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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Lord of Hosts

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LORD OF HOSTS ( Jahweh lsbĕâ’ôth ) appears in the OT as a title of God 282 times, of which all but 36 are found in the Prophetical writings. There is considerable uncertainty as to what the term ‘hosts’ signifies, and it seems best to suppose that its meaning underwent modifications in the course of time. We can, perhaps, distinguish three stages.

1 . It is possible that at one time the title suggested the idea of Jahweh as the leader of the Israelite forces . In favour of this view is the fact that the word tsěb â’ôth outside this phrase always refers to bodies of men, and usually to Israelite forces. There is no doubt that in the early stages of the history of the nation the popular view of the functions of Jahweh was concentrated to a large extent on this point that He was the guider and commander of the armies in warfare; and the same idea lingered late, and lies at the bottom of the objection to the institution of the monarchy which is put in Samuel’s mouth (cf. 1 Samuel 8:20 with 1 Samuel 12:12 ). In the same way, David, as he taunts Goliath, says to him, ‘I come in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel’ ( 1 Samuel 17:45 ). And once more there is evidently a special connexion between the title ‘Lord of hosts’ and the Ark which is regarded as the habitation of Jahweh in His capacity as War-God (cf. 1Sa 4:3 ; 1 Samuel 4:6-8 ; 1 Samuel 4:5-6 ). But this explanation of the origin of the title, as Delitzsch pointed out, is greatly invalidated by the fact that we do not find it in the period in which we should expect it to be most common, that is, in the wars of the Wandering in the Wilderness.

2 . So we are brought to another view, which may merely mark a later stage: the ‘hosts’ are the spiritual forces which stand at God’s disposal . So in Joshua 5:13-14 , when Joshua asks the unknown warrior whether he is on their side or on that of their enemies, the implied answer of the Divine stranger is that he belongs to neither side, but is come as captain of the Lord’s host to succour His people. For the idea of the angelic host engaged in the service of God, cf. 2 Samuel 24:16 , 1 Kings 22:19 , 2 Kings 6:17 ; and in the NT Matthew 26:52 , Luke 2:13 , Hebrews 1:14 .

3 . The third stage is reached in the prophets, esp. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Malachi, where the title assumes a far wider meaning and embraces all the forces of the universe . The term ‘ host of heaven ’ is commonly used of the heavenly bodies to which the later kings paid idolatrous worship (cf. also Genesis 2:1 , Psalms 33:6 ). As the Idea of the omnipotence of God grew loftier and wider, the elemental forces of nature were regarded as performing service to their Creator. So the sun is God’s minister ( Psalms 19:4-5 ), and even so early as the Song of Deborah the stars are represented as joining by God’s behest in the battle against the invader ( Judges 5:20 ). Hence the term ‘Lord of hosts’ becomes with the prophets the highest and most transcendental title of God, and is even rendered by the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] in a certain number of passages ‘Lord of the forces (of nature).’ It serves as a constant reminder of the illimitable width of God’s sway, and as such it acquires a close connexion with the other great attribute of God, His holiness. Hence we get the summit of the OT creed in the angelic song of praise, Isaiah 6:3 , ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the fulness of the whole earth is his glory.’

In the NT, with the exception of a quotation from Isaiah 1:9 in Romans 9:29 , the term occurs only in James 5:4 (in both passages EV [Note: English Version.] has the form ‘ Lord of Sabaoth ’), where it is singularly appropriate in the passionate denunciation of the oppression practised by the unscrupulous landowners, recalling as it does the spirit of the Hebrew prophets.

H. C. O. Lanchester.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lord of Hosts'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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