Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
The verb שען (sha'an) means to lean on or trust in. It sometimes comes without an object to lean on (Genesis 18:4, rest under the tree), but mostly speaks of resting upon a spear (2 Samuel 1:6), an assistant's arm (2 Kings 5:18), pillars (Judges 16:26), a staff (Ezekiel 29:7). Our verb may describe a mental leaning: a trusting in: one's house (Job 8:15), the Lord (Isaiah 10:20, 50:10, Micah 3:11). Numbers 21:15 speaks of a slope that leans on a border, which appears to describe a political border that follows a natural one.
This root prefixed with the particle of agency, namely מ (me), creates a slew of words that describe support. Not among these is the familiar name Mishnah, the Jewish book of the Oral Torah. That particular name comes from the verb שנה (shana), to repeat.
From our verb שען (sha'an), to lean on, come:
- The masculine noun משען (mish'an), meaning support (2 Samuel 22:19 = Psalm 18:18 only).
- The masculine noun משען (mash'an), also meaning support (Isaiah 3:1 only).
- The feminine noun משענה (mish'ena), also meaning support, but in a broad and categorical way. This word also occurs in Isaiah 3:1 only.
- The feminine noun משענת (mish'enet), meaning staff, which in antiquity was a common attribute of travelers (2 Kings 4:29), old men (Zechariah 8:4), and even angels (Judges 6:21). When society stratified, the staff became a scepter and a signature ornament of law-givers (Numbers 21:18), prophets (2 Kings 4:29), and national or military governments (Isaiah 36:6). In Psalm 23:4, David utters the familiar words: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod (שבט, shebet, rod for correction) and Your staff (משענת, mish'enet, staff for support), they comfort me"; which declares both rod and staff proverbial attributes of shepherds.