Shield of Faith
“above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” – Ephesians 6:16
A common theme in our song books for worship are battle hymns of spiritual warfare, such as, “A Mighty Fortress”, “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise”, “The Banner of the Cross”, “To Christ be True”, “Who Will Follow Jesus?”, “We’re Marching to Zion”, and “Faith is the Victory”. These songs have three things in common: the Christian’s desire to enlist, his destiny to be attacked and his duty to fight.
The Roman Soldier’s Shield
Roman soldiers had the choice of several different types of shields. The one mentioned in this text is the thureos. “The thureos was two and half feet wide and four and a half feet high. The shield was made of a solid piece of wood and was covered with metal or heavy oiled leather” (MacArthur 358). It would be like carrying a small door into battle. In fact the name, thyreos came from the word for door, thura. The leather covered plywood shield was decorated with metal and the edges secured with iron or bronze. In order to give the soldier more room and protection for direct hits from darts, arrows, and spears it was curved into a half-cylinder shape.
One of the counter-measures employed by Roman’s enemies was to set the leather/wooden shields ablaze with fiery darts. “The tips of arrows would often be wrapped in pieces of cloth that had been soaked in pitch. Just before the arrow was shot, the tip would be lighted, and the flaming missile would be shot. “…The pitch burned fiercely , and on impact would spatter burning bits for several feet…” (MacArthur 358). Others would take meter long iron shafts covered in fur and soaked in pitch. These darts and missiles acted like Molotov cocktails “According to the Greek historian Thucydides (2.75.5), wooden shields were sometimes coated in leather and soaked in water before a battle so that they could not be ignited and could effectively subdue flaming arrows” (Arnold 338).
Added protection was found in the use for two different shield formations. The Tortoise Formation was frequently used by the Legions of Rome during sieges. Shields were linked and held together over their heads for protection for flaming arrows raining down from above. When advancing against the enemy on the battlefield, Roman soldiers would stand shoulder to shoulder hands hooking the sides of their shields. This formed a long protective wall of interlocked shields as long as a mile as they advanced against the enemy. This was called the Phalanx Formation.
The Christian Soldier’s Shield
When encouraging Christians to use the shield of faith Paul begins with the phrase “above all.” A better translation would be “beside all these” showing the shield of faith to be an indispensable addition. One might wonder if an arrow was stopped by the helmet or breastplate why was their such a need to carry a large cumbersome shield. Remember, a fiery dart could hit the breastplate and fling burning pitch setting the soldier ablaze. Faith is indispensable. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Whichever formation used, each soldier had to place his trust in the protection of the shield. The saints faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). An unshakable conviction in God’s promises and commands are needed to stand firm. “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (Psalm 18:30). “The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him” (Psalm 28:7). Gideon had to trust God for the victory even though all conventional warfare wisdom would indicate that 300 men divided into three equal groups with each man carrying only a torch, pitcher, and trumpet was suicide against an army of well armed Midianites numbering 135,000. When Judah and Jerusalem were threaten by a great multitude, King Jehoshaphat show his trust in God by telling them: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him” (2 Chron. 20:15).
Protection: “to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked”
Faith itself is the shield. Satan fires off flaming missiles about God’s character and His nature. Other flaming arrows question the promise of salvation and promote doubt, discouragement and the end: defeat. Our faith extinguishes these deceptive lies of the Devil. There is nothing the wicked can shot at us that our faith cannot handle. The shield of faith can “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
Opposition: “the wicked one”
“The wicked” is singular here, meaning the wicked one, the evil. Peter warns us to “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Power: “you shall be able”
Faith empowers God’s people with the ability to face the foe and not retreat in fear. A fortified faith can make a solid stand. When it comes to the Devil we are to “resist him, steadfast in the faith,…” (1 Pet. 5:9).
The success of this formation depended upon the men keeping close together. This suggests that we Christians are not in the battle alone. An army must fight as a team. “A one man army” is a contradiction in terms. By closing ranks Christians can help to protect one another.
The shield was instrumental in his ability to move forward. Faith involves activity. The great Hebrew Hall of Faith in Hebrews chapter eleven demonstrates that belief plus trust plus action is pleasing to God and salvation for one’s soul. Noah believed and built an ark. Abraham believed God and packed up and left the city of Ur. By faith the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho till they came down. When we are not advancing, the enemy is and when the enemy advances many Christians fall.
Faith is the Victory
The apostle John wrote, “for whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
Many have been defeated by the Devil because they did not protect themselves with the shield of faith. Eve was tempted to question the goodness of God, His motives, and His goods (Gen. 3:1-6). Faith is the victory but doubt leads to death and destruction. David trusted in God to deliver the Philistine giant, Goliath. He told him, “this day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). Perhaps no man other than Christ was attacked so viciously by Satan than Job. He took everything from this man of God. But Job held onto his integrity and faith. He said of God, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). Many Christians of the first century were commanded to make an offering of incense to show their loyalty to Caesar. Polycarp was able to resist even though he faced death. The Roman army captain asked: “What harm will it do to say ‘Lord Caesar’, and to offer sacrifice, and be saved?” Polycarp relied: “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the spirit of Caesar, listen plainly, I am a Christian.” Finally, Christ’s faith in the Father prevailed when Satan attacked Him twice trying to cause Him to doubt. Tempting Jesus Satan said, “If you are the Son of God…”