LORD OF HOSTS, OR JEHOVAH SABAOTH
THE last name of God which the Old Testament gives us is "Jehovah Sabaoth" or "Lord of Hosts." A special peculiarity attaches to this title, namely, that it is only known in the general failure of God's elect Israel. It is never found in the books of Moses, or in that of Joshua and the Judges, or in Job, or in the Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes. It occurs but rarely in the books of Kings and the Chronicles, and not much oftener in the Psalms. But in most of the Prophets, especially in those who most keenly felt the failure of Israel in the promised land, the name meets us constantly: nearly eighty times in Jeremiah: fourteen in the two short chapters of Haggai: very nearly fifty times in Zechariah, and twenty-five in the brief concluding prophecy of Malachi.
Now this fact itself is significant, shewing that the teaching or lesson which this name conveys belongs to a certain stage in the experience of God's elect people. Speaking generally, every name of God is revealed to meet some felt need of the creature: but some needs are sooner felt than others. All awakened souls feel in some degree that they are needy. The names "Elohim" and "Jehovah," that is God in covenant, yet righteous, may both be known at the very earliest stage and on the lowest platform. We have only to know ourselves as "void and formless," as this earth was when God began His work upon it, and we shall see something at least of the value of His first most blessed name "Elohim." As we learn that man "became a living soul," and is therefore under law, we shall see the riches laid up for us in "Jehovah," who is both righteous, and who gives to man His own righteousness. The higher relationships of God are only known as we advance in the appointed way, some of the most precious being learnt out of our very failure, and even through the judgments which it brings upon us. As we feel our need of His very life to bring forth the seed of promise, we shall know Him as the "Almighty," who gives Himself to us, and makes us partakers of His own fruitfulness. As we see how even Gentiles have a knowledge of God, we shall know Him as the "Most High," who has a priesthood far wider than that which we have first known, that is the priesthood of the election. The name "El Olam," the "God of Ages," is only learnt through a more painful experience. Abraham and Moses did not know it till the one had seen how Hagar must be cast out, and the other that he could not lead Israel into Canaan, but must himself pass away before God's elect could inherit the land beyond Jordan. It is so with this last name, "Lord of Hosts" or "Sabaoth." It is not learnt while we are bondmen in Egypt, or while we are still in our experience only in the wilderness. It is not even learnt when we first cross Jordan, and are victorious in the promised land, that is, when we first apprehend our place as risen with Christ, and stand upon His promise, as more than conquerors over wicked spirits in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). It is when Israel has failed, not in Egypt or the desert only, but in the land of promise, that the name "Jehovah Sabaoth" is first learnt; and not until Israel is divided, and in peril of being led captive out of the land, does it become the name to which the prophets seem instinctively to turn for comfort and deliverance. In a word, we do not know this name, the "Lord of Hosts," till we have learnt the Church's fall, and that the "hosts of Israel" (Numb. 1:52; 2:4, 6, 8, 11, 13, &c.) can no longer help us, for they are bitterly divided and destroying one another. But though Israel fails, God ever remains, and as the "Lord of Hosts," there is help in Him, very specially when His elect have no other helper. Therefore, when all things shake, the Psalmist says, "The Lord of Hosts is with us, though the earth be removed, and the waters roar; and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalm 46:3, 7, 11). God is and must be ever sufficient, for a ruined church as for a ruined world. And the Church, because of the deposit committed to her, may need His help even more than the unbelieving world, which is yet so far from Him.
