Dumping “Burning Coals” On Your Enemies Head?

PROVERBS 25:22 and ROMANS 12:20,21

Have you ever been so ANGRY with someone, because of what they did to you or a member of your family that you wanted God’s revenge NOW?  Maybe even grabbing your Bible Concordance, looking up the word REVENGE (VENGEANCE) and wondering when you could use God’s Word on your enemy.  Here’s one example I found that seemed appropriate at a time and at an unrepentant moment:

“And Samson said to them, If this is the way you act, surely I will take revenge on you, and after that I will quit”  (Judges 15:7).

At that moment, what was good enough for Samson, was good enough for me!  The Lord dealt with my attitude sometime later and repentance set in sometime later.  Actually, it took years later while writing my first and only fictional manuscript.  Had I come to the realization it was all for naught.  God is full of mercy and grace in our lives!  But sometimes, we just might ignore it until pointed out.

THE MEANING BEHIND “HEAPING COALS OF FIRE” ON SOMEONES HEAD:

I’ve been reading in the Book of Proverbs now for almost a month.  Several of my past blogs have been launched by God’s Word through king Solomon; Wisdom, knowledge and understanding–(Who Are God’s ‘Wise Guys?, Prov. 1); Aren’t the BENEFITS OF WISDOM Worth the Effort? (Prov 2); Lessons Learned from An ANT FARM (Prov. 6).  And now over the past few days, reading in Proverbs 25, I ran across these curious verses and I was moved by God’s Spirit, to start a detective’s investigation.

[21]  “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. [22]  For in doing so, you will HEAP COALS OF FIRE upon his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

Looking back on my Christian life of 40 years, there were times I wished I could quote this last verse (verse 22) from memory.  I became so emotional over one particular incident in the workplace, I was ready for the charcoal; let’s get the BBQ ready!  But I regress.

THE CURSE OF DUMPING:

In Psalm 140, the psalmist begins the lament:  “DELIVER ME, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men.”  (verse 1).  Now watch carefully as his emotion transcends and look at verse 10:

“Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire”

It’s obvious that the psalmist wanted burning coals to be used as a weapon of death against his enemies.

By contrast, lets look at Proverbs 25:21-22, for a similar reference to burning coals being used against ones enemies:

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  [22] For in doing so, you will heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

WAIT JUST ONE MINUTE HERE…  Is God’s Word telling us, if we dump some hot coals, out of my Weber Grill, upon the heads of my last employer, I’ll get a REWARD?

THE REWARD OF “REDEMPTION” IS AVAILABLE:

The reward is a redemptive purpose for the GOOD of the enemy; and not a CURSE.  If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; if thirsty, give him water to drink.  For in doing so, you will dump or heap coals of fire upon his head and the Lord will REWARD you with good!

This practice is not to be understood as a revengeful act intended to embarrass its victim, but just the opposite.  The picture here in Proverbs is that of a high priest (Leviticus 16:12) who, on the Day of Atonement, took his censor and filled it with “coals of fire” from off the altar of burnt offering, and then put incense on the coals to create a pleasing, sweet-smelling fragrance.  The cloud or smoke of the incense covered the mercy-seat and was acceptable to God for atonement.  Samuel Wesley wrote: / “So artist melt the sullen ore of lead,/ By heaping coals of fire upon its head:/ In the kind warmth the metal learns to glow./ And pure from dross the silver runs below.”

The Apostle Paul Quotes Proverbs 25:21-22:

“Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is honest and proper and noble [aiming to be above reproach] in the sight of everyone.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for [God’s] wrath; for it is written,  Vengeance is Mine, I will repay (requite), says the Lord.  [20] BUT if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap [dump] burning coals upon his head.  [21] Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good”  (Romans 12:17-21 AMP).

William Sandy and Arthur Headlum (1902: 365) raised some questions and came to conclude:

But with what purpose are we to “heap or dump coals of fire on his head”?  Is it (1), that we may be consoled for our kind act by knowing that he will be punished for his misdeeds? This is impossible since it reveals a malicious motive and is inconsistent with the context here and in the O.T.  Scripture mentions a reward, implying the deed is a good one; we are then immediately told in Romans 12:21 and clearly implies, what we are to do is for OUR enemies benefit.  (2), “Coals of firetherefore means, the burning sensations of shame which man will feel when GOOD is returned for evil; which just might produce remorse and repentance of the enemy.

Now, It Even Gets Better From Here!

There was an Egyptian ritual of old, that the one who is in repentance carries on his/her head a dish of burning charcoal as an expression of remorse for the offenses they’ve committed.  Similar to the picture I found below of spinning dancers with bowls of fire on their heads in India.  As you can see, the dancers are definitely NOT in remorse.  I wanted you to notice, putting fire on top of the heads of others isn’t physically impossible.

