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I'm trying to understand the "Watchman" passage in Ezekiel 3:16-21 (largely repeated in 33:1-9). Excerpting from 3:18-19 (ESV):

If....you give him no warning....in order to save his life (ləḥayyōtô), that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand (dāmô mîyyādəkā ʾăbaqqēš).

But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness....he shall die (yāmût) for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul (ʾet–napšəkā hiṣṣaltā).

I'm trying to determine whether "deliver your soul" means anything different from "save [your] life". For some reason, each time the wicked man turns from his wickedness he "saves his life", but the watchman, by his obedience, "delivers [his] soul".

In the logic of the contingencies, these two don’t seem to be exactly interchangeable. They have different opposites:

  • "save his life" ↔ "die", whereas
  • "deliver his soul" ↔ "his blood I will require..." .

The last I understand (mostly from looking at the more dynamic translations) to mean "I will hold you responsible for his death". This makes me wonder whether "deliver his soul" actually means "not be held responsible [for another’s death]".

Does "deliver your soul" mean anything different from "save your life"?

  • It never occurred to me before but I've heard and am inclined to believe that Roman soldiers were held as surety for their charges so if their prisoner escaped or died on their watch they would forfeit their life. Here the prophet is to be killed by God if he is negligent but escapes being killed as long as he gave the warning, regardless if it was heeded or not. See Acts 20:25-26 – user10231 Dec 18 '16 at 22:28
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No, I think we should view those translations as interchangeable. Biblical scholars like N.T. Wright have made strong efforts in recent years to resist the Greco-Roman dichotomy between the physical body and the spiritual soul. (Wright's book, The Resurrection of the Son of God, would be an excellent resource to look at in this regard.) That is simply not to be found in Hebrew thought. The only thing in the Hebrew Bible that looks like disembodied existence is the episode of the witch of Endor—and frankly, that's not a passage you'd want to use as a starting point for your theology.

Beyond the Hebrew, I'd observe that although Westerners seem to have no problem thinking about souls flying off and leaving bodies behind at the point of death, it's actually quite a strange idea. None of us has experience of a disembodied state. The entire thing is imaginary. To be human, to have a soul, is to have a physical body.

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The simple truth is, the "life" is contained in the blood.

Gen. 9:4 says,

"But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

The Ezek. 3:18 passage parallels the Gen. 9:5 passage,

"And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.”

Therefore, scripturally the "blood" equates the "life".

Since the "soul" of man is what God breathed "life" into,(Gen. 2:7)

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul

therefore a man's soul contains life, which is contained in the blood.

Since the context of Ezek. 3:17-18 is dealing with a man's spiritual life(warning the man of God's impending judgment is not the same as a warning of a physical disaster-stepping into an open manhole, for example), it must be noted that we are speaking of spiritual truths rather than temporal ones. Therefore, we can correctly equate "life=spiritual life", and soul, where spiritual life is housed can be equated, and "blood" and "life" and "soul" can also be equated; since we are not talking about the physical characteristics of "blood" and "life" but the spiritual ones.

  • דרש does not mean "require". Anyway, what did the English translators want to say by translating the word as "require"?? דרש means inquire, to seek an answer for, to inquisition. What is "require" ? – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 20 '15 at 13:22
  • אך בשר בנפשו דמו לא תאכלו = But flesh in/with its breath its blood shall not be eaten. Flesh that still has its breath, its blood shall not be eaten. This phrase can be read in a couple, or a few ways. – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 20 '15 at 13:36
  • @BlessedGeek In the Jewish Bible, parenthetically it says(demand an account). Yes, flesh that still breathes is technically true, yet the context is life. Rashi's Commentary describes the life that was taken unintentionally as being the same as the life that was taken intentionally, if the one who took life unintentionally did not seek refuge and beg forgiveness of God; who demands an account of the life he had taken. – Tau Oct 21 '15 at 20:05
  • @Tau, Gen 9:4, the first verse you cite specifically says that the blood is the life of the flesh which I think upends the connect the dots you posit. – user10231 Oct 25 '15 at 15:24
  • @WoundedEgo The statement "life, which is the blood" is the Scriptural understanding. The Law does not prohibit eating the flesh of clean animals: in fact it requires it at certain 'moeds'. It prohibits drinking the blood, in which the "life" is contained. – Tau Oct 26 '15 at 1:22
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Over the whole area of the Ancient Near East, it seems that there has been the idea that deities would "gather" persons when their time has come. The typical root there is אסף. It is found in the niphal when the patriarchs die (Gen 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:29, 33), when Moses and Aaron die (Num 20:24, 26; 27:13 (bis); 31:2; Deut 32:50 (bis)). It is also used in the qal in 2 Kgs 22:20 = 2 Chr 34:28 where God says he will gather Josiah. I would be tempted to read "to deliver a נפשׁ" in the same cultural framework, because it has the same connotation of physical movement. This idea is furthermore supported by Ps 86:13, where God is said to deliver a נפשׁ:

