Wednesday: Shield, Helmet and Sword

When and how should believers as combatants in the great controversy use the shield, the helmet, and the sword? Ephesians 6:16-17.

Paul’s shield is the large, rectangular shield of a Roman legionnaire. Made with wood and covered with leather, its edges curved inward to guard against attacks from the side.

Image © Review & Herald Publishing at

When soaked in water, shields were “able to quench … fiery darts” (NKJV), extinguishing arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire. Paul’s description of the “shield of faith” reflects the Old Testament use of the shield as a symbol of God, who protects His people (Genesis 15:1Psalm 3:3). To take up “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16) is to enter the cosmic battle with confidence in God, who fights on behalf of believers (Ephesians 6:10), supplies the finest weaponry (Ephesians 6:11Ephesians 6:13), and who ensures victory.

At the same time, the Roman battle helmet was made of iron or bronze. To the bowl that protected the head were added a plate at the back to guard the neck, ear guards, a brow ridge, and hinged plates to protect the cheeks. Given the essential protection the helmet provided, “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17) symbolizes the present salvation believers experience in solidarity with the resurrected, ascended, and exalted Christ (Ephesians 2:6-10). To put on “the helmet of salvation” means to reject the fear of spiritual powers so common in the time and, instead, to trust in the supreme power of Christ (compare Ephesians 1:15-23Ephesians 2:1-10).

The final item of armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), referring to the Roman legionnaire’s short, two-edged sword. The usual battle tactic was to throw two javelins (not mentioned by Paul) and then draw the sword and charge, employing the short sword in a thrusting motion. The believers’ sword is “the sword of the Spirit” in that it is supplied by the Spirit, a weapon identified as “the word of God.” Paul steps forward as general and issues a call to arms, speaking promises of hope and victory from the divine Commander in Chief. It is these promises, issued in Ephesians 6:10-20, that constitute “the word of God” as the lead weapon in the battle against evil. The “word of God,” then, refers to the broad promises of the gospel that we find in the Bible.

Even if much we might not like so many military images, what should this imagery teach us about just how literal the great controversy really is and how seriously we should take it?

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