The meaning of Armor; Arms in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
I. ARMOR IN GENERAL—OLD TESTAMENT
II. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT; POLYBIUS
III. OFFENSIVE WEAPONS
3. Bow and Arrows
IV. DEFENSIVE WEAPONS
3. Coat of Mail
I. Armor in General—Old Testament.
(maddim; I Samuel 17:38; I Samuel 14:1 the Revised Version (British and American) APPAREL; nesheq, I Kings 10:25; Job 39:21; kelim; ta hopla): Under this head it may be convenient to notice the weapons of attack and defense in use among the Hebrews, mentioned in Scripture. There are no such descriptions given by the sacred writers as are to be found in Homer, who sets forth in detail the various pieces of armor worn by an Achilles or a Patroclus, and the order of putting them on. There is an account of the armor offensive and defensive of the Philistine Goliath (I Samuel 17:5-7); and from a much later time we read of shields and spears and helmets and habergeons, or coats of mail, and bows and slings with which Uzziah provided his soldiers (II Chronicles 26:14). In Jeremiah's ode of triumph over the defeat of Pharaoh-neco, there is mention of the arms of the Egyptians: "Prepare ye the buckler and shield, and draw near to battle. Harness the horses, and get up, ye horsemen, and stand forth with your helmets; furbish the spears, put on the coats of mail" (Jeremiah 46:3-4). Of the arms of Assyrian, Chaldean, Egyptian and Hittite soldiery there have come down to us sculptured representations from their ancient monuments, which throw light upon the battlepieces of the Hebrew historians and prophets.
II. In the New Testament; Polybius.
In the New Testament, Paul describes the panoply of the Christian soldier, naming the essential pieces of the Roman soldier's armor—the girdle, the breastplate, the footgear, the shield, the helmet, the sword—although it is to be noticed that his most characteristic weapon, the pilum or spear, is omitted (Ephesians 6:10-17). In a similar context the same apostle speaks of "the armor" of light (Romans 13:12), "of righteousness on the right hand and on the left" (II Corinthians 6:7). Of the equipment of the Roman soldier in detail, the most useful illustration is the account given by Polybius (vi.23): "The Roman panoply consists in the first place of a shield (thureos). .... Along with the shield is a sword (machaira). .... Next come two javelins (hussoi) and a helmet (perikephalaia), and a greave (knemis). ..... Now the majority, when they have further put on a bronze plate, measuring a span every way, which they wear on their breasts and call a heart-guard (kardiophulax), are completely armed, but those citizens who are assessed at more than 10,000 drachmae wear instead, together with the other arms, cuirasses made of chain mail (halusidotous thorakas)."
III. Offensive Weapons.
The commonest weapon in the hands of the shepherd youth of Palestine today is the rod (shebheT; rhabdos), a stick loaded at one end, which he carries in his hand, or wears attached to his wrist by a loop of string, ready for use. It is of considerable weight and is a formidable weapon whether used in self-defense or in attacking a foe. With such a weapon David may well have overcome the lion and the bear that invaded the fold. This shepherd's rod, while used for guidance, or comfort, or for numbering the flock (Psalms 23:4; Leviticus 27:32), was also a weapon with which to strike and punish (Psalms 2:9; Isaiah 10:5, Isaiah 10:15). In this sense it has for a synonym maTTeh (Isaiah 9:4; Ezekiel 7:11), and both came to have the derived meaning of spearheads (shebheT, II Samuel 18:14; maTTeh, I Samuel 14:27). They may have been the original of the maul or hammer (mephits, Proverbs 25:18; Jeremiah 51:20, where Cyrus, as God's battle-axe, is to shatter Babylon and its inhabitants for the wrongs they have done to His people Israel).
Scarcely less common and equally homely is the sling (qela'; sphendone) (I Samuel 17:40). It consists of plaited thongs, or of one strip of leather, made broad at the middle to form a hollow or pocket for the stone or other contents, the ends being held firmly in the hand as it is whirled loaded round the head, and one of them being at length let go, so that the stone may take its flight. It is used by the shepherd still to turn the straying sheep, and it can also be used with deadly effect as a weapon of war. The slingers (ha-qalla'im, II Kings 3:25) belonged to the light infantry, like the archers. The Benjamites were specially skilled in the use of the sling, which they could use as well with their left hand as the right (Judges 20:16). The sling was a weapon in use in the armies of Egypt and Babylonia, and Jeremiah in a powerful figure makes the Lord say to Jerusalem in a time of impending calamity: "Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this time" (Jeremiah 10:18; compare I Samuel 25:29).
