Verse: Proverbs 25:21-22
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.
How many of you have read this scripture in Proverbs or when Paul quoted it in a letter to the Roman church about love (Romans 12:20) and wondered why it is loving to “heap burning coals on his head”. And then the Lord will reward you?
I picked this scripture because I never understood it and wanted to look into it. So we can do that together. But let’s start at the beginning. This is Solomon, the wise king of Israel, giving us wisdom on how to treat our enemies. Kings usually did not treat enemies like this. Just the opposite. And yet Solomon is telling us it is wise to give your enemy food if he is hungry and water if he is thirsty.
My guess is that you are like me and we don’t feel at all like giving our enemies food or drink. If they are someone who has done us wrong, we want to see them pay. Let them go hungry and thirsty. Serves them right. Evil gets its payback.
Also if you are like me, you play over in your head all the possible scenarios on what snappy comeback you should have said and what terrible thing could happen to them because of what they did or said. I hope you can see that this hurts you as much or more than it hurts your enemy. Your enemy has probably already forgotten this event and you are still troubled by it and letting it take your precious time and peace.
But more than that, what should you be doing as a Christian in response to someone treating you badly. This person is also a child of God who is on the wrong path. Our desire should be to bring them to God. So that is where the burning coals come in. There are two schools of thought on the burning coals.
One is that, by showing your enemy kindness, they will see the error of the ways and “burn” with regret and shame and turn to God because of your example. God’s love flowing out of you toward your enemy can change their heart and bring them to repentance. That is freeing for you as well as it is for them.
The other possible explanation is that people would often lose their fire for cooking and heat and would borrow coals from their friends to restart their fire. They would carry the coals in a basket on their heads. So heaping coals on their heads is going beyond just a few coals to replace their fire and giving them extra. That generosity would also bring them to God.
The result of both these interpretations is that the person turns to God and God will reward you for showing love and compassion. This is still a hard lesson to learn. Our natural inclination is not to react this way. We need help from the Holy Spirit to lead us in the right path, to remind us that we are not to react but to pray and then act like Christians. Take a few minutes today to pray and see if there is someone that comes to mind that you need to act kindly to so that they will begin their journey toward God.
Lord, help me to listen to your Holy Spirit and to pour out your love for others, especially those that don’t know you. Help me today to change how I think and act toward that person who has hurt me so I can “heap coals” on his head in a good way.
Author: Brad Dunn