By Pastor Courtney Hall
God’s title as Lord of Hosts is probably passingly familiar to many people because of its extensive usage in Scripture, song, & poetry. But the rather archaic sense of the term “hosts” poses a challenge to modern ears. We might misinterpret the phrase as indicating a God of gracious hospitality (something like singing the praises of God as the proverbial “host of the roast who can boast the most toast,” or, in other words: a “host of hosts” in the sense of a generous and entertaining benefactor par excellence). That’s a nice enough thought—God is certainly gracious and He is hospitable in numerous ways—but in fact the Biblical phrase in focus here intends no such description.
We arrive at a more accurate understanding of the phrase by remembering the older English definition of “hosts” as a company or compilation of many persons or items. Yet simply limiting “Lord of Hosts” to a description of the Divine as the God of many people or things still falls short of the phrase’s full meaning. Of course our Creator is the God of many—indeed of ALL—people and things, but “Lord of Hosts” reflects even more than that.
The pairing of God’s covenant Name (YaHWeH, source of the anachronistic but historically familiar term “Jehovah”) with the descriptive title of “God of Hosts” not only confirms God as the Lord of multitudes, it also further affirms Him as the ultimate Power who defends His people and is the Champion of His Kingdom. The Hebrew noun traditionally translated “hosts” (SABA) derives from a root verb that means “to go forth” as into battle (as of soldiers in an army), or into sacred service (as of ministers in a temple). As such, the noun refers to a company or companies of military warriors equipped with power or ministerial acolytes ordained with holiness. A classic combination of these concepts crystallizes in Scripture regarding “the hosts of heaven,” i.e. the armies of angels who minister to God with incandescent, holy power (cf. Psalm 104:4; Heb 1:7) and who carry the charge to protect His faithful people as an invisible yet very real army amassed in chariots of fire (e.g. 2 Kings 6:17). Thus SABA (“hosts”) is often better rendered as “armies,” as seen in various modern translations. Some even apply the militaristic connotation of might and power more forcefully, such as the NIV’s reading of “LORD God Almighty,” the CEB's “LORD God of heavenly forces,” or the NET’s “LORD God, the invincible warrior” in translating Psalm 59:5.
Indeed, the context for the Hebrew phrase YHWH ELOHIM TZBAUTH (“LORD God of Hosts”) in Psalm 59:5 helps to illustrate the overtly martial and ministerial qualities of the phrase described above. It also makes clear that the Lord employs this title in the Scriptures not merely to flex His muscle in some sort of Biblical bluster, but rather to grant great assurance to His faithful ones of His “very present help in time of trouble” (see Psalm 46:1, 7), especially when they’re beleaguered by unfair opposition with daunting odds.
The inscription heading this psalm of David specifies its composition “when Saul sent men to watch [David’s] house in order to kill him” (chronicled in 1 Samuel 19:11). In this instance, the King of Israel (Saul), commander (i.e. lord) of the national hosts (armies), had sent a company of those forces to confront and kill David for no other reason than Saul’s unrighteous jealousy of David, recognizing that God’s favor was upon the younger man whom Saul perceived as a rival and (rightfully) as his ultimate successor on the throne of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 18:5-15). David thus appealed to the greater Lord of the greater armies of heaven, who is Himself Israel’s righteous ruler and rightful leader of her national troops (see Psalm 59:5; cf. 1 Samuel 8:4-9). David was facing a force of highly armed, highly trained enemies, and he was calling on God for holy, mighty, DIVINE help.
No wonder, then, that David begins by saying “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me….for no…sin [or] fault of mine” (Psalm 59:1-4; cf. also Psalm 35:1-7). Therefore, the ensuing assurance of verse 5 rings all the more resoundingly: “You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.” The Spirit of the Lord inspiring this psalm has turned David’s call upon the Name of the Lord into an everlasting assurance to all Israel, that even when they face huge armies of opposing nations arrayed against them, if their trust is in the Lord, His armies are greater and His righteous rule is greatest. What’s more, the Spirit sings through this psalm to all people everywhere facing any kind of hardship or challenges (and especially those facing persecution for no fault of their own) who choose to trust in the LORD God of Hosts, that He will show them His steadfast love and protect them as a fortress even as He fights for them with all the power of all the hosts of heaven (see e.g. Psalm 144).
Are you facing unfair opposition today? Have powerful people or groups turned against you simply because you are for God? Are enemies surrounding you? As Christians, we aren’t called to fight with people (Ephesians 6:12a) but rather to love, bless, and pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:28) while doing everything reasonably possible for the cause of peace (Romans 12:14-21). But we also know that spiritual forces of evil regularly target us (Ephesians 6:12b; 1 Peter 5:8) and real injustices occur in our world. What’s more, those standing for Christ can expect that just as He was rejected and reviled, we’re likely to face the same (John 15:18-25; 1 Peter 4:12-19). A servant is not greater than their master, after all, but our master is greater than our foes, for our God is the Lord of Hosts! So take heart—Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33) and He is for you!
The Lord of Hosts has deployed His troops to help you—if you’re calling on Christ, rest assured the cavalry of Calvary is coming your way! Best of all, the God of all power and righteousness has named Himself as the defender of His people (Psalm 18:2; Zechariah 9:15). If the Lord of Hosts is for us, “who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ [Psalm 44:22] Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”*
Now consider that Jesus, Commander of the Armies of Heaven (Rev 19:11-16), has given an abiding message in Revelation 2:3-7 for the church that stands for Him despite the odds calculated by counting all the fearsome forces arrayed against them: “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My Name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…. Whoever has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the paradise of God.” This is a promise from the Lord of Hosts who is the Lord of Life and the God of ALL things. The number of His hosts is beyond our ability to count, but we can surely count on His promises, because we can count on HIM!