What does it mean that God is the 'LORD of hosts'?
The phrase "LORD of hosts" is how many English versions of the Bible translate the Hebrew "Yahweh Tsabaot." This name of God appears 261 times in the Old Testament. Yahweh is the name "I AM," showing God's self-existent, self-sufficient nature. It is the name by which He instructed His people to remember Him throughout all generations. Tsabaot, however, comes from the word saba, meaning army.
The word "host" in English is now used to refer to a numerous quantity or multitude; like a "host of options." However, historically, it referred to a multitude of warriors. So tsabaot refers to all the heavenly armies under God's command.
These heavenly armies include celestial bodies like the sun, moon, and stars. In Jeremiah 31:35 we see "the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is His name."
Another "host" God commands are the heavenly beings such as cherubim, seraphim, and other angels. Micaiah had a vision and said, "I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on His right hand and on his left" (1 Kings 22:19). Jesus refers to God's command of this host of angels in Matthew 26:53 asking, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" A legion was a unit of six thousand men in the Roman army during Jesus' day. Thus, he was saying God could summon seventy-two thousand angels at a moment's notice to protect His son. When John received his vision of heaven, he described "angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands" (Revelation 5:11). These descriptions show that God commands an innumerable amount of heavenly beings, an entire host of angel armies.
Surprisingly, the hosts God commands are not limited to celestial bodies and angelic beings, but also extend to human armies. When David confronted Goliath in battle, he said, "I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel" (1 Samuel 17:45). The Israelites submitted to God's authority as their commander.
The name "LORD of hosts" was most frequently used by the prophets when God's people were facing defeat in order to encourage them to trust God and submit to His authority (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi, Haggai). Readers today can also heed the prophets' call to recognize God as the self-sufficient leader of innumerable armies and make Him LORD of hosts in their own lives.
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