Will God Ever Disband His Angelic Army?

AngelicWarfareMany Christians do not know that God has an army in heaven. It consists of some of his angels. The most common phrase in the Bible that refers to this army is in the Old Testament. It is “the LORD of hosts” (Heb. yehvah tsebaot), with the definite article “the” usually being supplied. “The/oh LORD (God) of hosts” occurs 282 times in the Bible, most of them being “the LORD of hosts,” and all of them are in the Old Testament. At least, that is how it is translated in almost all English Bibles (e.g., KJV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, ESV, NET). But not so in the NIV; it always translates these two Hebrew words as “LORD Almighty.” Scholars would say that is interpretation, thus not really a translation.

The Hebrew noun translated “host” is tsaba. The imminent Hebrew lexicon Brown-Driver-Briggs (p. 838) says tsaba means “army, war, warfare.” The root word of tsaba is the verb also spelled tsaba, which B-D-B says means “to wage war, serve.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (p. 750) says the noun tsaba “has to do with fighting … It has also a wider use in the sense of rendering service.”

TWOT also states, “Translated as host(s) saba means army(ies). It can refer to any arrayed army (Jud 4:2), the inhabitants of heaven (1 Kgs 22:19), or the celestial bodies (Deut 4:19)…. Israel bore arms, but their victories resided in the fact that Yahweh as head of armies fought for them. When God fought for Israel, so did all the forces of heaven.”

TWOT also explains, “The heavenly bodies, including the sun and the moon, are called the host of heaven (Gen 2:1). When referring to them the word is always singular.” Indeed, tsaba (same as saba) is singular and tsbaot is plural. The word “hosts” in “the LORD of hosts” translates tsebaot or tsabaot. Sometimes the Bible says “the LORD of hosts is his name.” TWOT explains, “Yahweh of Hosts is a special name for God…. Yahweh sebaot has become a technical term.”

Sometimes, the Bible provides insight into how God operates with his angelic army. For example, when Joshua started to lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan to take it, as promised and commanded by God, we read, “Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ He replied, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’ The commander of the army of the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Joshua 5.13-15 NRSV). Right after that, the high, thick walls that surrounded Jericho came tumbling down and the Israelites took the city.

Joshua lying prostrate indicated he recognized this “man” was an otherworldly person, likely an angel who appeared as a man. The book of Daniel identifies him as “Michael.” The Bible reveals the names of only two angels: Gabriel and Michael. Daniel says the angel Gabriel appeared to him to explain a vision that Daniel had (Dan 8.16).

Later, it was probably Gabriel who appeared again to Daniel to explain another vision he had (10.10). Daniel had been praying and fasting for twenty-one days, asking God for understanding about these visions God had been giving him. The angel said to Daniel, “I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me twenty-one days. So Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia, and have come to help you understand what is to happen to your people at the end of days… I am to tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth. There is no one with me who contends against these princes except Michael, your prince” (vv. 12-14, 21).

This text in Daniel shows how God’s angels, who are his “hosts” (tsebaot), sometimes literally go to war against Satan and his angels. For, “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” is an angel in Satan’s realm who had authority over the Persian empire at that time. And Daniel called Michael “one of the chief princes,” which refers to the seven archangels (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4.16; Jude 9; Revelation 8.1). Gabriel also said to Daniel, “Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise” to safeguard Jews (Dan 12.1). This and other biblical texts reveal that Michael is the commander of God’s hosts, his angelic army, who Joshua encountered at Jericho. (See also Exodus 23.20-23; 33.2.)

But the most important incident about God’s angelic army that is recorded in the Bible is in the New Testament, in the book of Revelation as a prophecy. It says, “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12.7-9).

The church historically has translated this text in Revelation as something that occurred long ago, either about the time when Satan and his angels fell into sin, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or when Jesus arose from the dead. But both of these interpretations disregard the context in Revelation. For as soon as Satan and his angels are cast to the earth, the text says, “woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!… a time, and times, and half a time” (Rev 12.12, 14). This expression means 3.5 years. It is the “great tribulation” that Daniel predicts and Jesus mentioned in his Olivet Discourse. At that yet future time God’s people will suffer greatly, with many millions being put to death by the Antichrist who will be energized by Satan.

Some interpreters cite an incident to support their view that Rev 12.7-9 happened long ago. It is that when Jesus sent out the seventy disciples to proclaim the kingdom, they returned saying, “‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning'” (Luke 10.17-18). Jesus may have referred to this prophecy in Rev 12.7-9, but that was a vision of the future. Thus, he meant that his ministry with his disciples was overcoming Satan and that Satan’s ultimate defeat would begin with his being cast out of heaven near the end of the age.

At the end of the age, Jesus will return to defeat Israel’s enemies, deliver the nation of Israel, and establish his worldwide kingdom of peace, with Israel as chief of the nations. John the Revelator then says, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while…. When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20.1-3, 7-10).

So, when Satan and his angels will be locked away forever in the lake of fire, it seems God will no longer have any angelic enemies or need a defense. Will “the LORD of hosts” then disband his army of angels? That would be the ultimate disarmament.

 

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