THE HELMET OF SALVATION
by Roger Wyatt | 5th May 2021 | more posts on 'Living in Faith'
Photograph: Mike Kiley
- The ruins of Caesarea
‘Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ - Ephesians 6:17
The famous figure of speech in which Paul compares the life of a Christian with a Roman soldier, found in Ephesians 6, would almost certainly have had Hebraic connotations in the mind of Paul. As a prisoner, possibly in Herod’s palace at Caesarea, and under Roman guard, the analogy was undoubtedly a fitting one, and yet Paul may have also been drawing upon a passage found in Isaiah 59 concerning the end time coming of Yahweh. The LORD is described in this chapter as coming against his enemies like a ‘pent-up flood’ (Isaiah 59:19), and as well as putting on ‘garments of vengeance’ Isaiah declares that he ‘put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head’ (Isaiah 59:17). Both metaphors are used by Paul in his description of the ‘armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:11) and the interplay between the Greek and Hebrew motifs is indicative of Paul’s way of speaking to Gentiles from his own Jewish heritage. Importantly, the coming of Yahweh is not just to punish the wicked, but to rescue his people, a fact reinforced by the last verse of Isaiah 59: ‘“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD’. It is in this wider eschatological setting that Paul perhaps intended the message of Ephesians 6 to be understood. Namely, the believer standing her ground in the face of the accusations and lies of the enemy, waiting for the coming of the LORD to bring deliverance - as Jesus himself stated it, ‘but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13).
The helmet of the ‘hope of salvation’ as Paul calls it in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, then, does not primarily concern the believer’s mindset of knowing she is saved, but rather, a mindset of knowing that as hard as the battle seems to be, salvation is coming to those stand firm, whilst wielding the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. Indeed, Paul is making it clear that the believer is dangerously vulnerable without a confidence in a coming rescuer, and that they are soon to weary from the fight without such a reassurance.
The relationship between faith and hope is, in some ways, a difficult one to grasp and they almost seem to be two faces of the same thing, both springing from confidence in God’s word. However, elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 13, if Paul intended to describe the virtues by order of importance, the apostle elevates hope above faith: ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13). What then is biblical hope, and what is its relationship with faith? And what does it practically mean to wear the ‘helmet of salvation’?
Put simply, if hope is to do with a future salvation that is arriving, faith is our assurance that what is hoped for will arrive. Or put another way, faith is a confident hope. Such an interpretation fits well with the famous definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’. Moreover, what is true in the wider end time scope of New Testament thinking, is also true in the daily challenges of living the life of a believer - for although salvation will arrive in a great moment of final consummation, it also arrives in part and is experienced by the believer in greater and greater measure as she walks with Christ. It is to these “little” victories that Paul’s figure of speech is also directed. For when we find ourselves in a place of contention, whether trouble, lack, or trial, the gulf between our experience and the promises of God can be navigated through the work of hope.
The merging of Greek and Hebrew imagery explored above, yields one final delight. For the helmet of a Roman soldier bore plumes of brightly coloured horsehair. Whilst most probably for ascetic purposes, or even indicating rank, they would have served an important function in battle, that of identification - the helmet was a way of one soldier identifying a fellow combatant, and a was a vibrant way of indicating allegiance. In like manner, the helmet spoken of by Isaiah, in the Hebrew translation, self-declares its ownership וְכוֹבַע יְשׁוּעָה בְּרֹאשׁוֹ (weḵowḇa yešuah berošow – lit. the helmet of Yeshua). To “wear the helmet of salvation” then, so to speak, is to declare yourself to belong to Christ, to make known your allegiance, and in doing so pronounce your coming sure and certain rescue.