Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
There are three separate roots of the form זמר (zamar), which at first glance don't seem to have a lot to do with each other, but at second glance support each other:
The verb זמר (zamar I) means to sing or praise (Judges 5:3, Psalm 18:49, 27:6), or to play musical instruments (Psalm 33:2, 71:22). This verb occurs mostly in the book of Psalms. Its derivatives are:
- The feminine noun זמרה (zimra), meaning song (Isaiah 51:2, Psalm 118:14) or music (Amos 5:23).
- The masculine noun זמיר (zamir), also meaning song (Isaiah 25:5, Job 35:10).
- The masculine noun מזמור (mizmor), denoting a song of praise (Psalm 3:1, 98:1, 143:1). This noun is commonly translated with the word psalm, which comes from a Greek word denoting a song sung to a harp.
The verb זמר (zamar II) means to trim or prune (Leviticus 25:3, Isaiah 5:6). BDB Theological Dictionary deems the relationship with root I "obscure", and in an etymological sense that's probably true. But to the Hebrews, pruning a vineyard and singing praises was essentially the same thing. The bridge between these "two" verbs is that it describes the same difference that exists between (1a) a natural wilderness and (1b) a tended vineyard, and (2a) a crowd howling wildly and (2b) a choir singing a crafted song.
Our verb comes with the following derivations:
- The masculine noun זמיר (zamir), meaning a trimming or pruning. Note that this noun is identical to the noun זמיר (zamir), meaning song. This noun occurs only once, in the Song of Solomon 2:12, in a brilliant sentence where considerations of vegetation (flowers appearing in the land) turn to the voice of the turtledove, across our noun, which some translations translate with a pruning or trimming, while others translate it with a singing.
- The feminine noun זמורה (zemora), meaning branch or shoot. But in half of the half a dozen occurrences of this word in the Bible, something supernatural or idolatrous is going on. In Numbers 13:23 our word is applied to the vine-branch and huge cluster of grapes that the spies confiscate at Eshcol; Isaiah 17:10 speaks of the twigs of a strange (god), and in Ezekiel 8:17 the men of Judah are apparently engaged in some idolatrous ritual.
- The feminine noun מזמרה (mazmera), denoting a pruning knife. This word occurs only in plural (Isaiah 18:5, Micah 4:3).
- The feminine noun מזמרת (mezammeret), denoting a kind of utensil of Solomon's temple. This word occurs only in plural and only as part of a little list of temple utensils. Most versions translate this word with snuffer — a little tool that extinguishes a candle or oil lamp.
The unused verb זמר (zmr III) probably has to do with a protective attitude towards valuable or beautiful things. Its derivatives are:
- The feminine noun זמרה (zimra), the meaning of which is unclear. It occurs only in Genesis 43:11, and is either part of an array of gifts or else sums it up. Most versions translate this word with choice products, but some even suggest that it means music or praise, and that Jacob tells his sons to take items to the Egyptian court that will testify of the goodness of Canaan
- The masculine noun זמר (zemer), which probably denotes a mountain sheep (say BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) or an antelope (says NOBSE Study Bible Name List). This word occurs only once, in Deuteronomy 14:5, where it occurs in a list of animals that were declared fit for consumption.