Biblical vocabulary: מָעוֹז (Strength)

Last updated on December 15, 2021

Strength and refuge

The Hebrew word “maoz” (pronounced ma’oz[1]) is one of those words that can have various meanings. These meanings usually depend on the meaning of the verbal stem or noun from which a certain word is derived. In the case of “maoz”, the different meanings are determined by those of the verbs from which the concept possibly can be derived[2]. The word “maoz” thus has the basic meanings: strength, refuge; from this point of view, “maoz” also means: power, rescue, protection, shelter, fortification, stronghold, mountain fortress, place of refuge.

Obviously, the basic meanings are different, but related to each other. Strength and power can offer refuge and rescue. Weakness or a shaky place offers no sure salvation. With this we already discover that the meaning of the term “maoz”/strength, shelter certainly applies to the Lord God! The word “maoz” occurs 36 times in the Hebrew Bible and is found mainly in the Prophets and Psalms. In this regard, “maoz” is particularly prominent in Israel’s spiritual songs.

Used in a general sense

“Maoz” appears in the sense of help, deliverance, and security in the book of the prophet Daniel, when he stands with the king “… I stood up to confirm and maoz / strengthen him” (Daniel 11:1). Daniel also prophesies of the fate that awaits the “maoz”/fortified places of many of the great of the earth (Daniel 11:7; 11:10; 11:19; 11:39). The prophet Isaiah also uses the term “maoz”/fortress in reference to the divinely foretold destruction of the great coastal fortresses, such as those of Tyre and Tarshish (Isaiah 23:11; 23:14-15). In those texts it is about the strength of people and their fortifications and strongholds. However, human strength is limited and cannot last.

The Lord God as Almighty Helper

Completely different is the Lord as “maoz”/strength. He is the Almighty, who with His strength offers people in need His divine help and strength. Especially in metaphorical language, the term “maoz” is used as an expression of the rock-solid belief in God’s omnipotence. He is sung, confessed, prayed and pleaded as the Mighty One who helps and empowers. David pleads in faith: “Be the rock of maoz / fortress for me…” and confesses “… for You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 31:3-4). With this supplication and confession he expresses that the believer, as a weak and needy person, has no power in himself for salvation, but may at all times draw on the “Maoz” which is the Lord God Himself. Thus, the weak and the helpless become strong! (Compare 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

By taking refuge in God, man finds vitality and security. David sings of it: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the maoz / strength of my life” (Psalm 27:1). That is why the psalmist is not afraid, despite the many dangers that threaten him and the great uncertainties of his earthly existence (see Psalm 27:2-3). This speaks of security for earthly and eternal life. There are terrible consequences, when man forgets this and then hears Isaiah’s reproach: “… For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your maoz/ refuge …” (Isaiah 17:10). Don’t forget: “The way of the Lord is a maoz / stronghold / shelter for the blameless …” (Proverbs 10:29).

The Lord God as a sure Shelter

The word “maoz” / fortification / shelter is used in metaphor to mean refuge, place of refuge, shelter, thus showing the Lord God as a safe protection for man. In his prophetic song of thanksgiving, Isaiah exults: “For you have been a maoz / stronghold to the poor, a maoz/ stronghold/ shelter to the needy in his distress …” (Isaiah 25:4).

However, people prefer to look elsewhere. Therefore, Isaiah expresses his critical “woe” for those who do not ask the Lord, but seek security and shelter from Pharaoh’s “maoz”/strength (Isaiah 30:1). Even those who think that they find security in their own “maoz”/strength outside of God will be ashamed: “See the man who would not make God his maoz/ shelter / refuge” (Psalm 52:7). However, those who are justified before God through faith in Jesus will find eternal salvation in Him, but also “maoz/ stronghold in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

Striking names: Maäz-ya(hu)

Certain proper names also contain the word “maoz”/ strength. It concerns the composition between “maoz” (usually in the form of “maäz”) and the divine name Ya (Lord)[3]. The thus formed name “Maäz-ya” (or ‘Maäz-yahu’) can then be translated as: Strength of the Lord. A leader of a priestly division in David’s days bore this significant name (1 Chronicles 24:18). Centuries later, at the sealing of the renewed covenant under Nehemiah, there was again a priest with this beautiful testimony name Maäz-ya (Nehemiah 10:8).

The Lord is good, a maoz / stronghold in the day of trouble …” (Nahum 1:7).

Notes

[1] The word does not have a diphthong “ao”, but a guttural sound for the o, audible by a short breath stop between the vowels a-o: ma-oz. The correct rendering is: “ma`oz”.

[2] The word “maoz” is often translated “strength”, as a derivation of the verb “azaz” (show strength, overpower, give strength); in case it is taken as derived from the verb “oz” (to seek or take refuge) “maoz” means “refuge”.

[3] Ya, also called Yahu (Lord), is a shortened form of God’s sacred name YHWH (Lord).

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