The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states that the basic idea of the Hebrew word spirit, roo-akh, and its companion Greek word, pneuma, is air in motion. In living beings, the "roo-akh" is their breath.
In Genesis 7:15:
15. So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was found the breath of life.
We see here the Hebrew word "roo-akh" translated breath. It is used also in relation to animals, the breath (roo-akh) of life (khah-ee). Note that in this case the Lord is showing us that it is "normal" life that He is referring to and not "soul" life (neh-fesh). So, in this case, "roo~akh" may only carry the interpretation of breath, but also, perhaps not.
Another word for breath, "nesh-aw-maw", is used along with "roo~akh" in the same verse in Isaiah 42:5:
5. Thus says God the Lord,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk in it,
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states, that one of the words for breath, "nesh~aw-maw", is frequently found in combination with the other major word for breath, "roo-akh". In this case, the word "nesh~aw-maw", seems to be synonymous with the word "neh-fesh", which translates life or soul. Yet in Strong's Concordance the only word listed in Hebrew for soul is "neh-fesh". So, it might be stretching things a little to apply any other meaning to "nesh-aw-maw", when used in combination with "roo-akh", than life.
Therefore, the referenced portion of verse 5 could have been translated, "Who gives "life" to the people on it, and spirit to those who walk in it". Note that in this case, which refers only to man, that the only difference between the wording of this verse and the wording of Genesis 7:15, which refers only to animals, is in the use of the reference to life, and not necessarily to the soul/spirit relationship.
In Ezekiel 37:5 we see the use of the word "roo-akh" for breath, and "khah-ee" for life in the same manner as in Genesis 7:15:
5. "Thus says the Lord God to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.
Remember again, that Genesis 7:15 refers only to animals, and that here, Ezekiel 37:5 refers only to man. If the word "roo-akh" does here also mean spirit, then spirit is a direct requirement for the life of both man and animals.
It is interesting also to look at Genesis 7:21-23, and in particular to the wording in verse 22:
21. And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind;
22. of all that was on dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died.
23. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark.
These verses refer to both man and animals, and in verse 22 we see that the word breath, "nesh-aw-maw", is used in combination with "roo-akh", spirit, as in Isaiah 42:5. Verse 22 also has the word "khah-ee", life, used in combination with the two words for breath. Thus we see the translation as above, which is the same as that of Rashi. Again here there is no specific reference to "soul" (neh-fesh).
I know that the use of the original language terms may seem overly technical to the casual reader, but it is important in the understanding of the original intent. As here in verse 22, the word "spirit" is used without "soul" for both animals and man, which indicates no specific distinction.
Again, referring to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, we have the following comment on the relationship and distinction of "roo-akh" (spirit) and "neh-fesh" (soul):
Distinctions between "roo-akh" and "neh-fesh":
"Roo-akh" is the principle of man's rational and immortal life, and possesses reason, will, and conscience. It imparts the divine image to man, and constitutes the animating dynamic which results in man's "neh-fesh" as the subject of personal life. The distinctive personality of the individual inheres in his "neh-fesh", the seat of his emotions and desires. "Roo-akh" is life-power, having the ground of its vitality in itself; the "neh~fesh" has a more subjective and conditioned life. The New Testament seems to make a clear and substantive distinction between "pneuma" (roo-akh) and "psyche" (neh-fesh).
Keep in mind this comment, which refers only to man, and relate it to the verses we have under discussion. Would it do any damage to Scripture if we also apply it to all creatures here below?
The reader is specifically referred back to chapter 3 and the discussion on Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 concerning the same term for "living soul" for both man and animals. Genesis 2:7, unlike 2:19, does also refer to the "breath of life", which some commentators use to indicate the difference between man and animals. Note, however, that the term here, for breath, in verse 2:7, is not "roo-akh" (spirit), but "nesh-aw-maw" (breath).
Note Numbers 27:16:
16. "May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation,
Moses uses the reference to God, as "the God of the spirits of all flesh". It should be noted here that the word for "spirit" is indeed "roo-akh". And the word for "flesh" (bah-sawr) is the same as in Genesis 9:4, when God gave man all "flesh" for food as a concession and not according to His original intent, as we discussed previously. Moses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is indeed letting us know that all "flesh", man and animals, have spirits.
If we now return again to Psalm 104, and in specific to verses 29 and 30:
29. Thou dost hide Thy face, they are dismayed;
Thou dost take away their spirit, they expire,
And return to their dust.
30. Thou dost send forth Thy Spirit, they are created;
And thou dost renew the face of the ground.
We see that the breath of God, or the Spirit of God, does play a role in the life of animals as well as man. Here in Psalm 104 we see the word "roo-akh" for spirit, or breath as the King James translates it in verse 29.
The writings of Charles H. Spurgeon in The Treasury of David contain the following passages concerning these two verses in Psalm 104, which has almost a "musical note" to it:
"Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled." So dependent are all living things upon God's smile, that a frown fills them with terror, as though convulsed with anguish. This is so in the natural world, and certainly not less so in the spiritual: saints when the Lord hides his face are in terrible perplexity.
"Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust." The breath appears to be a trifling matter, and the air an impalpable substance of but small importance, yet, once withdrawn, the body loses all vitality, and crumbles back to earth from which it was originally taken. All animals come under this law, and even the dwellers in the sea are not exempt from it. Thus dependent is all nature upon the will of the Eternal. Note here that death is caused by the act of God, "Thou takest away their breath"; we are immortal till he bids us die, and so are even the little sparrows, who fall not to the ground without the Father.