Ps 86:13: כִּֽי־חַסְדְּךָ גָּדֹול עָלָי וְהִצַּלְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשְּׁאֹול תַּחְתִּיָּֽה
For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. (ESV)

It then seems that to deliver a נפשׁ always has the connotation of death, however, a peaceful and non-negative one: the נפשׁ is "delivered", meaning it has arrived at the "right" place.

On the other hand, to save your life obviously means to not die.

Therefore I would argue that these expressions and others play on two orthogonal dimensions: on the one hand whether the person dies, and on the other hand a positive-negative dimension:

  • To deliver your נפשׁ means that when you die that will be positive.
  • To save your life means to not die a negative death (so the expression is positive).
  • To be gathered to your ancestors means to die a positive death.
  • To be cut off means to die a negative death.

Etc. However, these are just some initial thoughts. I have looked into the expressions with אסף with some detail before, and have now looked at your two expressions, but haven't studied them thoroughly.

  • Are you suggesting that "delivered" something positive as in "he will deliver the package"? Like FedEx? – Ruminator May 24 '18 at 20:29
  • @Ruminator that the delivering is positive is not surprising, is it? Considering the example from 86:13 - Sheol is something negative, and the נפשׁ is being delivered from it. – user2672 May 24 '18 at 20:39
  • I'm trying to understand "the נפשׁ is "delivered", meaning it has arrived at the "right" place." Do you mean to suggest that "delivered" (נפשׁ) "means" to bring the package to the right place? Would you say for example that you are expecting your Amazon order "to be נפשׁ today"? – Ruminator May 24 '18 at 20:44
  • @Ruminator the comparison does not go all the way, I think. An order is ordered by someone, but there is no mention of that in these cases; God takes the initiative of the delivering himself. But yes, I definitely think that a physical movement is suggested (and perhaps only in later times understood metaphorically). The נפשׁ is the object being delivered, not the verb of delivering, by the way. – user2672 May 24 '18 at 20:48
  • Did you consult a lexicon to arrive at this conclusion? – Ruminator May 24 '18 at 20:51
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This Answers the question of "are we responsible for warning sinners" First let me say I prefer the (YLT). so the person who warned has saved his soul. King David called the Soul the thoughts and ideas, And the bible says the soul and spirit are connected like a knee joint, so we have some flexibility, perhaps two dimensional. (I saw comments about the soul so I add that fact.)

YLT 19 And thou, because thou hast warned the wicked, and he hath not turned back from his wickedness, and from his wicked way, he in his iniquity dieth, and thou thy soul hast delivered.

So this beggs the question, Is it only the prophet who is held to this standard, or everybody that knows?

God help us all to understand...

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    Welcome to BH, Douglas, and thank you for your very intresting answer. However, I'm sure it will be more appreciated if you provide some reference for it and especially if you quote the biblical passages in the version that you are prefering. Here we are expected to research and support our posted answer with evidence from scriptural and scholarly sources, and not to rest on opinion alone. If you want to review your answer, please take a few moments and read this: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer – Constantin Jinga Jun 19 '18 at 8:02
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The passage should be considered in complete context:

About the wicked:
18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (3:18-19) [ESV throughout]

About a righteous person:
20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (3:20-21)

Here is a summary of the outcomes described:

Not Warned:                                     Warned:
Wicked                    Watchman              Wicked                  Watchman
Die for his iniquity      His blood required    Die for his iniquity    Delivered your soul

Righteous                 Watchman              Righteous               Watchman
He shall die for his sin  His blood required    Surely live             Delivered your soul

All types have the ability to ignore or respond. The wicked and the righteous can respond to, or ignore the warning. The Watchman may issue or fail to issue the warning. There is an "either-or" condition and result to the four situations:

Type           Respond                     Ignore
Wicked         [Turn from his wickedness]  Die for his iniquity
Watchman       Save your soul              Require his blood
Righteous      Surely live                 He shall die 
Watchman       Save your soul              Require his blood

