Arms and armor are often mentioned in the Bible, but no extensive details on their manufacture and utilization are provided.
While the Hebrew Scriptures in particular tell repeatedly of the use of the literal sword, spear, shield, and other arms, they also consistently emphasize the vital necessity and advantage of trusting in Jehovah. (Ge 15:1; Ps 76:1-3; 115:9-11; 119:114; 144:2) Reliance upon Him was evident in David’s words to Goliath: “You are coming to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day Jehovah will surrender you into my hand . . . And all this congregation will know that neither with sword nor with spear does Jehovah save, because to Jehovah belongs the battle.” (1Sa 17:45-47) Dependence upon Jehovah’s spirit and not military force is shown to be essential and effective. (Zec 4:6) And in confirming his love for his figurative wife, Zion, Jehovah assured: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success . . . This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah.”
The Hebrew word keliʹ may denote a “weapon,” but it can also refer to an “article,” “utensil,” “instrument,” ‘implement,’ or “vessel.” (Jg 9:54; Le 13:49; Eze 4:9; Nu 35:16; Ec 9:18; Le 6:28) In the plural form it can refer to “armor,” as well as “luggage,” “baggage,” “goods,” and “equipment.” (1Sa 31:9; 10:22; 17:22; Ge 31:37; 45:20) One other Hebrew word for “armor” (neʹsheq) comes from the root na·shaqʹ, meaning “be armed; be equipped.” (1Ki 10:25; 1Ch 12:2; 2Ch 17:17) The Greek word hoʹplon (weapon) is related to pa·no·pliʹa, meaning “full armament; complete suit of armor.”
Arms (Offensive). Sword and dagger. The Hebrew word cheʹrev is usually rendered “sword,” but it may also be rendered ‘dagger,’ “chisel,” and ‘knife.’ (Ge 3:24; 1Ki 18:28; Ex 20:25; Jos 5:2) In the Hebrew Scriptures the sword is the most frequently mentioned weapon of offense and defense. It had a handle and a metal blade, which might be made of brass, copper, iron, or steel. Swords were employed for cutting (1Sa 17:51; 1Ki 3:24, 25) and thrusting or running through. (1Sa 31:4) Some swords were short, others long, being single- or double-edged. Archaeologists separate daggers from swords by length, the point of differentiation being about 40 cm (16 in.).
Generally the sword was suspended on the left side from the girdle (1Sa 25:13) and was worn in a sheath, a leather case or covering for the sword or the dagger. Second Samuel 20:8 allows for the possibility that Joab deliberately adjusted his sword so that it fell from its sheath and then merely held the weapon in his hand instead of sheathing it once again. Unsuspecting Amasa perhaps thought it had fallen accidentally, and he was unconcerned. That proved fatal.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Greek word maʹkhai·ra is usually used for the sword (Mt 26:47), though rhom·phaiʹa, denoting a “long sword,” is also employed. (Re 6:8) The fact that two swords were available among the disciples on the night of Jesus’ betrayal was not unusual for those times (Lu 22:38), and there is evidence that for Galileans in particular it was not uncommon to carry arms. (See The Jewish War, by F. Josephus, III, 42 [iii, 2].) Jesus’ words at Luke 22:36, “Let the one having no sword sell his outer garment and buy one,” would not indicate that his disciples were about to enter into a hazardous life. Rather, he desired to have a sword available among his followers on that night in order to demonstrate clearly that, though they would come into circumstances that could easily provoke armed resistance, he did not intend to resort to the sword but would give himself up voluntarily in harmony with God’s will. Thus, when Peter did react and try to put up armed resistance, lopping off the ear of Malchus, Jesus ordered him: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Mt 26:52; Joh 18:10, 11) Certainly, Peter’s sword and the other one at hand would have availed little against such a large group of armed men, and by trying to use them, they would undoubtedly have ‘perished by the sword.’ (Mt 26:47) More important, such attempted delivery of Jesus would have failed, being completely contrary to Jehovah God’s purpose. (Mt 26:53, 54) As it was, later that day Jesus could plainly state to Pilate: “If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”
