There are six Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi – whose preferred extended title for God is ‘the LORD Almighty’ (or the LORD God Almighty). Older translations have ‘the LORD of hosts’.

The first recorded use of this title is in 1Samuel 17:45, where David challenged Goliath with the words:

‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.’

The word translated ‘Almighty’ or ‘of hosts’ [Hebrew tsaw baw] refers to a great mass of people, particularly to an army. Its use in the scripture infers the existence of a war. At times this seems to be all about physical wars, but behind all of this is a deep spiritual battle.

While David is correct in calling God ‘the God of the armies of Israel’, it is clear from the Scripture that God has all human armies at his command, and uses them to execute his purposes of judgement, justice and deliverance. This is very evident in Isaiah and throughout the Scripture.

But there is an even greater level at which God is ‘the God of the armies’ – he is the God of the armies (the hosts) of heaven.  

Elisha understood this. When his servant was overwhelmed at the size of the enemy army surrounding the city, he prayed ‘O LORD, open his eyes so that he may see’, then ‘the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha’ [2Kings 6:17].

Micaiah understood this: ‘I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing on his right and on his left’ [2Chronicles 18:18].

The shepherds outside Bethlehem saw this: ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel …’ [Luke 2:13].

Jesus knew this: ‘Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?’ [Matthew 26:53].

One day, we will all see this: ‘This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels’ [2Thessalonians 1:7].

On that day when Jesus Christ, the Lord of lords and King of kings, rides forth, ‘the armies of heaven’ follow him [Revelation 19:14].

These heavenly hosts are described in Revelation 5:11 as ‘numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand’.  They surround the throne of God and acknowledge God, and the Lamb, as worthy of all praise and honour and glory. They know who God is and what he is like. They know what is due to God.

This God is Isaiah’s God: the LORD Almighty – the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies, the God of the armies of heaven. He is not a God whom one should ignore or despise or mock. He is not a God whom one should deny. He is not a God whom one should oppose. Yet all of this was the attitude of the people to whom Isaiah was sent to prophesy.

May I encourage you, as you read Isaiah, to take notice of Isaiah’s presentation of God – Isaiah’s ‘theology’. Every chapter of Isaiah pulsates with the power, the sovereign authority and the holiness of God. Israel’s defection, Israel’s love of man-made ‘gods’, Israel’s carelessness of God’s commands – all of these seem incomprehensible. Why walk away from this Almighty God? Why despise the word of this God whose power is unlimited and whose sovereignty encompasses both the heavens and the earth?

But these questions are answered easily enough. We have only to look into our own hearts and minds. Have we not also demonstrated the same carelessness, the same neglect, the same stupidity?

This Almighty Lord urgently commands us:

‘Return to him against whom you have so greatly revolted …’ [Isaiah 31:6].
‘Return to me, for I have redeemed you …’ [44:22].
‘Let the wicked … return to the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him’ [55:7].

To those who do return Isaiah’s powerful, sovereign LORD Almighty gives this promise:

‘… everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away’ [35:10; 51:11].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014