One of the more awe inspiring titles of God used by some of the prophets is: 'Lord God of Hosts'. Unfortunately in the English it is a translation of three Hebrew words two of which have two variations each. This has caused a certain looseness of rendering in even our best translations. The aim of this brief paper is to recover the name for the English reader and to make some suggestions as to what it might mean.
The first step in attempting to describe this name is actually to state how the name is being defined. I am taking as my starting point the Hebrew rendered 'Lord God of Hosts' in Isa 3:15 of the KJV. According to Keil and Delitzsch this is a rendering of Adonai Elohim Zebaoth in the Masoretic pointing. The Strong's numbers for the three words are:
H136 - Adonay, H3068 - yehovah, H6635 - a mass of persons. These same three words occur in only six other places and in none of them are they consecutive. However Isa 22:14 suggests a close alternate Hebrew sequence: H136, H3069 - yehovih, H6635. The Strong's entry for H3069 states that H3069 is a derivative of H3068 that is used after H136 and is pointed with the vowels of Elohim (H430).
This suggests that Isa 3:15 is a bit of an oddity and we find that the sequence 136 3069 6635 occurs fourteen times consecutively. The first occurrence is in Psalm 96:6, there are seven occurrences in Isaiah, four of which are in the twenty-second chapter. Jeremiah uses the expression five times leaving one in Amos.
Isaiah also heavily represents another variant upon the name. The Hebrew word Jehovah (H3068) is more normal joined to the less emphatic form of Adonay - Adon Adon (H113). Searching for the sequence H113, H3068, H6635 yields five consecutive results all in Isaiah.
This gives a total of twenty different uses of this name thirteen of which are in Isaiah. It should be noted that there is another name that the KJV renders and 'Lord the God of Hosts' (italics mine) which is a rendering of H3068, H430 (Elohim), H6635 which has not been included in this study.
There are at least three ways to discover, or attempt to discover, the particular meaning of a compound name of God.
At least on this occasion I am very skeptical of the first approach. Our translators tend to be our best scholars and as they have not come up with a consistent rendering of the name I am disinclined to believe we authoritatively know what it means.
An analytic look at the name is far more suggestive. First we have Adonay or Adon Adon which is universally agreed to mean 'Lord'. In particular I would suggest it is a designation of someone as great by reason of relationship. Someone's Lord is by definition someone greater than them. Jehovah or Jehovih is almost the opposite; it suggests God as the self existent one that is God entirely independent of anything and anyone around Him. Tsaba tsebaah (H6635) is generally agreed to be an army. What we therefore perhaps see here is the ultimate God that is in control of all the power and might of the earth but in made personal by the note that he is our Lord.
Personally I always prefer to try to use the Bible as its own commentary. In this particular case we only have twenty occurrences of this name so reading them all is extremely doable. They are included below for convenience:
(Psa 69:6) Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
(Isa 1:24) Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
(Isa 3:1) For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water,
(Isa 3:15) What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Isa 10:16) Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.
(Isa 10:23) For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.
(Isa 10:24) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt.
(Isa 10:33) Behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled.
(Isa 19:4) And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts.
(Isa 22:5) For it is a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity by the Lord GOD of hosts in the valley of vision, breaking down the walls, and of crying to the mountains.
(Isa 22:12) And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth:
(Isa 22:14) And it was revealed in mine ears by the LORD of hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Isa 22:15) Thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, Go, get thee unto this treasurer, even unto Shebna, which is over the house, and say,
(Isa 28:22) Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth.
(Jer 2:19) Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
(Jer 46:10) For this is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries: and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood: for the Lord GOD of hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.
(Jer 49:5) Behold, I will bring a fear upon thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts, from all those that be about thee; and ye shall be driven out every man right forth; and none shall gather up him that wandereth.
(Jer 50:25) The LORD hath opened his armoury, and hath brought forth the weapons of his indignation: for this is the work of the Lord GOD of hosts in the land of the Chaldeans.
(Jer 50:31) Behold, I am against thee, O thou most proud, saith the Lord GOD of hosts: for thy day is come, the time that I will visit thee.
(Amo 9:5) And the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.
There is no magical method to obtain the meaning of an expression from the Bible verses it is used in but there are at least four that are worth trying:
In my opinion all the options produce complementary results in this case. Psa 96:6 is begging that the people of God would not be made ashamed. Amos 9:5 is asserting that the Lord God of Hosts is the one that can bring destruction and desolation upon the Land. Isa 22 in the vision of the valley describing the wholesale humiliation of the Israelites caused by the wholesale destruction of the Land. The majority vote angle is interesting. All of the verses fit with destruction and humiliation and the majority of them relate to the Israelites. However a few of them, particularly in Jeremiah, relate to gentile countries.
There is always a danger when brushing the sand from an ancient relic that the brush will destroy more than it reveals. I am painfully aware that I have attempted to analyze something complex and potentially beyond my reach. I hope that the collation of the verses and the publishing of the results will at least allow the reader to decide for themselves what the Spirit is conveying in this title. However I was pleased by the cohesion of the verse list that was produced. My personal conclusion is that Lord God of Hosts is a title that suggests the military majesty of the self-defining God as it relates to the individual. Further, aside from the opening plea of the Psalmist, it suggests that most men will find their personal pride and might are as nothing compared to the Lord God of Hosts.