The word “shield” is relatively common in the Bible, being found sixty-six times in the Old Testament. Not only is it fairly common, but it is also fairly complicated. It can refer to many different related things: Sometimes a shield was made of metal and sometimes it was of the skin of an animal. Sometimes it was a piece of military equipment, but at other times it was a decoration. Sometimes it was real and literal and sometimes it was used figuratively. And then we come to the New Testament. The prevalence of the shield in the Old Testament is magnified by it’s rarity in the New Testament. Ephesians 6 is the only place where we find it in the New Testament.
One of the curious things about the shield is its application to the Lord. Roughly a third of the references talk either about the shield being given by God or actually being God. “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy gentleness hath made me great.” You can use a concordance to find these references, but I’ll just read a few verses. “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”
And then there is that other point – the Lord is our shield. “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” “Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” “The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence. “But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” “For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.” “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.” “Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.” “Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed.” “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” “O Israel, trust thou in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.” “O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.” “Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.” “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.” “My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me.” “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.”
Another thing that we learn about shields is that they come from various Hebrew words. “Magen” (maw-gane’) speaks of a small personal buckler which was often attached to the arm. But Goliath had a “tsinnah” (tsin-naw’) which was so large that it had to be carried by another soldier. These two kinds of shields are compared in I Kings 10:16-17. “And king Solomon made two hundred targets (tsin-naw) of beaten gold: six hundred shekels of gold went to one target. And he made three hundred shields (maw-gane) of beaten gold; three pound of gold went to one shield: and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon.
So to which kind of shield was Paul referring in Ephesians 6? Well, the language is different and unrelated, so that doesn’t give us any information. But the Greek word translated shield is “thureos” (thoo-reh-os’). It is related to the word “thura” (thoo’-rah), which is the word the Lord Jesus used when He said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” Judging from that I think that Paul is talking about the kind of shield which can cover the whole body. Another clue lies in those words “above all.” Some think that Paul says, that this is the most important thing the whole panoply. Certainly, if this was all we needed, there wouldn’t be other pieces to our armor. But this shield of faith adds to and covers everything else. In some ways it’s the most versatile part of the soldier’s defensive armor.
Okay, having said all that, let’s answer three questions: What, why and how.
WHAT is the shield of faith?
There are three ways to look at the word “faith.” Humanly speaking, faith is an act of man, whereby he proves that he is a child of God. You could say it is the method by which we grasp and hang on to the things of God. The other day, I saw someone using one of those grabbing tools? It was a mechanical device about 36 or 42 inches long that he used to pick things up off the floor. It had a kind of pistol grip to squeeze, and then there were clamping fingers at the other end. The fella using it could stand nearly straight up and pick up things off the floor. Faith is the grabber which clings to the Lord. “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” “Wherefore law was our schoolmaster to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:” What if we added the word “shield” to these verses? Would the meaning or the image change very much? I suppose that it does just a bit. “Therefore being justified by the shield of faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, isn’t it true that every sinner saved by faith is eternally untouchable; sheltered, protected and shielded? For the saved, the Lord is the shield of that eternal soul.
The word “faith” is also used to stand for the things that we believe. The Book of Jude tells us to “earnestly contend for the faith.” Jude wasn’t talking about our right to believe or not believe, trust Christ or reject Christ. He was talking about contending for those truths which we hold dear. Peter wrote to those who were holding the same precious faith that he held. Paul tells Timothy to greet them that love him in the faith. And then Peter said, “Resist the Devil steadfast in the faith.” Stand against Satan, firmly grounded in what we know to be the truth.
And then third, at times we read that the Christian lives by faith. Just as Peter walked on the water by faith and the power of God, we live above the world by faith. The Thessalonians were famous throughout the world for their faith. Paul told Timothy to be an example of charity, faith and purity. There is a good likelihood that this is was Paul was referring to here in this text – a life of trust in God. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
But just as this sheet of paper is powerless to stop an arrow or bullet, faith by itself is nothing. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” This takes us back to the fact that it is the Lord who is our shield, and we cling to Him by our faith.
