The Roman army used different shields at different times for different tasks. Cavalry carried a light oblong shield while legionaries carried the small, round buckler or ‘parma’ whose design incorporated iron and was about 36 inches in diameter.
The Apostle is however alluding to the ‘scutum’ a much larger and more effective weapon which eventually became the standard shield in the Roman army.
Measuring 4' x 2 ' and curved to the shape of the body, these shields were made of wood and were covered on the outside with thick leather. This design minimised the impact of any rough missile and also protected the legionary from the fire-tipped darts used in the artillery of Roman times.
Roman legionaries used their shields expertly in different formations the most famous of which is the ‘testudo’. In this formation, legionaries formed a packed square for either attack or defence which was protected on all sides and overhead by their scutums.
Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, quotes the Roman historian Cassius Dio’s description of the formation from Mark Antony’s campaign of 36 BC: "This testudo and the way in which it is formed are as follows…..The heavy-armed troops who use the oblong, curved, and cylindrical shields are drawn up around the outside, making a rectangular figure, and, facing outward and holding their arms at the ready, they enclose the rest. The others, who have flat shields, form a compact body in the centre and raise their shields over the heads of all the others, so that nothing but shields can be seen in every part of the phalanx alike and all the men by the density of the formation are under shelter from missiles."
The Apostle Paul is very specific about the function of this shield. It is to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
The Apostle was no fool. He recognised the reality of Satan and the fact that he would constantly be on the lookout for chinks in the believer’s armour to attack with his main weapon which is doubt. Satan’s strategy is to cause believers to doubt every aspect of their faith in Christ, their salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit and even the reliability of God’s word.
The great 19th century evangelist Charles Hadden Spurgeon in a sermon delivered in 1861 called upon believers to take up the shield of faith and become offensive as well as defensive warriors in the spiritual battle:
“Like the Spartans, every Christian is born a warrior. It is his destiny to be assaulted; it is his duty to attack. Part of his life will be occupied with defensive warfare. He will have to defend earnestly the faith once delivered to the saints; he will have to resist the devil; he will have to stand against all his wiles; and having done all, still to stand! He will, however, be but a sorry Christian if he acts only on the defensive. He must be one who goes against his foes, as well as stand still to receive their advance. He must be able to say with David, 'I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied.' He must wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. He must have weapons for his warfare—not carnal—but “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
Knowing God’s word inside out both individually and corporately as church fellowships, and putting it into practice, are vital aspects of the shield of faith. Where 21st century Scottish evangelicals are genuinely prepared to take up the shield of faith, they can truly begin to push back the powers of darkness in the land.