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?Continue reading