Theological Woopsies Part 2: Host With The Most
Host With The Most
In an over use of our analytical tendencies, the Western worldview has created a division between physical realities and spiritual ones. This separation creates what is called a dualism: two independent ideas assumed to be opposites of each other. Yet the Christian faith was founded in a culture that didn’t think that way or have any tension between the seen and unseen. So let’s look at a particular example of how our spiritual sight has been weakened over time. Once again, sticking with an interpretive quirk in the NIV, let’s look at an example that subversively causes our modern worldview to be at odds with what the authors and their audiences understood about spiritual things.
Most Christians would be familiar with the term, “The LORD Almighty.” What does this term mean to us? What do we understand it to say of God? When we think of God as “Almighty”, what do we compare or measure his might to? What warrants the all to be placed in front of the mighty? We may think that God is mightier than the mountains. Mightier than Ruapehu or The Remarkables. Those big rocks scream out majesty to us, yet God is more majestical than they. He’s also far more powerful than a southern winter swell or a summer tropical cyclone that stirs up huge waves to ride. We compare his mightiness to physical things that our senses consider to be powerful, magnificent and strong and then upload that to describe God’s nature and character. And this is all true.
However, the title “LORD Almighty” replaces what other translations term “LORD of hosts” (1). Now I know this is not universal - so work with me here - but how does our immediate definition of “LORD Almighty” sit compared with “LORD of hosts”? Does hosts instantly conjure up the same imagery of big mountains and surf? Do we imagine these two descriptions of God in the same way? Or does “LORD of hosts” leave us with a blank expression and slightly tilted head?
Bible translators interpret this term from the original text in two different ways, but only the language of one places God in the context of relationship: who he actually is in relation to someone else specifically. “LORD Almighty” makes God generically superior to everything, which often leads to incomprehensible blasé-ness towards God. “LORD of hosts” makes God the personal commander-in-chief of a vast amount of beings that stand at his attention and fall down in worship. You and I know very little about this because our western world does not consider the angelic heavenly host to be as real as the rocks we climb or the surf we ride. So if the “LORD of hosts” is how the writers of scripture intended to describe God’s relational authority amidst the heavenly beings, then perhaps our western thinking removes us from the realities of the way the world really is: wired with real-time invisibleness(2).
So, strip away our Christian rhetoric and what do we actually believe? What is our understanding of the heavens? Are the heavens real? Are the spiritual heavens grounded and practical in our view of the world? I use the word grounded intentionally because we often read what the scriptures say about the heavens with a bit of Disney-Fantasia childish imagination; pie-in- the-sky stuff. But all things that exist are created things. We sometimes forget that the spiritual dimensions, just like the earth, have been created by God. It is the realm of the invisible, yet just as real and tangible as the dirt we walk on. It is the realm God has filled with all kinds of beings and creatures: angels, seraphs, cherubim, winged creatures; entities of the good and malevolent persuasion, who function with God-given gifts, rights and abilities.
The NIV translation changes “hosts” to “Almighty”, two-hundred and eighty five times and in doing so wipes out that many references to “the heavenly council”! Essentially it turns a society of beings into an attribute of God. Our worldviews are tricked and “unfortunately, a comprehension of the concept of the society of the gods... is lessened significantly”(3), The bible is speaking to us from a people in their time and from their perspective of the world, and we are attempting to translate it into our times, but we fail to import the total meaning and miss wrestling with a world filled with a host of gods. Which funnily enough, causes us to freak-out on the word ‘gods’, as if by using it we’re disrespecting Yahweh. But check these verses out:
“You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:3 NIV.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Job 1:6 ESV
“In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.” Psalm 89:7 NIV.
These are but a few scriptures that tell us of a council of gods that God exercises authority over and charges them to “do his bidding”. (Psalm 103:20 NIV). Eugene Petersen in The Message got his creative paraphrase correct. He translates “LORD of hosts” as “God-of-the-Angel-Armies!” I like that.
Words shape what we see and how we see. We need to read the bible desiring to see what the original writers and readers saw and experienced in the world. We easily lose sight of the community of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the core of all existence who holds all things together in their loving relationship. We find ourselves not only dissecting the Trinity and the world they made, but we create dualisms where we isolate and separate things, sending them off to live in an orphanage by themselves. We fail to see how things belong together because we are trained to value things individually. We create separated categories like male and female; head and heart; heaven and earth, body and spirit, the seen and unseen. It is important to reflect on this way of thinking if we want to understand the Māori world better.
1 E.g. New King James Version and the English Standard Version.
2 Again, I admire Plato’s pursuit to describe this. Yet his definitions amounted to the elitism of mind and intellectualism over the body and what we do with it. He created hierarchical classifications that actual suppressed the body, the poor and favoured intellectualism and the elite.
3 Gregory A. Boyd, God At War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (InterVarsity Press, 1997), 336, footnote 57.