As you probably know by now, we struggled to translate the titles referring to God and Jesus in The Voice Bible. One of those is a combination of the name of God (YHWH) and a Hebrew title (Sabaoth). Many Bible versions simply translate God’s name as “LORD” (note, all caps) and then transliterate the title into English. The result is the combination: “LORD Sabaoth.” That may work for other translations, but the Voice translation team was not satisfied to transliterate titles like this. After all “Lord Sabaoth” sounds like a character in Star Wars: “Lord Sabaoth, the death star is complete.”
When you look into the meaning of the divine name (YHWH) and the title (Sabaoth), you discover an amazing set of connections. I don’t have the time or space to go into all of them here, but we ended up translating that combination of name and title this way: “The Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies.” Now that’s a mouthful, but let me explain.
As we have talked about elsewhere the meaning of God’s name is best captured by the English adjectival noun, “the Eternal” or “the Eternal One.” The name is derived from the Hebrew verb “to be” and implies the one who is, who was, and is to come.
The title “Sabaoth” is sometimes rendered “hosts” (as in “Lord of hosts”) but that is not a very meaningful way of looking at it these days. We discussed the translation at length—went back and forth on the phone and in emails—until we finally ended up with the phrase “Commander of heavenly armies.” Clearly, the title implies that God is in charge, but his in-charge-ness in this age is imperfect on this earth. That is why this world is so badly broken. That is why Jesus urged his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That is why Jesus will one day return to finish what he started 2000 years ago.
Only in heaven are God’s commands heeded fully, without compromise. People disobey God’s good and reasonable directives every day here on earth. So the Scriptures—both Old and New—imply that there is a heavenly army at God’s command. As Kristi Swenson observed, the prophet Isaiah describes God as commanding all the forces and furies. You see evil, when it is defeated, will not go easily; it will not give up without a fight. While some are uncomfortable with the Bible’s military metaphors, we must not sweep them away or translate them out of existence. We must learn from them how deeply entrenched evil is in us and in this bogus world around us.
When real evil is upon you, you pray for something more powerful to come and liberate you. Today, as hundreds and thousands of Syrians lay injured and dying at the hands of a brutal regime, many in Damascus are taking to Twitter, the Internet and social media to plead for help. They would welcome the sight of some army, any army, to come and free them from certain terror and death.
The Revelation of John the apostle tells us that Jesus will one day return, mounted on a white steed, and surrounded by the heavenly army. The King of all kings and Lord of all lords will command the final battle. On that day, history as we know will come to an end and evil—in all of its twisted and distorted manifestations—will be met and defeated, finally, decisively. Even so, come, LORD Sabaoth. Come, O Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies.