Heap Burning Coals

There is a verse that has often perplexed me: “If your enemy hungers, feed him; If he thirsts, give water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will repay you.” (Proverbs 25:22–23). It made no sense because I was reading it through Americanized lenses. But to get to the true message of this verse, we must view it through New Testament eyes.

Back then, the fire was the hub of the home and stayed lit 24/7. If one’s fire went out, it could mean death for the family. If one’s fire ever did go out, they would ask for coals from their neighbor, causing a feeling of indebtedness. This view makes way more sense, now. God is not saying if you treat your neighbor well, it will hurt him. Rather, it will cause him to feel closer to you. A better interpretation (done in 1903 by Ferrar Fenton) would read: “If your enemy hungers, feed him; If he thirsts, give water to drink, And a fire besides for his needs; And then the LORD will repay you.” (Proverbs 25:22–23). This also lines up with the example in Job where God replenished Job’s children and wealth only AFTER he prayed for his enemies. When we let the blessings flow, God’s blessings flow to us.

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