He word māgēn מָגֵן occurs 63x in 60 verses in the Bible. It is derived from the verb גָּנַן gānan‘to defend; (H1598), from which a number of other words, such as גַּן gan ‘garden’ are derived.
Overall, the word does not have many different translations or unique usages, but it was often used as a metaphor for God’s protection and strength. In Job 41:15, the word is used to refer to the scales of the sea monster Leviathan.
The most basic meaning of this word is to refer to a shield used for combat. It is often paired with צִנָּה ṣinnâ ‘shield’ (H6793c):
The sons of Reuben. . . men able to bear buckler and sword ( 1 Chronicles 5:18, KJV)
king Rehoboam made shields of brass ( 2 Chronicles 12:10, KJV)
Order ye the buckler (māgēn) and shield (ṣinnâ), and draw near to battle. ( Jeremiah 46:3, KJV)
Often, these terms are translated as ‘buckler’, which was a small shield used for close range combat in medieval Europe. The ancient Israelites did not use actual, European bucklers, but rather English translators chose to use the term as to make a distinction between synonyms (see Jeremiah 46:3). The identification of many of these items is not always known. Shields for combat were likely made of wood and leather; though, ceremonial and decorative shields were made of metal (1 Kgs 10:17; 1 Kgs 14:27)
Throughout the psalter, the psalmists refer to the Lord as a shield:
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; ( Psalm 3:3, KJV)
The Lord is my strength and my shield ( Psalm 28:7, KJV)
The very first instance of this word in the Bible is a metaphorical usage where God tells Abram that he is Abram’s shield (Genesis 15:1).
The shield is a symbol of combat and protection. These references to the Lord as a shield remind us that life is fraught with battles and difficulties, but those who take shelter in God have a shield about them that is able to protect against all.
Charles Loder has an MA in Jewish Studies from Rutgers University. His work is in Biblical Hebrew and comparative semitic linguistics, along with a focus on digital humanities. His work can be found on his Academia page and Github.
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