🔼The name Sabaoth: Summary
- From the verb צבא (saba'), to be a collective.
🔼The name Sabaoth in the Bible
The name Sabaoth is one of the divine names or epithets of God. It occurs mostly in combination with YHWH (about 261 times, says Harris, Archer and Waltke's Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) but also with Elohim and variations (24 times).
The name YHWH Sabaoth occurs first in 1 Samuel 1:3, but without clarifying context. A clarifying context occurs further up, in Samuel's description of the battle of Elah, where we find Goliath of Gath holler at the lines (plural) of Israel, asking why they had come out in a line (single) (1 Samuel 17:8). Shortly after, young David steps up and replies that while Goliath has a sword and a spear, David comes in the name of YHWH Sabaoth of the lines (plural) of Israel (17:45).
It's obvious that although YHWH deals with armies, he's not the kind of classic warrior god who infuses his favorite human army with great sword-wielding and spear-hurling strength. He's doing it differently, as Goliath soon discovered.
The name YHWH Sabaoth is usually translated with The Lord Of Hosts (see etymology below), but scholars generally seem to agree that these hosts can't simply mean "army" in the military sense. The Oxford Companion To The Bible observes (under "Names of God in the Hebrew Bible"):
Oxford Companion To The Bible
Some have though that the hosts (Sabaoth) are the armies of Israel, but a reference to these human armies is inappropriate in, for instance, prophetic denunciations of Israel (e.g. Isaiah 1:24), and the word probably denotes heavenly or angelic armies.
Although YHWH is a "man of war" (Exodus 15:3), is mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8), and has been observed to actively partake in military engagements (Joshua 10:11), he's typically not bellicose. When Joshua is about to attack Jericho (Joshua 5:13), he is met by a sworded angelic being who identifies himself as שר־צבא־יהוה, which means Captain of the Host of YHWH (the word for captain or prince returns in names such as Sarah and Israel; the word for host is the singular form of our name Sabaoth).
Joshua asks him if he is for "us" or for "them" but the Prince explains that his presence at the battle of Jericho has nothing to do with an "us" or "them" but rather with YHWH and his plan for the world. As long as Israel is aligned with the forces that drive the universe's ordained evolution, it's a host that the Lord can use. If not, then Israel will find itself shanghaied by hosts that are, until these hosts themselves are no longer so (Isaiah 10).
🔼Sabaoth and Jesus
Herbert Lockyer — All the Divine Names and Titles in the Bible
Although there are a few references where Jehovah Sabaoth is associated with human wars, in the great majority of passages where the title is found there is no allusion to war [...].
The title then seems to point to the relation of God to his people when gathered together for service or worship [...]. Our Lord spoke of those who "gather in His name" and His name alone should be our gathering Name.
Although Jesus didn't come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34), he also came to gather (John 12:32). The greatest instance of YHWH gathering is reported of in Genesis 2:7, where he gathers the dust of the earth, breathes into it his breath and creates a living being. Later he tells Abraham that his progeny would (also) be like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16), and Paul explains that those who believe are the progeny of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). And just as YHWH has done, Jesus gathers the dust of the believers, releases into them the Spirit of God and creates the living Church (Acts 2).
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament devotes more than two columns to Sabaoth. Via texts such as Psalm 24:10's incantation "Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory" HAW observes:
Harris, Archer, Waltke — Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
Yahweh of hosts conveys the concept of glorious king. Yahweh is king of the world (Zechariah 14:16) and over all the kingdoms of the earth (Isaiah 37:16) [...].Although the title [Sabaoth] has military overtones, it points directly to Yahweh's rulership over the entire universe.
He continually rules, but at times he directly intervenes to secure his own victory and insure the direction of history for the salvation of his people. In Amos 4:13 [Sabaoth] is associated with his creating the mountains and wind and his ability to control nature. He is master over every force; he alone secures peace.
When Jesus ordered the wind to be still, the disciples said to each other, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41). The obvious answer would have come from Amos 4:13, and the author of Mark makes a deliberate point to equate or at least align Jesus with Sabaoth.
🔼Etymology of the name Sabaoth
The name Sabaoth comes from the verb צבא (saba'):
The verb צבא (saba') means to ally; to combine and integrate. It describes the formation of a distinct group, its inner economy and its interactions with neighboring groups. It's often used for military encounters but certainly not restricted to that use. Noun צבא (saba') describes a group that functions internally and externally as a distinct unit: a team, a league, a sodality, a collective, an army division.
Verb צבה (saba) means to swell up, but tends to describe the growing, getting better organized and more thoroughly engaging of the troop described by noun צבא (saba'). Noun צבה (sabeh) mostly describes a physical swelling. Noun צבי (sebi) mostly describes a swelling in the social sense: a becoming more honored or increasing in perceived beauty. In later parts of the Bible the verb צבה (saba) may be used to mean to wish. Noun צבו (sebu) means "desired thing."
Noun צבי (sebi) describes a gazelle, and is identical to the one meaning beauty but may also reflect the gazelle's herd behavior. Noun צביה (sebiya) also means gazelle.
Noun צב (sab) probably stems from an otherwise unused root צבב (sabab) and means cart. It's unclear how it fits in but perhaps as a thing upon which to pile things? Identical noun צב (sab) is thought to describe a kind of lizard (listed as unclean), possibly also because this animal tended to congregate.
Here at Abarim Publications (where everything is a lot more complicated than it initially seemed) we like to believe that YHWH Sabaoth denotes a pseudo-creative office of the Creator, namely the one that issues the force that counteracts the second law of thermodynamics. This law stipulates that the entropy (= the degree of chaos, or rather the number of ways in which elements of a system can be arranged while still getting the same result) of a closed system should always increase; meaning that in creation everything is supposed to fall apart. This is necessary for the material economy of the universe. Without it there would be no recycling.
The curious quality of life and culture is that it evolves the wrong way. Living things are more complicated than inanimate things, and the latter should have resulted from the former and not the other way around. Here at Abarim Publications we're guessing that this contradiction was observed by ancient thinkers, and personified in their theology. God's office of Elohim was responsible for the material universe and thermodynamics. God as YHWH created life out of the dust that God as Elohim had made. And YHWH Sabaoth created organization out of living things (read our article on Evolution and the Bible for more on this).
Sabaoth means Communities, Units or Alliances.
🔼Sabaoth and hell
It's not even necessary for Sabaoth to actually violate his own devised second law of thermodynamics. If he organizes a region of space by decreasing its entropy, he should allow elsewhere in the same system the entropy to increase more. That means that even though he locally contradicts his own Law, globally he's not. But that would require that in order to "pay" for humanity's level of organization, Sabaoth is responsible for the emergence of a region elsewhere where creation is hyper-unorganized.
Perhaps this explains why the Mosaic idea of Sheol (in the Pentateuch meaning simply grave or netherworld) was developed into the more modern idea of hell around the same time that the name Sabaoth began to be used. The meaning of the name Baal-zebub (Lord Of Disarray) seems to confirm this model. This deity started out as the Philistine god of Ekron but evolved to represent satan. Satan and chaos were famously defeated by Jesus Christ, who obviously related himself to the Sabaothic office of the Creator by saying:
Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword, or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?