Lord of Sabaoth
John A. Tvedtnes
In a revelation of 1 June 1833, we read of “the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end” (D&C 95:7). The Hebrew term transliterated Sabaoth in the New Testament (Romans 9:29; James 5:4) and in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 87:7; 88:2; 98:2) usually denotes armies, whence it is rendered “hosts” in many Old Testament passages. Especially notable are the words of David to Goliath, “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, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). In this passage, the same Hebrew term is rendered “hosts” and “armies.”
If the title denotes the Lord of armies, how could the Lord have told Joseph Smith that it meant creator? For an explanation, we must turn to the earliest occurrence of the Hebrew term in the Bible, in Genesis 2:1, which sums up the creation by saying, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” In this passage, the term is clearly connected to creation rather than warfare.
In his commentary on Genesis 2:1, E. A. Speiser noted that the term rendered “hosts” was an allusion to all that God had created, not to angelic armies as some had supposed.[i] The verbal root of the Hebrew noun means “to gather, to assemble,” which is what armies do in time of war. But it is also a process of creation and, in the context of Genesis 2:1, it might best be translated “assemblage,” in reference to all of God’s creation. When Isaiah wrote of the “Lord of hosts,” he added “thou hast made heaven and earth” (Isaiah 37:16). Note also Psalm 148:1-5:
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.”
Understood in this way, one can better see why the prophet Isaiah heard the heavenly beings surrounding the throne of God cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). All of God’s creations reflect his glory, as we read in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (cf. Psalm 57:5, 11; 89:6; 108:5; Habakkuk 3:3). A third- or fourth-century AD Jewish copper amulet found near Kibbutz Evron, Israel, has a Greek inscription that speaks of “the One who made the heavens and founded earth and established sea <and> who made everything, Iao Sabaoth” [Jehovah of Sabaoth], confirming the meaning.[ii] After describing the sun, moon, stars, and the earth, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47; cf. D&C 84:101).
[i] E. A. Speiser, Genesis, vol. 1, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964), 7.
[ii] Roy Kotansky, Greek Magical Amulets: The Inscribed Gold, Silver, Copper, and Bronze Lamellae Part I, Papyrologica Coloniensia 22/1 (University of Cologne, Germany, and Westdeutscher Verlag, 1994), 314.