3. Bow and Arrows:
A very important offensive weapon in the wars of Israel was the bow (qesheth) and arrows (chitstsim), and the archers whether mounted or on foot formed a powerful element of the fighting forces of the Philistines, Egyptians and Assyrians (s.v. ARCHERY; BOW).
The spear has various words to represent it. (1) The chanith had a wooden staff or shaft of varying size and length with a head, or blade, of bronze, or, at a later time, of iron (I Samuel 17:7). In the King James Version it is sometimes translated "javelin," but in the Revised Version (British and American) "spear" (see I Samuel 13:22; I Samuel 18:11). Saul's spear, stuck in the ground, betokened the abode of the king for the time, just as today the spear in front of his tent marks the halting-place of the Bedouin Sheikh (I Samuel 22:6; I Samuel 26:7). Nahum, describing the arms of the Assyrians, joins together the flashing sword and the glittering spear (Nahum 3:3). The bearers of the chanith belonged to the heavy-armed troops. (2) The romach, also translated in the King James Version "javelin," was of the character of a lance. It does not appear to have differed much from the chanith—they appear as synonyms in Joel 3:10, where romach is used, and in Isaiah 2:4 where chanith is used, of spears beaten into pruning hooks. It describes the Egyptian spear in Jeremiah 46:4. The bearers of the romach also belonged to the heavy-armed troops. (3) The kidhon was lighter than either of the preceding and more of the nature of a javelin (gaison in the Septuagint, Joshua 8:18 and Polybius vi.39, 3; Job 41:29; Jeremiah 6:23). (4) In the New Testament the word "spear" occurs only once and is represented by the Greek logche, the equivalent no doubt of chanith as above (John 19:34).
The sword (cherebh) is by far the most frequently mentioned weapon in Scripture, whether offensive or defensive. The blade was of iron (I Samuel 13:19; Joel 3:10). It was hung from the girdle on the left side, and was used both to cut and to thrust. Ehud's sword (Judges 3:16) was double-edged and a cubit in length, and, as he was left-handed, was worn on his right thigh under his clothes. The sword was kept in a sheath (I Samuel 17:51); to draw the sword was the signal for war (Ezekiel 21:3). Soldiers are "men who draw the sword." It is the flashing sword (Nahum 3:3); the oppressing sword (Jeremiah 46:16); the devouring sword (II Samuel 18:8; Jeremiah 12:12); the sword which drinks its fill of blood (Isaiah 34:5-6). The sword of the Lord executes God's judgments (Jeremiah 47:6; Ezekiel 21:9-10 ff.).
Figurative: In the highly metaphorical language of the prophets it stands for war and its attendant calamities (Jeremiah 50:35-37; Ezekiel 21:28).
In the New Testament machaira is employed for sword in its natural meaning (Matthew 26:47, Matthew 26:51; Acts 12:2; Hebrews 11:34, Hebrews 11:37). Paul calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17); and in the Epistle to Hebrews the Word of God is said to be sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). As a synonym the word rhomphaia is used in the Apocrypha alone of the New Testament books, save for Luke 2:35. It was the Thracian sword with large blade, and is classed by the ancients rather as a spear. The word is used frequently in the Septuagint like machaira to translate cherebh. In Revelation 1:16 the sharp two-edged sword of judgment, rhomphaia is seen in vision proceeding out of the mouth of the glorified Lord (compare Revelation 19:15). Xiphos is still another word for sword, but it is found only in the Septuagint, and not in the New Testament.
IV. Defensive Weapons.
The most ancient and universal weapon of defense is the shield. The two chief varieties are (1) the tsinnah, Latin scutum, the large shield, worn by heavy-armed infantry, adapted to the form of the human body, being made oval or in the shape of a door; hence, its Greek name, thureos, from thura, a door; and (2) the maghen, Latin clypeus, the light, round hand-buckler, to which pelte is the Greek equivalent. The two are often mentioned together (Ezekiel 23:24; Ezekiel 38:4; Psalms 35:2).
