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Host of Heaven
HOST OF HEAVEN (צְבָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם). Usually refers to heavenly bodies or heavenly beings. The exact phrase is found about eighteen times in the OT in addition to five places where “their host” is used with probable reference to the heavens.
The basic meaning of the root sb’.
Although the most frequent meaning of the root may have to do with warfare or an army, it does not seem that this meaning is the most fundamental. At least some passages do not bear that meaning easily (
Linguistic aspects of the phrase.
In the phrase under consideration the word “host” is always used in the sing.-collective form rather than the pl. form which is found in the phrase “Yahweh Səbaŏth.” It is generally in the form “all the host of heaven.” One must be careful to distinguish between “host of heaven,” “host(s) of Yahweh” (both sing. and pl.), and “Yahweh of hosts” (always pl.). There is no necessary connection between these phrases. For the last phrase, which is not the main concern of this article, see M. Tsevat in HUCA (1965), 49-58, where he interprets the name Yahweh Səbaŏth as “Yahweh (is) armies,” that is “God is protection.” The LXX renders the word ṩəba in many ways including the following: kosmos (
The host of heaven as heavenly bodies.
In most of the passages the host of heaven prob. has reference to heavenly bodies, either in general or in reference to stars in particular These are mentioned in several different connections.
a. The host of heaven is not to receive worship (
Alongside these direct references stand passages which refer to the same activity, but where the phrase “host of heaven” is not used. Among Josiah’s reforms was the taking away from the Temple the horses “dedicated to the sun” (
c. Very striking is the relationship expressed in the fact that the host of heaven was allotted by God to all the peoples of the earth (
d. Sometimes the host of heaven is seen as the object of God’s creative activity and renders obedience to the will of God. It may be that the host of
e. At least once the phrase is used in the relationship of receiving God’s judgment.
Worship of heavenly bodies in the ancient Near East
The worship of the sun was widespread. In Egypt the sun was worshiped in its various aspects under different names, the chief of which were Re and Aton. In Assyro-Babylonia the sun appeared as a male deity called Shamash (Sumer. Utu). The same word used in Ugarit as Shepesh was thought of as female. In Canaan itself old place names such as Beth-Shemesh, house of the sun, prob. reveal the early practice of sun worship. At Ugarit this practice may have taken place on roof tops as is mentioned in the Bible. The fact that Shemesh was called a chariot-rider in Assyrian texts might explain the placement of horses and chariot at the entrance of the Jerusalem temple as idolatrous sun worship (
In Ur and Haran, both places of patriarchal contact, the moon was worshiped under the name Sin as a male deity. Earlier Sumer. names were (I)nanna and Ningal. This last name appears in the Ugaritic story of the marriage between Yerah, the Ugaritic moon god, and Nikkal, here a female deity. The probable purpose of this story was the desire for fertility. Again in Canaan a place name, Jericho, from yerah, moon, testifies to the early moon worship under a Canaanite name. Ornaments in the shape of the crescent moon have been found in Pal.
In Mesopotamia the goddess Ishtar is connected with Venus, but it is thought that originally Ishtar was a male deity. This would explain why in the western lands (Ugarit) Venus was thought of as male. In this case, however, it is not one deity but two, one for the morning phase of Venus, Shahar, Dawn, the other for the evening phase, Shalem, Dusk. An important Ugaritic text (52) describes the origin of these deities. In another text (49) mention is made of Athtar, which is prob. the same as Ishtar, only in Ugarit considered male. The fact that the fem. form occurs frequently in Heb. as Ashtoreth shows how much the Israelites must have been involved in worship of the host of heaven.
The names for Saturn have been given above in connection with
The host of heaven as angels.
Although host of heaven most frequently means heavenly bodies, there are a few passages where it clearly means something else. In
This passage must receive special consideration. Although
Host(s) of Yahweh.
This similar phrase sometimes is used of angels (
C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (1949); S. N. Kramer, ed., Mythologies of the Ancient World (1961); T. H. Gaster, “Sun,” “Moon,” IDB (1962); J. Gray, “Ishtar,” “Shahar,” IDB (1962); M. Tsevat, “Studies in the Book of Samuel,” HUCA (1965), 49-58.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
See Astronomy, sec. I, 1.
The expression is employed in the to denote
(2) the angels (
(2) In the other meaning of the expression, the angels are regarded as forming Yahweh’s "host" or army, and He himself is the leader of them--"Yahweh of hosts" (