Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
Scholars have identified two separate roots of the form צוק (swq), one of which describes the exertion of pressure upon something, whereas the other means to pour out or melt (metals), and is a by-form of a root יצק (ysq), meaning to pour or cast. Still, it should be remembered that metals come from rock, as does petroleum or petra-oleum, whereas the original oleum or oil came from olives, and that by pressing them (see our article on the noun זית (zayit), meaning olive tree).
The verb צוק (suq I) denotes pressing someone (mentally) in order to bring out what's kept inside. Thus enemies press the cities they besiege to surrender (Deuteronomy 28:53-57, Isaiah 51:13, Jeremiah 19:9). The Timnite pressed Samson for the answer to his riddle (Judges 14:17), and Delilah for the secret of his strength (16:16). Elihu was pressed to speak (Job 32:18). And YHWH would press Ariel to expose her secrets (Isaiah 29:2 and 7, see 29:15).
This verb comes with the following derivatives:
- The masculine noun צוק (soq), meaning distress (Daniel 9:25 only).
- The feminine equivalent צוקה (suqa), also meaning distress (Proverbs 1:27, Isaiah 8:22 and 30:6 only)
- The masculine noun מצוק (musaq), meaning place or agent of pressure or distress (Isaiah 8:23, Job 36:16 and 37:10 only). Note that this word is spelled the same as the next, and as the second derivation of the verb יצק (yasaq), see below. These two words were even pointed the same by the Masoretes.
- The masculine noun מצוק (masoq), meaning distress or oppression (Deuteronomy 28:53-57, 1 Samuel 22:2, Psalm 119:143 and Jeremiah 19:9 only).
- The feminine equivalent מצוקה (mesuqa), also meaning distress or oppression (Job 15:24, Psalm 25:17, 107:6-28, and Zephaniah 1:15).
The verb צוק (suq II) also denotes the bringing forth of something contained internally, which is done either by applying pressure or by smelting. From rock copper is smelted (Job 28:2), but rocks poured/squeeze out streams of oil (Job 29:6). Likewise, Isaiah observes that in their distress (from צרר, sarar) the people of Israel visited YHWH and poured/squeezed out a whisper (Isaiah 26:16).
The sole derivative of this verb (if we insist that it's not the same as the previous one) is the masculine noun מצוק (masuq), literally denoting a place or agent of צוק (suq). Dictionaries and translations usually interpret this word as a cast metal pillar, but here at Abarim Publications we don't think so.
Our noun occurs twice in the Bible. In 1 Samuel 2:8, Hannah proclaims that the מצקי ארץ (masuqy 'eres) are the Lord's, and He sets תבל (tebel) on them. This latter word denotes the world as an economic entity, while the former one denotes the physical land. Translations usually have Hannah speak about the "pillars of the earth," perhaps after some mythological reality-model, but it seems more plausible that she is talking about smelteries. It should be noted that around Hannah's time the bronze age was concluded and the iron age began. In the Levant, the Philistines had iron first, which was obviously quite inconvenient to the rest of the peoples there. David's supremacy over the Philistines occurred around the same time as when Israel figured out how to make kilns with fires hot enough to melt iron.
The second time our word occurs is in the report of the battle of Michmash, between Israel and the Philistines. The two armies were camped on opposite sides of the mountains, with two sharp "teeth" (שן, shen) on either sides of the pass. The one on the Philistine side came with one of those מצקי, which is so troublesome that translations usually leave it out (or artificially insert the verb "rose" in there). But obviously, it was a smeltery, and that was what the whole battle was about (see 1 Samuel 13:19).
Saul's victory over the Philistines (which logically gave him control over the smeltery) led to several other great military victories, but Saul also forfeited the kingdom and almost executed his son Jonathan. But Saul and Jonathan died on Mount Gilboa, again in battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:8). Physical strength may seem alluring, but the kingdom of the Lord comes not by strength. Or in the words of Jesus: For all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).
The verb יצק (yasaq) means to pour. It's used about 50 times; a quarter of which discusses casting metal (Exodus 25:12, 1 Kings 7:46, 2 Chronicles 4:3), while the rest describes the pouring of oil (Genesis 28:18, 1 Samuel 10:1, Isaiah 44:3), water (2 Kings 4:4, Ezekiel 24:3), blood (Leviticus 8:15, 1 Kings 22:35), and a stew or porridge (2 Kings 4:40).
This verb comes with three derivatives:
- The feminine noun יצקה (yesuqa), meaning a casting (1 Kings 7:24 only).
- The feminine noun מוצק (musaq), also meaning a casting (1 Kings 7:27 and Job 38:38 only).
- The feminine noun מוצקת (museqet), meaning a casting (2 Chronicles 4:3) or denoting a part of a lamp, presumably via which oil could flow towards the wick (Zechariah 4:2 only).