Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are three separate roots שמר (shamar), which perhaps aren't all that separate when looked at with poetically inclined eyes:
The verb שמר (shamar I) means to keep, guard, observe or give heed. HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sums up this verb with "to exercise great care over". This ubiquitous verb is used to literally mean keeping a watch out or guarding: a garden (Genesis 2:15), a brother (Genesis 4:9), a herd (Genesis 30:31), a house (2 Samuel 15:16), etcetera. Or it is used in the sense of paying heed to commands and ordinances (Deuteronomy 11:32), the way of the Lord (Genesis 18:19), one's own ways (Psalm 39:2), or general understanding (Proverbs 19:8). And it also occurs in the literal sense of storing or preserving food (Genesis 41:35), money or goods (Exodus 22:7), knowledge (Malachi 2:7), or anger (Amos 1:11).
This root's derivatives are:
- The feminine noun שמרה (shomra), meaning guard (Psalm 141:3 only).
- The feminine noun שמרה (shemura), meaning eyelid (Psalm 77:4 only).
- The masculine noun שמר (shimmur), meaning night watch (Exodus 12:42 only).
- The feminine noun אשמורה ('ashmura) or אשמרת ('ashmoret), meaning night watch as unit of time (Judges 7:19). This verb appears in two different spellings in the Bible; the one with the ת, taw is probably older.
- The masculine noun משמר (mishmar), meaning prison (Genesis 40:3) or guard (Jeremiah 51:12). It may even mean a guarding of one's heart (Proverbs 4:23) or — in plural — observances of religious services (Nehemiah 13:14).
- The feminine noun משמרת (mishmeret), literally meaning "with the function of watching," used in the sense of a charge or obligation; an official function of guarding.
Then there's the assumed root שמר (shmr II) of the masculine noun שמר (shemer), which occurs only in the plural where it means dregs, or sedimentary residue (Psalm 75:8), or old and aged wine (Isaiah 25:6), a country at ease (Jeremiah 48:11), or stagnant hearts of men (Zephaniah 1:12). Linguist insist that that these two roots are separate (their proposed relationship obscure even, decrees BDB Theological Dictionary) but to a Hebrew audience, the link between standing a stint of night watch and wine that stands sedimenting may not have been all that recondite.
And then there's the assumed root שמר (shmr III), from whence comes the noun שמיר (shamir), denoting some kind of wild and unpleasant vegetation (usually translated with thorns). The prophet Isaiah uses the word frequently to tell what will happen to a wasted and abandoned land (Isaiah 5:6, 7:23, 27:4), which suggests that our word describes not so much a lonely briar or single thorn but rather a vast hedge that makes the land impossible to enter or traverse. That this word essentially describes being impenetrable is shown by its use in Ezekiel 3:9 - "... like emery harder than shamir I have made your forehead" - and Zechariah 7:12 - "... they made their hearts like shamir."
The battle of Marathon
Note that שמור (shamor) is the modern Hebrew word for fennel and is clearly derived from this same form. The Greek word for this plant is μαραθον (marathon), from whence comes the name Μαραθων (marathon), which would literally mean 'covered with fennel'.
The Battle of Marathon (490 BC) was one of the most decisive battles in human history and the "colorful porch" from whence comes the name Stoic featured a huge mural of that battle. Had the Persians defeated the Greeks, Greece would have stopped to develop freely and there would have been no Plato, Socrates or Aristotle, no Greek democracy, mathematics, poetry and all that, and no European Renaissance. These things would possibly, or even probably, have arisen independently of the Greeks, but the modern world would certainly have looked wholly different. The gospel would have been written in Persian, and would not contain its many signature reference to Greek mythology and Homer. Even Jesus Christ would not have been called Jesus Christ.
Scripture theorists with sufficiently creative minds may want to investigate the possibility that certain prophetic passages concerning Samaria in the Bible may be playful references to this battle of Marathon.
There may even be relations between our word μαραθον (marathon) and the Semitic words מר (mor) and מרה (mara), which denote strength either of taste or clout. This Semitic root sits at the heart of the name Mary and even the word "myrrh", or the fragrant oil with which the consummation of a marriage was marked. Read more on these connections in our article on the name Nicodemus.