Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are two separate roots נצר (nasar), which don't seem to have a lot to do with each other, and one of the form נזר (nazar), which may have sounded similar and which appears to be quite similar in meaning to both of the previous, be it indirectly:
The verb נזר (nazar) means to consecrate or separate oneself, although it doesn't seem to indicate a physical removal from society (Ezekiel 14:7, Hosea 9:10, Leviticus 15:31). This verb occurs about a dozen times in the Bible, but its derivatives occur slightly more often:
- The masculine noun נזר (nezer), whose meanings split into the concept of consecration (Numbers 6:9 speaks of the "head of his consecration," which was long, uncut hair) and signs of consecration, namely a woman's hair, since that probably reminded of consecrated hair; Jeremiah 7:29, and a crown or diadem (2 Samuel 1:10, Psalm 89:40). This may perhaps shed some light on Revelation 13:1.
- The masculine noun נזיר (nazir), meaning a consecrated one or Nazirite. The entire chapter of Numbers 6 deals with the Nazirite vow, ending with the famous benediction of Numbers 6:24-26. In Genesis 49:26 Jacob compares his son Joseph to a fruitful plant whose branches (literally 'daughters') run over a wall, and calls him a nazir to his brothers. In Leviticus 25:5 and 25:11 the word nazir is applied to the vine, which was not to be pruned in the Sabbatical year, but it is unclear why this vine is so special (but see John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches").
- The denominative verb נזר (nazar), meaning to be a consecrated one or Nazirite, or to live like one (Numbers 6:2-12 only).
- The masculine plural noun מנזר (minzar), which is difficult to interpret. This noun occurs only once, in Nahum 3:17, and seems to mean consecrated ones or princes (crowned ones).
Also see the verb קדש (qadash), which also means to separate or be holy.
The root verb נצר (nasar I) means to watch, guard or keep. BDB Theological Dictionary divides the applications of this verb into five categories:
- To watch, guard or keep, for instance a vineyard (Job 27:18, Isaiah 27:3) or a fig tree (Proverbs 27:18), or men (Job 7:20). From this usage stems the word נצרים (nasarim), which means watchmen (Jeremiah 31:6) or perhaps besiegers (Jeremiah 4:16; see below). None of the sources used reckons this word as a (plural) noun, and BDB Theological Dictionary deems it a passive participle. Our verb is also used in an ethical sense: guarding one's mouth (Proverbs 13:3) or tongue (Psalm 34:13), one's way (Proverbs 16:17), and one's heart (Proverbs 4:23).
- To preserve or guard from dangers (Deuteronomy 32:10, Psalm 25:21, Isaiah 26:3). From this usage stems the adjective נציר (nsyr), meaning the preserved (Isaiah 49:6 only).
- To guard with fidelity, to keep or observe: loving-kindness (Exodus 34:7), a covenant (Deuteronomy 33:9), God's commandments (Psalm 78:7), parental commandments (Proverbs 6:20) and wisdom and discretion (Proverbs 3:21).
- To keep (guard) secrets: secret things (Isaiah 48:6), secret places (Isaiah 65:4), or wily intentions of the heart (Proverbs 7:10)
- To keep closed; blockaded or besieged (Isaiah 1:8, Jeremiah 4:16, Ezekiel 6:12)
The root verb נצר (nasar II) isn't used in the Bible but in Arabic it means to be fresh or bright or grow green. In the Bible only the masculine noun נצר (neser) occurs (four times), and that noun means branch or shoot.
Isaiah uses it three times, once in Isaiah 11:1, where it denotes the Messiah, and once in Isaiah 60:21, where it denotes the crop God expects to grow in Israel. In Isaiah 14:19 this noun conveys a much more negative charge, as the prophet speaks of the king of Babylon as a rejected branch. Finally, the prophet Daniel uses this noun when he talks about a descendant of the daughter of the king of the South (of her "branch").