Genesis 9:4 opens up a new vista to our understanding of God's creation:
4. "only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
The significance of this verse is the word "life", and it warrants our serious consideration as part of our study.
The word chosen by Moses and the Holy Spirit for "life", in this verse was used only once before this in the Bible, and then with a different translation from the original Hebrew. Let's look at that verse, Genesis 2:7:
7. Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
The King James translates "being" as "soul", and for our look into the word of God, we will keep the word "soul" in mind when used in this context. The Hebrew word for "soul" in this verse and for "life" in 9:4 is "neh-fesh".
What is really interesting about this verse is that it contains the only word in the Hebrew Bible that is translated, "soul" (neh-fesh), and one of the two major words "life" (khah-eu). What is even more significant is that the other major word for "life" is also the word for "soul" (neh-fesh). Thus, when used together, as in the case before us, we need to consider the differences in meaning.
Genesis 2:7 says in part, the Lord God...breathed...the breath of life (khah-ee); and man became a living soul (neh-fesh).
The use of the different words demands a different translation. Life (khah-ee) is that physical life that breaths and eats and walks. But the life or soul (neh-fesh) relates more to who the person is, that characteristic of life that makes us different from one another, not in appearance, but is personality. Thus the translation, "soul".
Genesis 9:4, thence, could be translated as follows: "Only you shall not eat flesh with its soul (neh-fesh), that is, its blood."
The animal that dies in terror is pumping additional adrenaline into it's blood stream. Thus, that terror of that animal, that characteristic of that animal, that expression of its "personality" is carried in the blood. So, it is said, the soul of that animal is in the blood, or the life of the animal is in the blood.
God doesn't just haphazardly do something. All things are done, or allowed, in accordance with His plan. If God had wanted man to understand that he should not eat flesh from a live animal, He could have simply stated so. But God chose specifically to here use the word (neh-fesh), Why? Because He is also trying to show man that not only shall he not eat meat with its life, but also that animals do have souls. There is no other logical explanation for this choice of terms.
Now those of us who have heard, or been taught, otherwise, don't start "blowing your tops". Take a deep breath, and reflect on God's word, and not man's, mine included.
Don't forget, that just previously to this, we saw that God used both of these words, khah-ee and neh-fesh, in the same verse, Genesis 2:7. We also can easily see that in Genesis 2:7 that God is making specific reference to man. He breathed life (khah-ee) into man, and that when he had life (breathing), he also "became a living soul (neh-fesh)". In verse 9:4 God is just as specifically speaking of animals, and yet He significantly points to the animals' life, "soul" (neh-fesh). How can one in good conscience deny God's own words? He can't!
But just in case you are still not convinced that God uses the same terms for both man and animals in reference to "soul" (neh-fesh), let's look at Genesis 2:19:
19. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.
The term "living creature" in this verse is the same as for "living being" in Genesis 2:7, and in the King James it is also translated "living soul".
H. C. Leupold, in his exposition on Genesis, also picks up this "word" relationship of soul and life. Following is his dissertation On Genesis 9:4:
One restriction is attached to this broad permission. This restriction, however, has to do only with the manner of eating animal food: it may not be eaten "with its life, that is its blood". The word for life is here nephesh, elsewhere commonly rendered "soul". The rendering "life" is, however, more common...The deeper issue involved becomes apparent when we notice the scriptural truth that life or the soul resides in the blood (Leviticus 17:11). The blood is, therefore, deserving of very considerate treatment. Not exactly that the blood must be poured out, and the soul thus restored to its Maker before man eats the flesh. That view is never recorded In Scripture; although it is stated that the blood must first be drained (Leviticus 7:27; 17:10, 14). Nor is there danger that the eating or the drinking of blood lets the beast's soul find entrance into man's soul, and that so man should become more brutish. Such commingling of souls is indicated by nothing. Our explanation briefly advanced above covers this aspect of the case, viz., because even a beast's soul is a thing divinely created, the medium in which it lives and has its being is almost identical with it and should be respectfully treated, not devoured. Besides, Keil no doubt is correct when he claims these restrictions are given in view of the ordinances that are later to govern the use of blood in sacrifices. This provision, then, of Noah's time prepares for the sacrificial use of blood, and that which is to be sacred in sacrifice, in fact, is the heart and essence of the sacrifice, should hardly be employed that a man may glut his appetite with it. In fact, it is not an overstatement of the case to remark that ultimately this restriction is made in view of the sanctity of the blood of our Great High Priest, who is both priest and sacrifice. Apparently, this prohibition demands primarily that all blood be properly drained from animals slain for food. Naturally, this provision would rule out all such cruel practices as those of the Abyssinians, who gouge out portions of meat from the shanks of living animals, fill up the cavity with dung, and then eat the warm bloody meat. Such brutality, however, will hardly have been reflected upon as the more common likelihood. Luther erroneously reflects only this thought in his translation.
Note also Rashi's comments on Genesis 9:4:
Flesh with the life thereof - (God) prohibited to them flesh (literally a limb) (cut off) from a living animal. That is to say, all the time that its soul is in it, you shall not eat its meat.
With the life thereof, which is the blood thereof - While its soul is in it.
Flesh with the life thereof shall ye not eat - This denotes a limb (cut off) from a living animal. "And also with the life thereof its blood shall ye not eat," this denotes the blood of a living (animal).
