Proverbs 25:21-22 (NKJV)All too often I hear this verse of scripture being used or interpreted as heaping fires of justice or judgment or condemnation or vengeance on the heads of our enemies. This is primarily because our generations are so far removed from the lives and the lifestyle of those generations these words were speaking to.
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22 For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
Romans 12:20-21 (NKJV)
“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.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I have a wonderful book I've purchased about thirty years ago entitled, "Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind". In this wonderful little book, many of the commonly known sayings of Jesus' time are explained from an historical perspective in order to give meaning and clarity to sayings such as the subject of this message. I am including an excerpt from this book to help us understand what Holy Spirit through Paul was actually saying when he quoted Proverbs.
The Scriptures have much to say about forgiving our enemies. Paul says that if we give food and drink to our enemies, "we shall be heaping coals of fire on their heads." To us, this doesn't sound like forgiveness, but like taking vengeance. In the Bible lands almost everything is carried on the head—water jugs, baskets of fruit, vegetables, fish or any other article. Those carrying the burden rarely touch it with the hands, and they walk through crowded streets and lanes with perfect ease. In many homes the only fire they have is kept in a brazier which they use for simple cooking as well as for warmth.
They plan to always keep it burning. If it should go out, some member of the family will take the brazier to a neighbor's house to borrow fire. Then she will lift that brazier to her head and start for home. If her neighbor is a generous woman, she will heap the brazier full of coals. To feed an enemy and give him drink was like heaping the empty brazier with live coals, — which meant food, warmth, and almost life itself to the person or home needing it and was a symbol of finest generosity.
“Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
So the act of heaping coals of fire to an enemy was to show a love that is usually reserved to those who are our neighbors or kindred. It is a way to show a kindness reserved for those you love and trust, even when not deserving of it.
Romans 5:8 (NKJV)This is the kind of forgiveness and love we are to show those who are our enemies. In this, we demonstrate to them and to the world that wonderful transformation He has effected in our hearts to cause us to look more like Him than who we were before.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Luke 6:32-36 (NKJV)God, in His great mercy, saw us floundering in the mire of our own sin and took pity on us. He sent His only begotten Son to deliver us from the ravages of sin and took our deserving punishment upon Himself so that we would not have to. Being perfect, death could not hold Him for death was only meant for those who are sinners. So when He rose from the grave, He took captivity captive and forever removed that blot of sin from our lives for those who believe in Him. With so great a salvation He has freely given to us, should we not do the same with those who would be our enemies. For we too were enemies of the cross but He still delivered us through faith in Jesus.
“ But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
As a result of all this, let us do good and not evil to our enemies. Forgive them as we have been forgiven. Love them as we have been loved. Let us pour upon their heads the coals of fire that heat our own homes and cook our own food. Let us treat our enemies as our neighbors and our kinfolk. Let us be perfect as God is perfect.