Kindness then, to an enemy, makes him express his sorrowfulness before God.

Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said,  You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy;  [44] But I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  [45] To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].  [46] For if you love those who love you, what REWARD can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that?  [47] And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles (the heathen) do that?  [48] You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

We are to do “good” to our enemies because that’s how Jesus treated His enemies and we are to imitate Him in LOVE.  The closest we are ever to come in seeking revenge is… doing “good” for our enemy.  Putting our full trust in God and He will set things straight in our forgiveness.

I’ve sometimes found myself down a blind alley when my anger rises up and motivates me reward evil with evil.  Whether it’s my sharp tongue or by the pay-back system–“I’m going to get you back you blanket y-bland-blank!”  And then I came upon this verse that has ‘stuck’ with me over the years when I reach the boiling point:

“Whoever rewards evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house” (Proverbs 17:13)

How does that verse fit in with everything?  It ties it all together with the verse in Romans 12.  When you do good to those doing evil to you. it may cause them to STOP!

–STOP their slander.

–STOP their gossip.

–STOP their back-biting.

–STOP their evil.

Bit this isn’t ALWAYS the case.  As born-again believers, we can’t count on our enemies repentance!  It’s called FOR- GIVE– NESS, not FOR- SALE– NESS   We are good to our enemies because we want to be like Jesus and God is LOVE, even toward those who don’t deserve it.  At one time, we surely didn’t deserve His love.

“BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY ENEMIES. NO ONE HAS PERSECUTED ME!”

Well maybe not but…let’s go to Scripture and take a look at what JESUS said would happen when He would leave His disciples, being again with His Father in heaven:

“If they persecuted Me, they WILL [not “might] also persecute you’

Let’s stop there to meditate on what Jesus has just told His disciples.  When I leave this earth to return to My Father, you being a Christian isn’t going to be easy, for you WILL be persecuted!  So if you are a born-again believer, you do have persecutors all around you whether you are aware of them or not.

Unless…continue reading on in verse 20:

“IF they [you, me] kept My word and obeyed My teachings, they [you, me] will also keep and obey yours [ours].”

I love when I read God’s Word in my Bible, to write personal pronouns for “they”, “yours” and etc.  I did so in verse 20 how to make Scripture personal.

HOW CHARITY & HOSPITALITY TO OUR ENEMY LEADS TO PEACE:

Elisha Showing Hospitality to the ENEMY…

“And when they had come to Samaria, Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men that they may see.  And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw.  Behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.”

“When the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha,  My father, shall I slay them?  Shall I slay them.”

“[Elisha] answered,  You shall not slay them.  Would you slay those who have taken captive with your sword and bow?  Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and return to their master.”

“So [the king] prepared great provision for them, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master.  And the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel”  (2 Kings 6:20-23 AMP).

What has happened in this story, that we may learn the truth from?  Elisha’s showing of hospitality and charity to the Syrian prisoners was an act of enlightenment; to his fellow Israelites and the Syrians.

Although Elisha didn’t say so, in my opinion, he was actually casting burning coals upon the heads of their Syrian captives.  i.e.,  the Syrians LEARNED from their enemy a lesson, leading to PEACE.

Word Meaning in Proverbs 25:22:

“To cast burning coals upon the head” becomes a metaphor for “teaching someone a GOOD LESSON.”  This is based upon my investigation, presented with the different meanings found in the (Arabic, the related origin, cognate of the Hebrew).  The word used “teaching” is a synonym for “glowing coals”; Proverbs 25:22.

In Justrow’s lexicon (1903:611), the Hebrew/Arabic contained varied definitions:

“to press, to squeeze, to subdue, to conquer.”

“to grade, to make a path or opening.”

“to put on head.”

“hot ashes, coals.”

“kiln, furnace.”

In the Arabic (gabasa nar an) means, “he took fire” and (gabasa alnar an), means, “he lighted the fire”;  But (gabasa ilman) means, “he acquired knowledge, he sought knowledge.”

So, the fiery coals have to do with HEAT, then heaping coals on someones head actually was an act of torture to the enemy.  However, if the fiery coals have to do with LIGHT, then crowning someone with “coals of fire” became an act of illumination to the recipients; becoming enlightened to their persecution.

“Turning On The LOVE Light”:

I want to get real practical in conclusion:

“But when ANYTHING is exposed and reproved by the LIGHT, it is made visible and clear; and where EVERYTHING is visible, and clear there is light”  (Ephesians 5:13).

Floyd Filson is absolutely right when he said “the LIGHT of God’s kingdom is invading enemy territory!”

