March 11, 2020

On Display: The Shield of Faith (The Armor, part 8)

If you love the near-infinite variety of wildlife found on our tiny blue-green planet (as I do), you are sure to have taken note of some of the more prominent features displayed by nature’s children. Perhaps you have marveled at the giraffe’s surprisingly long neck or have been impressed by the peacock’s striking plumage. Maybe the elephant’s flexible trunk and majestic tusks strike your fancy, or it could be that you are enamored with the magnificent mane of the king of beasts, the mighty lion. Whichever creature strikes you as being the weirdest, the wildest, or the most bizarre, it’s probably due to that one characteristic which sets them apart from the crowd. That creature’s most prominent feature marks it as special in some way.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of a Roman soldier’s gear was his shield. While the Romans employed a variety of shields even during the time of Jesus, by far the most iconic and recognizable of these was the scutum, a curved rectangular shield large enough to completely cover a fully grown man. The name scutum is derived from the same word which might refer to a turtle’s shell, and the protection afforded by a Roman soldier’s scutum was similarly as effective and complete as that enjoyed by the armored reptile.

Image by Parasit on Pixabay
The Roman scutum of the first century was a convex rectangular shield constructed of mostly wood and leather, commonly edged with rawhide to make the structure more durable. The handgrip was located in the center of the shield, with a circular cutout which allowed the handle (grip) of the shield to be as close as possible to the shield’s center of gravity. This placement allowed for better control of the shield when gripped with a single hand. The hand itself was covered by a boss, a piece of domed metal intended primarily to protect the hand, which would otherwise extend through the cutout, beyond the surface of the shield, when holding the handle.

The forward surface of the scutum was often painted with insignia that clearly identified a particular unit. It is with this characteristic that we shall begin discussing the symbolism behind the Biblical Shield of Faith. Just as a legionnaire’s shield marked him as belonging to a particular unit, so too our faith should openly mark us as belonging to Christ.

Jesus himself said the following…

 “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Indeed, it is our faith in Christ that divides us from those outside the faith…

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.
~1 John 4:2-3 (ESV)

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
~ Luke 12:8-9 (ESV)

Our faith will be revealed by our actions more than simply by our words…

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
~1 John 3:18 (ESV)

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
~ James 2:18 (ESV)

Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.

…for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
~ Luke 6:44 (ESV)

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
~ John 13:35 (ESV)

If we truly have faith in Christ, that faith cannot help but become one of our most prominent characteristics, easily recognized by others. It is strangely fitting, then, that Paul chose to pair the iconic Roman soldier’s shield with the spiritual element of faith. Remember that the term scutum is also used to describe the shell of a turtle, which is clearly the most recognizable characteristic of that particular animal.

Putting on the Shield of Faith, then, can be as simple as letting your faith be known to others. In all that you do, make sure that your faith in God is on display.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

There is much more which can be said regarding the Shield of Faith, and I hope you will join me as I continue this study in future posts. Until then, put on your shield and be a turtle!


The Final Cut (The Armor, part 18)

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