Spear, lance, javelin, and dart. Weapons used for thrusting or hurling, consisting of a shaft fitted with a sharp point or head. (1Sa 18:11; Jg 5:8; Jos 8:18; Job 41:26) Various kinds were used by all the nations of antiquity. Precise delineation between them, as designated by different Hebrew words, is somewhat uncertain.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the spear (Heb., chanithʹ) was apparently the largest of these four weapons, having a long wooden shaft and generally a sharp stone or metal head. In importance it ranked second to the sword. The giant Goliath carried a spear with a blade weighing “six hundred shekels of iron” (6.8 kg; 15 lb) and with a wooden shaft “like the beam of loom workers.” (1Sa 17:7) Some spears had a metal point at the butt end by which they might be fixed in the ground. Hence, this end, and not just the spearhead, could be used effectively by a warrior. (2Sa 2:19-23) A spear stuck in the earth might denote a king’s temporary abode.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures the spear (Gr., logʹkhe) is mentioned in John 19:34, which says that after Jesus Christ had died, “one of the soldiers jabbed his side with a spear.” Since this was a Roman soldier, the Roman pilum was probably used. Such a weapon was about 1.8 m (6 ft) long, with a barbed iron head extending halfway down the length of the wooden shaft.
The lance (Heb., roʹmach), a weapon with a long shaft and a sharp point, was used for thrusting. (Nu 25:7, 8) It was a standard weapon of the Hebrews.
The javelin (Heb., ki·dhohnʹ) had a pointed metal head and was usually thrown. It was apparently smaller and lighter than the conventional spear, which would allow for it to be held with outstretched arm. (Jos 8:18-26) The javelin was customarily carried not in the hand but on the back.
The dart (Heb., mas·saʽʹ) was evidently a short pointed missile similar to the arrow. (Job 41:26) Sheʹlach, the Hebrew word for a missile, comes from the root verb sha·lachʹ, meaning “send (out); put out; thrust out.” (2Ch 23:10; Ge 8:8, 9; Ex 9:15) The Hebrew word ziq·qimʹ denotes “fiery missiles” and is related to zi·qohthʹ, meaning “sparks; fiery arrows.”
The Greek beʹlos (missile) comes from the root balʹlo, meaning “throw.” The apostle Paul used this Greek word when he wrote about “burning missiles” that one is able to quench with the large shield of faith. (Eph 6:16) Among the Romans, darts were made of hollow reeds, and on the lower part, under the point, there was an iron receptacle that could be filled with burning naphtha. The dart was then shot from a slack bow, as projecting it from a taut bow would put out the fire. Endeavoring to extinguish such a missile with water would just increase the flame, and the only way to put it out was by covering the destructive projectile with earth.
Bow and arrow. From early times the bow (Heb., qeʹsheth; Gr., toʹxon) was used in hunting and warfare. (Ge 21:20; 27:3; 48:22; Re 6:2) It was a standard weapon among the Israelites (2Ch 26:14, 15), those who fought for Egypt (Jer 46:8, 9), the Assyrians (Isa 37:33), and the Medo-Persians.
The reference to “a bow of copper” is likely to be understood as meaning a wooden bow mounted with copper. (2Sa 22:35) The expression ‘to bend the bow’ (literally, ‘to tread the bow’) refers to stringing the bow. (Ps 7:12; 37:14; Jer 50:14, 29) This might be done by firmly planting the foot against the middle of the bow; or one end of the bow with the string attached might be held to the ground by the foot while the other end was bent to receive the free end of the string.
Arrows (Heb., chits·tsimʹ) were made of reed shafts or light wood, their bases usually feathered. Arrowheads were at first made of flint or bone and later of metal. Sometimes arrows were barbed, were dipped in poison (Job 6:4), or were dressed with combustible material. (Ps 7:13) In the case of an incendiary arrow, oil-soaked tow was placed into holes along the edge of its metal head, to be ignited when the arrow was used.