The tsinnah was the shield of the heavy-armed (I Chronicles 12:24); and of Goliath we read that his shield was borne by a man who went before him (I Samuel 17:7, I Samuel 17:41) The maghen could be borne by bowmen, for we read of men of Benjamin in Asa's army that bare shields and drew bows (II Chronicles 14:8). The ordinary material of which shields were made was wood, or wicker-work overlaid with leather. The wood-work of the shields and other weapons of Gog's army were to serve Israel for fuel for seven years (Ezekiel 39:9). The anointing of the shield (II Samuel 1:21; Isaiah 21:5) was either to protect it from the weather, or, more probably, was part of the consecration of the warrior and his weapons for the campaign. Solomon in his pride of wealth had 200 shields (tsinnoth) of beaten gold, and 300 targets (maghinnim) of beaten gold made for himself, and hung in the house of the forest of Lebanon (I Kings 10:16-17). They were only for show, and when Shishak of Egypt came up against Rehoboam and carried them off, Rehoboam replaced them with others of bronze (I Kings 14:27). On the march, the shield was strapped over the shoulder and kept in a cover, which was removed before the battle (Isaiah 22:6). Both words are used of the mechanical device known to the Romans as the testudo employed by the besiegers of a city against the darts and stones and blazing torches thrown out by the besieged (Isaiah 37:33; Ezekiel 26:8).
Figurative: Yahweh is spoken of as the Shield and Protector of His people—of Abraham (Genesis 15:1); of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:29); of the Psalmist (Psalms 18:30; Psalms 35:2, and many other passages). In his description of the panoply of the Christian soldier, Paul introduces faith as the thureos, the large Greek-Roman shield, a defense by which he may quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.
The helmet, qobha' or kobha', seems to have been originally in the form of a skull-cap, and it is thus figured in representations of Hittites on the walls of Karnak in Egypt. In the earliest times it is found worn only by outstanding personages like kings and commanders. When King Saul armed David with his own armor he put a helmet of brass upon his head (I Samuel 17:38). Uzziah at a later time provided his soldiers with helmets, as part of their equipment (II Chronicles 26:14). The men of Pharaoh-neco's army also wore helmets (Jeremiah 46:4), and the mercenaries in the armies of Tyre had both shield and helmet to hang up within her (Ezekiel 27:10). The materials of the helmet were at first of wood, linen, felt, or even of rushes; leather was in use until the Seleucid period when it was supplanted by bronze (1 Macc 6:35); the Greek and Roman helmets both of leather and brass were well known in the Herodian period.
Figurative: Paul has the helmet, perikephalaia, for his Christian soldier (Ephesians 6:17; I Thessalonians 5:8). In the Septuagint perikephalaia occurs eleven times as the equivalent of the Hebrew term.
3. Coat of Mail:
Body armor for the protection of the person in battle is mentioned in the Old Testament and is well known in representations of Egyptian, Persian and Parthian warriors. The shiryon, translated "habergeon" in the King James Version, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) "coat of mail," is part of the armor of Nehemiah's workers (Nehemiah 4:16), and one of the pieces of armor supplied by King Uzziah to his soldiers. (II Chronicles 26:14). Goliath was armed with a shiryon, and when Saul clad David in his own armor to meet the Philistine champion he put on him a coat of mail, his shiryon (I Samuel 17:5, I Samuel 17:38). Such a piece of body armor Ahab wore in the fatal battle of Ramoth-gilead (I Kings 22:34). In the battle of Bethsura in the Maccabean struggle the Syrian war-elephants were protected with breastplates, the word for which, thorax, represents the shiryon in the Septuagint (1 Macc 6:43).
Figurative: Isaiah in a striking figure describes Yahweh as putting on righteousness for a coat of mail and salvation as a helmet, where thorax and perikephalaia are the Greek words of the Septuagint to render shiryon and kobha'. It is from this passage (Isaiah 59:17) that Paul obtains his "breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14).
Greaves (mitschah; knemides) are mentioned once in Scripture as part of the armor of Goliath (I Samuel 17:6). They were of brass or leather, fastened by thongs round the leg and above the ankles.
The girdle (chaghorah; Greek zone) was of leather studded with nails, and was used for supporting the sword (I Samuel 18:4; II Samuel 20:8).
Figurative: For figurative uses see under the separate weapons.
Nowack, Hebraische Archaeologie, I, 359-67; Benzinger, Herzog, RE, article "Kriegswesen bei den Hebraern"; McCurdy, HPM, I, II; Woods and Powell, The Hebrew Prophets for English Readers, I, II; G. M. Mackie, Bible Manners and Customs; Browne, Hebrew Antiquities, 40-46; corresponding articles in Kitto, Hastings, and other Bible dictionaries.
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