Let us then turn to some of the places where this name occurs, that we may better see its value. We first find it, three or four times, in the earlier chapters of the First Book of Kings, commonly called the First Book of Samuel. Now that book, as indeed every other book of Holy Scripture, has its special aim. Its object is to shew how the failure of the priests in Israel led, first to a prophet taking their place, and then how the failure of the prophet, who made his sons judges, though they walked not in his ways, led to the people asking a king, to go before them and judge them like the nations; (Note: In illustration of all this, see "The Mystery of the Kingdom, traced through the Books of Kings;" Part i. pp. 44-58.) in all which, as the Lord then said to Samuel, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). Henceforward, according to their own wish, they were to be "like the nations" (1 Sam. 8:20), with a king, who "should go before them and fight their battles," and who, to this end, "when he saw any strong or valiant man, took him unto him," thus by strength or gift, instead of in the faith of a present God, to save Israel (1 Sam. 14:52). For their wish was to have something strong before their eyes, to do those things for them which God Himself had covenanted to do,—something or some one who should take His place, as though the Lord were absent from them. It is in this state of things, with priests like Hophni and Phinehas, who "make God's people to transgress," and with the ark, now taken by Philistines, and then left for years in Kirjath-Jearim, that the name of the "Lord of Hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims," first appears in Holy Scripture. As is so common in the ways of God, it is a sufferer, a barren woman, who first knows this name and puts her trust in it (1 Sam. 1:2, 11). We next find it where the army of Israel is smitten before the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:2, 4): then in the mouth of David, "the stripling," when he meets Goliath of Gath, "not with sword or shield, but in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel" (1 Sam. 17:45). At this stage of Israel's history, the name, "Jehovah Sabaoth," very rarely meets us. And it is possible that at this time its true meaning was little understood,—perhaps even misunderstood,—by those who yet used it. A soul which deals with God, and listens to His word, constantly utters truths which are above the speaker's perfect apprehension; which therefore, if he attempted to explain them, might be, not mis-stated only, but even more or less denied. Peter, for example, when the Holy Ghost was given, preached that "the Spirit should be poured out upon all flesh," while yet he was unprepared to receive this as a truth, when it came before him practically in the call of the Gentiles in the person of Cornelius (Acts 2:17; 10:14, 28). It is possible enough, therefore, that, when this name, "Lord of Hosts," was first revealed to God's elect, they may have linked the title in their thoughts with earthly hosts or with the hosts of Israel. But the utterances of the prophets, where this name occurs so often, shew us its true import, and what it is given to reveal to God's divided and distressed people.
For in the mouth of the prophets this name has no uncertain sound. It tells of One, who in the ruin of His Church on earth, is yet the Lord of heavenly hosts; who therefore, whatever may be the failure of His elect on earth, in relation to the dispensation, that is, to that which is committed to them, can and will yet perfectly fulfil His purpose of blessing to the world, perhaps even more fully through the very failure of His people. With the prophets the "Lord of Hosts" is the "God of heaven" and of the "hosts of heaven," through whom He can fulfil His pleasure, though men on earth rebel or turn from Him. (Note: I may note here that Daniel is one of the very few prophets who do not use the title "Lord of Hosts," but has instead the name, the "God of heaven." (e.g. Dan. 2:18, 28, 37; 4:37; 5:23.) We find the same name in the decree of Cyrus; (2 Chron. 36:23; and Ezra 1:2;) and in the prayer of Nehemiah. (Neh. 1:4, 5; 2:4, 20.) It seems as if the two titles were substantially equivalent. Compare Psalm 148:1, 2. We find the expression, "Host of heaven," in 1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 18:18; &c.) So Isaiah, in the days of Ahaz, "who walked after the abominations of the heathen," until Judah was smitten and led captive (2 Chron. 28:1-5), so that "the daughter of Zion was left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, and as a besieged city," turns to this name for succour, saying, "Except the Lord of Hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah" (Isa. 1:8-9). So again, "in the year that King Uzziah died,"—who had freed the people from the Philistines, and to whom the Ammonites had given gifts, "for he had built towers in Jerusalem, and had a host of fighting men, so that his name was spread far abroad" (2 Chron. 26:6-15)—the vision which Isaiah saw was of a Lord stronger than the earthly king who had passed away,—a Lord "whose train filled the temple," and still "cried, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa. 6:1-3). So again, when the Kings of Israel and Syria were confederate against Judah, and "the heart of the people was moved as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind," the Lord thus spake, saying, "Say not, A confederacy, neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid; but sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself, and let Him be your fear; and He shall be for a sanctuary. ... the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this" (Isa. 7:2; 8:11-14; 9:7). It is so always. It is the "Lord of Hosts" who punishes His people for their unfaithfulness (Isa. 9:13, 19). It is again the "Lord of Hosts," who, when they have been chastened, smites their adversary and brings them help and full deliverance. "Therefore thus saith the Lord of Hosts, O my people, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee: but yet a very little while and the indignation shall cease, and the Lord of Hosts shall stir up a scourge for him, and his burden shall be taken from thy shoulder" (Isa. 10:12, 24-27). "Like as a lion roaring on his prey, so shall the Lord of Hosts come down to fight for Mount Zion, and for the hill thereof: as birds flying, so will the Lord of Hosts defend Jerusalem: defending also He will deliver it" (Isa. 31:4, 5).
