Updated: Nov 10
I am so grateful that my husband encouraged me to study the Names of God and write them here. I keep discovering new things that are so astounding to me in their implications.
Last time, I wrote about Hagar naming "The God Who Sees," or El Roi: https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/the-god-who-sees. This was so touching to me--the neglected woman who is seen by God Himself.
Now I see that yet again a woman is the first to express another name for God, Jehovah Sabaoth (YHWH Sabaoth), or Adonai Tzv'ot (Latin vs. Hebrew translations).
Lord of hosts.
This idea of "hosts" is introduced right away in Scripture, as early as Genesis 2:1 when "the heavens and earth were completed in all their vast array." While later in Scripture we see "hosts" referring to angelic armies, this initial use refers to the "totality of created beings" (https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/encyclopedia-of-the-bible/Lord-Hosts).
I just completed a fascinating book on Genesis 1 (The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton), who sets forth a compelling argument based on a cultural understanding of the Bible and other ancient creation texts. Essentially, God's creative act in Genesis one is creating and establishing the functions of the various entities who will "govern" the world as sub-regents of God. First, the celestial "host" is created, sun, moon, and stars. "Govern" is the exact word used in the NIV translation for the function of these created entities. Then, a host of animals are created. These don't appear to have a governing function--theirs is an existence unto themselves. But, shortly afterward, humans are created with responsibilities and functions relative to one another and also to God. As image-bearers of God, they are sub-regents on earth to govern/steward.
Walton points out that Genesis 1 is very anthropomorphic, i.e. human-centered. Amazingly so, since most other religions' creation accounts do not at all focus on the benefits to humanity in being created. By emphasizing humans as the pinnacle of creation, Genesis 1 doesn't tell us about the creation of the heavenly angelic hosts. We don't know very much of their story, but every now and then in Scripture the veil between heavenly and natural realms is lifted, and we observe a tiny bit about the heavenly host.
For example, in Joshua 5, Joshua has an encounter with what many conclude is God Himself, because Joshua worships Him and is not reprimanded for it. I previously blogged on this here: https://www.christianmusingsfortoday.com/post/neither-side Right before the battle of Jericho, when Joshua was likely daunted at what was facing him, he sees a man with a drawn sword appear in front of him. Here's their exchange:
Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord[e] have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
We see this incredible reveal, the reality behind our own reality. We think that the battles we face are ours alone. Or, sometimes we think that we're on the side of heaven, and that we need to fight for God in the public sphere with a vehemence bolstered from the assumption that God is on our side. But here, at a time when Joshua is indeed about to carry out God's will, he's told that the angelic hosts (and Commander of the army of the Lord) aren't exactly on his side, but will help him in this battle. It's a different reality entirely. Our human lens and perspective is an imperfect one--we warrant much less confidence in our righteousness and the extent to which our actions match up with heavenly realities!
Anyway, "Lord of hosts" is conceptually established early on in the Old Testament. But the first time this phrased is used as a Name for God is in I Samuel 1. And it is articulated by a woman, Hannah--the mother of the prophet Samuel.
It's yet another example of a woman in socially difficult situation. Polygamous marriages--shockingly!--can bring about much discord. She is the preferred wife, but she is childless, and this causes much shame to her in a culture where childlessness was seen as a failure (perhaps not so different from some subsets of our culture as well). On top of that, her "rival" (the Bible doesn't mince words to describe quite precisely how well the various women in this marriage got along...) constantly persecuted and provoked her about her shame.
Despite his terrible blindspot regarding polygamy (hmmm...what horrible blindspots do we have today??), the husband Elkanah is a righteous man. He takes his family every year to worship and offer sacrifices. Hannah herself is very devout, and she "presented herself before the Lord" when they went to worship. But hers is not a cold, perfunctory prayer. She is "deeply distressed" and weeps throughout her prayers. We live in a time where silent prayer is common, but in many other cultures today, and definitely in the ancient world, people said their prayers out loud. She was likely muttering and crying her prayers, definitely doing an "ugly cry." So much so that, the priest Eli thinks she's drunk, until he talks with her.
O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a Nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.
First, we see some similarities to Hannah and Hagar's prayers: a request that God sees them. Hannah additional asks that God remember her, which is a phrase used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to God thinking of and considering the plight of someone.
And she addresses God as the Lord of Hosts, for the first time in Scripture.
You may not see this in your translation, because Lord of Hosts is sometimes translated as "Lord Almighty" in English. But, this is indeed Lord Tzv'ot.
She's beseeching the God of angel armies to see her very ordinary situation of childlessness and do something about it.
I'm still wrapping my mind around this one. Can we really call on the Almighty God when we feel shamed and unfairly maligned, when we're in a social situation that is emotionally disastrous for us, when we're more or less fine physically and have all we need, but are just spiritually and emotionally...well...done?
Appealing to and calling on God in His role as Commander of the angelic hosts seems like overkill. Maybe something we think of doing in our heart of hearts, but not something to pray in public! And yet, Hannah does. And her prayer is answered in a major way. Not only does she receive her son (and she follows through on her vow over him), but this son turns out to be the great prophet Samuel, who hears directly from God even as a child and who ends up anointing the first king of Israel, from whom Jesus Himself is descended from.
I sometimes waffle back and forth between two extremes, based on my church backgrounds. One is the "high" view of God, that emphasizes how we approach a holy Sovereign Lord. This side approves of Hannah's begging and beseeching, but might feel some trepidation on Hannah calling on the hosts of heaven about her personal plight. Maybe just a little request to God as Father would suffice. Not sure about this angel army business! The other side emphasizes how we can approach the throne of grace for everything, and can even make commands ourselves directly regarding spiritual forces. In this view, Hannah should be able to command the childlessness right out of herself, since God's Spirit indwells within her and no force can stand against her.
In this particular passage, however, Hannah is charting out a middle way. She is not ashamed to call on the armies of heaven for a domestic request. She is not afraid to be the first person in the Bible to believe that the God who created the heavenly host and all of creation could look upon her and change her circumstances, and to articulate this Name of God. She doesn't approach her very real physical situation as one that she can personally take on, unmediated. She appeals to the One who is indeed Almighty, Lord of Hosts. She asks rather than commands, but she isn't afraid to ask. How often does our failure to ask something of the Lord derive less from a high, holy view of God, and more from a simple lack of faith?
I have a lot to learn from Hannah, and need to mull over this one. Maybe you do, too. Do you think that your worries and issues are too small for an all-powerful God? And do you refrain from doing something about it that might be somewhat embarrassing? Going to church, truly allowing yourself to "let go" while at worship and truly enter in, aligning with new people in your life who will challenge you to greater depths, seeking out ways to pray in a new way? Hannah was willing to embarrass herself in a public place to voice her prayers and not hold back. She didn't pretend that everything was alright. She told her husband, her God, and acknowledged it to herself.
And she knew exactly Who was powerful enough to help her.