In Israel, you see it everywhere.
The Magen David (literally, Shield of David, also called the Star of David in English) is seen everywhere in Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world.
Just as many Christians wear a pendant with a cross, Jewish people wear a Star of David to make a statement of their identity as Jews as well as connection to Israel.
The star adorns the flag of Israel, the nation’s government buildings and synagogues.
In Jewish homes, you’ll find it on prayer shawls, (tallit), kippas (men’s head covering), and items used on Shabbat, such as the chalah (bread) covering and candlestick holders.
And it doesn’t stop there; the Star of David is on a variety of common items from key chains and coffee mugs to Jewish birthday balloons and party napkins.
But what does all of this have to do with the magen (shield) that King David spoke of in Scripture?
And what does it mean for Jews and Christians today? Let’s find out.
Magen (shield in Hebrew, מָגֵן) is related to the root word ganan (גָּנַן), which means defense. That is why we find magen most often used in Scripture as a defensive shield in war. It was usually made of bronze, but King Solomon even made shields of gold as showpieces in one of his palaces (1 Kings 10:16–17).
While David won many victories, likely holding his own shield of bronze close to his chest, he could not have adequately defended himself and the nation of Israel without the supernatural shield of his Lord and Shepherd.
We see this when tens of thousands of people set themselves against David and surrounded him, saying, “There is no help for you in God.”
David didn’t listen to them. Instead, he turned to God for help: “You, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and He answers me from His holy hill.” (Psalm 3:3–4; verse 4–5 in Hebrew Bible)
“For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:12)
David was not self-righteous, thinking that he alone was good enough to find favor with God. Rather, he focused on living out the Word of God.
Even when he broke a number of the ten commandments: thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery (or fornication leading someone else to to commit adultery), he accepted the consequences and turned back to living out the Word of God.
“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word,” David wrote. (Psalm 119:114)
According to Scripture, David’s shield was the LORD.
Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross is Magen David Adom, the Red Shield of David, which is placed on its ambulances, medical equipment, uniforms, and literature.
Some say that the six-pointed star was etched onto David’s shield in battle, but there’s no archaeology or literature to prove that; neither is this design found anywhere in Scripture.
However, this “Star of David” (often referred to by Jews and Muslims as the Seal of Solomon) had been discovered in a few ancient Israeli synagogues, such as in northern Israel going all the way back to the sixth century before the time of Yeshua (Jesus).
The Star of David was also found on a synagogue in Capernaum (3rd century AD), a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where Yeshua spent much of His time.
And it was used during the Jewish Diaspora (scattering to the nations), as it was found on a Jewish tomb in Italy (3rd century AD). It had also been imprinted on the cover page of the Leningrad Codex (AD 1000) as well as Hebrew Bibles (14th century AD).
Other cultures and religions throughout history have also used a six-pointed star, such as the eastern religions of Hinduism (India), Shintoism (Japan), and the Mayan culture in South America. Some Christian churches built in the 1500s in Portugal and Spain have the Star of David on them. And even in the Islamic nation of Morocco, coins were minted with a six-pointed star.
The Birth of a National Symbol
The star of David has also been heavily used in Jewish Kabbalah, where it takes on hidden spiritual meanings. As a part of its mystical nature, it achieved good-luck charm status, being placed on amulets and inside mezuzahs where it was thought to keep away evil spirits and to invite God’s protection. We see this in Jewish literature as early as the 12th century:
“The [book] “Eshkol ha-Kofer” of the Karaite Judah Hadassi (middle of the 12th cent.), says, in ch. 242: ‘Seven names of angels precede the mezuzah: Michael, Gabriel, etc. . . . Tetragrammato [YHVH] protect thee! And likewise the sign called ‘David’s shield’ is placed beside the name of each angel.’ It was, therefore, at this time a sign on amulets.” (Magen David, Jewish Encyclopedia online)
So how did this star transform from its varied past to an international symbol of Judaism and of modern-day Israel?
Its first significant use as a symbol of Jewish identity may have occurred in Prague, 1354 when Bohemian Emperor Charles IV either allowed or ordered the Jews to raise their own flag, bearing the Star of David.
