Love your enemy; Heap burning coals on their head
Proverbs 25:20-22 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda,
Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
22 For you will heap burning coals on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In Roman’s 12:9-21 Paul says: Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So we are to love, bless and pray for those who persecute, mistreat or hurt us, those who the world would call our enemies. To be clear, it is to be a love without hypocrisy. So it must be a sincere love, not just an effort to do what is right, but to love them as the Father loves them, so that we would be sons and daughters of the Father. Love without hypocrisy though also has another critical aspect to it, if we are sons and daughters. If we are God’s children, if we are believers in Christ, redeemed and reconciled to God, then in our love for others, even our enemies, we will abhor evil and cling to what is good. Just as the world would say we are hypocrites if we claim to love God but do not love sinners, so too are we hypocrites if we say we love God, yet we embrace sin. If we truly love sinners we will still abhor sin, otherwise our message to them is hypocrisy. To accept, tolerate and embrace sin is to embrace the very thing that causes death. Surly that is not love. Would we embrace the cancer that is killing someone? Why then should we embrace sin which causes both physical and spiritual death?
Going back to the original text in Proverbs, what Paul also quotes, it says: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you. The first part, while difficult to do, does seem to make sense if we are to love our enemies. The psalmist says: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; When we are walking with the Lord we have nothing to fear, not even our enemies. The Lord Himself prepares the table, He supplies the food and the drink, we need only to invite our enemies to partake of what God Himself has done and provided.
Now as to the other part which says: For you will heap burning coals on his head That doesn’t sound like a loving act. That sounds more like something we would do in our flesh, to inflict pain on our enemies. But what if these burning coals are not coals to harm, but rather coals to cleanse? In Isaiah 6:1-7 we read: In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” The seraphim took a burning coal, from the altar. The altar is the place of sacrifice. With the burning coal the seraphim declared that sin was forgiven, iniquity was taken away. Perhaps the burning coals we are to heap on the heads of our enemies are the burning coals of cleansing, coals which come from the altar of Jesus sacrifice, the cross.
Just as the psalmist says: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, Jesus Himself prepared a table in the presence of His enemies. In Luke 22:14-21 it says: When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. There in the presence of His enemies, in the presence of the very one who would betray Him, Jesus prepared a table. Through the initiation of what we call communion, participating in the body and blood of Christ, His sacrifice, Jesus established the new covenant, the promise of forgiveness of sins, the taking away of the iniquity of man, through the sacrifice of the cross. That’s the table we are to share with our enemies, to eat and drink of the Lord’s goodness, His grace, His mercy, His everlasting love, demonstrated through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Heavenly Father may I never forget that it was while I was an enemy to You, while I was a sinner, that Christ died for me. Holy Spirit help me always to love without hypocrisy, to love unconditionally, even while others are sinners, yet always to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good. By Your grace and mercy, according to Your everlasting and unconditional love may I give food and drink to those who are thirsty, may I invite them to partake of the table You have prepared. Thank You Jesus Christ, for Your sacrifice on the cross, the burning coals which cleanse us from sin. Amen