, (Shankle, p. 236).

Gethsemane is a place of pressure. The pressure that came on Yeshua was to seek and save his life, but he knew that his willful soul had to be sublimated to the Spirit and will of his Father. Yeshua therefore brought his soul under control of YHVH’s will and he poured out his soul-life and become spiritual life (zoe) to many through his brokenness. Messiah was like a grape dropped into the wine vat of Gethsemane and heaven’s pressure squeezed out of him the wilfulness of his own soul. The Spirit of Elohim would not let him go until the true anointing came forth. It squeezed upon Yeshua until he became sorrowful and very heavy, even unto death. When he did, the new wine, the juice of the juice of the grape (or blood of the grapes, Deut 32:14; Gen 49:11), even to the point where he sweat great drops of blood. The sweet fruit juice of Yeshua came forth to intoxicate the world with its aroma and taste, and the fragrance filled the earth. It still draws men to Messiah. Humans will drink of him until the cannot live without his influence (Shankle, p. 132).

Now that you know what the Bible means when it commands us to afflict our souls, will you submit to YHVH’s process of spiritual refinement so that life of his Spirit can flow through and out of you to the lost and dying world around you? 


4 thoughts on “Why Is Fasting or “Afflicting the Soul” So Important?

  1. 2 Chron.7:14 comes to mind-we are told to humble ourSELVES -I think because we’re arrogant (at times) to pray, because we’ve stopped, (when it is hardest to pray, pray the hardest, that is your cue, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, (His people have wicked =twisted ways?!!) We depend on Him for every drop of water (major droughts all over the world now) and every morsel of food. So, as we fast today, let us feast on His Word. Shalom

  2. Shalom Natan.

    Thankyou so much & praise Abba.
    This sharing is so rich.

    Abba’s Economy is amazing…
    Investment in Fasting from this world gives a Feasting Return in His Kingdom.
    Like all diets they are guaranteed to work if you are disciplined to apply them.
    Yeshua learnt discipline through suffering.
    And just as He was baptised so that all righteousness would be done we follow Him too.
    In our suffering crying out. Trusting Abba for the aid & mercy in our despondency & lack, to be strengthened to win our battle by opposing the greatest enemy of righteousness… our flesh.
    If we don’t win there the world & the devil do.
    Many blessings to All.
    Praise our King

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