Written by Colette Fabry
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee”. Proverbs 25:21-22
I was in the house while my husband and our 3 boys stood outside around a small bonfire. My youngest, who was 5 at the time, lifted a flaming stick in the air, accidentally dropping pieces of embers onto his head. His piercing screams brought me to the window and I saw him running across the yard with fire and smoke coming from his head. By the time I got to him, the coals had already burned deeply into his scalp. For days his pain was horrendous, and the scars are still there 30 years later.
Although burning coals on enemies’ heads may sound like well-deserved justice, Solomon in Proverbs 25:22, isn’t talking literally. If that were the case, it would negate all of the previous verses. The truth is, kindness activates God’s work in the lives of our enemies.
The truth is, kindness activates God’s work in the lives of our enemies.
Could Solomon be saying that the end result of kind acts towards our enemies will be “as if” coals had been placed on their heads? Theologians have debated the meaning of this verse for years, but one thing we know for sure is that vengeance and retaliation belong to God alone. He has unlimited, miraculous ways of dealing with people. He knows how to open eyes and soften hearts. He sees into the deepest recesses of souls, and examines true motives. He knows exactly how to bring perfect judgment.
In Isaiah 6, burning coals are a picture of purification.
They may come in the form of discipline like in David’s story. He became Uriah’s enemy while Uriah was always good to him. When David saw his own sin, the burning coals came in the death of his son, and resulted in coals of grief. They came in the form of true sorrow when he realized that his relationship with God was damaged. Consequences of his own sin were burning coals of purification.
Burning coals may also come in the form of kindness and unconditional love. That’s what they were to Hosea’s unfaithful wife, Gomer. She did her husband wrong over and over. The coals given to her were mercy and undeserved grace. When they came upon her head, she was changed.
God is the fairest Judge. He masterfully dispenses burning coals in different ways in order to bring about fair justice and genuine repentance.
The memory of my son with burning coals on his head is etched in my mind. We shouldn’t wish that on our worst enemy. Instead, pray that God would open their eyes, soften their heart, and lead them to repentance with his burning coals of grace.
“Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” Luke 6:28
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