Spartans, Shields and Spiritual Battles
Posted by May 30, 2012on
An epic battle between the Persians and the vastly outnumbered Spartans has lessons for us today.
My alma mater’s sports teams are called the Spartans, and this plays a part in how they prepare for games. The football team now watches the 2007 movie The 300 for inspiration before important games. It’s the story of King Leonidas leading 300 Spartans into battle against the Persian King Xerxes and his army of reputedly a million soldiers at Thermopylae.
A valiant fight
Before the battle, the Persians demanded that the Spartans lay down their weapons. Xerxes personally offers Leonidas wealth and power in exchange for his surrender and loyalty.
But Leonidas declined and Xerxes sent his troops against the small band of Greeks, intending to take them prisoner. With their tightly knit formation, the Spartans used the narrow terrain to repeatedly rebuff the advancing Persian army. They fended off the attackers for several days.
But then the Persians learned of a secret path around the mountains. Leonidas learned about the Persians plans, but he refused to fall back to find a more defensible place. He sent most of the Greek army back, but retained only his 300 Spartans with 700 or 800 others to face a million Persians! (Modern historians say it was less than 300,000 Persians, but the odds were still astronomical.)
Leonidas didn’t wait for the Persian attack but, instead, advanced against them. Thousands of Persians were slain, and the rest were driven near the sea, but when the Spartan spears broke, they started having losses. Finally they retired behind a wall, but they were surrounded by the enemy. In the end the Persians killed them all with arrows.
The Spartans had been vastly outnumbered, yet they had held off the Persians four times.
Lessons for us?
So what does this story about pagans around the time of Esther have to do with being a Christian today? What could we possibly learn from it?
When a Spartan soldier left for battle, he was presented with a shield with the admonition to return with it or be carried on it. Spartans were to fight to the death, not to surrender. If a Spartan were to return to Sparta alive and without his shield, it was assumed that he threw his shield away in an effort to flee. Such desertion was an act punishable by death or banishment.
A soldier losing his helmet, breastplate or leg armor was not similarly punished, as these items were personal pieces of armor designed to protect one man. The shield, on the other hand, not only protected the individual soldier, but in the tightly packed Spartan battle formation, it was also instrumental in protecting the soldier to his left from harm.
The shield of faith
Paul talks about the Christian’s spiritual battle and armor in Ephesians 6:12-18.
Christ has given us the shield of faith. We need it to quench the fiery darts of the devil. How long can one stand in the battle without faith? If we lose faith, we would try to flee, just like the Spartan who lost his shield.
What happens when you lose faith? You become fearful. How many times does the New Testament tell us not to fear? How did God treat the Israelites who were too afraid to enter the Promised Land? If God didn’t let the fearful enter the physical kingdom, what do you think will happen to the fearful when it comes to the spiritual Kingdom of God?
The Spartans were fighting Xerxes, the king of Persia. Whom do we fight? Remember the angel sent to Daniel? Daniel 10:13 tells us he was battling an evil spirit being called “the prince of the kingdom of Persia.” We also are fighting Satan and his demons. And just like at the battle at Thermopylae, Satan may offer Christians physical rewards for our spiritual surrender.
So we have a lot in common with the Spartans. We go into battle with the shield of faith and finish the battle either with it or on it. There is no surviving by retreat from Satan in our battle.
The book of Revelation shows that at the end God’s people will be outnumbered by those believing the false prophet and serving the beast. Some of us may become martyrs, but God shows we will win the war.
So remember the example of the Spartans, as well as the stories of the heroes of faith in the Bible (Hebrews 11). Finish your battle with your shield of faith—with it or on it!
Tom Moffitt is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and attends the New Orleans, Louisiana, congregation.
For more about our spiritual battle and the armor of God, see: