Gospel Boots

August 20, 2019

by Iain Duguid

In our culture, shoes are a fashion statement. People enjoy them as a way to express their individuality, not merely to cover their feet. It wasn’t that way in ancient times. Most didn’t have any shoes; they went barefoot. As a result, travel was slow and difficult, especially if the terrain was rough. Generally, the people most likely to have shoes (apart from the wealthy) were soldiers and couriers, people whose lives and livelihoods depended on their ability to travel far and fast. I know something of the value of proper footwear from my youth. One of my enduring childhood memories is being dragged on Marine Corps–style route marches on the Scottish hills, over loose rocks and through bogs. Thirteen miles may not seem much to a grown-up equipped with proper walking boots, but it can be absolute torture to a child in ordinary dress shoes, the only shoes I owned in those days. My feet weren’t equipped for walking, so I wasn’t prepared for the kind of activities that holidays in the Duguid household required.

The apostle Paul doesn’t want that experience to befall us as Christians. He wants us to be prepared for the travails of life in this difficult world, “having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). If you are to be engaged in an armed conflict, you can’t afford to go unshod; you need proper footwear. The Romans understood this, so they equipped their soldiers with sturdy studded boots. Yet the primary background of Paul’s imagery here is not the typical Roman soldier; it is once again the Old Testament. In Isaiah 52:7 the prophet declares:

How beautiful up on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The readiness he has in mind is primarily the readiness to share the good news as heralds of the gospel.

This is the only other passage in the Bible where feet, good news, and peace occur together.

This Old Testament background is important because it clarifies a potential ambiguity in Paul’s words. When Paul speaks of feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace, does he mean the readiness given by the gospel of peace or the readiness to spread the good news that brings peace? Many translations and commentaries go for the former interpretation, which is plausible both grammatically and contextually. But if Paul is making a connection with the Isaiah 52 passage, then the readiness he has in mind is primarily the readiness to share the good news as heralds of the gospel. It is true that we ourselves need to hear the good news of peace that we are called to share with others. Yet heralds primarily need good shoes to enable them to travel far and fast to bring their message to those waiting to hear good news.

Isaiah presents the image of watchmen bursting into joyful song on the walls of Jerusalem. These watchmen who had long strained their eyes with fearful anticipation of an approaching enemy army now become heralds declaring good news of deliverance to the beleaguered citizens of Zion. Paul applies this same image to our privilege of sharing the gospel of peace with believers and unbelievers alike. He makes the same connection when he cites both the prophet Joel and Isaiah in Romans 10:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:13–15)

Notice at once how differently these passages present the task of evangelism from the way in which we often conceive it. We sometimes think of evangelism as a kind of spiritual, multilevel marketing program, in which it is our job to browbeat friends and relations into making a purchase that they never needed or wanted, and then, if at all possible, recruit them into doing the same thing to their friends and relations. No wonder we aren’t enthused about the prospect! Heralds are vastly different from Tupperware salespeople though. They don’t have a product that needs to be marketed; they have wonderful good news that needs to be trumpeted! People may or may not choose to listen to that announcement. Our task is simply to proclaim the good news of God’s peace to broken and oppressed souls, wherever and whenever we encounter them.

It is still good news of peace for us in our contemporary context that our God reigns.

The task of being a herald is simple and twofold: to get the message right and to get the message out. To begin with, we need to get the message right. In Isaiah’s context, the good news of peace we have been commissioned to share could be broken down into three statements: (1) your God reigns; (2) he has redeemed Jerusalem and comforted his people; (3) the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. Our message is essentially the same.

First, we announce to people that our God—Yahweh, the God of the Bible—reigns. In Isaiah’s context, that news was a much-needed reminder that the idols of the Babylonians did not reign. Marduk and Bel were empty entities; Nebo was an anorexic god who had no power to bless or curse. It is still good news of peace for us in our contemporary context that our God reigns. Even though we don’t worship those ancient gods, we still attribute the power to bless or to curse to all manner of things in this world. We say to beauty, “You are my god,” or to success, “I worship you.” We attribute to money the ability to declare us a valuable person, or to broken relationships the power to unmask us as failures. We say to our idols, “So long as I have you, I have meaning and significance in my life. If I lose you, I lose everything.”

None of those things—money, beauty, authority, success, relationships—has real power over us; they are every bit as empty as the Babylonian idols of Old Testament times. Yet we and the people around us treat them as if they had enormous significance. As a result, we all live much of our lives in miserable bondage to our idols, making the endless sacrifices that they demand of us while always striving in pursuit of their elusive smile. Our false gods are harsh taskmasters. They may reward some of us with their fickle blessings, only to ensnare us even more deeply in their power, while they reduce others to nervous wrecks who feel devalued by their curses on our failures and shortcomings.

 

Excerpted from Iain Duguid,  The Whole Armor of God, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2019), 51–54. Used with permission of the publisher.

 

Iain Duguid

Dr. Duguid (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at WTS.

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