Are You Heaping Coals on Their Head?

Give them Hot Coals.

Carey and I are still reading the Bible all the way through and are just finishing up Proverbs.

In Proverbs 25:21-22, I read the phrase “heaping coals on their head” a few times: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”

My confusion reminded me of a recent podcast in which the pastor reminisced about the bumper sticker from the eighties, which read, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” He went on to say the bumper sticker should read, “God said it. I interpret it. God help us all.”

Was the Bible saying heaping hot coals on someone’s head is a good thing or a bad thing? How could hot coals on your head ever be a good thing?

Carey said that maybe we are to help our enemy regardless of his or her actions towards us. His actions and reactions are up to him, ours are up to us.

I looked at where this Proverb was quoted word for word in the New Testament in Romans 12:19-21, with the addition of: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

I dug deeper to find several commentaries on these verses and found something that helps me find peace with them.

“Barnes’ Notes on the Bible” says hunger and thirst here represent any kind of want. If your enemy is needy in any way, do him good, and supply his needs. This is, in spirit, the same as the command of Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

When we do this, it’s not to heap coals of fire, not to call down divine vengeance, but to help the other person realize his own failings. Any pain he feels will be from his own shame and remorse, a conviction of the evil of his own conduct, and may lead to true repentance.

The direct quote from “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible” reads “If Christians would meet all unkindness with kindness, all malice with benevolence, and all wrong with right, peace would soon pervade the community, and even opposition to the gospel might soon die away.”

But that makes me think of Matthew 24:6 where Jesus says there will be wars “until the end.”

Maybe Dr. Brian Simmons’ “Passion” translation of Proverbs 25:21-22 says it best: “Is your enemy hungry? Buy him lunch. Win him over with your kindness. Your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience and God will reward you with favor.”

You can’t remove all the need in the world today but there are lots of ways you can help. Ask God on whom you need to heap lots of surprising generosity – and prayer – today.


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