Sabaoth is a word used in the divine title, yhwhṣ ebā'ôt (usually translated as "the Lord of Hosts"); employed most frequently by the Prophets (247 times). This title is a contraction of the full form yhwh 'ĕlōhê ṣebā'ôt yiśrā’ēl, "Yahweh, the God of the armies of Israel" (cf. Am 5.15; 1 Sm 17.45). Its first appearance in the Old Testament is in connection with the sanctuary at silo (shiloh), where the ark of the covenant was housed (1 Sm 1.3, 4.3–5). The ark, the symbol of Yahweh's presence, was carried into battle as a sacred palladium. The name Yahweh Sabaoth would thus describe Israel's God as the supreme commander of its armies (Ex 7.4;12.41–42), a
warrior who led the hosts of Israel into battle. The title, however, was later used by the Prophets in a more universal meaning to designate the Lord of the universe. Sabaoth is sometimes taken to mean the angels who serve at the throne of the Almighty (Jb 1.6); but the singular ṣābā ' is used more frequently for this heavenly army (Jos 5.14; 1 Kgs 22.19; 2 Chr 18.18; etc.). Sabaoth may possibly refer also to the stars, which in their orderly sweep across the night sky suggest the movement of an army on the march (cf. Jgs 5.20); but, again, the army of the stars is usually the singular ṣābā ' (Dt 4.19, 17.3; 2 Kgs 17.16; etc.). Since the Israelites were often warned against worshipping "the army of the heavens," i.e., the stars, as deities (Jer 8.2; So 1.5; etc.), the theological concept of the stars as Yahweh's creation may also have been intended by declaring Yahweh the God of (the heavenly) hosts. In any case, the term Yahweh Sabaoth expresses God's sovereignty over all things.
Bibliography: b. wambacq, L'Epithète divin Jahvé Sebaôt (Paris 1947).
[r. t. a. murphy]