Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lord Sabaoth is His Name

Christians thrill to Luther’s stirring lines based on Psalm 46:7: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle.” But what does His name, “Lord Sabaoth,” mean?
Sabaoth is a transliteration of the Hebrew; that is, it is merely changing the letters of the Hebrew word into the corresponding characters of the English alphabet without translating the word. Most English versions translate it “hosts” so that when combined with Lord (Hebrew YHWH, normalized as Yahweh) and/or God (Hebrew Elohim), the combined expression becomes “Lord of hosts” or “Lord God of hosts” or “God of hosts.” The NIV translators, according to the preface of this English version, thought the phrases “the Lord of hosts” and “God of hosts” had little meaning, and so rendered them “the Lord Almighty” and “God Almighty.”
Who or what are the Lord’s hosts? Sometimes they are the armies on the battlefield. Faithful David taunted the blaspheming Goliath: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). Psalm 68:12 says, “Kings of armies (Hebrew sabaoth) flee in haste” (see also Exodus 7:4; Psalm 44:9). Angelic hosts also make up the Lord’s armies. The inspired psalmist enjoins: “Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts, you His servants who do His will” (Psalm 103:21; see also Joshua 5:14; 1 Kings 22:19). These, in turn, are associated with the stellar hosts, the army of stars that fight for Him (see Joshua 10:12–14; Judges 5:20). Isaiah encouraged the distraught Jewish exiles in Babylon to look up: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name” (Isaiah 40:26; see also Genesis 2:1; Deuteronomy 4:19). The hosts of heavenly beings and bodies are associated in Psalm 148:2–3: “Praise Him, all His angels, praise Him, all His heavenly hosts. Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars.”
In the title “The Lord of hosts,” first used in 1 Samuel 1:3, Sabaoth designates the Lord’s sovereign kingship over all forces, without distinguishing them. Eichrodt in his Theology of the Old Testament (Volume 1, pp. 193–94), wrote that Sabaoth in this title “does not refer to any particular ‘hosts,’ but to all bodies, multitudes, masses in general, the content of all that exists in heaven and in earth … [a] name expressive of the divine sovereignty.” Hartley, writing in the layman’s Theological Word-book of the Old Testament (Volume 2, pp. 750–751), concurs: “It affirms His universal rulership that encompasses every force or army, heavenly, cosmic and earth.… [Psalm 24:10] clearly shows that Yahweh of hosts conveys the concept of glorious king. Yahweh is King of the world (cf. Zechariah 14:16) and over all the kingdoms of the earth (Isaiah 37:16).… Although the title has military overtones, it points directly to Yahweh’s rulership over the entire universe.… Special attention is given to the majestic splendor of Yahweh’s rule in this title.”
The Greek translators commonly render Sabaoth by pantokrator, “the almighty,” “the ruler of all things” (see 2 Corinthians 6:18; Revelation 4:8; 19:6). In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Michaelis summarized the meaning of this Greek term: “The reference is not so much to God’s activity in creation as to His supremacy over all things.”
In the Intertestamental period, the Jews providentially ceased using the name YHWH and substituted “Lord” (Greek kurios). This change both prepared the way for God’s new revelation of Himself in the name, the Lord Jesus Christ (see Mark 16:17; John 14:13; 20:31), and facilitated identifying Jesus Christ with Israel’s God. Where the Hebrew Scriptures used YHWH, the Greek translators used “Lord” (kurios), and the New Testament appropriated this name to Jesus Christ. For example, the promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [with reference to Jesus Christ] will be saved” (Acts 2:21, 38; Romans 10:13) is based on Joel 2:32, which in the Hebrew text has “Yahweh” instead of “Lord.” Luther with theological acumen hymned: “Christ Jesus it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name”!
May this title of our Lord Jesus Christ, revealing that He musters all the powers of heaven and earth to accomplish His will, in a new way succor us in sorrow, restrain us in temptation, and nerve us to fidelity in testing.