Bible Readings: 2 Kings 6:8-23 & Matthew 26:47-56

Hosts

I wonder what comes to mind for you if I say the word “hosts”. Perhaps you think of Ant and Dec, hosts of “Britain’s Got Talent.” or Gary Linekar and Des Lynam, hosts in different eras of “Match of the Day.” You might be thinking of a party or meal you’ve been to recently, and are recalling your hosts – the people who invited you, welcomed you, and served you. This meaning of the word hosts derives from a Latin word, “hospes”, from which we also get hospitality. However, host is one of those words in English that has different meanings, which have nothing in common, except that they have the same spelling and pronunciation, like match, bat and pen. Another meaning of the word host, comes from the Latin “hostis”, from which we also get “hostile”. It originally meant an army, usually of the enemy, but its meaning expanded to mean any large gathering, or large number of things.

Why the English / Latin lesson? Well, it’s because this morning we are going to be exploring another name of God, and the name we’re thinking about is the “Lord of hosts.” However, before we get into this, there is a bit of groundwork to do.

I am a bit hesitant to do this, because I don’t want to risk undermining our confidence in Scripture, but I’m willing to run that risk because it seems to me that it is better to understand some of the decisions made in translations, so that we can read the informed eyes.

So, would you turn with me in the pew Bibles to p259, to 1 Samuel 1:3. This is the first appearance of this name in the Bible, it says, “Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh.” Did you notice something? It doesn’t say Lord of hosts in this translation. If we’d been reading from the King James, or one of the modern translations in that tradition, it would have said, “sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh.”

Why is this? Well, let me quote from the preface of the NIV translation, which is the forerunner of the translation used in our pew Bibles,”

“Because for most readers today the phrase “the Lord of hosts” and “God of hosts” have little meaning, this version renders them “the Lord Almighty” and “God Almighty.” These renderings convey the sense of the Hebrew, namely, “he who is sovereign over all the ‘hosts’ (powers) in heaven and on earth, especially over the ‘hosts’ (armies) of Israel.”

I understand this reason, but it seems to me that this does lose some of the sense of the commander of armies in this name, and if we aren’t aware of it, means that we might miss some of the links to other things that happen in the Bible, things which we are going to explore this morning. It’s not an issue if we remember that when we read “Lord Almighty” in these Bibles we remember “Lord of hosts.”

One thing that the explanation from the NIV preface does sort out for us is which kind of host we’re talking about here. When we read of the Lord of Hosts, we’re not focussing on God’s hospitality or welcome, though God is hospitable and welcoming, we are focussing on God’s power, God’s might, God’s command and authority over the hosts.

So, which hosts is God Lord of? All of them, obviously, but in Scripture there are three main hosts that are mentioned, and which God is declared to be Lord over, and the explanation from the NIV preface points out two of these.

In Isaiah 45:12, God, speaking through the prophet, says this, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts.” Isn’t that a lovely phrase, “starry hosts.” When you got out on a clear night, into the country side, away from the lights of the town, and look up, isn’t it magnificent. Truly starry hosts. Lights unimaginably distant and numerous, all created and governed by God. Which is amazing in itself, but this means more than that. The starry host has a less wholesome implication as well. In many of nations and cultures around the people of God in the Old Testament, the stars were worshipped, and this worship of creation rather than the Creator was a constant temptation to God’s people. All the way through the history books of Kings and Chronicles we read of unfaithful Kings building altars to “the starry hosts” and then Godly kings coming along and tearing them down again.

So, firstly, God is the Lord of the starry hosts – of all creation, and is greater and more worthy of worship than any created thing.

Going back to the book of Samuel, later on, we read the account of a young shepherd boy, visiting his brothers on the battle field. There is a giant in the opposing army that taunts the Israelite soldiers, challenging them to single combat to decide the dispute between them. The teenager, who would one day become Israel’s greatest King, David, is indignant and goes out to fight the giant, and as he goes he says this,

“I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

He goes on to defeat the giant, Goliath, and the opposing army is routed and flees. David is confident in his own skills but he is even more confident in his faith that God is supreme commander and defender of the armies of his people, of the hosts of Israel, and can be relied on to uphold them when they turn to God in their times of trouble.

So, secondly, God is the Lord of the hosts of God’s people.

I love the story that we heard this morning from the life of Elisha. It is all about being able to see. Elisha was close to God, and could see the plans of the King of Aram, as well as if he’d been in the room, and kept tipping off the King of Israel so that he could marshal his defences. The King of Aram was furious, but couldn’t see how his plans were being leaked. Eventually some of his aides work it out and tell him it’s Elisha so he plans a raid to grab Elisha. The raid is launched, and all Elisha’s servant can see is the enemy, the problem, his own impending death. Elisha prays that his eyes may be opened, and then the servant can see what Elisha can see -the heavenly army, the angels surrounding them. The Aramean army attacks and again Elisha prays, but this time he prays for blindness and the attacking army is rendered helpless by God. Elisha then misleads the enemy soldiers, and once again prays for eyes to be opened. They are, and peace is made.

In the middle of all this, we see, along with Elisha and his servant, the angelic armies of God deployed to protect God’s people.

In the reading we heard from the Matthew’s account of Jesus life, we come across another reference to these armies. Only this time they are not being deployed, they are being held back. Jesus is coming towards the end of his mission on earth, and he is being betrayed to death. He knows that the angel armies could come to his rescue but he also knows that if they did then his mission to restore the relationship between God and creation would fail, so they are not being sent out.

He also knew, however, that this restraint was only temporary. In the end those legions of angels would be deployed, and he would lead them, in his divinity, as Lord of hosts. In the book of Revelation, in those poetic descriptions of what will happen at the end of time, in Revelation 19:11-14, we see Jesus, raised and ascended, riding out on a white horse at the head of the hosts of heaven to bring about the long awaited final defeat of Satan and all the forces of evil.

Thirdly, God is the Lord of the hosts of angel armies.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The great news is that in this struggle the Lord of hosts is on our side. God is the Lord of starry hosts – of all creation and all spiritual powers. We are called to be closer to Christ, we value authentic, intimate worship. As we draw nearer to our Creator God in worship, so we lay aside and put away other things, created things, that might draw our eye or tempt us to worship them.

God is the Lord of all God’s people, God is our supreme commander and defender. We look to God for our marching orders, and we can rely on God’s defence of us. This does mean giving up control, submitting our will to our commander’s will, following orders. Sometimes we won’t understand why, but the promise is that as we are obedient, so we will, in the end, be victorious.

God is the Lord of the angel armies. We will not usually be able to see them, and sometimes they may be withheld, but often they are around us and with us. Angels are not people that have died now in heaven. Angels are created by God as messengers and warriors. They engage in battle in the heavenly realms on our behalf. We can ask God to send them to defend us and to help us. At the end of time we will see them, with Jesus leading them, defeating evil and destroying it forever.

This is the ultimate promise and meaning of the name Lord of hosts – God is the one who is the sovereign, almighty, ruler over all creation, all people, all spirits, and we can believe and trust in this God to defend us and to deliver us.


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