Thirty arrows were commonly placed in a leather case or quiver. Assyrian reliefs show that the quivers carried on chariots held 50 arrows.
Sling. From ancient times the sling (Heb., qeʹlaʽ) has been the weapon of shepherds (1Sa 17:40) and warriors. (2Ch 26:14) It was a leather thong or was a band woven of such materials as animal sinews, rushes, or hair. “The hollow of the sling,” a widened center part, held the projectile. (1Sa 25:29) One end of the sling might be tied to the hand or wrist while the other was held in the hand, to be freed when the sling was swung. The loaded sling was whirled overhead, perhaps several times, and then one end was suddenly released, sending the missile forward with considerable force and speed. Smooth, round stones were especially desired for slinging, though other projectiles were also used. (1Sa 17:40) Slingers were a regular part of the armies of Judah (2Ch 26:14) and Israel.
War club, handstave, and battle-ax. The “war club” was evidently a heavy club or mace, sometimes studded with metal. (Pr 25:18) The ‘handstave’ was a wooden staff, perhaps tipped with a metal point, that was used as a weapon. (Eze 39:9) The battle-ax was a weapon usually having a relatively short wooden or metal handle and a stone or metal head with a sharp blade. There is an allusion to the battle-ax in figurative speech at Psalm 35:3, where Jehovah is asked by David to “draw spear and double ax to meet those pursuing me.”
Armor (Defensive). In order to protect his body from the offensive weapons of the enemy, a soldier employed various kinds of shields and personal armor.
Shield. A broad piece of defensive armor used by all ancient nations. It was equipped with an inside handle and was carried by the warrior during battle, usually on the left arm or in the left hand, although during the march it may have been hung from a shoulder strap. Isaiah 22:6 indicates that some may have been provided with a cover that was removed at time of combat. In peacetime, shields were often placed in arsenals.
Shields used in ancient times were often made of wood covered with leather, and such shields could be burned. (Eze 39:9) Whereas wooden and leather shields were in general use, it appears that metal shields were less common, being used especially by leaders, royal guards, or possibly for ceremonial purposes. (2Sa 8:7; 1Ki 14:27, 28) Shields were oiled to make them pliable and moisture resistant, to keep the metal from rusting, or to make them smooth and slippery. (2Sa 1:21) The leather shield was often decked with a heavy center boss (a knob or stud) of metal, which gave added protection.
The “large shield” (Heb., tsin·nahʹ) was carried by the heavily armed infantry (2Ch 14:8) and sometimes by a shield bearer. (1Sa 17:7, 41) It was either oval or else rectangular like a door. Apparently a similar “large shield” is designated at Ephesians 6:16 by the Greek word thy·re·osʹ (from thyʹra, meaning “door”). The tsin·nahʹ was large enough to cover the entire body. (Ps 5:12) It was on occasion used to set up solid-front battle lines with lances protruding. The large shield is sometimes mentioned with the lance or spear as a form of reference to weapons in general.
The smaller “shield” or “buckler” (Heb., ma·ghenʹ) was customarily carried by archers and is usually associated with light weapons such as the bow. For instance, it was carried by Benjaminite bowmen of Judean King Asa’s military force. (2Ch 14:8) The smaller shield was usually round and more common than the large shield, probably being used chiefly in hand-to-hand fighting. That the Hebrew tsin·nahʹ and ma·ghenʹ differed considerably in size seems to be indicated by the gold shields Solomon made, the large shield being overlaid with four times as much gold as the smaller shield, or buckler. (1Ki 10:16, 17; 2Ch 9:15, 16) Ma·ghenʹ, like tsin·nahʹ, seems to be used as part of a formula for weapons of war.
The Hebrew word sheʹlet, rendered ‘circular shield,’ occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scriptures and is evidently similar to the more common ma·ghenʹ (shield), since it is used in conjunction with ma·ghenʹ in The Song of Solomon 4:4.