If the reader will pardon this interruption for a moment, I think it is important to note here that it does not seem to matter whether or not we use the word "spirit" or "breath". Both man and animals are governed by the same set of heavenly rules for being alive. Now let's go back and look at the rest of Spurgeon's comments on this portion of Psalm 104:
"Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth." The loss of their breath destroys them, and by Jehovah's breath a new race is created. The works of the Lord are majestically simple, and are performed with royal ease - a breath creates, and its withdrawal destroys. If we use the word spirit as we have in our version, it is also instructive, for we see the Divine Spirit going forth to create life in nature even as we see Him in the realms of grace. At the flood the world was stripped of almost all life, yet how soon the power of God retilled the desolate places! In winter the earth falls into a sleep which makes her appear worn and old, but how readily does the Lord awaken her with the voice of spring, and make her put on anew the beauty of her youth. Thou, Lord, doest all things, and let glory be unto Thy name.
Again, as in the previous portion of Spurgeon's commentary, we see that the Lord is considered to have the same position in the establishing and in taking of life, whether man's or beast's
Let's now take a look at the comments of H. C. Leupold as well:
There is another aspect of animal life: the dying of the old and the coming of the young and the new. That, too, is controlled by the working of the Almighty. All these live by the favor of His countenance. If He hides that countenance, they are terrified, their breath is taken away, they die, and return to their dust. On the other hand, the power of His Spirit goes forth to re-create animal life, and thus a new generation of beings appears on the face of the earth, and its whole appearance is renewed. These are not natural processes that go on endlessly and in their own strength. God the Creator still creates, and nothing even on this level comes into being except by the work of His life-giving Spirit - and here the Spirit is no doubt the personal Spirit of God Himself.
Note in this commentary as well, that God is considered to create and re-create through the power of His Holy Spirit. While Leupold, here, only refers to the animals, his reference is exactly as with the creation of man, except that man was created in the image of God.
F. C. Cook's The Bible Commentary states:
The creation of the material world in the beginning, its perpetual preservation, and the renewal of life through the breath of God, suggests naturally the Christian of the new creation of the spirit of man, and its perpetual maintenance by the Holy Spirit. If God withdraws His breath, all creatures (verse 29) return to dust: if He withdraws His quickening Spirit from the soul of a man, it dies to Him. If He imparts a new ray of divine illumination, it lives again; as the outward world, verse 30, is renewed day by day, and lives always through His life-giving word.
Since the same terms are used for both man and animals, it does not seem logical that this commentary should show different meaning for its use with animals and man. By this remark, I am not trying to force one opinion over another. Let it suffice to say that all translations of similar terms by the same translator should be consistent, and that we should permit God's Word to stand on its own.
Look also at the remarks written in The Pulpit Commentary:
"Thou hidest Thy face, they are troubled" If God withdraws the light of His countenance from any living thing, instantly it feels the loss. It is "troubled", cast down, confounded (compare Psalm 30:7).
Let's do as suggested and compare that verse from Psalm 30:
7. Lord, by Thy favor Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong; Thou didst hide Thy face, I was dismayed.
It should be noted that Psalm 30 is a Psalm of David of Thanksgiving for deliverance from death, and as such refers to "man". Note also that the commentary expresses the same emotional feelings of man as that of animals, as they relate to its divinely given life. There are such simple truths in the Bible, if we just take the time to look. They aren't shrouded in mystery. They are right in front of us, written in plain language, though sometimes the plain language might be in the Hebrew or Greek.
Continuing again with the commentary:
- As the living things have life from God, so they have death from Him. Not one of them perishes but He knows it, and causes it or allows it (see Matthew 10:29).
"Thou takest away their breath, they die".
"And return to their dust." - Return, i.e., to the dead matter out of which they were created.
In breaking off this commentary again, it is important that we look at Matthew 10:29 in its proper context. Jesus is talking to His disciples on the meaning of discipleship, and in order to get the full meaning in relation to our study we should look at verses 24 through 33:
24. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.
25. "It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26. "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.
27. "What I tell you in the darkness I speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.
29. "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and body in hell.
29. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
30. "But the very hairs on your head are all numbered.
31. "Therefore do not fear, you are of more value than many sparrows.
32. "Every one therefore who shall confess Me before man, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
33. "But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
Note that in verse 24 we see that there is an order of importance of one person over another, but that this is positional only. So also are the animals subordinate to man. The main thrust of what Jesus is here saying is that those who confess Him are more important than those who do not. The sparrow can not confess Jesus in any way known to us, and Jesus is using the reference to the sparrows in that context. A sparrow is only worth, monetarily, a half cent. The disciples who are going forth to confess Him are worth many more times that. Yet, even the supposedly valueless sparrow will not fall without the Father's knowledge. All of God's creatures seem to have a special place in His heart.
Returning again to the commentary before us:
"Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit;" or, Thy breath. - As God "breathed into man's nostrils the breath' of life" (Genesis 2:7), so it is an effluence from Him that gives life to every living 'thing.
"They are created: and Thou renewest the face of the earth." - As after the Deluge (see Genesis 7:4; 9:17).
Note here again, that the same reference to God's creation is being given in the same manner to both man and animals. God breathed the breath, or spirit, of life into all His creatures, regardless of their "position governmentally".