“The crowd came nearer and nearer. The eleven young men, concerned for my safety, formed a ring around me. If anyone was going to get hurt, they determined it would be them first. God had truly knit our hearts together in love for each other.
“The animists, running and jumping, shouting and screaming, came on but when they reached about fifty feet from me, they stumbled and felL, piling up on one another. That took the fire out of them. They got to their feet looking somewhat sheepish.
“Why did you stop? Why didn’t you attack me?’ I asked them. ‘We couldn’t. Someone held us back” So wrote Sophie de la Haye of the true life story of Tommie Titcombe, missionary to the Sudan, in the.moving book, Tread Upon the Lion, published by the Sudan Interior Mission.
What had stopped the attack on one of God’s choice servants by a band of fierce primitive savages? Where was the source of this invisible protective shield? The Bible alone gives to us an answer.
Among the numerous compound names for God found in·the Bible is the unsurpassingly comforting name Jehovah Sabaoth. Like all of the divine names, Jehovah Sabaoth reveals a quality which God possesses that no other being in Heaven or earth possesses to the same degree. The importance of this name for God is underscored by the fact that it occurs about 250 times in the Old Testament.
The word Sabaoth literally means to mass together or to assemble. Linked to the name Jehovah, it is consistently translated in the Authorized Version as “the Lord of Hosts.” Jehovah Sabaoth is, therefore, the name of God which depicts Him as the Captain of a myriad of angelic beings whom He can assemble together to do His bidding. He is the Lord of the armies of Heaven-He has never known defeat. It was the army of the Lord of Hosts which protected a missionary from savage attack in the deepest jungles of Africa. It is the same army that Jesus will one day lead against an unregenerate world at the end of the age. The Apostle John described that event this way, “And I saw heaven opened and, behold, a white horse; and he that sat upon him was Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war…And the armies that were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smith the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron…And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rey. 19:11, 14-16).
It is significant that the name Jehovah Sabaoth-the Lord of Hosts, the One who commands the allegiance of a great company of angelic beings-is only used at times when Israel faced a crisis hour of history.
The first use of the name Jehovah Sabaoth occurred in the Book of Samuel.
The Philistines, a warring people, had swept in to ride roughshod over the people of God. Simultaneously, through the sons of Eli, the priesthood of Israel had degenerated into a wicked and perverted institution. The people were being led away from true and acceptable worship. It was a time of great danger. From without, the Philistines were crossing the border to harass and vex the sons of Jacob. And from within, through corruption the priests were snuffing out the remaining vestiges of spiritual life. Could anything be done to stem the tide – to change the course -to rectify this crisis situation?
God always has His vessels, and there was a woman – unheralded, unknown, apparently insignificant. But she possessed an impassioned heart for the glory of God and her nation. Her name was Hannah, and she was one of two wives (the second was Peninnah) married to the man Elkanah. Hannah had no children and as a result was constantly chided by her inevitable opponent, Peninnah. The ridicule and shame to which she was subjected must have been severe. One day the family had gone down to Shiloh, the temporary location of the Tabernacle and priesthood, which had now become corrupted. There at the Tabernacle, this Jewish woman poured out her heart to God. By normal standards, it could have been expected that Hannah pray for a child to please her husband and silence the cutting words of Peninnah. But her prayer was not ordinary; it was extraordinary. In that prayer is mentioned for the very first time the name for God, Jehovah Sabaoth -the Lord of Hosts. With sanctity, listen in on the prayer: “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts [Jehovah Sabaoth], if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a male child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head” (1 Sam. 1:10-11).
She was asking for a man child in order that she might give him back to God, that he, in turn, might be an instrument in God’s hands to cleanse the priesthood and bring the nation back to God.
Hannah’s use of the name Jehovah Sabaoth at this point in time is pertinent. She realized that the Lord, who commands a host of angelic beings, the army of Heaven, would not come to rescue Israel from the invading Philistines until they repented and turned again in righteousness to their God. She realized that God never offers to deliver a people who are living in disobedience and who are compromising with sin.
Her request for a “male child,” whom she could return to God and who would, in tum, purge the corruption and lead the people back to God, was realized in her son Samuel. He would be one of the most important personalities in the Old Testament. He turned the children of Israel back to God and bridged the period between the judges of Israel and the kings of Israel.
