by Matthew W. Bassford
Ephesians 6:13-17 is perhaps the most familiar passage in the entire epistle. Most Christians have heard at least one sermon about the whole armor of God, complete with a helpfully labeled illustration of a Roman soldier. Certainly, there is much to be gained from considering the importance of salvation, righteousness, and so forth to our spiritual lives!
However, there’s another point in this well-known text that is worth considering, and it comes from the phrase that usually only supplies the title for the sermon. We read, “the whole armor of God,” and we think, “OK; this is the armor that God gives us.” That’s true, but it’s incomplete. The whole armor of God isn’t only the armor that God gives. It’s also the armor that He wears.
This is evident from Paul’s use of the Old Testament. He didn’t invent any of the items of the Christian’s armament. Instead, he took passages describing the armament of God and cited or adapted them.
This is most obvious when it comes to the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. Both come from Isaiah 59:17, in which Isaiah says of God, “He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head. . .” (NASB95, and throughout). Paul clearly adapted that language for his own purposes, and the adaptation gives us the key to his whole approach.
Similarly, we find the shield of faith in the last part of Psalm 91:4, which tells us, “His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.” The same Greek word is translated in our Bibles as both “faithfulness” and “faith”.
The other items in the panoply are a bit trickier. The sword that is the word of God is taken from Hosea 6:5, where God says of His unfaithful people, “Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth. . .” The passage doesn’t say straight up that God’s word is a sword; it merely describes His words as a hewing, slaying implement. However, from “hewing, slaying implement” to “sword” isn’t much of a leap.
The belt of truth also takes a little bit of digging to figure out. In the Old Testament, it appears in the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 11:5, which reads, “Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist.” The link becomes clearer when we realize that the Hebrew word for “faithfulness” also can be translated “truth” and is so translated in the Septuagint, which Paul used in his writing.
Finally, we come to the preparation of the gospel of peace. This comes from Isaiah 52:7, which says in part, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace. . .” If we look only at the verse, the antecedent of “him” is unclear, but the previous verse, Isaiah 52:6, is about God speaking. In Isaiah 52:7, “him” probably should be “Him”.
Paul, then, isn’t merely telling us to use the equipment that God offers us. He’s telling us to fight like He does, with all of His weapons and His virtues. If that’s the way we enter into spiritual warfare, the devil scarcely can hope to defeat us.