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In Isaiah 12:2 (NIV), it says:

...The LORD ... is my strength and my defence*...

*Or song

In other translations, such as the KJV and NLT, it is translated directly to 'song' which no mention of the word 'defence'.

I was wondering what the significance of these two words is? For example:

  • Why are they interchangeable here?
  • Are they used interchangeably elsewhere in the bible?
  • If so, why?
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The word in Hebrew is זִמְרָת zimrath (Young's Analytical Concordance) Strong 2176 which occurs three times in the Hebrew scripture : Exodus 15:2, Psalm 118:14 and here, Isaiah 12:2. On all three occasions, both the KJV and Young's Literal and Green's Literal translate the phrase as 'strength and song'.

There is a related word זִמְרָה zimrah (Young's Analytical Concordance) Strong 2172 which occurs five times in the Hebrew scripture (Young's Analytical Concordance) and is translated in the KJV as melody twice, psalm twice and best fruit once.

There seems to be no reason for zimrath to be rendered as 'defence' that I can find.

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Very interesting observation. It reminds me of how Jesus renders Psalm 8:2 in the NT

“From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established STRENGTH Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭8:2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

And contrast that with the quote from Jesus

“and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, ' OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF '?"” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭21:16‬ ‭NASB‬‬ (sorry about all caps it was copy and paste)

If you put them together you get it in your passage

“"Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation."” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭12:2‬ ‭NASB‬‬

So I’m guessing that if you can choose between the true meaning of the word in context for זִמְרָת its song or praise.

It actually has to do with the idiom in the Hebrew “going in and going out”. It’s a warfare saying that first you went in before the Lord and were empowered and then you went out and did battle with your enemies. Moses, Joshua, David knew how it was done but Solomon says he didn’t know and needed wisdom to know how to go in and to go out before the people. To the Hebrew warfare was tied in to worship (and song).

“Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of Yours?"” ‭‭2 Chronicles‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Jesus also makes reference to the phrase for the believers

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” ‭‭John‬ ‭10:9‬ ‭NASB‬‬

So in a sense, song is a defense because it’s a strength and an act of spiritual warfare to shut the mouth of the enemy and silence the accuser; and that’s done through song. Your best defense against someone accusing you is to sing and not give them a chance to start!

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    That is very interesting, the link between warfare and worship before God. Thanks! Jan 9 '19 at 9:37
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    +1. If singing songs, especially Godly songs, is a defence against the enemy, it’s function would be to crowd out ungodly spiritual influences. In an attack one would think that speaking in tongues could serve the same purpose. Jul 9 at 4:06
  • @Constantthin It can, but it serves for a different purpose, singing songs however with a fruitful mind helps focus one’s mind correctly, intentionally, deliberately on God and His power/authority whilst simultaneously disengaging the over reactive exaggerations that take place in the mind which usually take place during a spiritual attack. Jul 9 at 4:39
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HALOT gives two definitions, the first being song and the second being strength:

I זִמְרָה: I זמר; MHb. זמר, MHb.2 זימרה; Sam. זמר (Ben-H. 2:490, 546); CPArm. zmrʾ; Mnd. MdD 159b זאמרא; Akk. zimru: melody, sound (of an instrument) Is 51:3 Am 5:23 Ps 81:3 (with נשׂא to make resound) 98:5; praise (|| קול) 11QPsa (DJD 4, p. 64, 11). †

II זִמְרָה: III זמר: זִמְרָת Ex 15:2 Is 12:2 and Ps 118:14 (before י, rd. זִמְרָתִי, 1QIsa; BL 603g; Talmon VT 4:206ff): strength Ex 15:2 (:: protection Gaster ExpT 49:189) Is 12:2 Ps 118:14 (→ III זמר); זִמְרַת הָאָרֶץ strength (i.e. the best products) of the land Gn 43:11. †

Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 274). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

One unambiguous place where it cannot mean "song" would be Gen 43.11: "the best (zimrat) products of the land". In all other situations, you can replace it with song.

The idiom (ozzi v zimrat) is used in Ex 15:2, Is 12:2 and Ps 118:14.

Most translations use "song", but there are academic translations that don't. E.g. Hermeneia reads

     Behold the God of my salvation!
     I will trust and not be afraid,
     For my strength and my might are Yah,
     And he has become my salvation.

Roberts, J. J. M. (2015). First Isaiah: A Commentary. (P. Machinist, Ed.) (p. 191). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

The Lexham English Bible has:

Look! God is my salvation; I will trust, and I will not be afraid, for my strength and might is Yah, Yahweh; and he has become salvation for me.”

The JPS Tanakh also has "might"

For Yah the LORD is my strength and might,

Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Is 12:2). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

KJV/RSV/NRSV use the more popular "song"

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