Cook' 5 The Bible Commentary continues this thought:
Rashi and some other Jewish commentators understand a prohibition of the practice of eating flesh cut from a living animal, and so Luther translated, "the flesh which yet lives in its blood'.. The monstrous wickedness of the Antediluvians, by which the earth was filled with violence, may have taken this form among others; and these words without doubt condemn by implication all the fiendish cruelty. They prohibit also the revolting custom of eating raw flesh; for civilization is ever to be the handmaid to religion. But over and above all this, there is reference to that shedding of blood, or pouring out of life, which formed so great a part of typical sacrifice, and which had its full significance in that pouring out of the soul unto death, which won for man the resurrection to eternal life. We need not look for any scientific explanation of the connection between life and blood here, or in the subsequent legal enactments (Leviticus 3:17, 7:26, 17:10; 1 Samuel 14:32; Ezekiel 33:25). The ancients no doubt generally believed the blood to be the seat of life; but it is also literally true, that the shedding of blood is equivalent to the destruction of life; and so in these early injunctions the God of mercy taught the value not only of human, but of all animal being, and along with the forbidding of manslaughter forbade wanton cruelty and indifference to the sufferings of His brute creatures.
Matthew Henry, who seems to shy away from specific comment on most of what we have here before been discussing, does reflect on the blood atonement for the soul:
The Jewish doctors speak so often of the seven precepts of Noah, or of the sons of Noah, which they say were to be observed by all nations, that it may not be amiss to set them down. The first against the worship of idols. The second against blasphemy, and requiring to bless the name of God. The third against murder. The fourth against incest and all uncleanness. The fifth against theft and rapine. The sixth requiring the administration of justice. The seventh against eating of flesh with the life.
Man must not prejudice his own life by eating that food which is unwholesome and prejudicial to his health; they must not be greedy and hasty in taking their food; they must not be barbarous and cruel to the inferior creatures. During the continuance of the law of sacrifices, in which the blood made atonement for the sou1 (Leviticus 17:11), signifying that the life of the sacrifice was accepted for the life of the sinner, blood must not be looked upon as a common thing, but must be poured out before the Lord (2 Samuel 23:16). But now that the great and true sacrifice has been offered, the obligation of the law ceases with the reason of it.
Matthew Henry doesn't say it, but the inference he is making is that there is no longer the need to kill any animal since the blood of all killed animals was to be poured out to the Lord. As the "blood covenant" has been fulfilled through Jesus Christ our Lord, then the killing of animals should have stopped at His death. Thus, is the present desire to eat flesh based upon greed, which we are commanded to to have within us. And, as medical science had shown, and continues to show, a meat based diet can be injurious to our health.
Is not what is being said in these commentaries, that God accepts the soul of the sacrifice as a substitute for the soul of man? Is that not what Jesus did for us, once for all? And if the animal sacrifice is the precursor, or type of the final sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, which is a mainstream Christian teaching, is God's Word not also telling us that animals do have souls?
When we make that decision to accept Jesus' atonement for us, we must also do some dying in conjunction with His. We must give up that pride of self. We must accept the fact that we can not save ourselves. We must accept the fact that we do sin, and that no matter how hard we try, we always fall short of the glory of God. Now then, why are we reluctant to accept the fact that animals do have souls? Because we are still trying to hold on to some of our pride, and perhaps our greed. If we do not accept the fact that animals have souls, then we may have a self-acceptable excuse for the way we treat the rest of God's creatures, which is not in accordance with God's desire, but ours.
As we continue in our study of All Creatures as seen from the story of Noah, we should take special note of the following verses in Genesis 9. These are also part of God's blessing and charge to Noah and his family:
5. "And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man.
6. "Whoever sheds man's blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.
7. "And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."
Verse 5 again emphasizes the quality of life. Life is sacred to God. Any man or animal that takes man's life, without authority, shall have his or its life taken as well. God does, however, again remind us that we humans have been granted the authority over the animals, that is, governmentally. This authority does not give us the right to abuse or in any way mistreat them. In fact, we are really commanded to protect them from evil.
However, God here indicates that the life of man does hold a higher, or more sacred place than animals. Man and animal life is required for the life of man, but not the reverse. But God does not here rescind, amend, or clarify any of verse 4 in which animals are shown to have the same "life" or "soul" (neh-fesh) as man, as unfortunately many have alluded to the contrary.
The essence of God's statement is that God is in authority over man and that man is in authority over the animals. If man misuses his authority he will have to answer to God, either directly or through the hands of other men (verse 6). In addition to verse 6, the authority to execute the "life for a life justice" is spelled out for man, and specifically with relation to animals, in Exodus 21:28-32:
28. "And if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.
29. "If, however, the ox was previously in the habit of goring, and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.
30. "If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him.
31. "Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule.
32. "If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels or silver, and the ox shall be stoned.
The devaluation of the servants' lives is worth noting, but that's a discussion for another day.
Note that there seems to be, in God's command, a self accounting on the part of the animal for the death of man.
These Exodus verses should also be noted specifically since they indicate man's responsibility in the death of another man. If the owner of the ox has no foreknowledge of the animal's behavior, he is only responsible for restitution.
On the other hand, if he does have foreknowledge, he may also have to pay with his life as well as the ox. This is a typical example of what we have been referring to as the "governmental" relationship or authority of man over animals.
And just to make sure that man does not misunderstand his position "governmentally", God emphasizes in Genesis 9:6 that he shall exact the life of any creature that sheds the blood of man. Is God here also commanding capital punishment? Perhaps, but it could just as easily refer to final judgment (Genesis 9:5).
Genesis 9:7 again reemphasizes verse 1, that man is to go forth and populate the world. It is interesting to note that the term "populate the earth" literally means "swarm in the earth".
Nothing in any of these verses under discussion in any way changes the interpretation of God's original intent:
That both man and animals have souls, that all death of both man and beast is the result of the fall and not of God's desire, and that flesh was not originally required as food for sustaining life.