WHEN the children of Israel stood on the east of Jordan to hear the final exhortation of Moses, the long wilderness journey was behind them. They had crossed the brook Zered, or Pruning, no doubt so called because it marked the point of the final purging out of the generation which had come out of Egypt; they had also suffered a further pruning out of some of the younger generation in the matter of Baal-Peor. Yet the LORD had not destroyed the nation, even though they had worshipped the golden calf, drawn back at Kadesh-Barnea and provoked Him to anger in the wilderness. They had both known the terror of the LORD in the affair of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and had seen that the LORD is gracious for His Name's sake.
At each stage of their journey, therefore, the Israelites had had opportunity to know the Name more deeply, for the LORD had revealed Himself in all His fulness and glory. Not that they had proved very perceptive; but there had been at least one man who was so impressed by his experience that he sought to know the hidden depths of the Divine nature.
After the passage of the Red Sea, the nation had learned of one great attribute of the LORD their God: He had become their salvation (Exodus 15). What would He prove Himself to be in all the changing scenes of life in the wilderness? They were soon to find out.
It seems incredible that the children of Israel should have sinned in the making of a golden calf while the cloud and the fire which betokened the Divine Presence still covered the mount. Surely they could not so soon forget the voice which had declared,
"I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . ." (Exodus 20:24),
that they could dance around an idol and repeat, "These be thine elohim, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt"? There was the added mockery of Aaron's words in the proclamation of "a feast to the LORD", Who had abundantly revealed Himself to be their Elohim with mighty hand and with outstretched arm.
No earthly monarch would have brooked such treason and betrayal. What then was to be the response of Adonai, the mighty Sovereign Who, as Israel had sung at the Red Sea, would "reign for ever and ever"? The answer was clear: The LORD said to His servant Moses:
"I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people: now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may make of thee a great nation." (Exodus 32:9-10)
Jealous for the Lord's Sake
What else was there to be said? God, since He is God, could not but judge such flagrant violation of His commandments, so complete a denial of all that He is. And indeed, if the LORD'S thoughts were man's thoughts and His ways like ours that would have been the end of the matter. But as the sequel shows, the LORD had not yet revealed Himself in all the fulness of His glory. In casting aside a stiff-necked people He would look to a man of humble and contrite spirit who trembled at His word -- to Moses His servant. The words which had been spoken to prove him brought the man of God nearer to the LORD than ever before and revealed the depths of his own character. Note carefully the words which follow: they show a lively understanding of the nature of the covenant and a true jealousy for the honour of the LORD's Name. The record continues:
"And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people . . . Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out . . . ? Turn from thy fierce wrath and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants to whom thou swaredst by thine own self . . . And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people." (verses 11-14)
Moses was then to learn out of his own experience the true nature of the Atonement and the extent of the Divine mercy.
"If thou wilt forgive . . ."
We come to the end of chapter 32, where Moses, scarcely daring to contemplate that the LORD could forgive Israel's sin, yet pleads with Him, both out of compassion for the people as their shepherd and, above all, for the honour of God's Name as His servant. If there was no other way (and the breaking off of the sentence shows that Moses could not see how there could be),
"Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin --; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written."
The answer was immediate: there could be no such substitutional sacrifice as Moses envisaged, yet would the LORD Himself become their salvation, not merely from the literal foe but also from their bondage to sin and death.
But how? Through judgement and mercy, depending upon the response of men and women, by nature weak and wayward, yet the objects of God's compassion because they were His. For the rebellious who hated Him there could be no forgiveness, unto the third and the fourth generation. For the contrite, however, there was mercy, or covenant love, unto the thousandth generation.
Moses had found grace in God's sight. He had also perceived that there was behind the brightness of the cloud and hidden in the darkness of the consuming fire a glory that excelled anything he had seen as yet. So on his knees he pleaded: "1 beseech thee, shew me thy glory."
With heart prepared as blow by blow he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, Moses went up the mountain till he came to the appointed place, "the place by me" in the clift of the rock. And there, in wonderful anticipation of the revelation of God by him who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), Moses beheld the glory of the LORD passing by. It was not, however, in the visible, transient aspects of the manifestation, but in the goodness of the LORD that the glory was perceived. In wonderful, balanced phrases, clear yet sonorous even in translation, all that God would be for His people, there in the wilderness in the face of their weakness, in the Land to which they were journeying and throughout the ages of the final consummation wrought in Him Who was to come, the fulness of the glory was proclaimed in the fulness of the Name:
"The LORD, the LORD God (El), merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6-7)
The Power of the Lord
This was how the LORD wished to be known unto His people: the Name is rightly called the Memorial Name. Plainly the Name was more than the word by which it was enunciated, and its meaning to be comprehended only by those who magnified the LORD in their daily lives. The use of the word El instead of Elohim for "God" emphasises that it was not simply the future manifestation of God in the multitudinous seed of Abraham that is proclaimed here, wonderful and comforting as that concept is to us. The Mighty God would be what He would be -- their God -- and reveal that power even in His forgiveness of His people. Moses understood this clearly, for when he once more sought pardon for the people at Kadesh-Barnea, he prayed:
"And now I beseech thee, let the power of Adonai be great, according as thou hast spoken saying, The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving . . . visiting the iniquity . . . Pardon, I beseech thee . . . And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word." (Numbers 14:17-21)
With this evidence of what the LORD had been for them, the people should have accepted with ail their hearts the command, "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD". For indeed there is none like Him.
