Hot Coals on our Enemies

I once thought putting hot coals on the enemy’s head meant I should teach him a lesson, tit for tat. Yet I couldn’t reconcile that with Christ’s command to love our enemies. I’d made the common mistake of taking a Scripture all by itself. But taking verses out of their context can make them say things God never intended.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread 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, Proverbs 25:21-22.

God wants us to do our enemy good.

Surely you’ve heard of banking a fire, to keep the coals hot all night. Back in the days before matches, this was especially important for relighting the fire. People even carried those coals on their heads, wrapped to stay warm, keeping that precious fire from going out.

So putting hot coals on the enemy’s head was like giving him a special blessing.

And the Lord still wants us to bless our enemies with hot coals, which today would mean giving him something he needs, or doing some act of kindness. Yet we’re often doing good if we tolerate them or manage to act civilly polite. And if you’re like me, you’d like to get even, and even gloat over their troubles. But this is exactly what we’re told not to do.

First, because love and forgiveness help us become like Christ, and are right. And second, because those coals of love and forgiveness can help melt our enemy into kindness. Win them over, or at least make them ashamed of their actions.

But we often fail because we our love is not like God’s, but romantic or sentimental.

We can have a romantic love toward anything.

As a young person, I had a romantic love of the pioneer days, seeing only the positive, adventurous aspects of it. Had I actually lived it, the romanticism would have no doubt worn off quickly!

And I’ve loved my enemies in this romantic way as well. Saying I loved them, and really trying to. Yet mentally tongue-lashing them, and harboring anger and bitterness in my heart. Romantic ideas are often far removed from reality.

We can also love with a brotherly love.

But in loving in this way, we’re often just commendably dutiful. We treat our enemies civilly, and don’t stoop down to their level, at least not in action. But this, if we’re not careful, becomes nothing more than cloaked self-righteousness. Going through all the right motions, without a real change of heart. And we’re still not loving as God does.

The trouble with both sentimental and brotherly love is that both are sentiment-based. With these, we love only when we feel like it or it’s convenient. Or we show love in a purely abstract way, with no real action backing them up.

But God’s love is intentional.

It’s agape love. Selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional. And is also both constant and concrete. His love, as demonstrated by the cross, is a volitional, intentional act.

Knowing Italian has helped me understand how to love in God’s intentional way. God’s love and his blessing are inseparable. To bless in Italian is benedire, which translated literally means to speak well of. When God blesses us, he is speaking well of us. Or we could say, he is speaking good and well-being over us. And this is how we’re to love our enemies.

God wants us to bless our enemies and intentionally do them good!

  1. Do good to your enemies —even treating them like royalty!
  2. Speak good over them.
  3. Wish God’s best for them, and pray God’s best for them.

Putting hot coals on our enemies just might turn an enemy into a friend. And it will, for sure, make it so that Christ can call us Friend!


[Images ©TheScorziellos]

6 thoughts on “Hot Coals on our Enemies

  1. I had once, many years ago, in the Army had someone who was treating me badly. And it was starting to threaten my paycheck and job. I had a chaplain tell me to pray blessings on that person. It was hard to do but I knew he was right.
    Within a few days the person changed and those over both of is came and apologized for treating me wrong.
    God does work through true love!
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you about the correct understanding of “heaping coals” – that is what I have been taught as well. Understanding context, and the character of God is key to interpreting His Word. And I agree with the rest of your post as well. Easy to say but often hard to do. That is why we need God’s grace.


  3. Once, years ago, a sister of mine wrote me a mean email. After reading it, I knew in the old days I would have told everyone in the family what she had said. But all I felt then was sorrow that she felt that way about me.

    I didn’t tell anyone, and decided to ignore it and go on loving her and writing. She phoned my mom the next day and said something about the letter. Mom said, “What letter?” My sister said, “Never mind,” and I knew she was glad no one was mad at her.

    What is so wonderful about forgiveness is the peace and happiness it brings to everyone involved. I hear about families where people don’t speak to each other, and I think that is very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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