And it is very especially when His people are captive, and have no might to help themselves, that this name is most often repeated by the prophets for their comfort. As I have already said, Jeremiah in the destruction of Jerusalem uses it nearly eighty times, and Haggai constantly repeats it in his exhortations to the little remnant, who have gone up out of Babylon to build again the house of the Lord:—"Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, and be strong, all ye people of the land, and work; for I am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts. For thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts. The glory of this latter house shall be greater than the former, saith the Lord of Hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts. ... For I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Haggai 2:4-9, 23). With the last of the old prophets it is the same. He pours out his complaint at the growing corruption:—"They that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered." But a little remnant yet "fear Him, and think upon His name." "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in the day when I make up my jewels, and I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him" (Mal. 3:16, 17). Thus must He ever answer the cry, "O Lord, God, of Hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people? Turn us again, O Lord, God, of Hosts, cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved" (Psalm 80:4, 19).
And Scripture is full of illustrations of the way in which the "Lord of Hosts" uses His hosts for the correction and deliverance of His people, and for the punishment of His adversaries, with terrible displays of just judgment. David is an example. All Israel have accepted him as king:—"The Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies." Then comes the temptation to number the people, and to count how strong he is. "And Joab gave the number of the people unto David; all they of Israel were eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men." Can these mighty men of valour help, if God is forgotten? Was not David stronger, unaided and alone, when he replied to the taunt of Goliath of Gath by "the name of the Lord of Hosts," than he now is with a thousand thousand valiant men? The Lord's answer to the numbering of the people is to shew His host. "God sent an angel, the angel of the Lord, destroying throughout the coasts of Israel. And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord, standing between earth and heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men, for the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel" (1 Chron. 21:2-16). So again when Ahab gathers his host to go against Ramoth-gilead, and the King of Judah joins him, saying, "I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses," the prophet of the Lord sees another host:—"And Micaiah said, I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him, on His right hand and on His left." And of this host "a spirit went forth," and, spite of all the hosts of Israel, by this spirit Ahab is deceived and drawn to his destruction. We read, "A certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the King of Israel between the joints of his harness" (1 Kings 22:19-22, 34). A chance shot, as men speak,—was it not rather an angel of the Lord?—silently accomplishes the threatened judgment. So again, in the case of Elisha, when "the King of Syria sent horses and chariots, and a great host, to take him, and they came by night and compassed the city round about. And the servant of the man of God said unto his master, Alas, my master, how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw, and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." By them the prophet is delivered. "And the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel" (2 Kings 6:11-18). So again, when the King of Assyria sent Rabshakeh with a great host against Jerusalem, and Hezekiah, who had no power to save his people, cries for help to "Him who dwelleth between the cherubim," the answer is this:—"Thus saith the Lord concerning the King of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return; for I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. ... The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall do this. And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when they arose in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses" (2 Kings 18:17; 19:21-33). Well might the Psalmist cry, "O Lord of Hosts, who is a strong Lord, like unto thee, or to thy faithfulness round about thee? Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them" (Psalm 89:8, 9).
And it had been ever thus, though in earlier days God's people knew it less clearly: for love makes provision for the helpless babe, even while it is all unconscious of the service rendered to it. God's hosts had always been serving His elect. Lot leaves Abram, and having first pitched his tent toward Sodom, soon dwells there and is seen sitting in the gate (Gen. 13:12; 14:12; 19:1). Now the judgment of Sodom was at the very doors. "And there came two angels to Sodom, and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them. And they said, Hast thou any here? Bring them out, for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it. And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, and laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful to him; and they brought them forth without the city" (Gen. 19:1-17). So again, when Hagar flies from Abram's house, the "angel of the Lord found her in the wilderness" (Gen. 16:7-11). So too with Jacob, when an exile from his home he lighted upon a certain place, and lay down to sleep with a stone for his pillow. But help is near him; for he sees "a ladder set upon the earth, the top of which reached even to heaven, and behold, angels of God ascended and descended on it" (Gen. 28:12). So again, when he went on his way, "the angels of God met him; and when he saw them, he said, This is God's host" (Gen. 32:1, 2). It is so always, where there is real need. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them" (Psalm 34:7).
