Free Online Bible Library | Armor, Arms

We also have classes for: provides a comprehensive biblical education from world-class professors
to encourage spiritual growth in the church, for free.

Would you do us the favor of answering this two question poll so we can know how to serve you better? You will also be given the opportunity to join our team tasked with how to make better. Thank you.  --Bill Mounce


Armor, Arms

See also Armor


I. General description of soldiers in the Old Testament and New Testament. A general picture of the OT and NT soldier can be gathered from 1 Samuel 17 and Ephesians 6. In the former passage the Philistine warrior Goliath is depicted as wearing a bronze helmet, coat of mail, and greaves (i.e., protective pieces) for his legs, with a bronze javelin “slung between his shoulders,” and carrying a spear made partly of wood and partly of iron, and a sword encased in a sheath attached to his body, prob. by a belt (1 Sam 17:5-7, 51). His large shield was carried by an attendant (1 Sam 17:7, 41).

The soldier pictured in Ephesians 6:11-17 is one in full armor (panoplia), having on a belt or girdle, a breastplate or coat of mail, shoes or sandals, and a helmet, and wielding a sword and shield.

The military equipment worn by these two soldiers consists basically of similar type articles. The differences in construction, material, and shape of the various items will be observed in the following discussion.

By the Early Bronze period (3000-2000 b.c.) there was further development in fortifications of towns and of weapons as is evidenced by the copper weapons from Jericho and Tell Hesi, including the socketed axe head, crescent-shaped tanged cutting axe head, and the rectangularly shaped axe blade (Kenyon, 119, 120; Yadin, Vol. I, 143, 149). Also an Egyp. carved ivory handle of a flint knife (c. 3000 b.c.) depicts boats (Egyp. arc shaped and Mesopotamian with high stern and prow) and soldiers with spears and leather shields. The bow, long spears, maces, (i.e., limestone and copper heads for clubs), boomerangs, double-headed axes, and fork-headed arrows also appear on representations from this period, together with the socketed axe head (Yadin, Vol I, 116-126). The two- and four-wheeled Mesopotamian battle chariot showed up at about 2800 b.c. In a limestone stela the king of Lagash of Mesopotamia, c. 2500 b.c., is pictured as leading a heavily armed phalanx of soldiers who wear metal helmets and carry heavy rectangular shields with metal studs and heavy spears. In another scene the same king riding in a chariot, with a quiver, light javelins, battle-axe, sickle and sword, leads metal helmeted soldiers carrying long spears and socketed axes. The swords (made of gold, silver, copper, or bronze, or even iron) of this third millennium are more like daggers which would be used for stabbing. In the 24th and 23rd centuries b.c. in siege against fortified cities the Egyptians are depicted as using mobile scaling ladders, battering poles, and in the late third millennium they employed shallow and semi-circular axe heads pierced with holes to secure them to the haft (Yadin, Vol. I, 146, 147).

III. Old Testament armed units.

A. Evidence of armed units among the Israelite people. In the early period of semi-nomadic life, Abraham and his 318 “trained” men showed considerable military ability in pursuing and routing a combined army of several peoples (Gen 14:13-15). Although not stated, it is to be assumed that for that decisive victory, Abraham and his men must have had at least some simple weapons of stone and bronze. Israel in her Exodus from Egypt shows systematic organization of a military type (cf. Num 2:1-34), depicting a people marching under arms; Exodus 13:18 says “equipped for battle.” That Joshua and the Israelites, functioning as a national or semi-national military unit, included among their weapons the sword is suggested by Joshua’s confrontation with the divine figure depicted as holding a drawn sword in his hand (Josh 5:13). Prominent in Joshua’s military engagement against Jericho were his “armed men” who marched before the priests (6:9); and the sword and other weapons like it were evidently an important part of Israel’s weaponry in its conquest of the land of Canaan (cf. reference to smiting the enemies “with the edge of the sword,” Joshua 10:28-39).

B. Units in the army. The numbers in the fighting force of a semi-nomadic sheik like Abraham would, of course, be small (cf. Gen 14:14, 15), and the troops mustered among Israel would at times be limited as compared to the enemy (see Josh 4:13; Judg 4:10); at other times the forces were of considerable size (cf. Judg 5:8; 2 Sam 24:8, 9).

In the NT period Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20) and that a bank or palisade (χάραξ, G5918) would be built all around her (19:43).

