What Does It Mean to Say God is our Shield? Psalm 3
The image of God as a shield is found throughout the Old Testament. Clearly it was an important image to the early Hebrew community. But what does it mean to say God is our Shield?
God as Shield in the Psalms
The image of God as a shield appears eleven times in the Psalms.
3:3 – But thou, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
5:12 – For thou dost bless the righteous, O Lord; thou dost cover him with favor as with a shield.
7:10 – My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart.
18:2 – the Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts.
33:20 – Our soul waits for the Lord, for he is our help and shield.
84:11 – For the Lord is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.
91:4 – He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
115:9 – O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
119:114 – Thou art my hiding place and my shield; I hope in thy word.
144:2 – My rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under him.
God as Shield Elsewhere in the Bible
God as shield appears seven times in the rest of the Bible.
Gen. 15:1 – After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
Dt. 33:29 – Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph!
2 Samuel 22:36 – Thou hast given me the shield of thy salvation, and thy help made me great.
Proverbs 2:7 – he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity.
Proverbs 30:5 – Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Zec. 12:8 – On that day the Lord will put a shield about the inhabitants of Jerusalem so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, at their head.
Eph. 6:16 – Besides all these, take the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.
Enough? Clearly this is an important image in Old Testament time. A shield is protection, armor, defense, safeguard, and a buffer. As a verb it means to protect, guard, defend, shelter, screen safeguard. What does it mean to say God is our shield?
David’s Life on the Run
David, considered the writer of many of the Psalms, was a warrior king. He knew about the ways of war and the necessity of a shield. It offered protection during the time of war, shade during the heat of day, and shelter to rest under at night.
David was a man of sorrows, constantly on the run. He wasn’t anointed king and then assumed power. King Saul did not readily relinquish his reign to this upstart boy. First David was welcomed into Saul’s palace, became fast friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan. Saul was plagued by depression, an evil spirit. David’s music, playing on his harp helped the king, but the spirits persisted, turning him against David, thinking that David was out to take over, before his time. Saul feared the acclaim David was receiving. Thus began years of David fleeing from Saul as Saul hunted him down.
Once Saul was gone and David declared king, life did not prove to be easy. David knew the pain of loss. He lost one son in childbirth, then another son, Absolom, turned against him in order to be claimed king in David’s stead. Then David was on the run from his son. This is the situation in Psalm 3. David did not want to fight his son. When Absolom was killed by one of his soldiers the man brought the news to David thinking he would be happy. Instead David wept.
On the run so much of his life, David probably depended on his shield for more than protection during war, using it for protection from wild animals, shelter and shade. Under his shield, he slept secure. Under God’s shield, he slept secure, even though others were seeking his life. An apt metaphor for a man of war, accustomed to ways of war.
Creating a Shield to Protect our Relationships
In a marriage workshop I attended, an Episcopal priest, had couples make a shield. On the shield they put those things that were important to their marriage. One newly married couple set about separately doing this. The woman came back with picnics in the park, walks together, different activities they would do together; her husband came back with pictures of going fishing, hunting with his buddies, bowling. The minister looked at the shield and asked the young man – where is your wife in this? Fortunately they were able to laugh about this and rework the shield.
Marriages need shields–something to protect and safeguard their life together. The purpose of this exercise was to look at those things that would protect their marriage and keep it strong and to focus on them as a shield. Some families of old would have shields, family crests that were put on shields of the men to let people know under whose banner they fought. When others saw the crest they immediately recognized whose they were, who was their protector.
To be married means that you are not alone, you belong to the other and the other to you. Others are not to violate that sacred trust. The shield protects you but also reminds you of this, of your marriage vows, to whom you belong. And it lets others know as well.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was a soldier who after an injury and a long period as an invalid, turned his life over to God. As a soldier he spoke in metaphors befitting a soldier. You were either in the army or camp of God, or of the enemy, Satan. We each have to make a fundamental choice to follow Jesus, march under his banner.
To be under God’s shield is to have God as your protector, to trust that God will look out for you, safeguard you. But even more, to have God as your shield means that you are his, you belong to him, you fight under his shield and he protects you as his own. It means that God has claimed you as his own.
Paul in Romans, speaks of putting on the armor of God. We are in God’s army, we belong to him. We are under his shield.
Are you Under God’s Shield?
So what shield are you under? In what camp do you reside? If you were to fashion a shield for yourself, what might you put on it?
I tried this once. I divided my shield into four quadrants, showing those areas that sustained me as a person of faith. One quadrant represented church, faith community, wherein I experience God with others, through worship. Another represented nature, the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains and hills, the lakes, flowers and trees wherein I experience God creator. Another was family and the fourth was the arts, music, art, books, writing, again where I experience God and grow in my faith. In the center I put a dove, Christian symbol of peace. Perhaps today I would add the cross. While not every possible way that I experience God, still these summed up the most significant for me. This is my shield of faith. What protects me and keeps my strong.
As you read Psalm 3, ask yourself: If you created a shield, what would be on it? What keeps you safe from the perils, struggles, hardships of this life? What keeps your faith strong?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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