But it is the New Testament which especially opens this ministry of the heavenly host to God's elect. They constantly appear, wherever there is need to be supplied or danger to be averted. "The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph" (Matt. 1:20), and to Zechariah (Luke 1:13, 19), and to Mary (Luke 1:26, 30), and to the shepherds (Luke 2:9, 10, 13), when "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men;" in every instance commencing their message with the words, "Fear not;" for the opening of the spirit-world, even if it is to bring us help, ever more or less awakens the sense of the weakness of flesh and blood, and that in our present state we are little fit to deal directly with heavenly realities. Yet these heavenly hosts ever wait upon us. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). Their ceaseless ministry to our Lord is the pattern of their ministry to us, for "we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Eph. 5:30). How they were ever serving Him unseen, the Gospels shew. We have seen how angels sang at His birth: angels no less were near to guide His early steps, first to Egypt, and then again into the land of Israel (Matt. 2:13, 19): angels came and ministered to Him after His temptation (Matt. 4:11): an angel strengthened Him in the garden (Luke 22:43): angels at His grave rolled away the stone, and declared to His weeping disciples, that "He is not here, but risen" (Matt. 28:2, 6). And that He was conscious of this ministry, and taught His disciples to expect it, His repeated words declare:—"Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:53). "Verily, verily, henceforward ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (John 1:51).
The Apostles' lives are full of illustrations of this heavenly service. Peter in prison (Acts 12:8), Philip guided into the desert (Acts 8:26), Paul in the storm (Acts 27:23), John in Patmos (Rev. 1:1), all are witnesses of the angelic help which is ever waiting upon the Lord's servants. To John especially it was given, not only to "hear the voice of many angels round about the throne" (Rev. 5:11), but also to see how to these angels is committed not a little of the government of this world. "Not unto angels, but to man, hath God put in subjection the world to come" (Heb. 2:5, 6); but "the things that are," as seen by John, are in the hands of heavenly hosts, whose work it is to fulfil God's will, both in the world, and towards His people. Not only are there "angels of the Churches" (Rev. 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18, &c.), and "angels round about the throne" (Rev. 7:11), but there are "angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow upon the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree" (Rev. 7:1); there are "angels with trumpets," the sounding of which is followed by judgments upon the earth, and sea, and the fountains of waters (Rev. 8:6-12); there are "angels with vials, in which is filled up the wrath of God" (Rev. 15:1, 7); there are "angels bound in the great river Euphrates," who are "prepared to slay the third part of men" (Rev. 9:14, 15); there is an "angel of the waters," who says, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, for thou hast judged thus" (Rev. 16:5); there is an "angel standing in the sun," who declares the judgment of "all flesh" (Rev. 19:17, 18); there is an "angel with the seal of the living God," whose work it is "to seal the servants of God upon their foreheads" (Rev. 7:2, 3); there is an "angel, flying through heaven, with the everlasting Gospel, to preach to them that dwell upon the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6); there is an "angel who cries, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" (Rev. 14:8); and, to speak of but one other, though there are many, there is an "angel which says, Come hither, I will shew thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife," and who, when John falls down to worship him, says, "See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant; worship God" (Rev. 21:9). From first to last the Revelation is full of angels, who are "sent" by Him who is their Lord, "to testify these things unto His servants for the Churches" (Rev. 22:16; Gr. μαρτυρῆσαι ὑμῖν ταῦτα ἐπὶ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις).
There may be a stage when we are hardly fit to see these things. Even when seen, as in the case of the beloved John, the vision may be so bright that for a moment the seer falls down before a fellow-servant, as Cornelius "fell down and worshipped Peter," who "took him up, saying, Stand up, I myself also am a man" (Acts 10:25, 26). Yet such a vision never is forgotten. The seer learns from it, in a way above all words, that "the light affliction, which is but for a moment, is not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). Even the faith that there are such hosts of ministering spirits cannot but comfort the oppressed. Therefore the Apostle James, regarding the "labourers who have reaped the fields, and whose hire is kept back by fraud," by "rich men who shall weep and howl for the miseries which are coming on them," simply says, "The cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (James 5:4). They shall be righted, if not by man, yet by the "Lord of Hosts." All are called to know how near He is, and how near are His unseen hosts, who do His pleasure. For, as the Apostle says, "Ye are not come unto a mount that may be touched, and to the sound of a trumpet, and to the voice of words. ... But ye are come unto Mount Sion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:18, 22-23). This name, the "Lord of Hosts," reveals it all, that we may know what help is ever near, in Him who "gives His angels charge concerning us, to keep us in all our ways" (Psalm 91:11).
It may perhaps be said, that, though such things were known by saints of old, Christians have little or no experience of them now. But surely it is not so. There are few among the truly believing poor, who have not facts to speak of, which prove that angel help is still as near as ever. If men have not proved it, is it not because they have not needed such help, or have not confidently looked for it from the living God? Thanks be to God, not a few yet know that the "Lord of Hosts is with us." Such can only bless Him for the trials through which they have learnt this name, and can therefore say, not with their lips only, but from their heart, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God, of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory."
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