Our study last week reminded me of something else that caught my eye while writing the minor prophets series last year. When I was copying verses over into my handwritten notes, I realized I was writing “the Lord of hosts” quite a lot — sometimes more than once in a single verse.
You’ll often see this name of God written as “Jehovah Sabaoth.” Yahweh Sebaot/Tsebaoth are other ways to transliterate the name, and Elohim Sebaot is used as well. The variations of this name occur some 285 times, mostly in the books of prophecy. In the New Testament, it’s transliterated as “Lord of Sabaoth” (Rom. 9:29; James 5:4).
Seeing the name “Lord of hosts” again and again in the prophets made me wonder about the significance of this name. Each name of God tells us something important about His character. What does “the Lord of Hosts” teach us?
The word saba, of which sabaoth is a form, is Strong’s H6635. It means to fight or serve in an army, and hence sabaoth refers to the armies and their warfare. The word is used of priestly service as well (Num. 4:23; 8:24). Often in new translations, it is rendered “the Lord Almighty.”
When the Lord is referred to as Yahweh Sabaoth, it speaks to His position as “head of all the armies in existence.” He leads the hosts of His people, controls the hosts of other armies, and is master of the heavenly hosts as well. This includes angel armies and heavenly bodies like the sun and moon (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).
Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons; and concerning the work of My hands, you command Me. I have made the earth, and created man on it. I—My hands—stretched out the heavens, and all their host I have commanded. I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city and let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward,” says the Lord of hosts.(Is. 45:11-13)
God’s promises are backed-up by the fact that He literally controls everything. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that sabaoth refers to “Yahweh the mightiest Warrior or Yahweh the all-powerful King.” Yahweh Sabaoth is a name that speaks of His ultimate authority to command.
The Lord Who Fights
The first time the name Yahweh Sabaoth appears in scripture is 1 Samuel 1, when Elkanah goes to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts (v. 3) and his wife prays to Yahweh for a child (v. 11). God as a Warrior shows up even earlier, though. He fought for Israel when delivering them from Egypt (Ex. 14:14), and Joshua’s encounter with a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ also alludes to this name of God.
So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:14-15)
Before the first major battle Joshua was going into as Israel new leader, the Commander (H8269, Sar, also translated “captain” or “prince”) of the Lord’s host appears. As the Lord who fights for us, He came to tell Joshua there wouldn’t be a battle of the usual kind at Jericho.
We all know the story of Jericho — how the warriors and priests, carrying the ark of the covenant, marched around the city six days, then on the seventh they shouted and the walls came tumbling down. Joshua’s command to the people on that last day was, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city” (JOsh. 6:16). Israel won this battle by doing exactly what the Captain of the Lord’s hosts told them; a very evident reminder that their victories all came about because the Almighty was on their side.
We don’t march into battle as a nation with God at our head anymore. In terms of the promises made in the Bible to God’s covenant people, Israel today exists on a spiritual level. What does the Lord of hosts fight for us if we’re not battling physical foes?
If we look in the New Testament, the obvious answer is that our Yahweh Sabaoth is fighting spiritual battles. Paul tells Timothy to be “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3-4), and includes us all as part of the lord’s host in describing Christians fighting battles alongside God.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)
Only Yahweh Sabaoth can equip us to battle enemies like this, and He’s the only warrior mighty enough to ensure ultimate victory. In addition, He fights for us on many battlefields we might consider “smaller” than spiritual warfare.
On Every Battlefield
Looking for examples of how the Lord of hosts fights for His people, we see both physical and spiritual intervention in the life of David. Facing Goliath, David said, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). We all know what happened to that giant, and David continued to have military and personal success because “the Lord God of hosts was with him” (2 Sam. 5:10).
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Ps. 46:9-11)
These words from God echo His assurance to Israel at the banks of the Red Sea — the Lord will fight for you, on many different battlefields. These can be external to us, and internal as well.
David called out to the Lord God of hosts when his soul felt overwhelmed (Ps. 69:1, 6). Hannah asked the Lord of hosts to fight her battle against infertility (1 Sam. 1:11). God answered both prayers, and won both battles. Nothing His children are fighting is to insignificant for God to step in and do battle on our behalf as the mightiest Warrior and all-powerful King.