A battling people

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people the Israelites are shown going into battle against their enemies. There are records of armour-bearers (see Judges 9:54 and 1 Samuel 14:1; 1 Samuel17:7) as well as armouries (see 1 Kings 10:17 and Nehemiah 3:19).

David and Goliath

David and Goliath by Osmar SchindlerIn the biblical story of David and Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:1-51) a young shepherd boy was pitted against a giant, armour-clad Philistine:
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armour on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels.                                         1 Samuel 17:4–7 ESVUK    
When David came on the scene he saw Goliath not as an enormous, well-protected giant, but as one who was defying God and should therefore be struck down 1 Samuel 17:26. He persuaded King Saul to allow him to fight the giant. Saul gave him his own armour (see 1 Samuel 17:38) but David could not move in it, so he stripped it off and stood in front of Goliath simply with his sling and five stones, believing that God was with him.
David killed the mocking Goliath by sinking a stone into his forehead and then taking Goliath’s own sword to cut his head off. Christians re-tell this story, emphasising how trust in God is greater than anything else, including man-made defenses.

Christians as soldiers

In the New Testament God’s people are still seen as being in a battle; no longer one nation fighting battles against God’s enemies, but in an unseen spiritual battle Ephesians 6:11-12. Christians are instructed to ‘fight the good fight of faith’ (1 Timothy 6:12) and to be aware of the schemes of their ultimate enemy Satan (see 2 Corinthians 2:11).

Spiritual significance

Various items of armour are given a spiritual symbolism in the Bible. In Isaiah, righteousness is referred to as a breastplate (guarding the heart) and salvation as a helmet (guarding the mind):
[The Lord] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.’ ESVUK Isaiah 59:17     

The armour of God

Whole armour of God stained glass panel Royal Military College of Canada, image available through Creative CommonsIn the New Testament similar imagery was used in a passage referring to ‘the armour of God’ (see Ephesians 6:10–17). Not only were the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation mentioned, but also the belt of truth, the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, ‘which is the word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17). This imagery described all the things that the Bible indicates Christians have at their disposal to fight off what are seen as ‘spiritual attacks’. Most of the armour is defensive, but the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon – the truth of God’s word (or the Bible) cutting through enemies’ lies.

Other cultural references

  • Texts: There are many military metaphors for the Christian life in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, as well as in many well-known hymns, such as Onward Christian Soldiers.
  • Paintings: David and Goliath by Titian, Caravaggio and Tissot as well as a fresco on the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
Related topics
Famous stories from the Bible: David and Goliath
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