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Burning Coals

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If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD will reward you. (Proverb 25:21-22 AMP)

That Scripture has caused a lot of conversations. And I believe many of the sources of interpretation on the internet are just plain wrong—as they imply God is telling people to be full of wrath toward their enemies. I feel if that were true, then God would be instructing us to pretend to be nice and carry hate in our hearts. And I honestly don’t think that is what God meant.

To understand these verses better, let’s look at the culture of that time period. In a 1903 Bible translation by Ferrar Fenton, a highly regarded language historian, he claims that heaping coals on an enemy’s head is a metaphor for blessing them with a way to keep a fire going to provide for basic needs of that day and time.1 So, to me, this seems like the correct interpretation—bless them by giving them hot coals in their baskets so they could stay warm or use them for cooking. I remember hearing a pastor share this cultural tidbit one Sunday, and it made that Proverb shine.

Also, Paul uses this same Scripture in Romans 12:19-21:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath [and His judicial righteousness]; for it is written [in Scripture], “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR BY DOING THIS YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome and conquered by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And Jesus teaches us about His kind of love concerning enemies in Matthew 5:43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR (fellow man) and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may [show yourselves to] be the children of your Father who is in heaven, for He makes His sun rise on those who are evil and on those who are good, and makes the rain fall on the righteous [those who are morally upright] and the unrighteous [the unrepentant, those who oppose Him].”

How can we show love today to those who despise us? Maybe, for starters, we can choose to forgive in that moment of hurt and be slow to react. And when we do react, maybe we can choose the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us and be kind instead of using hurtful words in response. Pray for them, absolutely. But what difference can we make that might immediately touch their hearts with the love of Jesus?

May we all always choose love instead of hate. May we reflect the love of Christ to a world that desperately needs Him. And may we remember the goodness of our Father God, now and forever, remembering how John 3:16 begins: For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world… Amen.


Scripture quotations taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

1: “It’s Time to Heap Burning Coals on Your Enemy,” The Messianic Prophecy Bible Project

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About The Author

Sandra Holcombe

Sandra Holcombe writes, copyedits, and proofreads for CBN’s Direct Marketing team. She holds an MFA in script and screenwriting from Regent University, a BA in English and theatre from Old Dominion, and is an alumnus of Act One: Writing for Hollywood. She’s also a professional voiceover artist who originated the role of young Gizmo in CBN’s GizmoGO! animation series. Along with acting in CBN's Spunky and Storyteller Café shows, she's voiced thousands of commercials in the U.S. and abroad, and currently voices projects for CBN International. Before heaven, she wants to give readers hope through

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