Updated: Sep 23
The Power of the Shield
In spiritual warfare, the Bible offers valuable insights and metaphors to guide believers' daily walk with God. The "Shield of Faith" is a metaphor mentioned in Ephesians 6:16. Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against people but against spiritual forces. He employs the analogy of the Roman shield, the "scutum," as a powerful symbol of protection—a trustworthy defensive weapon that individual soldiers could depend on in the heat of battle.
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
We will briefly explore the military use of the shield, Paul's description of the shield of faith, and its spiritual and practical application in our lives. However, there is another shield mentioned in the Bible—God. God is a “shield” in the Bible approximately ten times. Personal favorites in times of distress include Deuteronomy 33:29 and Psalm 28:7-8.
Deuteronomy 33:29 JPS 1917
Happy art thou, O Israel, who is like unto thee? A people saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, And that is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall dwindle away before thee; And thou shalt tread upon their high places.
Psalm 28:7-8 JPS 1917
The LORD is my strength and my shield, In Him hath my heart trusted, And I am helped;
Therefore, my heart greatly rejoiceth, And with my song will I praise Him. The LORD is a strength unto them; And He is a stronghold of salvation to His anointed.
God as Shield
The Bible unequivocally affirms that God stands as our unwavering shield and protector. In both our moments of need and triumph, He remains our steadfast help and guardian. His truth serves as an impenetrable shield and steadfast defender, offering us unshakable defense.
The profound assurance lies in recognizing that the Lord is not merely a source of strength but the sole foundation upon which we rely. Regardless of whether we find ourselves at our highest peaks or in our lowest valleys, the Lord remains our unwavering pillar of support. We rest assured, free from the burden of self-reliance, knowing that our spiritual strength and protection rest entirely in His capable hands.
Roman Military Use of the Shield
The scutum was a chief defensive weapon for ancient soldiers. Its design, purpose, and protection were multifaceted. There are two reasons the design of the Roman shield was curved.
1. The curved design, combined with the umbo (metal boss in the center of the shield),
helped to deflect blows much more effectively.
2. The curved surface would deflect the enemy’s blow and reduce the impact on a Roman
"Ermine Street Guard" photo by Mike Bishop, 2012
The soldiers who carried these door-shaped shields, typically measuring 4' x 2', stood firm on the frontline of the battle. They often stood side by side, locking their shields together to create a phalanx formation. This tactic presented a unified barrier between the oncoming enemy and the regular foot soldiers.
Extinguishing Flaming Arrows
The shield was essential for protecting the soldier from surprise attacks, including arrows, as it covered a large area of their body. To stop incendiary weapons, soldiers covered their shields with soaked leather. This technique extinguished the flaming projectiles and made the leather harder to penetrate, as it tightened upon impact.
Testudo is the Latin word for tortoise. In the testudo formation, the men would align their shields to create a tightly packed formation with shields covering the front and top. The first row of men, excluding those on the flanks, would hold their shields from about shin height to eye level, effectively covering the formation's front.
Symbol of Spiritual Significance
The Roman soldier's wooden shield, known as the scutum, held not only the role of a piece of military equipment but also carried deep spiritual significance. The scutum symbolized a Roman soldier's strength, courage, and loyalty to the Roman state, as well as his divine protection.
In ancient Rome, religion played a significant role in society, with the belief that the gods were ever-present, guiding and protecting the Roman people. The Roman soldier was no exception, relying on the gods for safety and success in battle.
The scutum served as a tangible representation of the divine protection bestowed upon a soldier, believed by the Romans to be infused with spiritual power. Often adorned with religious symbols, such as images of the gods, the wooden shield epitomized the divine safeguarding of the soldier. Furthermore, the sacred scutum required Roman soldiers to treat it with the utmost respect, including the performance of ritualistic ceremonies before battle.
Symbol of Strength and Courage
Furthermore, the scutum symbolized not only divine protection but also the strength and courage of the Roman soldier. This wooden shield was a substantial and robust piece of equipment, and a soldier's capacity to carry it served as a testament to his physical and mental fortitude. The scutum stood as a symbol of the Roman soldier's duty to protect the state and his unwavering bravery in the face of danger.
Paul's Description of the Shield
Faith encompasses both personal and communal dimensions. In his reference to the "shield of faith," Paul emphasizes the need to grasp the profound meaning of the term "faith" (Pistis). The faith Paul speaks of in this verse is trust. Here, Paul alludes to the personal trust and reliance we place in God. This concept of faith does not adhere to a specific religious denomination; instead, Paul employs the Greek word for "faith" to convey a trust and belief in God that transcends denominational boundaries. It is a deeply rooted conviction born of hearing and unwavering persuasion.
Yet, faith also possesses a communal facet when it becomes intertwined with others. Just as Roman soldiers locked their shields together in the Testudo formation, providing protection not only for themselves but also for their comrades, faith, when united with others, offers a similar sense of collective security. This unity creates a defensive strategy that individual soldiers could not achieve on their own.
Corporate Aspect of Faith
The communal aspect of faith necessitates trust, and I must humbly admit that this has been a personal challenge in my spiritual journey. Serving as a chaplain in prisons and state mental institutions is indeed a unique ministry. In certain environments, chaplains may find themselves only loosely connected to their spiritual home or community of faith. Frequently, the demanding work schedule of a chaplain conflicts with the regular services of their religious community. Chaplaincy and ministry in general, requires a concerted effort to avoid relying solely on oneself and unintentionally drifting away from the life of the synagogue or church. This is an area where I recognize my vulnerabilities and strive for humility in seeking a balance between my calling and my faith community.
