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Heaping Coals of Fire

Proverbs 25:21-22
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
What does this phrase “heap coals of fire on his head” actually mean?
This is a Hebraic figure of speech which most non-Hebraic minds cannot fully comprehend.
In ancient times, almost everything was carried on the head – water jars, baskets of fruit, vegetables, fish, pots and pans.
People carrying these loads on their heads rarely held or touched them with their hands. And they could walk through crowded streets and lanes, balancing what they carried on their heads with great ease.
During the Victorian era, women were often instructed to improve their posture by balancing books or a teacup and saucer on their heads while walking, and getting up or down from a chair. They were told to model themselves after the Egyptian water-carrier, with a jug of water poised so prettily on her head and with a walking position so straight and beautiful.
Even today, women and men are still carrying goods on top of their heads. This is a less expensive and more efficient way of transporting workloads.

In India, women carry baskets of bricks to the workmen on construction sites.

In East Africa, Luo women may carry loads of up to 70% of their own body weight placed on top of their heads.
In the Kikuyu tribes, women carry heavy loads on their heads. Using a leather strap wrapped around their foreheads, the loads are secured before and during their transportation. As a result, a permanent groove may be dented in the forehead of the women. However, there is no record or evidence of other harmful effects on the health of women who carry these heavy loads on top of their heads.
In many third world countries, rural women have very practical reasons for carrying loads on their heads. Their living environments and lack of necessary utilities demand their adaptability and ability to carry buckets of water and bundles of firewood through rough terrains.

In ancient homes, there were no matchsticks or modern fire starters. The only fire they had was kept in a brazier of burning coals that they used for simple cooking or boiling water as well as for providing warmth.
This fire in the brazier was always kept burning throughout the day. However, if it should go out, a member of the family would take an empty brazier to a neighbour’s house to borrow some coals of fire.
She would then place the brazier filled with burning coals unto her head and headed home. Her head would not be burnt as she used another basket or cloth turban to insulate the heat from the head.

If her neighbour was a generous woman, she would heap her neighbour's brazier with loads of burning coals.
Therefore, heaping his empty brazier with hot coals is a good deed like feeding an enemy with food and drink. This is supplying his needs through love and generous giving.
To have a better understanding of our God and His Word, we need to acquire a Hebraic mindset rather than a Greek or Western mindset. Without which, we may picture vengeance instead of brotherly love when we think of pouring hot coals on someone’s head.
Romans 12:17-21
Repay no one evil for evil.
Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves,
but rather give place to wrath; for it is written,
“Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Therefore “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.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Herein Paul was quoting Proverbs 25:21-22. When we feed our enemies by giving them food and drink, we are heaping coals of fire on their heads.
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see we are honorable. Do everything if possible so that we can live in peace with everyone.
Never take revenge. Leave that to God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
If our enemies are hungry, let us feed them. If they are thirsty, let us give them something to drink. In doing this, we will heap burning coals on their heads.
Don’t let evil conquer us, but let us conquer evil by doing good.
Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies and be a blessing to them.
Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said,
‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, love your enemies,
bless those who curse you,
do good to those who hate you,
and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;
for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
This is the loving nature and attribute of our heavenly Father! Therefore we shall be perfect, just as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
God is love. His love has been shed abroad in our hearts so that we may walk in love, loving God and our neighbours, and becoming true vessels of mercy and blessings to those around us.

The world around us is quite cold. Let us heap coals of fire upon their heads. Let us spread agape love around.

Written on 13 May 2013