21 If your enemies are hungry,
give them something to eat.
And if they are thirsty,
give them something
22This will be the same
as piling burning coals
on their heads.
And the Lord
will reward you.
Many would shake their head at this proverb. The natural human impulse is usually to stay away from one’s enemy. But the Lord, loving and compassionate, has a different view on the matter.
This short two verse proverb is concerned about how we handle human conflict and how we treat those who hate us.
It’s nearly impossible not to hear echoes of the Gospel in these words. Jesus says, “You have heard people say, “Love your neighbours and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Our response to those who injure, even hate us, makes a difference to the relationship. We don’t pretend that there is no offense, no pain or injustice. But we try to be kind, without extravagance. We don’t lay out a banquet with fine wine. Just food and drink, perhaps no more than bread and water. In meeting the basic needs of this person we may open the door to the possibility of a reconciliation. This is always the higher road a child of God is expected to choose.
Doing good to our enemies is compared to “piling burning coals on their heads”, and that this action will result in a reward from the Lord. Bruce Waltke in his commentary on Proverbs mentions that this may hint at an ancient Egyptian penitential ritual. The piling of burning coals on a head may have referred to the burning pains of remorse that a person feels when good is returned for evil.
True to the whole message of Scripture, the overall atmosphere of this passage is the pursuit of reconciliation, not revenge. Doesn’t our Father in heaven continue to care for us even when we profoundly grieve Him. Yes, it is in kindness that he leads us to repentance! (Romans 2:4)
Loving Lord, who calls me to love my enemies and to pray for them, help me to love with patience and kindness; help me to be kind towards those who hurt me and to never take revenge. Help me to pursue reconciliation, recognizing that it is the great gift of Christ. With faith in your strong Name, amen.