…Above all taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
— Ephesians 6.16
Those of us who have a passion for history should not watch historical movies, because we have a tendency to nit pick. One of my personal pet peeves concerns movies set in the time of Ancient Rome. In the battle scenes you often see a Roman Soldier wrapping an arrow with a cloth, setting the cloth on fire and then shooting the arrow at the enemy. The arrow miraculously stays lit traveling through the air at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and then with amazing accuracy it happens to hit something flammable which then bursts into flames.
Certainly Roman forces used flaming missiles to destroy their enemies, but they were much more subtle appearing and more deadly. The “fiery darts” we read about in this passage were made from a hollow reed (something like bamboo). One end was stoppered then the reed was filled with a flammable liquid, probably a mixture of alcohol and naphtha. A loosely fitting stopper holding a wick was slipped into the other end of the tube and lit. It was then shot like an arrow, not a bundle of straw or some other flammable substances, but at the soldier himself. Since the missile had it’s own fuel source and the wick was protected by the tube, the missile kept burning until it hit something. When it hit a soldier, the wick popped out, the liquid spilled over the soldier’ s armor and ignited, cooking him in his own armor.
How appropriate that Paul should use this imagery concerning the Enemy’s attack on the people of God. These missiles were unspectacular. Fired during daylight hours you could hardly see them coming, but when they strike the effects are devastating. How like Satan’s tactics. He sends something our way – a thought, a doubt, an unholy idea, an event, a casual comment by a friend – which seems very innocent at first, but when it strikes it spreads its destruction throughout our spiritual man engulfing us in his sulfuric flames.
In the field of psychology we talk about negative cognitions. These are thoughts which cause a person to experience emotional distress. Thus, a person suffering from depression can only think thoughts which see negative images of the present or the future. Some of these thought patterns can be easily explained in terms of family influences, life experiences or other psychological factors. However, the researchers admit that many of these thoughts seem to have no obvious origin.
Well, I can tell you that origin, and it’s a very hot place! I believe the enemy himself will try to plant thoughts in our minds that will cause us pain, and if possible, lead us to forsake God Himself.
What is our defense? Well, this scripture tells us that it is the shield of faith. The Roman shield was as large as a door. It was made of wood the surface of which was charred with a torch and then covered with leather. A soldier could hide his whole body behind this shield. The missile would hit and the liquid spread out, but the charred wood of the shield wouldn’t catch fire so the soldier was safe beneath his shield.
Sometimes we wonder why the flames of trial assail us. Well, the great shield-maker is simply giving us a defense against the fires of destruction by letting us pass through his fire of purification. When you hold up that shield, there is no missile of Satan that can harm your soul.