Up to this point in the series on Old Testament Allusions and The Armor of God, we have surveyed Paul’s use of the Old Testament and the imagery he has in mind in Ephesians 6:10-20. We have seen and defined the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes that bring gospel peace. Now we will move on to the shield of faith where Paul writes,
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;” (Ephesians 6:16)
I have said earlier that Paul was definitely chained to a Roman soldier (6:20) but I do not think that is the thrust of Paul’s picture of armor. Would the soldier be in the cell holding a shield to watch one weaponless non-violent Christian? Maybe there was a shield on the floor Paul was looking at but my guess is that, just like the previous parts of the armor, he has an Old Testament allusion in mind.
Psalm 120:4 or Psalm 91?
In my ESV Study Bible, the cross reference for Ephesians 6:16 is Psalm 120:4. The general context of Psalm 120 kind of makes sense with the mention of a “warrior’s sharp arrows” which would usually be guarded against with a shield. However, the overall context of Psalm 120 is David calling out to God in the midst of slander. In my personal opinion, I don’t believe this is what Paul had in mind when he penned Ephesians 6.
Rather, Psalm 91 has a variety of reasons for being the passage Paul has in mind when describing the armor of God. The first reason is the context of Psalm 91. The context seems to display God’s aggressive defense against every threat and enemy of his people. He alone is the refuge and safe place against all evil. Second, Psalm 91:4-5 use both the shield and arrow imagery that Paul seems to have in mind. They read,
“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,”
These two together seem to fit both context and imagery, but I think we must turn elsewhere to see how else Psalm 91 is used to have a solid fulfillment of this text and know what Paul has in mind.
Christ: Tempted and Tried
In Matthew 4, directly after Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness to face an onslaught of temptations from the Evil one himself. Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and quotes Scripture to tempt the Messiah by saying,
“He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Matthew 4:6)
Guess what Psalm that is? You guessed it, Psalm 91. Satan himself tempts Jesus to jump off of the temple and show off the power he has to command his angels to rescue him at one simple word from his mouth. After Jesus responds to all the temptations with the Word of God from Deuteronomy, Satan’s accusations and temptations fail to penetrate God’s Anointed One. Again, another victory on part of our Great King.
Then comes the zinger, the nail in the coffin. Although it is not quoted in Ephesians 6 or Matthew 4, the very next verse in Psalm 91 has a ton of weight to it especially with the defeat of Satan in mind. The Psalmist says in 91:13,
“You will tread the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”
Do you see something glimmering off the page? A past event and promise that was the first seed and shadow of the gospel? Clearly, the great promise God made in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15 is in mind here. The promise of a Messiah and Hero that would come and wage war against the Serpent, but doing so would cause the Divine Warrior his own life. The Psalmist has in mind that the real refuge and safe place against the Evil one is under the shield of the Messiah himself.
With all of these Old Testament allusions in mind, the shield of faith has quite a bit more meaning doesn’t it? Not only that, if we are called to find refuge under the shield of our Messiah and King, doesn’t Ephesians 6:10-12 make much more sense with Psalm 91 and Matthew 4 in mind? Read Ephesians 6:10-12 with me as we end this post:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.“
The great news of the Gospel is that, although the Evil one is wiser, stronger, and older than us, we come under the victory of our King. Not only are all of his victories in temptation credited to us, but the cross was his defeat of sin and evil. We are a washed people, safe under his shield and victorious as we stand against an already defeated enemy. As G.K Beale notices from Luke 10:19, directly after Jesus’ temptation, the disciples are given authority to “tread on serpents” which are also using the same language for demons (Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, pg. 421). We are walking in the victory and authority of our victorious King.