People we come in contact with often need to be illuminated

[14] “That what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be brought to pass:  [15] The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, in the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles [of the people s who are not Israel]–  [16] The people who sat (dwelt enveloped) in darkness have seen a great LIGHT, and for those who sat in the land and shadow of death Light has dawned”  (Matthew 4:14, 15, 16 AMP).

Six Steps To Take In the Lands of Zebulun & Naphtali:

1.  Be CONFIDENT in ‘difficult’ situations; of persecution.

“And if you are CONFIDENT that you [yourself] are a guide to the blind, a LIGHT to those who are in darkness, and [that    You are] a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the childish, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–”  (Romans 2:19, 20 AMP).

2.  It might be a difficult problem face in the midst of your enemies BUT you are filled with LIGHT, so have FAITH in the outcome.

“While you have the Light, BELIEVE in the Light [have FAITH in it, hold to it, rely on it], that you may become sons of the Light and be filled with Light”  (John 12:36 AMP).

3.  FOCUS the Light on the Enemy–“There it was–the true Light [was then] coming into the world [the genuine, perfect, steadfast Light] that illumines EVERY person”  (John 1:9).

4.  LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!

“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven”  (Matthew 5:16 AMP).

5.  LOOK CAREFULLY HOW YOU WALK!

“THEREFORE BE imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-loved children [imitate their father].  AND WALK IN LOVE…”  (Ephesians 5:1-2a).

6.  PRAY FOR YOUR ENEMY and for your ATTITUDE through it all!

“Pray at all times (on every occasion, in every season) in the Spirit, with all [manner of] prayer and entreaty.  To that end keep alert and watch with strong purpose and perseverance, interceding in behalf of all the saints”  (Ephesians 6:18 AMP).

I wish that all of the enemies that I have run across in my Christian life were non-Christians; it might be what I expect.  But in some cases, the enemy can be your Christian brother or sister.  That’s why the apostle Paul speaks about intercession in behalf of ALL the saints.  If your enemy at hand is a Christian, yep, you are to pray in the Spirit for them too.

I hope that attitudes will be change when you are attacked by someone.  I know that my attitude in writing this blog has refreshed my attitude towards neighbors, church members past and present and even to that unknown motorist, shopper, etc.

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15 thoughts on “Dumping “Burning Coals” On Your Enemies Head?

  1. I think Job provides a wonderful model when he prays for his three friends at the end of the book

    The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the Lord increased all that Job had twofold.

    Bless you Mel and thanks for the prophecy, the publishing world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you!

  2. Amen, amen, amen I have been in a hot coal situation tonight but after reading this I think I need to reassess my motives and my heart and bring myself in line with God. I’m gonna be nice and I’m gonna be kind and let God deal with the rest of it, so thanks Mel for this timely word. xxx

  3. O dear I was in very bad ager of my daughter in law and her parents. I wanted to burn their pictures and put and end to them in my life. But after reading your text I felt good and much delivered of my anger.

    • So glad that you got some out of it. I deal with the emotion of anger only by the POWER invested to me by the Holy Spirit. But starting my day out, asking my heavenly Father for favor in that area, instead of waiting for me to vomit my ANGER and then asking forgiveness. Just an idea I am trying to put into practice in my morning devotions and prayers.

      • You are amazingly normal. You see and talk like me. We must be family!
        My journey of forgiveness is so much harder these last few years. Makes no sense at all really
        I have felt like blessing some with a bucket of water with a brick in it and thrown at great speed
        But for God! I got rather excited regarding the hot coals! But studying the meaning and also reading your page, I am now more excited. How God used Isaiah after one burning coal to his lips, how much more is the opportunity for my enemies to no longer be mine nor God’s. Now that’s Good News progress

      • We are family, Shannell! “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God – I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood! Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod. For I’m part of the family, the family of God.” ~ Bill & Gloria Gaither.

  4. Wow I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog this morning. During my quiet time, my Daddy, GOD, brought me to Romans 12:20-21. I did a search to check out the different meanings of burning coal on the enemies head. To bring them to the light, showing them where they’ve missed it…. Makes perfect sense!

    • I’m so encouraged Alex that this was a blessing to your heart. Romans 12:18 introduces the verses you referenced with, “as far as it depends on you…”. It truly does depend on us–not somebody else. Appreciate you stopping by and return again. Enjoyed you own “detective” investigation.

  5. Pingback: We Should Do What to Our Enemies? – jjovzpary

  6. Yea Word Detective I believe in the word of God.
    Keep refreshing the believers with the Word. Keep fire burning on the altar…and scoping some hot charcoals to put on the heads of the enemies!
    Will do likewise Mr. Word Detective!!

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