Helmet. A military headgear designed to protect a fighter during battle and a very basic part of defensive armor. The Hebrew word for “helmet” is koh·vaʽʹ (alternately qoh·vaʽʹ), while the Greek term is pe·ri·ke·pha·laiʹa, literally meaning “around the head.”
Originally, Israelite helmets were probably made of leather. Later these were covered with copper or iron and were worn over woolen, felt, or leather bonnets. Copper helmets were used in Israel as early as the days of King Saul. (1Sa 17:38) While helmets may at first have been reserved for kings and other leaders, later they were in general use, Uzziah furnishing his entire army with them.
Coat of mail. A coat worn for protection during battle. The coat of mail (Heb., shir·yohnʹ or shir·yanʹ) consisted of a cloth or leather cloak that had hundreds of small adjoining pieces of metal (somewhat like fish scales) attached to its surface. Often it covered the breast, back, and shoulders, though it sometimes reached to the knees or even the ankles.
Among the Hebrews the coat of mail was frequently made of leather covered with metal scales or plates. The wearer enjoyed considerable protection thereby, but, nonetheless, would be vulnerable where the scales were connected or where the coat of mail adjoined other parts of the armor. Thus, King Ahab was mortally wounded by a bowman who “got to strike the king of Israel between the appendages and the coat of mail.”
Girdle. The military girdle of ancient times was a leather belt worn around the waist or hips. It varied in width from 5 to 15 cm (2 to 6 in.) and was often studded with plates of iron, silver, or gold. The warrior’s sword was suspended from it, and at times the belt was supported by a shoulder strap. (1Sa 18:4; 2Sa 20:8) Whereas a loosened girdle denoted leisure (1Ki 20:11), girding up the loins or hips indicated readiness for action or battle.
Greaves. Armor consisting of thin plates of metal, covering the leg between the ankle and the knee. The only Biblical reference to them is at 1 Samuel 17:6, where it is shown that the giant Philistine warrior Goliath from Gath had “greaves [Heb., mits·chathʹ] of copper above his feet.” The Israelites may also have used greaves to some extent.
Spiritual Armor. Although true Christians do not share in fleshly warfare, they are engaged in a battle and are likened to soldiers. (Php 2:25; 2Ti 2:3; Phm 2) A Christian has a wrestling “against the governments [not made up of flesh-and-blood humans], against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12) Since physical weapons and armor would be of no value in a battle against superhuman spirits, Christians must “take up the complete suit of armor from God.”
Paul advises Christians to have their “loins girded about with truth.” (Eph 6:14) Just as a girdle can provide support and protection for the loins, an unbreakable attachment to divine truth can strengthen a Christian in his determination to remain firm despite trials.
Next, a Christian must put on “the breastplate of righteousness.” (Eph 6:14) A literal breastplate served to protect vital organs, especially the heart. The need of righteousness as a protective breastplate for the figurative heart is especially evident because of the heart’s sinful inclination.
Part of the spiritual armor is to have the feet “shod with the equipment of the good news of peace.” (Eph 6:15) The Greek word he·toi·ma·siʹa, translated “equipment,” has the basic meaning “readiness.” (See Int; NIV; TEV.) A Christian’s always being equipped and ready to make known the “good news” to others, and doing so despite hardships, can help him to endure faithfully.
A prominent part of the spiritual armor is “the large shield of faith.” Like a large shield covering most of the body, faith in Jehovah God and his ability to fulfill his promises will enable a Christian to “quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles.” (Eph 6:16; compare Ps 91:4.) Faith will help a Christian withstand attacks by wicked spirits, resist temptations to immorality, shun materialistic desires, and not give in to fear, doubt, or excessive grief.
As a helmet protects a soldier’s head, so “the helmet of salvation” safeguards the Christian’s mental powers from ungodly influences. (Eph 6:17) Having on “as a helmet the hope of salvation” means looking “intently toward the payment of the reward,” as Moses did.
“The sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word” is indispensable to the Christian in warding off false teachings and traditions of men and in teaching the truth and ‘overturning strongly entrenched things.’
[Picture on page 171]
Roman legionnaire with shield