Do you have an enemy? Someone who has hurt you or said untrue things about you? Some would tell you to do good to your enemy, and God will return your kindness by setting your enemy’s head on fire.
Proverbs 25:21-22 says this:
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.
But seriously, do you think that is how God works? Is this what the Bible says? To hurt those who hurt us, is that really supposed to be our heart?
Redeeminggod.com explains it this way: “Proverbs 25:22 teaches that if the fire of your enemy goes out, and they come asking for a coal to relight their fire, instead of turning them away or giving just one, we should be extravagantly generous. How? We must keep one coal for yourself and give all the rest of the burning coals to our enemy.
Bible Knowledge Commentary says it this way: “Sometimes a person’s fire went out and he needed to borrow some live coals to restart his fire. Giving a person coals in a pan to carry home ‘on his head’ was a neighborly, kind act; it made friends, not enemies. Proverbs 25:22 instructs us to give our enemy so many burning coals they must carry them the way burdens are carried in the Middle East: in a container on the head. Then they can go back and immediately bake their bread without having to wait for the wood to become suitable coals for cooking.”
This is quite different than setting someone’s head on fire. (Myers)
It might be best to explain it using a story:
He is at it again. Someone is going to get hurt. Again. You have no small children of your own, but you naturally scan the neighborhood to make sure there are no other children playing near the road as you hear his truck rumble and cough while the engine roars to life. The signs are posted, speed bumps installed, and neighbors have talked to him to no avail. The man simply will not slow down when he drives through the neighborhood.
He is an easy man to hate. Nightly drunken brawls, litter scattered beyond his own yard, and he yells anytime anyone comes near. The children are afraid of him and the elderly put an extra lock on their doors just because he lives nearby.
At least once per week, the cops are at his door looking for a runaway fugitive who may have taken refuge at his house or checking for stolen cars.
This time when he drives by, something is different. Instead of roaring by tossing beer cans out the window, he drives by very slowly, intentionally. His 6’4” frame is hunched over the steering wheel as if it takes all of his strength to simply propel his truck forward.
As he passes by you wonder about the change but move on with your day.
Later in the day you hear the return of his truck, meandering down the lane slowly once again. Curiosity wins, and you head out to sweep the porch and watch as he drives by. If anything, he looks even more defeated than when he left.
This goes on for several days. During that time, his house is quiet. No brawls, no in-and-out traffic late at night, no bright lights and revving engines at all hours. Clearly, something has changed. Something has happened.
You watch Mrs. Merriweather cross the lane and prepare yourself for the tirade. She does not disappoint. Apparently, the homeowner’s association has started legal proceedings to have the man from the end of the road evicted. She is sure to point out how she has seen him driving by slowly and is sure he has received wind of the impending eviction. She was saying things like, “He is getting what he deserves.” “We will be so glad when he’s gone.” “We will have to burn his house down to clean up the neighborhood.”
But you aren’t so sure. As you watch Mrs. Merriweather strut back across the road, you make a decision. You go into your home, grab a paper plate, and put some of the fresh cookies you baked this morning on it; then, you wrap it up tight. You walk down to the house at the end of the road and leave the cookies on the doorstep and walk straight home, praying both ways.
The following day as you see the man from the end of the road leave, you go over to his house again and sweep the porch and leave another small plate of cookies.
You continue to head over daily when he leaves and complete work at his house, slowly tackling the list of grievances that the HOA is holding against your neighbor. Cleaning up the yard, mowing the lawn, trimming trees, mending fence; the tasks got bigger, but you kept at them. He seems to have a regular schedule now. Leaving around 9:30 in the morning and returning around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. That gives you plenty of time to chip away at the list.
The place is really starting to shape up. When a car comes in the driveway with county license plates, you can’t help your curiosity. The man asks if you are the owner of the house. When you say no, he starts to walk away. You decide to see if you can get some answers, so you ask why he is there.
As he explains there is $15,000 owed in back taxes, you, again, know what you must do. You ask when they must be paid, and he assures that you have until the end of the week.
The following morning, instead of going to the house at the end of the road, you grab your checkbook and head to the county office to pay the debt you do not owe.
As you watch the man at the end of the street make his way slowly home, you see he is looking forward, almost in expectation. You wonder if he’s looking to see if more has been done to his formerly ramshackle house.
The next day your neighbor does not leave as usual. His old truck does not move. For four days the truck does not move, and no activity is seen around the house. Feeling compelled, you plate up a few more cookies and head down to the house at the end of the road. This time, you don’t leave the cookies on the porch, but you ring the bell. You hear feet shuffling towards the door and grimace as you hear locks being thrown back. Soon, the door swings open.
His gasp is audible. He starts to close the door immediately when he sees the scalloped paper plate with cookies. It matches the ones you have been bringing over regularly for the past couple of months, and he stops cold.
The man at the end of the road starts to cry. It is like a dam is breaking, and he sobs uncontrollably, unable to speak for several minutes.
When he asks why you are doing this, you explain how God showed you what love looks like. It’s not about just opening your heart up to the people who love you back but to love the hard people too. The ones who hurt others and cause pain.
“Do you really believe what you are saying?”
“I do too,” replies the man at the end of the road.
He continues. “I am sick. I have been going to the hospital every day to receive an experimental drug that the doctors said is my only hope.”
He paused. “I learned a few days ago the treatment is not working for me. I am dying.” “You know, I prayed when I got the diagnosis. Just like my mama taught me to do all those years ago. I prayed that God would show me He is real. I asked him to heal me. I also asked him to bring me hope. Something to help me get through the days. It was that day that I came home and saw the cookies. Chocolate chip. My favorite, just like mama used to make. Then my porch was swept. The next day, the windows were cleaned, and the lawn was mowed. The trees got trimmed. I started looking forward to coming home. I couldn’t help but wonder who in the world was doing that for me and even more, why? Why were they working so hard to bring my house back to life?”
Your tears flow as the man at the end of the road again asks, “You?”
“Yes,” you whisper. “No one is more surprised than me, but clearly, God had a plan. This has helped me heal as well. I didn’t realize I still held so much bitterness until I started working on your place. I could see the neighbors watching from afar. I imagine they wondered if I had lost my mind. Especially the day I sat up in your tree and cried. Cried over all that is lost, and I cried and prayed for you.”
“How can you pray for me? Forgive me? Even care for me? How can you do anything but hate me when, after a drinking binge, I drove my car through a red light and killed your husband and daughter?”
In a recent article, we discussed meekness and dug into the phrase, “Meekness equals weakness.” We concluded the article by asking these questions:
Am I weak enough to run into a battle in the dark of night, a stranger in a country where I’m outnumbered, out-weaponed, and blindly use what skills I must to save as many men as I’m physically able, men who relentlessly persecuted me?
Am I weak enough to not only forgive a man who intentionally hurt a family member, but also reach out to his family and offer money, assistance, encouragement, and friendship?
Am I weak enough to forgive my daughter's killer, appeal to the judge to get his sentenced reduced, and welcome him into my family as a son?
Let’s add to these questions by asking, “Am I weak enough to love my enemy and heap burning coals on his head?” Again, Meekness is not weakness. Meekness equals power. Meekness equals strength. Meekness equals courage. Meekness equals love.