Remember that this faith is probably not a buckler, carried over the arm, but rather a door-like shield. In other words it can cover every aspect of our every difficulty. It can cover our days of grief and loss; our days of affliction and pain, our days of temptation. It can work like a fire-suppressing sprinkler system when the days require it.
WHY do we need the shield of faith? To quench the fiery darts of the wicked.
As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that I may have been reading more into it than it really says. Verse 11 says, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Then verse 12 expands the army of our enemy to include “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places.” The context makes us think that verse 16 is talking about Satan and Satanic angels. The reference to “fiery darts” hints at figurative thinking about very real spiritual attacks. Then the commentaries tell us the same thing, saying that we need to add the word “person” or “one” to the end of the verse. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked (one).” We have the same problem in Matthew 6:13 – “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: From the evil one??????? For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. But I wonder, since the Bible doesn’t use the word “Satan” or “devil,” if we should confine our understanding of this verse strictly to him. Don’t we have to be concerned with wicked politicians and wicked neighbors too? I’m not discounting Satan as the meaning of this verse, but I think that we need to have our eyes opened for other wicked adversaries as well.
Can you remember the B-grade western movies of your youth? The pioneers had to circle the wagons in order to protect the kids and the livestock from the Indians. The attacking natives would ride around and around getting picked off by the well-protected settlers. But then those Indians would put fire on the end of their arrows and shoot them into the covered wagons. Pretty soon a couple of the wagons were on fire and a couple of the men were running around with their clothes on fire. Fire was often a terrifying element of those old movies, and rightly so. Fire has been used as a weapon for a very long time. Many times, a soldier’s, or a city’s, defenses were combustible. Sometimes the man’s shield was made of leather or wood and the stockade was made of felled trees.
Satan and his hoards often attack the Christian’s defenses rather than the person himself. The Jehovah’s Witness goes right after what we believe when he comes up to the door. The liberal higher critic attacks the foundations of the Word of God. Satan loves to try to steal or otherwise destroy our faith. Sometimes we are robbed of our consciences or through sin we grieve and silence the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the enemy sends his fiery arrows into the haystack behind us and thus diverts our attention. And he can use some relatively good things to draw us away from the task at hand. For example, many Christians have been silenced by becoming politicians instead of witnesses for Christ. He gets others to become so intellectual and theological that they become impractical in the Lord’s service. I suppose the most obvious application of the fiery darts is a comparison to lust and other temptation. At times it is very easy to get hot for sin.
And then there is the speed of the arrow. There was no weapon faster in Paul’s day. It was virtually unseeable and unstoppable until it hit its target. That’s why it was so important to be properly shielded. The shield of faith can protect us from anything that he might shoot at us.
Okay, how do we go about taking up this shield of faith?
It’s not by way of self-improvement – because it is not a work of the flesh. The power of positive thinking is as porous as paper. Motivational speakers may instill a person with self-confidence, but many a soldier has had confidence and still become a casualty.
The defense we need comes from the Lord; He is the equipment manager or our supply officer. Remember those scriptures with which we began earlier: Jehovah is our shield and our defense. Faith is the grabber which lays hold of the Lord’s power.
And from where does faith come? John 17:17 reminds us of the importance of the Word of God in our day to day lives. In John 17:17 the Lord Jesus says, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Sanctification is the process of holifying – holification. It’s the growth in the Lord that the Lord expects of each of His children. And a key element in our progressive sanctification is the application of the Word of God. The Word tells us what sort of things we should be ingrafting into our lives to become more like Christ. And it’s the Word which points out to us the things which grieve the Spirit and should be cut out of our lives. Through the Word we learn about the Lord who saved us. It is key to our sanctification. And it is the key element of faith. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” We need the constant, daily, consistent input of God’s Word in our lives.
So ultimately it is the Lord is our shield. But there is another sense in which the Word of God is our shield. Because through the Word comes our faith. And through faith we are able to grab and grasp our shield – the Saviour. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
Whether we realize it or not, we are under constant spiritual attack. We need to be protected. Ultimately, that protection comes from the Lord. And faith is the means whereby we hang on to Him.