Monday, June 4, 2012

The Lord of Hosts

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.
~Martin Luther, English translation by Frederick H. Hedge

When we sang these words from Luther's martial hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," in church yesterday, the name of God in this second verse captured my attention. "Lord Sabaoth, His name": does this line hold any meaning for contemporary Christian disciples? For me, the answer is a decided affirmative.

"Sabaoth" is a phonetic approximation of a Hebrew term which appears more than 500 times in the Old Testament. Approximately 300 of those occurrences combine it with YHWH, the covenant name by which God revealed Himself to Moses before Israel's deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Traditionally, the combination YHWH Sabaoth has been rendered in English Bibles as "LORD of hosts," although the popular NIV translation usually renders it "LORD Almighty."

That "of hosts" part, the Sabaoth in the name, refers to the vast angelic armies ("hosts") Scripture teaches are invisibly engaged in serving "those who will inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Joshua received a glimpse into this spiritual battle (Josh. 5:13-15), as did Daniel (Daniel 10) and Elisha's servant (2 Kings 6:11-17).

"LORD of hosts," then, depicts the one true, living God as the commander of the heavenly armies. It is a military title, evoking the warrior God the children of Israel praised after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15:3). Even James and Paul employ this title, transliterating it from the Hebrew just as Luther does in his hymn (Romans 9:29; James 5:4).The Lord Jesus Himself appears in this role in Revelation 19:11-16, where John writes this:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.
What has this to do with us? We are not engaged in armed conquest of the Promised Land. Perhaps this imagery even offends our pacifist sensibilities. Sometimes this facet of God's character honestly makes me uncomfortable. Considering God as Father, Bridegroom, or Shepherd feels more cozy and consoling, yet even in Psalm 23, David takes comfort in the Lord's rod and staff, means not only of leading the sheep but also of defending them against deadly predators.


Why would the revelation that Yahweh our God is commander-in-chief of mighty, invisible heavenly armies be a comfort to David or to us?


When we are besieged by seemingly unrelenting trials and afflictions, wave after wave of difficult and sorrowful circumstances, it steadies us to know
The Lord of Hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Psalm 46:7, HCSB).
When beset by fears, doubts, and temptations, it comforts me to know that the battle to take every thought captive is not only mine, but God's:
The  Lord of Hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Psalm 46:7, HCSB).
When bullied by the wealthy and powerful,

The  Lord of Hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Psalm 46:7, HCSB).

When beleaguered by poverty, imprisonment, or even death because of faith in Christ, it sustains hope to know the enemies of the gospel do not have the final word but that vindication is coming:

The  Lord of Hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold (Psalm 46:7, HCSB).
The strong God of the Bible is no less so today. If enemies material or immaterial overwhelm you, dear crumble, take heart: you are not facing this battle alone. Far from it! If you are a child of this warrior God through faith in Christ Jesus, how will He leave you undefended?
If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37, NASB).
 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.

Lord God of hosts, we praise you for your great might. It humbles us to the dust to consider that You promise to assert Your power on our behalf, in our defense. Some days we are especially conscious that we need a fierce warrior. Thank You that You will not let us down. When our enemies and temptations seem too much to bear and we are grasshoppers in their sight, help us believe that You, the Commander of angelic armies, have no difficulty overcoming them. We ask Your protection and defense against whatever assails us today. O Lord God of hosts, hear our prayer in Your mercy, for Jesus's sake. Amen.

Thanks be to God
for revealing Himself in the Bible,
for His whole character, even or especially the parts that stretch my trust,
for fighting our battles,
for giving us sure refuge,
for the confidence that nothing can in the end defeat Jesus, the Faithful and True King of Kings,
for the battles that open us up to experience this part of God's character,
for new light on old hymns,
for the profound theology we sing in them,
for a relatively quiet week,
for lab tests trickling in, exposing how much I still have to learn about my own health,
for my mom's broken wrist not requiring surgery,
for celebrating a friend's daughter's wedding from afar and sharing another friend's sorrows,
for new gutters to match A's beautiful paint job on the house,
for no less grace and might available for this week ahead than the week behind,
for the LORD of hosts with us, the God of Jacob our stronghold.
(from the gratitude list, #6200-6214)

sharing in community with Ann, Laura, Michelle, and Jen today:


















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