In Battle Array

by Ray Hawkins

The Eternal One has many descriptive names. He is called Shepherd, Saviour, Creator, King, Priest for example, and in the prophets He is given the title the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Sabaoth . This last is a highly significant name and title, and it relates to the conflict between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, Truth and Error. For the Lord of Hosts is a military term. It is an awesome, dignified and comprehensive title for the Warrior Lord.

Some are repelled by the concept of a Warrior God. They try to ignore it or disprove it because it is unsettling to their sentimentalized view of God. Others abuse it by making out the Almighty to be a blood-lusting monster who delights in war. This is an absurdity, for every aspect of God's nature is enshrouded in and permeated by His holiness. Therefore to be the Lord of Hosts, our beloved God is governed in all His actions by His essential nature of holiness.

The title Lord of Hosts is always associated with warfare. It is God coming to the aid of His people, for His name and for His purposes. It is God standing with and in front of those who love and serve Him against the visible and invisible forces of evil, darkness and depravity. It is God who leads H is chosen through the seemingly impossible, when the way is barricaded by the legions of Lucifer, the Devil.

We must remember that this world hates and opposes those who love the Lord God. Life is no picnic or fun-place for those who are intent on serving Him in righteousness and truth. If we were left to make the grade on our own or even in the company of others of like mind we would fail. The depraved would devour us or the demonic trample us. There is no one, no group strong enough to survive by self-effort or good intentions. The Lord must fight for and with His people.

Joshua's Experience

This is what Joshua discovered when he went to check out Jericho. In his way stood what appeared to be a man. Joshua the warrior immediately issued a challenge for recognition or combat. What a shock he received! The stranger replied: " … as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come" (5:14).

At this Joshua fell face down, and with the awareness of faith placed himself and his army under the Lord's control, for he said: "What does my Lord say to his servant?" Then in words reminiscent of the call to Moses the Lord said: "Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy."

Joshua was to realize that Jericho would fall, not by the power of the tribes of Israel, but by the power of the Lord.

Contest on Carmel

There are many instances which could be recalled from the life of Joshua, and of David, in which the Almighty gave them the victory. However, the one that is the classic in conflict is that fought on Mount Carmel.

We recall that the northern kingdom had violated almost all the precepts of God as set down in the Law of Moses. God has sought to restore them to Himself, but they were fascinated by the frivolities and depravities of the Canaanite worship of Baal. So God sent Elijah with the message of 'war' -- no rain until Elijah says so!

Over three years later Elijah in the Lord's name calls the priests and followers of Baal to the final showdown on Carmel. The God who answered with fire from heaven that devoured the sacrifice. He fought the powers of darkness and showed in the visible world His victory. And it was after the conquest on the mountain that the Lord answered the prayer of Elijah and sent the rain by which the drought was broken.

Isaiah the Prophet

Isaiah is enamoured by the thought of God in battle array. Over and over again he mentions this title and takes heart in the fighting spirit of the Lord of heaven and earth. He writes: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined" (9:2). Reference here is made to darkness, and in many places in Scripture darkness depicts military onslaught or occupation or oppression.

Following on, Isaiah pictures warfare very clearly, and the whiff of blood is strong: "You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before you according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For you have broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every warrior's sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire" (9:3-5).

Then in the midst of battle scenes Isaiah by the Holy Spirit tells of a child that will be born, a child that will be the future ruler of the nation of God's choosing, and who will survive the onslaught of evil men and nations, and take his rightful place. And His name is "Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (9:6).

Isaiah reveals how this will be accomplished – by the zeal of the Lord of Hosts. This is a battle hymn. It is a victory cry of the heavens. God will achieve His conquest, and a child will be the instrument. Truly, the Almighty expresses His power in and through the seemingly impossible. We well remember the lamb at the Passover!

Husband and Redeemer

The prophet Isaiah sees no conflict in the role of the Eternal being a Warrior for his people and at the same time being a loving Husband and Redeemer to them. He combines these concepts thus: "For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; he is the God of the whole earth" (54:5).

Amos the Prophet

In the writings of Amos is a very sad statement. He refers to God and His relationship with the northern kingdom of Israel and later also with the southern kingdom of Judah. "Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; and because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (4:12)

The word 'prepare' is a military term. God is saying to His people in Amos' time, "You have rebelled so much that now I have to fight you."

What a tragedy!

The people in whom God had invested His name and purposes and Law had despised Him. They who had seen in the annals of their history God working wonders on their behalf must now suffer at His hands.

What a hearbreak!

How it must have grieved the Eternal One who wanted to be a providing Husband and who now had to become the Lord of Hosts against His own. The Assyrian gulp of the ten tribes bears testimony to how God fought against His people. He simply withdrew and left them to their own devices, with disastrous results. The southern kingdom of Judah knew the same fate when Babylon took them for seventy years as slaves. However, God had promised Abraham and David that the nation would always survive and He honoured His word. Judgement may be meted out, but the Covenant will not be broken by God.

The Nation in Perpetuity

There are those who would conclude the history of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the expulsion from the land in 70 and 135 A.D. In their minds it would be very convenient to write across Israel's history: "Fought against! Fractured! Finished!"

But that could never be, for God is true to His word: "Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night ... 'if those ordinances depart from before me,' says the LORD, 'then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before me for ever'" (Jeremiah 31:35,36).

And May 14th, 1948, is one reason there is a sequel, the time Israel became a nation with a homeland and parliament. The prophet Zechariah's word (chapter 14) is another. The first is evidence of God's promise being fulfilled; the second is a declaration that the Lord of Hosts will once more be a shield to Israel; He will be in battle array FOR His people, not against them.

There have been many confrontations between Israel and the Arab nations since 1948 and in each case Israel has suffered yet triumphed. Zechariah warns against dependence upon the strength of human muscle and mind and might. Victory, he declares, belongs to the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts: " '... not be might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts" (4:6).

End-time Showdown

There is yet to be a more furious and far-spread encounter of arms and machines than ever before. The tragedy of hatred and hostility towards God and His people will be played out, and His enemies will appear to prevail.

But Zechariah tells us that in the midst of seeming defeat the Lord of Hosts personally will intervene to save and fight for His people. It is written that he will come to the Mount of Olives with such shattering power that the nations fear and the earth quakes. It is time, He is saying, to right the wrong, to end the evil, to establish truth (14:1ff).

When the Lord returns in glory to the same mount from which He once ascended to glory, He will be no longer Sovereign by faith but Sovereign by sight. He will come to forgive a repentant people, to subdue His enemies and to sit on the throne of David as promised. He will then bring in universal peace and righteousness. The Psalmist saw that day and sang this song (24:7-10):

"Lift up your heads, O you gates!

And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!

And the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The LORD strong and mighty,

The LORD mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O you gates!

And lift them up, you everlasting doors!

And the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory?

The LORD of hosts,

He is the King of glory."

May we too be able to say by faith and then by sight: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."