IV. Old Testament armor and arms.

A. Offensive weapons. In addition to the larger weapons of siege warfare, the individual soldier was equipped offensively and defensively for military encounter.

A general term for military equipment or weapons is נֶ֫שֶׁק֒, H5977, used in such as 2 Kings 10:2 in reference to weapons available at Samaria, and Ezekiel 39:9 for the weapons to be burned with fire, the specific items mentioned in the v. being “shields and bucklers, bows and arrows, handpikes and spears.” In Nehemiah 3:19 the same Heb. word is used to indicate a place in Jerusalem where weapons were stored, in the description of a section of the Jerusalem wall which is noted to be “opposite the ascent to the armory at the Angle.”

The sling was a simple but effective weapon in warfare, such as the קֶ֫לַע֒, H7845, used by David in his single combat with the Philistine Goliath (1 Sam 17:40, 50). Also Uzziah in preparing military weapons for his army provided “stones for slinging” (2 Chron 26:14). It is to be remembered that in an earlier day 700 Benjaminites were known to be expert left-handed slingers (Judg 20:16). On a 10th cent. b.c. Tell Halaf orthostat is depicted an ancient slingman (Yadin, II, 364).

The כִּידﯴן, H3959, such as worn by Goliath, slung between his shoulders” (1 Sam 17:6), and wielded by Joshua in the battle against Ai (Josh 8:18-26) has been understood to be a javelin (so tr. by RSV in these vv.), but the Qumran Order of the War may be depicting the kîdôn as a sword one and a-half cubits long and four finger-breadths wide, which concept could have been influenced by the Rom. gladius, a sword longer and broader than the ḥereb and suspended from a cross-belt slung between the shoulders. Other details in the Qumran Order of the War, however, seem to be picturing the kîdôn as a scimitar (or curved blade or sickle) type of weapon, or sword, examples of which have been found depicted on monuments and found in excavations (deVaux, 241, 242; Yadin, I, 172, 204, 205, 350). The kîdôn seems to have been rarely employed by Israelites, as exampled by the single Biblically recorded use of Joshua (8:18-26), it being seen in Jeremiah 6:23 (RSV “spear”) as a weapon in the hands of foreigners.

The helmet spelled both קﯴ֫בַע, H7746, and כּﯴ֫בַע, H3916, is of foreign derivation, as the variation in spelling witnesses. Goliath, the Philistine, wore one made of bronze kôba’, and David tried one on (qôba’; 1 Sam 17:38) before his battle with the giant. In Jeremiah 46:4 and Ezekiel 27:10 this helmet is associated with foreign troops, but in 2 Chronicles 26:14 Uzziah is said to have provided them for all his army. Archeology freely evidences the use of helmets, made of metal or leather (Yadin, I, 134, 135) or sometimes constructed of mail (I, 192, 193) and in shape, horned (I, 150; 340), conical (II, 360), crested (II, 420), feather-topped (II, 340, 368), and ornamented (II, 340).

The soldier also wore a belt or girdle, חֲגﯴר, H2512, the article given by Jonathan to David with other military equipment (1 Sam 18:4). Joab is pictured as wearing a soldier’s garment over which he wore a girdle with an attached sheath carrying a sword (2 Sam 20:8). Compare such belts in Yadin, II, 420-424, etc.

Little is said about greaves, protective armor for the legs: Goliath is pictured (1 Sam 17:6) wearing greaves (דֶּ֫בֶק, H1817) of bronze, Near E monuments show the soldier barelegged (Yadin, II, 388, 422-423, etc.). He is pictured also as barefooted or sandaled (Yadin, II, 333, 388), or, as in the case of some Assyrian warriors of the Sargon-Sennacherib period, with shoes or boots laced up toward the knee (Yadin, II, 423-428, 429). The Heb. word for “boot,” מִצְחָה, H5196, used only in the OT in Isaiah 9:5 for the “boot of the tramping warrior,” is prob. a loan word from Akkad. šênu, shoe, or sandal of leather.

V. Armor and arms of the New Testament period. The NT has comparatively little to say about this subject.

Bibliography J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures (1954); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 213-246; Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, vols I, II (1963); K. M. Kenyon, Amorites and Canaanites (1966), 12-55.

Biblical Training

The BiblicalTraining app gives you access to 2,300 hours of instruction (129 classes and seminars). Stream the classes, or download and listen to them offline. Share classes via social media, email, and more.