The Name of the LORD occurs in the Book of Deuteronomy over 300 times by itself, and at least 200 times in conjunction with some possessive adjective, "the LORD our God", "the LORD thy God", and similar expressions. Even allowing for the fact that Hebrew writers used fewer pronouns than we tend to do, and consequently Moses writes "the LORD" where we should have said "He" "Him", "His", the total of over 500 for 34 chapters is impressive. It is plain, therefore, that the idea of keeping covenant is predominant in this book.
There is no doubt that the LORD had kept His covenant with His people, for the sake of their fathers and for the glory of His own Name. He had delivered them from the land of Egypt, "and about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness" (Acts 13:18) and brought them to the borders of their inheritance.
Even now, as they assembled to hear their leader's final exhortation, the nation had the evidence that their God had "brought them out . . that he might bring them in" (see Deut. 6:23), for they had been victorious over two nations more powerful than they, and their land had been given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. Chastened and purged, and with the undoubted power of El to protect, how would they behave when once the whole land was theirs in possession? The exhortations, appeals and warnings of the LORD would leave them without excuse.
A Commemoration of the Covenant
The fifth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy is "a commemoration of the covenant in Horeb", which reiterates the Ten Commandments for the benefit both of those who had been under twenty when the covenant was first proclaimed and of the younger generation who had been born in the wilderness. No distinction is drawn between them -- both groups were regarded as equally privileged and equally responsible in the making and the keeping of the covenant with their father. This is significant, because the constitution of the LORD's kingdom in the land was to be the exposition in terms of daily life of those same Ten Words which had been spoken out of the living fire: it was "a fiery law" (Deut. 33:2).
Equally significant is the reason stated for the form given to the "statutes, judgments and ordinances" which made up the whole Law: "I am the LORD". This was not merely an arbitrary statement, which said in effect, "I have spoken and you must do as I say" Although it was the Divine prerogative so to declare, and it would have been entirely consistent with the proclamation at the Bush -- "I am Who I am", and so can exercise a sovereign will – the declaration expressed an even deeper truth. The children of Israel were taught how to behave with respect to both God and man so that they could understand what their God was like and become like Him.
The First Commandment
Herein lay the deep significance of the exhortation which is contained in what the Lord Jesus Christ declared to be the "first and great commandment" (Matt. 22:18):
"Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD: and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy might." (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
These words, which were to be "in thine heart" were more than a theological statement: they were intended to become a way of life, a "knowing of the Name" in the practical sense of knowing intellectually what the Name meant and living a life answerable to that knowledge. It is vitally important to remember that reason as well as emotion is involved in loving with all the heart, since for the Israel ''the heart" was the seat of understanding as well of affection, as witness the Lord's words in Mark 12:30 (also Luke 10:27):
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind."
Here as elsewhere in the New Testament the fulness of the Hebrew expression needs extra words or phrases in the Greek. With this may be compared the word "glory". Doxa in Greek is insufficient to convey all the meaning of the Hebrew kabod, the richness of meaning demanding the extended "power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" of Revelation 4:12 to bring it out in all its beauty.
Israel's God was the LORD -- and there was only One like Him. He was Uncreate Unity, as our hymn 49 has it, and yet He was their God -- "kind, yet requiring men to obey His law; loving and compassionate, yet will not tolerate the rebellious and the guilty; forgiving offences, yet jealous of the dignity, the glory, and supremacy of His Name. He is holy, and cannot look upon sin. He is wise, true and faithful, but will destroy all that is false. He is just, true and perfect -- at once the fountain of love and vengeance; the author of life and death; the source or reviving mercy and destructive judgment. He is eternal, unchangeable, infinite, glorious in power and majesty -- the King immortal, the Possessor of heaven and earth, to whom alone is glory due" (From The Christadelphian Instructor, page 3).
All these attributes of their God the Israelites had seen in awesome manifestation in their life in the wilderness. And they had known that He was unchanging, and that when His compassion seemed to yield to His anger the change had been in their relationship to Him. Isaiah understood this when there came, out of the very fire which could burn and consume, a live coal to cleanse the lips of a humble, contrite man.
When they entered the land filled with every blessing together with all forms of temptation, as their God was one LORD the nation's service and devotion had to be likewise complete and entire -- with all their heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. Can we, who seek to know His Name, offer Him less?
THE NAME of the LORD is often found in Scripture in combination with other tides, some of which, such as Adonai and Adon, we have already considered. Now we seek for the meaning of the title LORD of hosts, Yahweh or Jehovah Tsabaoth as it is often represented. Once again, the first use of the expression helps us in determining its usage throughout the Old Testament.
