16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
(Ephesians 6:16 NIV)
Today we continue on with the full armor of God, looking at the shield of faith as our next piece of armor.
Before we jump into today’s time, however, it’s important to make a distinction between the previous pieces of armor mentioned in verses 14 and 15, and the new list started in verse 16. Notice that the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the boots of the gospel of peace are put on once and stay on for the duration. The pieces mentioned starting in verse 16 are just as important, but can briefly taken off during lulls in the war to allow for rest.
Picture in your mind a hockey player. When they are on the ice during the game, they have their pads, uniform, skates, hockey stick, gloves, and helmet on. When they come off the ice to rest on the bench, they leave their pads, skates, and uniform on. They set their hockey stick, gloves, and helmet aside while they rest, but keep them close so as to put them on in a moment’s notice when the coach calls them to rejoin the game.
And so it is with the full armor of God. Some pieces stay on, some can be kept within arm’s reach while we rest, but are readily available when the enemy approaches.
The armor piece described today is the shield. There were multiple kinds of shields employed during Roman times, and two were the most common. The first was a smaller round shield that was used during hand-to-hand combat. The soldier wore the shield on his forearm, and used it to deflect the enemy’s short sword or dagger during hand-to-hand combat. The second type of shield was much larger, nearly a man’s height, and was used when approaching the enemy, and not necessarily during hand-to-hand combat.
This larger shield was typically made of wood or wood covered with leather. When the enemy shot their arrows at the advancing soldiers, the soldiers would stop, stick the end of the shield on the ground, then crouch behind the shield, safe from the arrows. If the enemy shot arrows covered in tar or pitch and lit on fire, the Roman soldiers would often soak the face of the shields in water before the battle so the shield would not catch on fire.
While these shields offered individual protection, they also were used together to form a nearly impenetrable force to advance an entire unit of soldiers. The soldiers on the front and sides held their shields as described above; the soldiers in the middle of the unit held their shields over their heads to protect from the arrows flying in from the top. They formed a team, a small “community” to protect one another as well as themselves.
With all this imagery in mind, Paul says that the evil one shoots his flaming arrows at us. The enemy has great aim and accuracy, and does not fight fair – he uses flaming arrows to get us distracted, to have fears of getting burned, to get us to turn our shield around to see if it is on fire, and thus expose ourselves to danger and getting shot.
Our “shield” is not a physical one, but one of faith, Paul tells us. Our faith, our trust in God, is our protection.
Listen to David’s words:
As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the Lord is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
(Psalm 18:30 NASB, emphasis mine)
May you put your faith, your trust in the Lord to shield and protect you today. The enemy’s fiery arrows are incoming.