by: Janet Aslin, BFP Staff Writer
The word in Hebrew is magen (מגן) and it appears 63 times in the Bible. It is primarily translated as shield or buckler with the remaining occurrences translated defense or armed. Magen comes from the root ganan (גנן) which is a verb meaning to defend, cover, or surround. Easton’s Bible Dictionary adds another dimension to our definition, stating that the word shield is “used figuratively of God and of earthly princes as the defenders of their people.”
Some biblical shields were used in warfare while others were not. King Solomon made 300 shields of beaten gold and hung them on the walls of the House of the Forest of Lebanon (1 Kings 10:17). Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us, “He made 200 targets, and 300 shields, of beaten gold, not for service, but for state, to be carried before him when he appeared in pomp.” This use of the word shield can be seen today when we talk about a police officer’s shield or badge.
But the most precious use of the word magen comes as it describes how God shields and protects His people. From the beginning, God has made it clear that He will do this. Before God made an unconditional covenant with Abram, promising to give him both offspring and a specific area of land, He first spoke these words: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15:1).
God’s promise to be a shield was not limited to individuals, but given to His people Israel as well. When they were getting ready to go in and possess the Land that God promised Abraham, Moses gave them a final blessing which ended as follows: “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your majesty!” (Deut. 33:29). Without the shielding protection of the Lord, they would have died at the hand of Pharaoh’s army or perished in the waterless desert where they wandered for forty years.
King David, a man of war, knew God as his shield and extolled this facet of His character in several psalms. Psalm 18, written by David on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul, is a hymn of praise to the faithful God who was his strength, his rock, his fortress, and his shield. Verse 30 says, “As for God—His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.”
The introduction to Psalm 7 reads: “A Meditation of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.” From the psalm, we understand that David has been maligned somehow by a man named Cush. David takes his complaint to God, asking for His intervention in the matter. In verse 10, David states that his magen is of God, saying that it is God who defends, shields, and protects his reputation from the words of man.
Later in his life, when he was fleeing from his son Absalom, David wrote Psalm 3. Verse three reads; “But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.” In the uncertainty of flight from his rebellious son, David makes this declaration, firmly stating that his hope for protection was in God. No matter what the earthly circumstances were, David had learned through his life experiences that God would be his shield and not only a shield—that he would emerge victorious, with head lifted up and not hung down in shame.
In English, we refer to the six-pointed hexagram as the “Star of David” but in Hebrew, it is actually called the Magen David, or the Shield of David. It is unlikely that King David’s shield actually looked like this emblem as it is relatively modern in its association with the Jewish people. Although the Magen David was mentioned as early as the 12th century, it was not generally recognized as a symbol of the Jewish community until the 17th century.
Today, we see the blue Magen David on each flag that flies proudly in the nation of Israel. My heart leaps within me when I am traveling and see this shield painted on jets belonging to Israel’s national airline, El Al. In Israel, we often see the symbol in a different color—red. Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) is Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. Another example is described in this month’s Out of Zion section which features an article on IBM’s software that masks sensitive subscriber data, noting that its Israeli developers named it Magen.
I am thankful that the use of the Magen David symbol is so widespread in Israel today. King David needed a divine shield when he reigned over Israel, and the need may be even greater today. May it serve as a reminder to the descendants of Abraham, and also to us, of those words spoken long ago, “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen.15:1). He is the same: yesterday, today, and forever.
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