The basic meaning of tsabaoth is "hosts", often in the military sense, and it is the plural of the word for "host, warfare or service", from a root meaning "to mass together", or organise a multitude. The singular is first found in Genesis 2:1 with reference to Creation itself: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them." It recurs frequently in the phrase "the host of heaven", which brings before us the picture of the starry sky declaring the glory of God who can "bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion". Under such a sky did the LORD renew the covenant to Abraham, saying, "So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15:5).
So considering only the natural creation for the moment, we can see how apt is the title "LORD of hosts", for in it is combined with the covenant Name the fact that the LORD "the most High God (is) possessor of heaven and earth", or Adonai Yahweh, Lord GOD. When Sisera was defeated by Deborah and Barak, it was said in the highly poetic language of Deborah's song, "They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera" (Judges 5:20), to indicate that the LORD had given them the victory. The multitude of Israel was also known as "the hosts of the LORD" (Exod, 12:41), and this is the sense of the passage in Joshua, where "behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand", who proclaimed himself to be "captain of the host of the LORD" (Josh. 5:13-15). The tide "LORD of hosts", therefore, can accurately be attributed to God as the true Leader of Israel's army, and it is perhaps in this sense that David used it when he defied the might of Goliath before whom the captains of the host of Israel trembled. "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield", he said, "but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied" (1 Sam. 17:45).
The Armies of Heaven
It is evident from several passages that the armies of the LORD were composed of other troops beside the visible phalanx of the army of the children of Israel. For example, when Elijah and his servant were shut up in Dothan, and "an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots" (2 Kings 6:14) the servant called out in alarm, to receive the reassuring words, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them". Then, in response to the prayer that the young man's eyes be opened, the LORD let him see that "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about' They were "the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (2:12; 13:14), the chariot of the cherubim upon which the LORD rode for the defense of His anointed prophet or king (Psalm 18:10-11; see also the series on "Cherubim and Seraphim", The Christadelphian, 1972, especially page 101).
The title "the LORD of hosts", therefore, was always linked with the idea of salvation, and had a spiritual as well as a literal significance, if it is possible to distinguish the two ideas in anything concerning the purpose of God. It expressed what God would be for His people as well as what He had been for them in the past. Remarkably, the very first occurrence of the actual title, together with the first use of it as a form of address to God is in connection with the prayer of a barren woman (1 Samuel 1:3,11) -- certainly nothing to do with literal arms and warfare! Yet the LORD of hosts to whom Hannah committed her cause against an adversary of a different sort heard her prayer and granted her increase. So she sang in exultation:
"Mine horn is exalted in the LORD: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation . . . The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces . . . and he shall give strength to the king, and exalt the horn of his anointed." (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
A Remnant shall be Saved
There is an important passage in the prophet Isaiah which confirms the fact that the title of "the LORD of hosts" signifies the work of God to create a great multitude of the seed of Abraham out of a few, to preserve Israel even though the majority of her people be unworthy, or to save whether it be with few or many. It is to be found in Isaiah 1.
The chapter spells out the iniquity of Judah and Jerusalem, portraying the rulers as the LORD'S adversaries, of whom He will avenge Himself. They were "rulers of Sodom . . . people of Gomorrah" (v.10). How could God's covenant with Abraham be fulfilled if the people were to be destroyed? Whence would come that multitude as the stars of heaven or the sand of the seashore? The prophet's answer was:
"Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah." (Isaiah 1:9)
The doctrine of the remnant -- that God would work out His purpose and fulfil His promises in the faithful few who constituted the "all Israel" who should be saved (Rom. 11:26) -- is clearly brought out in the prophet Isaiah. Indeed, his son was named Shear-Jashub, "The Remnant Shall Return" in recognition of that fact.
The "Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" of Isaiah 6 was described by the prophet as "The King, the LORD of hosts". The appropriateness of the title in the context of this chapter is clearly brought out at the end of it. The people would refuse to hear or perceive the burden of the LORD'S message (v.9-10), and so would incur the judgement foretold -- the wasting of their cities, the desolation of the land, and the removing of men far away. "But yet in it shall be a tenth", the remnant who would survive and through whom God would fulfil His purpose:
"So, the holy seed shall be the substance thereof."
It is beyond the scope of the present work to enumerate the many passages in the prophets and the Psalms in which the salvation of "the remnant" is linked with God's title of the LORD of hosts. The context is usually one of judgement or salvation; usually the two are together. The concluding chapters of the Old Testament set before us a picture of those who fear the LORD and speak often one to another. The LORD of hosts will select them for salvation as one who "maketh up his jewels" in the day of discernment "between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not" (Mal. 3:16-18). Although the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, leaving neither root nor branch, the LORD of hosts promises light and healing to them that fear His Name.
A remnant of faithful ones is enough: the LORD of hosts will make of them a great host. He will be in them and they in Him, He their God and they His people, as He covenanted to their father Abraham, when as yet he was but one man and he as good as dead (Heb. 11:12). The same LORD will be our God if we seek Him, for we have the promise:
"The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (Psalm 46:11)
Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we too shall be saved.