Burning coals

Have you ever come across one of those scriptures where you think, ‘that just doesn’t seem to make sense’?

I did this week! It’s one I’ve read loads of time before, and yet never considered what it really means. I was listening to Bill Johnson from Bethel, California, preaching on Romans 12 and he highlighted verse 20, here it is in context:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 12:19-21 NIV

I don’t know about you but I always thought about this in the sense that ‘heaping burning coals on his head’ was making your enemy conscience stricken and shaming him for his evil, but this just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the passage. Having done a bit of digging around as to the customs and origins of this term, I came to a much more understndable conclusion!

This phrase is actually a repetition of Proverbs 25 verses 21-22. In those days, in order to cook and heat your home, you needed to keep your fire burning 24/7. If your fire went out overnight you couldn’t bake bread in the morning and your house would be cold, so you may go to your neighbour and ask for some coals from their fire so that you could relight your own. If they were a generous neighbour they would give you a bucket of burning coals which you would then, most likely, carry home on your head and be able to cook right away! So this scripture is far from shaming your enemy, it’s actually about blessing them abundantly, so much so that they have more than they need! Now that’s more like the heart of God, isn’t it!

: Cate Hall :


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