Saturday, 5 January 2013

Dominus Sabaoth

Any church-going or merely Bible-reading Christian will be familiar with the phrase ‘LORD of hosts’. It occurs repeatedly in the books of the prophets, and its Latin form Dominus Deus Sabaoth has made its way into the Catholic liturgy. It is clearly a stock phrase, for sabaoth, like amen and alleluia, is a modified Hebrew word.

In Hebrew, ‘LORD of hosts’ reads JHWH tsva’ot. I always assumed that these ‘hosts’ were the heavenly hosts of angels. However, yesterday I was reading Exodus and came across the phrase ‘the hosts of the LORD’. It set off a bell somewhere, and indeed, the words are basically the same – before Scripture calls God JHWH tsva’ot, it speaks of the tsiv’ot JHWH. They are the tribes of Israel, celebrating the great first Passover: ‘And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.’ (Ex. 12:41)

It is the chapter in which God gives directions for the first time on how to celebrate the feast(s) of Passover and of the Unleavened Bread, in which the people are protected from the destroyer by the Blood of the Lamb, and in which they set out from the land of slavery.

We are the hosts of the LORD.

And the LORD and his hosts celebrate the same Passover, for so the story continues: ‘It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.’

So we hold our vigils.

My soul looks for the Lord
more than sentinels for daybreak.
More than sentinels for daybreak,
let Israel look for the LORD,
For with the LORD is kindness,
with him is full redemption,
And God will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
(Psalm 130:6-8)

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