Almost every year since I've been keeping Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) I get asked this question: What does it mean to afflict the soul (KJV)? This question is asked because in Scriptures like Leviticus 23:26-32 Yahweh instructs the Israelites to afflict their souls on the 10th day of the 7th month. Other Bible translations say to practice self denial (HCSB), humble yourselves (NET), or deny yourselves (NIV).
The Hebrew word for afflict (KJV) is the word anah. This word is found in other passages of Scripture that deal with how people would afflict their selves or practice self denial.
Ezra 8:21 | I proclaimed a fast by the Ahava River, so that we might humble (anah) ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us, our children, and all our possessions.
Psalm 35:13b | I humbled (anah) myself with fasting, and my prayer was genuine.
Isaiah 58:3, 5 | Why have we fasted, but You have not seen? We have denied (anah) ourselves, but You haven't noticed... Will the fast I choose be like this: A day for a person to deny (anah) himself...
These three passages equate fasting with self denial or humbling one's self. This is not the only form of self denial, but it is probably the most common form. The human body thrives on nourishment from food and drink. An extremely good way to practice self denial is to deny your body this same food and drink, i.e. to fast. Other ways may include refraining from sex as well as personal grooming, and the list could be added to.
That fasting was the common way to practice self denial on the Day of Atonement is seen in a proper understanding of Acts 27:9. We read here:
Acts 27:9 | By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous. Since the Fast was already over...
Commentator Adam Clarke has this to say in regards to this verse:
Sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past - It is generally allowed that the fast mentioned here was that of the great day of atonement which was always celebrated on the tenth day of the seventh month, which would answer to the latter end of our September; see Lev. 16:29; 23:27, etc. As this was about the time of the autumnal equinox, when the Mediterranean Sea was sufficiently tempestuous, we may suppose this feast alone to be intended. To sail after this feast was proverbially dangerous among the ancient Jews. See proofs in Schoettgen.
Also note commentator John Gill on this verse:
The Syriac version reads, "the fast of the Jews"; this was the day of atonement, which was the grand fast of the Jews, on which day they afflicted their souls, Lev. 23:27 in memory of the worshipping of the golden calf; on that day they neither eat nor drink, nor do any work, neither do they wash, nor are they anointed, nor do they bind on their shoes, or make use of the marriage bed; nor do they read anything but sorrowful things, as the Lamentations of Jeremiah, until the setting of the sun, and the rising of the stars; and hence this day is called by them יום צום, "the day of fasting", and צום הגדול, "the great fast, and the day of the fast of atonement, and the fast of the atonement": now this day was on the 10th of the month Tisri, which answers to the latter part of our September, and the former part of October; so that it was now Michaelmas time, when winter was coming on, and sailing began to be dangerous; about this time of the year the Pleiades set, which brings on tempestuous weather, and unfit for sailing...
Sometimes I have encountered people who have used passages as this one in Hosea to teach that the feasts of Yahweh, mentioned primarily in Leviticus 23, should not be observed under the New Covenant. Usually this verse is quoted, and then it is explained that this was a prophecy which spoke of a future time when Yahweh would place an end to these celebrations. The future time given by such interpreters is the time after the cross of Christ.
Sometimes, I am really amazed at the quality of study, or should I say lack of quality, that people put into texts of Scripture. I do not think that the intent of the prophet Hosea here is that difficult to ascertain, that is, if we read Hosea 2:11 in context of at least chapters 1-3 and even more so in the context of the entire prophetic work.
Hosea 1:1 tells us that Hosea was given a word of Yahweh during the reigns of certain kings in Judah and Israel, and in reading chapter 1 we find that Israel is likened to a promiscuous woman.
When Yahweh first spoke to Hosea, He said this to him: Go and marry a promiscuous wife and [have] children of promiscuity, for the whole land has been promiscuous by abandoning Yahweh. (Hosea 1:2 HCSB)
Here Yahweh basically setting the seen for the house of Israel to actually, physically see what they are doing to Yahweh. Israel was Yahweh's symbolic bride at the time, but Yahweh was so fed up with her going after other lovers that he was going to divorce the house of Israel and send them off into captivity.
Notice Hosea chapter 2. Yahweh begins by saying that Israel is not His wife, and He is not her husband. He orders her to remove the whorish look from her face, and the adultery from between her breast. Here, Yahweh uses such graphic language to reveal the seriousness of the transgression of His people. He had promised and given to Israel many blessings, yet she played the harlot and sought after other gods, which in reality were no mighty ones.
...their mother is promiscuous; she conceived them shamefully. For she thought: I will go after my lovers, the men who give me my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink. (Hosea 2:5 HCSB)
When we read verses 6-10 we find that because of the actions of His beloved bride Yahweh would send strong calamity and cursing. This includes blocking her way with thorns and enclosing her with a wall (vs. 6), and taking back the grain, new wine, and oil that He had blessed her with (vs. 9). He would also remove the fine wool and linen that covered her nakedness, leaving her naked, cold, and ashamed in the sight of her lovers (vs. 9-10). Among all these curses came yet another, and this was the removal of her celebrations which she had been blessed with and enjoyed so much: the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths (vs. 11).
Yahweh is telling Israel that because she has played the harlot, He will remove the good and pleasant things He has given, including the festivals she enjoyed. Yahweh's removal of these festivals was a curse upon the people, seeing that they did not deserve to celebrate them, enjoying the blessings of fellowship with brethren, singing to Yahweh, and time off from laboring.
Yahweh surely did this very thing by sending the house of Israel into Assyrian captivity, causing the festivals to cease in Israel. These same festivals ceased for the nation of Judah as well, whilst in Babylonian captivity, yet they were restored during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The true meaning of the text, in context, is that when Israel played the harlot, Yahweh took many things away from her which she once enjoyed. Grain, wine, oil, figs, jewels, wool, linen, beauty, and all the joyous festivals. All of these were precious gifts of her husband, but she left this husband, so He made her like a deserted, parched land (Hosea 2:3).
Nothing in the context leads to the conclusion that Yahweh has removed the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths from New Covenant worship.
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.