In Prague, the Magen David was also printed onto book covers and title pages as well as engraved on cemetery headstones. From there, the symbol started spreading throughout Jewish communities of Europe.
According to Israeli art historian Dr. Alec Mishory, as the Jewish people became more integrated into Christian communities, especially in the early 19th century, Mishory writes on the Israel Ministry of Affairs (MFA) website that the star took on a broader religious significance for the Jewish People:
“Jews needed a symbol of Judaism parallel to the cross, the universal symbol of Christianity. In particular, they wanted something to adorn the walls of the modern Jewish house of worship that would be symbolic like the cross.
“This is why the Star of David became prominent in the nineteenth century and why it was later used on [Jewish] ritual objects and in synagogues and eventually reached Poland and Russia.”
The widespread popularity of the star by the late 1800s is perhaps the main reason the World Zionist Congress adopted it onto its own flag, which served as a unifying symbol of the Zionist movement: “With a flag one can lead men wherever one wants to, even into the Promised Land,” wrote Theodor Herzl, the movement’s founder. (The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, 27, digitized archive)
Herzl wrote of his vision for the design of the flag as show in the image above:
“When the new land first comes in sight, our new flag will be raised on the staff. At present we do not have any. I am thinking of a white flag with seven gold stars. The white field signifies our new, clean life, and the seven stars, our desire to start this new life under the banner of labor.” (Diaries of Theodor Herzl, 175)
Herzl’s drawing of a flag in his diary also incorporated a Star of David, but not the Lion of Judah or the blue stripes.
David Wolffsohn (1856–1914), who succeeded Herzl, becoming the second president of the Zionist Congress, is often credited for placing the blue stripes on the flag. He wrote this in his memoirs:
“One of the many problems with which I had to deal was that of deciding with which flag we should drape the hall. The question troubled me considerably. We would obviously have to create a flag, since we had none….
“Suddenly, I got a brainwave: We already had a flag — the blue and white of the tallith…. We had but to unfurl it before the eyes of the Jewish people and the world at large!” (quoted in Theodor Herzl, A Biography, as quoted in Forward magazine)
The tragic irony is that the Nazis also used the now popular Jewish symbol of the star to identify Jews for discrimination, persecution, and extermination by ordering them to wear a bright yellow star labeled “Jude.”
The unfathomable human destruction associated with this star infused it with a spiritual sense of sacredness it never had before, according to Professor Gershom Scholem in his book Magen David – History of a Symbol.
Some believe it is in defiance to the near genocide of an entire race of Jews that the Star of David was officially adopted into the flag of the reborn State of Israel in 1948, a symbol that Am Yisrael Chai — The People of Israel Live!
“The blue and white stripes which symbolize a life of purity, guided by the precepts of the Torah, and the Star of David, which symbolizes rebirth and new life for the Jewish people, tie the State of Israel, through its flag, to the past, present and future,” writes Mishory. (MFA)
This is the flexibility of symbols; they can host a variety of meanings for a variety of needs. And as we’ve seen, those meanings can and do evolve over centuries.
For many secular Israelis, even those who may attend synagogue services at times, the Star of David is a sign of national unity and victory. The early pioneers worked hard, fought hard, and realized their dreams of re-establishing a bountiful Jewish homeland.
For many ultra-Orthodox Jews, the star of David on the flag is a secular symbol that represents a man-made state of Israel, void of God.
For some Christian Zionists, they consider the Star of David on the flag as representing a shield of God, for they see that He has been wrapping His arms around His children to bring them home and protect their reborn nation against the many armies that have tried to eradicate them, just as He did with ancient Israel.
While it may be true that the vast majority of Israelis do not yet know God personally, we should not be discouraged, for that in itself is a fulfillment of prophecy.
The Prophet Zechariah in his book, chapters 12–14, speaks about the final war (a world war 3) where all of the nations come up against Jerusalem. Our ministry believes that we will see this in our lifetime.
This Messianic Prophecy says that God will pour out His spirit of grace and supplication as the Jewish people look upon One whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child.
The Rabbis state that this is speaking of the Messiah, and we know who that Messiah is — Yeshua (Jesus).