Monday, October 17, 2011

Lord of Hosts: Lord of Heavens Armies?


The KJV rendered the Hebrew phrase yhwh tseba’ot by the English phrase “Lord of Hosts.” Since then, most English versions have simply followed the KJV. More recently, however, especially with the rise of “simple-language” versions, the phrase has begun to disappear from English Bibles. Admittedly, there is nothing especially sacred about the translation Lord of Hosts. Many people today may not even know that “host” in the seventeenth century meant “army,” or “great multitude.”

Thus, several of the newer versions have sought a translation that communicates more effectively and more accurately the meaning of the Hebrew phrase. Thus the New Living Translation (NLT) renders it as “the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” The new Common English Bible (CEB) renders it “Lord of Heavenly Forces.” God’s Word translation uses “Lord of Armies.” The Good News Bible, the NIV, and the TNIV all render it as “Lord Almighty.” The New Century Version and the Contemporary English Version render it “Lord All-Powerful.” But how helpful, and how accurate, are these translations?

The NLT and CEB translations are clearly equivalent. Further, they add to the idea of army or force the idea that these are heavenly forces. The first word in the Hebrew phrase is Yahweh, the divine name. The second word in the phrase is a plural form of a noun that means “army” or “warfare.” Hence God’s Word translation Lord of Armies, omitting the idea of heavenly forces. The NLT and CEB are probably influenced by the fact that angels are sometimes referred to as a “host.” This appears, for example, in 1 Kings 22:19, where the prophet Micaiah says that he saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the “host of heaven” standing by him. The reader should notice, however, that in this and similar verses, the word “host” is in the singular, and it is specifically identified as “the host of heaven.” Further, the Lord is not referred to as Lord of Hosts, but simply as Lord. When “hosts” is used in the plural (apart from the phrase Lord of hosts), it refers to the armies or military arrangement of Israel or other human armies. By usage, then the NLT and the CEB seem to be wrong in implying that the term is in reference to heavenly armies. In fact, one of the standard Hebrew lexicons says, “the thought of angels and stars as army of God is later.” Based on the views of the scholars who produced that lexicon (Frances Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs), it would appear they thought it unlikely that such a use (heavenly armies) appeared before the period of the exile. Even a more recent work (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis) seems to find the evidence for such a view lacking.

The evidence for Lord Almighty or Lord All-powerful is even scantier. The NIDOTTE says, “Another approach would take ‘hosts’ as a plural of intensification or majesty, particularly in view of the LXX translation of hosts as ‘Almighty.” But such an abstraction lacks convincing evidence.”

When the reader further considers that Lord of Hosts does not appear in the Bible until 1 Samuel, it would seem to indicate that the epithet is particularly connected with the rise of the Israelite monarchy, particularly under David. Hence it refers to the armies of Israel as the covenantal hosts, or armies, of the Lord.

5 comments:

K. Hugh Acton said...

But don't forget the similar phrase in Joshua 5:14, and its ambiguity.

Reggie Howard said...

"Lord of hosts" is lacking connotative meaning for modern people. How often is the word "hosts" used today and in what contexts? The Hebrew word is not nearly as vague as the English word "hosts". It is definitely military. Why should English translations take a military word and completely neuter it? Our God is Powerful because he has massive powerful resources at his beck and call.

Benjamin Shaw said...

Reggie Howard, I have no objection to translating Yaweh Tsabaoth as Lord of Armies. My objection is to the translation "Lord of Heaven's Armies." I don't think that the usage of tsabaoth supports that translation.

Ales Mrzdovnik said...

Very informative! Thnx!

Unknown said...

I know this was written a long time ago, but I found it very informative today! Thanks for taking the time to write it!