The Hebrew Adonai Tsvaot (יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת) has been used differently in different contexts. For example, in “A Mighty Fortress is our God” hymn in old, but still comprehensible English, the translator of the original German version in referring to the same idea has:
“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.”
I once heard in a church service stated that the worshipers have no reason to be confused – the Lord Sabaoth simply refers to the Lord of the Sabbath! (Nothing can be further from the truth of course as we will see momentarily).
In Isaiah 6 we read that the great prophet heard angels call out to each other: “Holy, Holy, Holy is Adodai Tsvaot!” (קָד֛וֹשׁ קָד֖וֹשׁ יְהוָ֣ה צְבָא֑וֹת)
The last two words make up a phrase “Adonai Tsvaot” – “Lord God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts or Lord Sabbaoth” as it is sometimes translated. The very last word is “tsvaot” (צְבָא֑וֹת). The word “tsava” (צְבָא֑) means “army” and together with the plural feminine ending “ot” (ֹוֹת) we get “of the Armies.” More literal translation, therefore, is “Lord of the Armies”.
Nothing illustrates this use better than the example of Joshua meeting the ultimate Messenger of the LORD in Joshua 5. When Joshua first sow this Great Warrior, he inquired if he was for “them” or for their enemies. The answer he got was – no.
Not letting Joshua wonder too long the Heavenly Warrior added, “for I have come as the Commander of the Army of the LORD.” (לֹ֗א כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י שַׂר־צְבָֽא־יְהוָ֖ה עַתָּ֣ה בָ֑אתִי).
Israel’s God is not satisfied with assisting Israel’s army (fighting on her side). He will lead Israel into battle Himself.
Joshua immediately understood to whom he was talking. He fell face down and quickly took of his shoes as Moses did before him at the sight of God in the burning bush for the place upon which his feet stood was holy.
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