Have you ever read that and thought that would be a great way to get back at someone who mistreated you or a loved one?
At first glance, it appears heaping coals of fire upon another’s head produces guilt and shame. Well, yes, it can. But that’s not the point.
These two verses have been pondered by the best scholars. The point is about forgiveness and reacting with kindness.
Here’s the meaning. Back in biblical days, fire was needed for most things. If you were needy or for some other reason you had no fire, someone would share their coals with you, which was carried on their heads. Why, I do not know. Except that they carried many things on their heads back then.
Kenneth Samuel Wuest, a noted New Testament Greek scholar, commented:
“In Bible times an oriental needed to keep his hearth fire going all the time in order to insure fire for cooking and warmth. If it went out, he had to go to a neighbour for some live coals of fire. These he would carry on his head in a container, oriental fashion, back to his home. The person who would give him some live coals would be meeting his desperate need and showing him an outstanding kindness. If he would heap the container with coals, the man would be sure of getting some home still burning. The one injured would be returning kindness for injury.”
It is ultimately giving to the one we think doesn’t deserve it. I love the Voice’s full version of Proverbs 25:22, “For your kind treatment will be like heaping hot coals on his head, it may cause a change in heart, and the Eternal will repay you.” And the Message says, “Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.” (Prov. 25:22b)
Today, whatever good deed our “coals of fire” may be to those we are in conflict with, it is not to be done with a vengeful aim or attitude or intended to bring shame in order to humble our enemy. That would be selfish and malicious.
Paul quoted this Proverbs passage in Romans, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Rom. 12:20 NKJV)
What does the next verse say? “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21 NKJV)
And what did Jesus say? To “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.” (Matt. 5:44 NKJV)
In regard to that Romans passage, Paul said in a few verses before it, “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:17-19 NLT)
Yes, I know it is difficult. Sometimes even a gargantuan task.
But Jesus said to love.
So humbly dole out your burning coals of fire with forgiveness, generosity, and love.
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