So tell me, when you sing “A Mighty Fortress” and you reach the second verse, what exactly do you think you are calling the Lord when you sing, “Lord Sabaoth his name?” No, it is not “Lord of the Sabbath,” which is what I thought for many years
Sabaoth is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word Tzebhaoth. I don’t even pretend to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar, but I can read English fairly well. The word means armies or hosts. In fact, it can even refer to a specific campaign the army might be involved in at any given time. It is above all a military word. So any time you see “Lord of hosts” in your Bible you are seeing the word Sabaoth or Tzebhaoth, depending upon whether you are reading the Old Testament or the New.
I cannot find the actual Hebrew word un-translated in any English version of the Old Testament—it is always converted to “LORD of hosts” or “Jehovah of hosts.” But you can find Sabaoth un-translated in the older versions of the New Testament in Romans 9:29 and James 5:4.
And Isaiah cries concerning Israel, If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved: for the Lord will execute [his] word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short. And, as Isaiah hath said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah, Rom 9:27-29.
This passage is much more powerful when you understand the meaning of the word. The Lord, who commands all the powers and armies of the universe, could easily have wiped Israel off the earth. But in His mercy, He spared a remnant, Isaiah says. Paul’s point is that God has in the past come close to obliterating the Jewish race, and He will have no trouble doing it again if necessary. That’s the kind of power He has.
Behold, the hire of the laborers who mowed your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, cries out: and the cries of them that reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, James 5:4.
This passage makes you just as shivery. Anyone who cheats the laborers of their hire should remember that the Lord of Sabaoth hears their cry and is there to defend them. Do you really want the Lord of hosts with all His armies of angels and spiritual beings fighting you?
Now look back at the song. “For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.” That may well be said about Satan, but we have Lord Sabaoth on our side—the Lord of hosts, the commander of all the spiritual forces of good “and He must win the battle.”
We miss so much when we don’t care enough to research the songs we are singing. In fact, I have heard people complain about “all this archaic language.” If it’s in the Bible, people, we ought to care, and if we believe all those pet scriptures we always quote, we will want to “sing with the spirit and the understanding,” 1 Cor 14:24. The context of that passage may be spiritual gifts, but the meaning in every context is that what we sing must be understandable and edifying, and that requires some effort on our parts. Let’s see if we can practice what we preach.
The LORD of hosts [Sabaoth] is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. -- Selah, Psa 46:7.