Once Hannah called upon Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, to fight her battles, the contest was uneven – the outcome certain. The Philistines didn’t stand a chance.
Time passed, and there came a day when the army of the Philistines pitched for battle in the valley of Elah. The Philistines had a champion warrior named Goliath. Daily he had challenged the army of Israel, “And all the men of IsraeL when they saw the man, fled from him, and were very much afraid” (1 Sam. 17:24). On one occasion there was, in the sovereignty of God, a youth present by the name of David of the royal tribe of Judah. He inquired, “. . . who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26b). Either this young man was a fool rushing in where more mature, better-trained, long-experienced soldiers feared to tread, or he knew something that they did not know.
Granted his request by King Saul to confront the Philistine warrior because none other dared to, David descended the valley of Elah to meet Goliath in mortal combat. The fierce Philistines stood on the mountain on one side of the valley, and the trembling Israelites on the other – far below a giant faced a lad – a sword, spear and shield faced a sling and five stones. Prognosticators would have been unanimous. Never was a battle more uneven, the outcome more predictable.
And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field. Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts [Jehovah Sabaoth-the Lord who fights our battles], the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied (1 Sam. 17:42-45).
The battle was uneven, the outcome certain. The Lord of Hosts was fighting for David. Goliath didn’t stand a chance!
The lesson must never be forgotten. If you “play doubles” and the Lord of Hosts is on your side, it’s impossible to lose.
Rising majestically from the Mediterranean Sea at present-day Haifa in Northern Israel is the Mount Carmel mountain range. It was here, more than nine hundred years before Christ, that a courageous prophet of God threw down the gauntlet of challenge to the apostatizing Jewish nation. “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him…” (1 Ki. 18:21).
“Then said Elijah unto the people, I even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Ki. 18:22). A truly dramatic spectacle was to follow. An altar and sacrifice were prepared, and it was agreed that the God who could consume the sacrifice would indeed be the true God. Elijah said to the prophets of Baal,…call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken (1 Ki. 18:24).
Elijah, in a day of apostacy, was a solitary prophet. The prophets of Baal, by contrast, were four hundred and fifty. At the very outset of this encounter,”…Elijah said, As the Lord of hosts [Jehovah Sabaoth] liveth, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself unto him today” (1 Ki. 18:15). Elijah appeared before wicked King Ahab and his false prophets in the name of Jehovah Sabaoth-the Lord of Hosts-the Lord who would fight his battles . The contest was unfair, the outcome certain. The prophets of Baal didn’t stand a chance. The blood of those wicked priests would run in the Brook Kishon that very day.
Years passed, the scene changed and again there arose an occasion when one of God’s choicest servants was in danger. The king of Syria had sent troops to trap the Prophet Elisha in the city of Dothan. During the night a great host of soldiers, fully armed, were moved into place. The ambush was set, the trap about to be sprung. The servant of Elisha discovered the danger and alerted the Prophet Elisha to what he presumed to be a helpless situation. But let the Scriptures speak for themselves. “And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city, both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! What shall we do? And he answered, Fear not; for they who are with us are more than they who are with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Ki 6:15-17).
The prophet had prayed, “. . . open his eyes, that he may see.” There is a realm into which the physical eye cannot see and the physical ear cannot hear. For a few moments God pulled back the curtain to allow the servant of Elisha to see a great host of angelic beings. In number, they were far more numerous than those forces sent by the king of Syria. No one and nothing could touch Elisha as long as he abode behind the protective custody of Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord who can assemble together an innumerable host of angelic beings to do His bidding.
Nothing has changed. The God who put a protective wall of angels around Tommie Titcombe in the jungles of Sudan, Africa, the godly woman Hannah at Shiloh, David in the valley of Elah, Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elisha at Dothan will put a protective hedge about you if you are walking by faith in righteousness. He is Jehovah Sabaoth – the Lord of Hosts.
Clearly the reformer, Martin Luther, understood the significance of the name Jehovah Sabaoth, and it was that significance which he had in mind when he wrote the immortal words:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe,
His craft and power are great
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal
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.