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The first occurrence of Jehovah-Sabaoth, “The Lord of hosts,” is given in the context of the birth of Samuel (1 Sam. 1:3, 11). At first glance, it appears to be the revelation of Samuel’s mother, Hannah. However, the books of Samuel were written many years later by Samuel himself, so it is likely that the prophet was given the revelation that his ministry—and that of David whom he anointed as king of Israel—was established through Jehovah-Sabaoth.
Sabaoth is the plural form of saba, “that which goes forth, host, a mass of persons organized for war, the army.” The word is also used to describe a host of angels or the stars (“hosts of heaven). In particular, it describes the God of Israel in his capacity as a General leading His troops to protect His people or to enforce the divine court judgments upon non-compliant nations.
So we find that Jehovah-Sabaoth largely characterized the reign of David, the “man of war” (1 Chron. 28:3), who subdued surrounding nations and gave Israel full independence and dominance in the region. Jehovah-Sabaoth was mentioned just once in relation to King Saul, when “the Lord of hosts” commanded him to execute judgment upon the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:2). He failed, of course, resulting in the word that “the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:26).
Saul’s failure contrasts with David’s victory over Goliath in 1 Sam. 17:45,
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.”
Where did David learn about the Lord of hosts? There is little doubt that Samuel had revealed this name to David about ten years earlier when the prophet anointed David to replace Saul (1 Sam. 16:12). Though Scripture says very little about this anointing, it seems to me that David was anointed in the name of Jehovah-Sabaoth to execute judgment upon the nations--something Saul had failed to do. So we read in 1 Chron. 11:9,
9 David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.
It appears that the Lord of hosts was the dominant name that was manifested in the calling of David.
Prior to Samuel, the Aaronic priests in the time of Moses were charged with the responsibility to win the battle in spiritual warfare before the army of Israel physically fought the war. So we read in Num. 4:2, 3,
2 Take a census of the descendants of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers’ households, 3 from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service [saba, “army”] to do the work in the tent of meeting.
This is repeated in Num. 4:23 in regard to the sons of Gershon who were to “perform the service,” or saba. In the laws of war, we read how the priests were to speak to the people to encourage them ahead of the day of battle, saying in Deut. 20:3, 4,
3 … Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, 4 for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies to save you.
The name of Jehovah-Sabaoth probably was still unknown to them, but yet this describes Him perfectly.
It is important to win battles in the heavens through spiritual warfare before fighting battles on earth. Those who understand and believe that the battle has already been won are able to enter the war without fear of losing or of being killed in battle.
Many years later, Samuel and David both understood this, and, with their revelation of Jehovah-Sabaoth, they were able to win their battles. Likewise, David was able to escape when Saul tried to kill him.
Hannah’s prayer for a son was offered to God at Shiloh (1 Sam. 1:3), where the Ark had been set up in the days of Joshua (Josh. 18:1). The Ark itself had been associated with the army of Israel even in the days of Moses, for we read in Num. 10:35,
35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, “Rise up, O Lord! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.”
Jehovah-Sabaoth is not mentioned by name, but it is clear that His presence was in the glory above the ark and above the cherubim. How often we experience God long before He reveals Himself by name!
When God brought judgment upon the house of Eli, they had taken the Ark with them into battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:4). The passage speaks of “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who sits above the cherubim.” No doubt they quoted the words of Moses in Num. 10:35, praying, “let those who hate You flee before You.”
In their blindness, they assumed that the Philistines were those who hated God. But they soon discovered that those who hated God were the Israelites themselves. Hence, when Israel fled before the Philistines, their prayer was answered in a way that surprised them.
The Ark never returned to Shiloh, for the corruption of the house of Eli had brought a curse upon that place. When the glory departs, it does not return but moves to another location for a greater manifestation of His presence. When the Philistines returned the Ark, it was taken to Kiriath-jearim for the next 20 years (1 Sam. 7:1, 2), which was a Gibeonite city.
Later, it was probably taken to Nob, a priestly city, where David and his men ate the consecrated bread from the tabernacle (1 Sam. 21:1-4). The final location of the Ark, however, was in Baale-Judah, from which place David moved the Ark to Jerusalem. If there were other places where the Ark rested during that time, we are not told about those places—except that it remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months (2 Sam. 6:10) while David sorted out the problem he encountered while moving the Ark to Jerusalem.
Obed-edom the Gittite was from the Philistine city of Gath and was probably the head of David’s security forces. Years later, when David was overthrown by Absalom, we see that the company of 600 Gittite soldiers remained loyal to David (2 Sam. 15:18). Obviously, Obed-edom was a believer, a Philistine convert under the ministry of David. Notice also that Obed-edom the Philistine Gittite was blessed when the Ark was in his house. Contrast this with an earlier time when the unbelieving Philistines held the Ark in the temple of Dagon and found themselves under a curse (1 Sam. 5:2-9). It seems that the problem was not that the Philistines were forbidden from housing the presence of God but that they were unbelievers. For this reason, Obed-edom, the believer, was blessed by the presence of God.
When David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, 2 Sam. 6:1, 2 says,
1 Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the name, the very name of the Lord of hosts [Jehovah-Sabaoth] who is enthroned above the cherubim.
David gathered his army of 30,000, led by the Lord of hosts, to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. David specifically identified the God of the Ark as Jehovah-Sabaoth, the God of war. He probably knew also of Jehovah-Nissi, “my Banner,” which is associated with war, but he did not use this name in his exploits. Likewise, David certainly knew that the presence of God resided above the cherubim, but the name Jehovah-Shammah (“Jehovah is there”) was not revealed for another two centuries in the time of Ezekiel.