How does the shield of faith apply to our lives as believers? It serves as our profound protection against the metaphorical "fiery arrows" that life may hurl our way. When we wholeheartedly place our trust in God, we find the strength to quench or extinguish the challenges and temptations that confront us. As Romans 8:28 so reassuringly reminds us, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
Both 1 Corinthians 10:13 and 2 Peter 2:9 affirm that God never allows us to face temptations beyond what we can endure and is always there to rescue us from trials. Our spiritual strength increases when believers join their faith with one another. In these moments of unity, we become an unstoppable force, like soldiers in a "tortoise" formation during spiritual warfare.
There are occasions when we must stand together, united in our shared purpose, defending not only our faith or trust in God but also the members of our religious community. It is important to recognize that our battles are not confined to our cultural, religious, or spiritual realms but can also manifest as physical and psychological challenges that may impact our faith or trust in God. In facing such challenges, we rely on the shield of faith, fortified by our collective strength and unwavering trust in the Almighty.
In times of natural or human-caused disasters, the devastation can be overwhelming for individuals. That is when we must turn to the support and assistance of our community. When sickness, death, and tragedy strike our families, the unexpected can feel like blows from every direction. It is during these times that connecting with and seeking help from our community becomes not just a choice but a lifeline, guiding us as we navigate the darkest valleys.
Spiritual Significance of the Roman Shield
The wooden shield of the Roman soldier carried significance beyond its role as military equipment; it stood as a powerful symbol of spirituality. The scutum represented divine protection, strength, and courage, underscoring the significant role that religion played in ancient Rome.
Paul's portrayal of the shield of faith symbolizes our unwavering trust and belief in God, offering us a shield against the trials and temptations of life. Just as Roman soldiers locked their shields together to form an unbreakable front, let us pick up the shield of faith, fully confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God when we stand united in our faith and purpose. It is a call to action, reminding us to come together in unwavering trust and face life's challenges with strength and unity.
There were times when the Roman soldier required the assistance of his brother-in-arms to put on all of his armor. When I was in the Army there were times when I could suit up with all my gear but my fellow soldiers would assist me in making sure the "gig line" was straight and everything else was "dress right dress" and secure. We were family. We were united together in a common mission.
Over the past few months, I have encountered challenges that have made it abundantly clear that I cannot accomplish alone what I believe the Lord has placed before me. The task of constructing the full-size Tabernacle of Moses is far from a solitary endeavor; it calls for a resolute team of volunteers. Erecting this structure necessitates the use of power tools, forklifts, floor jacks, lifts, ladders, and a great deal of patience.
Depending on God for resources, financial assistance, and volunteers is one facet of the journey, distinct from the cultural challenges I face in terms of my beliefs, ethics, and way of life. In both situations, I recognize the importance of staying connected with like-minded individuals. Yet, there is a constant struggle within me—an inclination toward self-sufficiency and the desire to go it alone. Admitting my need for support, whether from friends, family, or the religious community, is a deeply humbling experience.
Some Battles Battles Fought Alone
I am reminded of the story of David in 1 Samuel 17:32-40 as he stood before Goliath with the armor of a combat-trained soldier. David entered the battle with the lessons learned as a shepherd. He brought the tools of his trade - a sling and a few rocks. Earlier King Saul sincerely or as a joke offered David the armor of a King. But David declined the offer to use someone else's armor. His older brother Eliab mocked the young shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:28). But young David was not deterred.
In the grand tapestry of biblical tales, Israel finds itself ensnared in a relentless struggle with a formidable adversary. Amidst the direst of circumstances, David emerges as the valiant hero, a beacon of hope amidst the abyss of tragedy. With unwavering faith and unyielding determination, he confronts and conquers the malevolent Goliath, a tyrant whose looming shadow casts a pall over the land.
This saga, in and of itself, possesses myriad facets that serve as a wellspring of inspiration, offering profound insights into the relentless battles that life unfailingly presents. Yet, the true profundity of this epic confrontation lies not only in the what but also in the where and with whom it transpires. It is a matter of perspective, a matter of perception.
For here, on the very battlefield where the line between decision and destiny is etched, the clash transcends mere physical combat. It becomes a tumultuous clash of nations, a fierce collision of ideologies, a struggle of youth against the weight of age, a relentless confrontation of experience versus expectation, and the ultimate duel between a champion and an unassuming young man. It is this monumental clash that catapulted David into the annals of history and set the wheels of his destiny into motion.
He, the humble shepherd, stood armed not with the regal trappings of an earthly king, but in the name of the King of Kings Himself. It was a battle that resonated far beyond the realm of mortal monarchs, transcending the earthly plane into the divine. A clash where a sling wielded by a shepherd confronted the sword and sandals of a behemoth.
Some battles require us to go it alone and face what appears to be an impending defeat. We may be the only ones willing to stand up to the challenge. All we can use is what we have in our hands, knowing we enter the battle in the name of the Lord.
(1) Video from "The Archeologist" https://fb.watch/n9uWDcsdW4/, accessed 19 September 2023.
(6) Photos from Mike Bishop, Dale Gillard, Magnus Halsnes, and Rokdom adapted from Flickr.com,