See, when I'd read and heard and thought about "the whole armor of God" before, it seemed like a good enough idea. Using the imagery of the Roman army of the day, Paul articulated all the ways God equips us to stand firm in the battle in which God's people now find ourselves. They're powerful defenses and a powerful offensive weapon, because God knows how much it can suck down here and He's providing what we need to make it until He comes for us. Good, good, good.
But that's not all.
That's all true, certainly. And many times, that's good enough. But it would be a shame to miss the fullness of what Paul is saying here. As a Jewish scholar, there's another level on which he would have understood the imagery he chose, one that carries a very different weight:
Justice is turned back,Paul wasn't merely describing spiritual armor that God gave His people so that they could stand firm—it is God's armor. The armor Paul exhorts us to put on is the armor He wears into battle against His enemies. That helmet is what protects God's head. That breastplate protects His body. Is there any question that it can stand up against whatever is hurled against me? When Paul tells the Church to "put on the new self" in chapter four, this is part of what he's talking about.
and righteousness stands afar off;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then His own arm brought Him salvation,
and His righteousness upheld Him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will He repay,
wrath to His adversaries, repayment to His enemies;
to the coastlands He will render repayment.
So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
and His glory from the rising of the sun;
for He will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives.
"And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression," declares the Lord.
—Isaiah 59:14-20 [emphasis mine]
God's armor. God's. That's stunning. And there's so much more.