Unlike the Watchman and the righteous, what happens when the wicked man responds is not directly stated. The implication is the wicked man will "save his life" if he heeds the warning. If this is so, then the Watchman knows the results if the warnings are issued and heeded:

Warning to the wicked:
Turn from your wicked course [in order to save your life] לְחַיֹּת֑וֹ

Warning to righteous:
The LORD has placed a stumbling block before you, return to the righteousness you abandoned [and you will surely live] חָי֤וֹ יִֽחְיֶה֙

The LORD to Watchman:
You have warned the wicked and the righteous and have delivered your soul אֶֽת־ נַפְשְׁךָ֥ הִצַּֽלְתָּ

The wicked person who turns from their wickedness will “save his life.” The righteous person who does not sin will “surely live.” "Surely live" is literally "live live" as the word חָיָה is repeated. Those outcomes are different and there is no basis for equating the two.

The repetition of “live” for the righteous contrasts to the single use of the word for the wicked. This reflects the reality a wicked person who stops their wicked course [דֶּרֶךְ-derek] does not necessarily do righteous acts. For example, a person who steals does not become a giver by not stealing. The righteous act of charity is independent of not committing the iniquity of theft. On the other hand, the righteous person who returns to the righteous acts which they abandoned will “live live.” As the word live [חָיָה-chayah] is used in the complete passage, a single use corresponds to not following a wicked way and a double use corresponds to not following a wicked way and doing righteous acts.

All three results are different and there is no basis for equating “surely live” for the righteous with “delivered your soul” for the Watchman and even less for equating “save your life” for the wicked to "delivered your soul" for the Watchman.

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Let me try to understand your question, or if there is even validity for a question.

בן אדם צפה נתתיך
son of man oversee(task) given I you

לבית ישראל
to house of Israel

ושמעת מפי דבר
hearing from my mouth speaking

והיזהרת אותם ממני
and your warning to them from me

באמרי לרשע מות תמות
In my speaking to the-wicked - death you shall die

ולא דברת להזהיר רשע
and none your speaking to warn the-wicked

מדרכו הרשעה לחיתו
from his way of wickedness to his life (his participle-state of living)

הוא רשע בעונו ימות
the wicked in his (responsibility?) will die

ודמו מידך אבקש
and his blood from your hand I will inquire.

לחיתו

I'm unable to read this word as "to keep him alive".

I'm unable to see a causative in the word. Someone please show me where the causative is.

[למחיו] or [למחיתו] would be the causative. To preserve/keep his live.

Like [למחיה] found in Genesis 45:5.

עונה

Though this word is not part of the discussion/dispute, I wish to point out that I have doubts that this word actually originally meant "iniquity" or "depravity". It may idiomatically imply such, but I think it actually means "responsibility".

I think it is like the word "responsible" in English being deprecated into negativity by idiomatic usage. Like

The accident happened. You are responsible.

Meaning = you are the culprit.

Not found in the masoret

If the meaning/word is not found in the masoret, the septuagint and everything else is defective - that is my opinion. There is no point in the discussion.

מדרכו הרשעה לחיתו

ולא דברת להזהיר רשע
מדרכו הרשעה לחיתו

and you do not speak to warn the wicked
from his wickedness upon=of his life

Warn him that his wickedness is endangering to his life.

  • Are we both reading לְחַיֹּתוֹ as a piel infinitive construct from חיה? (BDB: preserve alive, let live.... + ל + suffix → in order to preserve his life) (I know you don’t like lexicons, but it’s difficult to reason together without recourse to something...) – Susan Oct 11 '15 at 12:45
  • piel is intensive/participative, not causative. חיה = be alive. Since Hebrew has no difference betw participle form and verb form, חיה = state of being alive. Hence [לחיה] either = to be alive or state of being alive. A participant of being alive. 2king8:10, 14 [חיה תחיה] = your life(state of being alive) shall live. Ezekiel 18:9, 18:17, 18:21, 33:13 – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 11 '15 at 13:49
  • [לחיתו] = to his participation in being alive. – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 11 '15 at 13:53
  • I'm not seeing an answer here. You say what you think the words mean, but you don't offer an explanation as to why two different phrasings are used. – ThaddeusB Oct 11 '15 at 15:36
  • To answer by proving there is no valid question is not allowed here? Who set this silly rule? – Cynthia Avishegnath Oct 18 '15 at 8:51

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