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Many understand the meaning of the word "Sabbath". More recently, I have run across the word Sabaoth which seems to appear twice in Scripture (possibly more, but I couldn't find it):

James 5:1-4: "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth" (emphasis added).

The other instance appears in the Letter to the Romans:

Romans 9:29: "29And just as Isaiah foretold, 'UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH'" (emphasis added, caps in original).

Can someone elaborate on this word, "Sabaoth," which seems to occur only in the previous passages? (If it does occur elsewhere, can that also be identified in a response?)

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Sabaoth is the transliteration of tsavaot, which is the plural form of the hebrew word tsava. This word is the denominative of the verb tsiva, which means “go into battle, fight”[1]

When taken as a noun, it means the units that go into battle and fight, and thus it can refer to armies, companies, groups of men that are going into battle.

From that basic militaristic usage you can form metaphors that give rise to other meanings. E.g. when I say "I will send a brigade of lawyers to your door", I don't mean that the lawyers are part of a military unit sent to kill you. What I do mean is that those lawyers are there to attack you in some metaphorical sense. There is a militarism to my choice of the word "brigade of lawyers" that is not present if I merely said "group of lawyers", but nevertheless the sense of this usage is as a collection, not an actual military unit.

Now if that phrase "brigade of lawyers" becomes commonly used over time, that militaristic aspect can fade from consciousness and people might come to think of it more as "group of lawyers". For example, "a troop of boyscouts" or "Salvation Army" have pretty much lost any militaristic connotation, but when these terms were first coined, that sense was intentionally there as both groups had a militaristic nature. Over time, these things are forgotten and today, one might argue that "troop" has an alternate meaning of "group of boyscouts" and thus is a generic word for "group". This type of semantic drift is especially true with something like a Bible translation, especially the KJV that shaped the English language. Many metaphors used in the KJV have become so common and have been used in so many other contexts that the original context has been lost and people forget that they are metaphors. The KJV changed the meaning of the words themselves so that phrases like "the array of heavenly hosts" have lost their militaristic connotation to modern readers, but the original author of the Bible as well as the King James translators certainly intended to include this connotation when they used military language to describe the groups of stars/angels. In the case of stars, the idea is (most likely) that they are marching in formation and/or deployed to their positions as commanded by their general, the Creator.

In this sense, some believe that tsavaot does not carry a militaristic sense but is just a generic word for collection or group. For these people, "Jehovah Sabaoth" just means "the Lord of Collections [of men/angels/stars]". But this is incorrect. The meaning is "Lord of Armies", or "The Lord that Leads us into battle" or "The Lord that fights for me" -- and we can see this from the Hebrew usage in the OT:

Use of YHWH Sabaot in the book of 1 Samuel:

  • 1 Sam 1.11 -- To avenge the affliction of the handmaid Hannah, who is in bitterness of soul after being taunted for being barren.

  • 1 Sam 4.3 -- To help in battle with the Phillistines

  • 1 Sam 15.1 -- Before waging war on the Amaleks

  • 1 Sam 17.45 -- When David fights Goliath

etc.

This is certainly the sense in the passage cited in James, where James is threatening those who withhold wages by appealing to Jehovah Sabaoth -- the God that will fight on behalf of those who are being oppressed.

This is the avenging God. If you erase that militaristic connotation, then you erase an important part of the meaning of the word, and you make the choice of James' language much more mysterious than it needs to be. There is nothing mysterious about Sabaot -- it means that God will fight for those who are being robbed and is supposed to invoke fear in the heart of employers.


[1] Ringgren, H. (2003). צָבָא. G. J. Botterweck & H.-J. Fabry (Eds.), D. W. Stott (Trans.), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Revised Edition, Vol. 12, p. 211). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.which has a primary meaning "army" or other military unit (e.g. company, etc).

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  • Excellent answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Sep 13 at 7:25
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"Sabaoth" is the English spelling of the actual Greek word (Gr. Σαβαὼθ). In other words, it is not a translation. Linguists call it a "transliteration."

The word is essentially equivalent to "hosts," following the "LORD of hosts" (KJV) expression from the Old Testament. Perhaps a better translation, for the Hebrew phrase, would be "Jehovah of hosts." The New Testament, in KJV at least, never uses the expression "Lord of hosts." The word "Sabaoth" is the equivalent of "hosts" in the expression "Lord of Sabaoth."

This Greek word, along with its full expression "Lord of Sabaoth," occurs only twice in the New Testament, as identified in the question.

And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha. (Romans 9:29, KJV)

Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. (James 5:4, KJV)

You may see the Greek word and its usage, courtesy of BlueLetterBible, HERE.

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  • @Robert Some might think so, but while armies would always be included in the concept of "hosts," the reverse is not necessarily true. For example, the Bible refers to all the multitude of the Israelites, presumably including their women and children, as "all the hosts of the LORD" (Exodus 12:41, KJV). God's "hosts" need not be soldiers.
    – Polyhat
    Sep 13 at 6:16
  • @Robert Yes, it can mean that. It has other senses of meaning as well. "Armies" is narrower in meaning than "hosts." You may see some of the other senses of meaning HERE, to include the sun, moon, and stars and the whole of creation.
    – Polyhat
    Sep 13 at 6:24
  • @Robert As per the dictionary, the word "hosts" is only considered "archaic" when referring to armies, interestingly. That's because we use "armies" now to refer to military companies. But "armies" certainly does not encompass the other meanings of "hosts", meanings very definitely consistent with Biblical usage. God expects us to be diligent students--it's not hard to learn a word or two. Dictionaries are at our fingertips these days--just a click away; no need to upgrade e.g. "apothecary" to "pharmacist" (a very different occupation altogether) because we don't have the former anymore.
    – Polyhat
    Sep 13 at 6:44
  • See my answer. This should not be confusing or engender so much discussion.
    – Robert
    Sep 13 at 6:46

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