David wrote a psalm (song) commemorating the day when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem. Psalm 24:7-10 says,
7 Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts [Jehovah-Sabaoth], He is the King of glory.
The glory of God resided above the cherubim whose wings covered the Ark of the covenant. The scene pictures a conquering King returning to (or perhaps conquering) a city. When a foreign king came to lay siege to a city, he usually offered terms of peace if the city would capitulate and open the gates to allow him and his army to “come in” without a fight. This seems to be the word picture that David was painting in Psalm 24.
Hence, the King ruling Jerusalem was Jehovah-Sabaoth, for we read in Psalm 48:8,
8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God; God will establish her forever [olam, “indefinitely”].
“The city of our God” was specifically called “the city of Jehovah-Sabaoth” to draw attention to the fact that the Ark was there and that the King of glory was enthroned above the cherubim.
Although Jehovah-Sabaoth was the King of Jerusalem, the hearts of the people themselves tended to revert to their own fleshly ways and desires. Their religious rituals in the law continued largely unabated, but after the rule of King Hezekiah, the law itself was lost. Finally, in the days of King Josiah, the temple was repaired and restored, and a written copy was discovered by Hilkiah the high priest (2 Kings 22:8).
Isaiah prophesied in the time of Hezekiah, and we see that he was very familiar with the name Jehovah-Sabaoth. Already at that time, he wrote of the lawless condition of both Israel and Judah, so rather than focusing on the glory of Jerusalem, he decried its sinful condition. Even in the early years of his prophecy, he wrote in Isaiah 1:4,
4 Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.
Again, he says in Isaiah 1:9,
9 Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would be like Gomorrah.
Isaiah 2:12 says, “the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning.” Isaiah 5:24 continues, “For they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
In his vision of the Jehovah-Sabaoth, we read in Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Yet the prophet lamented, “I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Nonetheless, the prophet foresaw the day when the glory of Jehovah-Sabaoth would not only fill a local temple but would also fill the whole earth, to fulfill God’s oath in Num. 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
Isaiah is more specific, telling us that “the Lord” is actually “The Lord of hosts.” In other words, just as David had brought the King of glory into Jerusalem, so also would the King of glory fill the whole earth. Hence, the story of David bringing the Ark to Jerusalem must be seen as a type and shadow of a much greater fulfillment.
A century after Hezekiah, Jeremiah prophesied that the glory of God would leave Jerusalem even as the glory had departed from Shiloh in the days of Eli (Jer. 7:12-14). A contemporary prophet saw the glory of God depart, moving first to the threshold of the house (Ezekiel 10:4) and then gliding to the nearby Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23). Nothing further is said about this, but the final sighting was the place from which Jesus Christ ascended in Acts 1:9, 12.
The glory of God then returned ten days later on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1, 2). His glory did not fill the nearby temple, of course, for that place had been forsaken as Shiloh and was under God’s “curse” (Jer. 25:18).
In fact, it was because of this curse that the glory of God remained outside the city on the Mount of Olives, awaiting the coming of Christ. His glory never filled the second temple, even though it was built according to God’s instructions. That temple was only a type and shadow of the greater temple made of living stones. Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:16, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Jehovah-Sabaoth is coming to the heavenly Jerusalem in the latter days. The earthly city, called “Hagar” in Gal. 4:25, remains the inheritance of Ishmael through the Old Covenant. The heavenly city, that which Abraham Himself sought (Heb. 11:8-10, 16), is the inheritance of New Covenant believers. Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, is the King of glory who is coming in a way that is similar to the time when the King of glory came into the earthly Jerusalem in the time of David.
We who live in the time of Christ’s second coming, are privileged to open the gates of the heavenly city so that the King of glory may come in. Unfortunately, many Old Covenant believers think Christ is coming to the earthly city to honor Hagar and to empower her children (Ishmael). They are gathered at the gates of the wrong city and will therefore miss out on this great event.
The Lord of hosts is indeed coming, but His capital will not be the earthly Jerusalem but the heavenly city “which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
New Covenant believers, who, like Abraham, seek a heavenly city are assembled at Mount Sion (Heb. 12:22, KJV), which is represented by Mount Hermon (Deut. 4:48). It is the place where Jesus was transfigured and where the voice from heaven proclaimed Him to be “My beloved Son” (Matt. 17:5).
We are involved in the work of Elisha in preparing the way for Christ’s second coming as the King of glory. This is why we engage in spiritual warfare, for as a kingdom of priests, we “enter the service” (Num. 4:3) and “perform the service” (Num. 4:23). As such, we look for Jehovah-Sabaoth, a name which Elisha himself recognized in 2 Kings 3:14 and again in 2 Kings 19:31 KJV,
31 For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion; The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this.
God’s “zeal,” as we have seen, indicates His determination to complete what He has started, no matter how long it takes. In this prophecy, the “remnant” is the remnant of grace (Rom. 11:5, KJV), which obtains the promises of God and who are not blind. Elisha’s prophecy builds upon the revelation of his predecessor, Elijah (1 Kings 19:18).
Therefore, when we pray in regard to the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem—no longer on Mount Zion but on Mount Sion—we who prepare the way for His glorious return appeal to Jehovah-Sabaoth, the King of glory, whose presence will rest upon the people of the heavenly Jerusalem and then, through them, spread to the whole earth to fulfill God’s vow in Num. 14:21.