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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Host of Heaven

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HOST OF HEAVEN . The phrase ‘host (or army) of heaven’ occurs in OT in two apparently different senses referring (1) to stars, (2) to angels.

1. The ‘host of heaven’ is mentioned as the object of idolatrous worship ; it is frequently coupled with ‘sun and moon,’ the stars being obviously meant; where ‘sun and moon’ are not specifically mentioned, the phrase may be used as including them as well. Deuteronomy 4:19 speaks of this worship as a special temptation to Israel; it has been appointed or allotted to all the peoples,’ i.e. the heathen, and is absolutely inconsistent with the worship of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ; the penalty is stoning ( Deuteronomy 17:3 ). The references to it suggest that it became prominent in Israel in the 7th cent. b.c., when Manasseh introduced it into the Temple ( 2 Kings 21:5 ); its abolition was part of Josiah’s reform ( 2 Kings 23:4-5 ; 2 Kings 23:12 ). The mention, in the last verse, of ‘the altars which were on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz’ suggests that the worship was, in fact, older than the reign of Manasseh, and had been practised by Ahaz; it was carried on upon the roofs of houses ( Jeremiah 19:13 , Zephaniah 1:5 ), so that 2 Kings 23:12 may well refer to it. Isaiah 17:8 mentions ‘sun-pillars’ as characteristic of the idolatry of the reign of Ahaz (unless the words are a later addition), and there are possible traces of nature-worship in earlier periods in Amos 5:26 , and in the names Beth-shemesh, Jericho , which suggest sun- and moon-worship. 2 Kings 17:16 , which speaks of the worship of the host of heaven as prevalent in the Northern Kingdom, is a ‘Deuteronomic’ passage, which can hardly be pressed historically. Whilst, then, there are early traces of nature-worship, the systematized idolatry of ‘the host of heaven ‘belongs to the period of special Assyrian and Babylonian influence; astrology and kindred beliefs were characteristic of the religions of these countries.

The phrase is used in other contexts of the stars as the armies of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , innumerable, ordered, and obedient ( Genesis 2:1 , Psalms 33:6 , Isaiah 34:4 ; Isaiah 45:12 , Jeremiah 33:22 ). Isaiah 40:26 (‘bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by name’) comes very near to a personification. In Daniel 8:10 we read of the assault of the ‘little horn’ on the ‘host of heaven’ and their ‘prince.’ This may be only a hyperbolical expression for blasphemous pride, but it strongly suggests the influence of the Babylonian ‘dragon myth,’ In which heaven itself was stormed; cf. Revelation 12:4 ; Revelation 13:6 , where the Beast blasphemes God, His tabernacles, and them that dwell in heaven; i.e. the angelic host (so Bousset), at least in the idea underlying the conception. Hence in Daniel 8:10 we are probably right in seeing a reference to the stars regarded as animate warriors of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , their ‘captain’; cf. the poetical passages Judges 5:20 (the stars in their courses fighting against Sisera) and Job 38:7 (the morning stars, coupled with the ‘sons of God,’ singing for joy); in these passages it remains a question how far the personification is merely a poetic figure, it is at least possible that a more literally conceived idea lies behind them. in is Job 24:21 we read of the ‘host of the height’ (‘high ones on high’), whom J″ [Note: Jahweh.] shall punish in the Day of Judgment, together with the kings of the earth. The passage, the date of which is very doubtful, is strongly eschatological, and the phrase must refer to supramundane foes of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , whether stars or angels; again, a reference to the dragon myth is very possible.

2. Passages such as these lead to the consideration of others where ‘host of heaven’=‘ angels .’ The chief is 1 Kings 22:19 (Micaiah’s vision); cf. Psalms 103:21 , Luke 2:13 . Though this actual phrase is not often used, the attendant ministers of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] are often spoken of as an organized army ( Genesis 32:2 , Joshua 5:14 , 2 Kings 6:17 , Job 25:3 ). Cf. in this connexion the title ‘Lord of hosts (Sabaoth),’ which, though it may have been used originally of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] as the leader of the armies of Israel, admittedly came to be used of Him as ruler of the celestial hosts (see Lord of Hosts). There are passages where the phrase ‘host of heaven’ is ambiguous, and may refer either to stars or to angels ( Daniel 4:35 , Nehemiah 9:6 , Psalms 148:2 [where it connects angels and sun, moon, and stars]).

3. It remains to consider the connexion between the two uses of the phrase . It has been supposed by some to be purely verbal, stars and angels being independently compared to an army; or it has been suggested that the stars were ‘the visible image’ of the host of angels. But a study of the passages quoted above will probably lead to the conclusion that the connexion is closer. The idolaters evidently regarded the stars as animate; prophets and poets seem to do so too. When this is done, it lies very near at hand to identify them with, or at least assimilate them to, the angels. In the ancient myths and folklore, the traces of which in the Bible are increasingly recognized, stars and angels play a large part, and the conception of the two is not kept distinct. Later thought tended to identify them (Enoch 18:12, 21:1 etc., Revelation 9:1 ; Revelation 9:11 ; cf. Isaiah 14:12 , Luke 10:18 ). Hence the one use of the phrase ‘host of heaven’ ran naturally into the other, and it seems impossible to draw a sharp line of distinction between the two. As we have seen, there are passages where it is ambiguous, or where it seems to imply the personification of the stars, i.e. their practical identification with angels. While there is no reason why the spiritual teachers of Israel should not have countenanced this belief at a certain stage and to a certain point, and should not have adopted in a modified form the eschatology in which it figured, it is of course clear that the conception was kept free from its grosser and superstitious features. Whatever it may have been in the popular mind, to them it is little more than a metaphor, and nothing either distantly resembling the fear or the worship of the stars receives any countenance in their teaching. It is, however, worth while insisting on the full force of their language as affording a key to the reconstruction of the popular beliefs which seem to lie behind it. It should be noted that Wis 13:2 protests against any idea that the heavenly bodies are animate, and it has been suggested that Ezekiel’s avoidance of the phrase ‘Lord of hosts’ may be due to a fear of seeming to lend any countenance to star-worship.

C. W. Emmet.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Host of Heaven'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/h/host-of-heaven.html. 1909.

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Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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