Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Love In Action—that’s the theme of the entire Bible.  It’s also the underlying meaning of many Biblical metaphors that Christian cultures have often misunderstood. We will take a look at this topic here.

By rightly understanding these metaphors from the Hebraic perspective, we will gain a more accurate view of the nature and will of God for us. We will also gain a better understanding of how to fulfill the second greatest commandment:  to love our neighbor—even our enemy—as our ourselves.

Here, we will look at what it means to "heap burning coals" on our enemies, which is mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and repeated in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).  Not understanding it in the right Hebraic context could lead us away from the will of God.

Heaping Burning Coals on Our Enemies

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:21–22)

To a Western mindset, it would seem that by giving food and water to our enemies, we are heaping upon them feelings of shame and remorse that will be painful to their souls, like coals of fire burning through their skull.


Thinking about that with a Western sense of justice, some might say, “Amen. Thank you, Lord, for taking care of my enemy!”

But God’s ways are not our ways.  Although some enemies might be so convicted by our kindness that they change their ways (as Paul says in Romans 12:14–21), we all know of people who will not change their behavior no matter how kindly they are treated.

Burning coals.  Right: Eighth century BC Phoenician brazier (fire pan).
Phoenicians were seafaring traders of the Mediterranean. Similar braziers
are illustrated in Assyrian reliefs and have been found as far west as Spain.

Let’s understand, then, the true contextual meaning of heaping coals on our enemies’ heads and the intended result for us and for them.

Heaping Coals in Context

"The king was sitting in the winter house in the ninth month, with a fire burning in the brazier before him."  (Jeremiah 36:22)

In the context of the ancient Middle East, we know that coal was placed in a fire pan or brazier (in Hebrew, ach – אָח) to keep the home warm and to cook simple foods.
Maintaining fire for the home required diligent attention, both through the day and night.  If the fire went out, say in the winter in Israel’s north or on the hills of Jerusalem where it snowed, it could result in death.
So, when the coal supply depleted, the woman or man of the house might ask a neighbor for a refill.  A friendly neighbor would likely meet their need—but would an enemy?

Man bakes bread at a recreated home in Nazareth, wearing period clothes
from the time of 

A friendly neighbor might even offer freshly baked bread and some pomegranate juice to a friend in need—but would an enemy?

To feed an enemy and give him drink was like heaping the empty brazier with live coals—which meant food, warmth and almost life itself to the person or home needing it, and was the symbol of finest generosity.”  (Strange Scriptures that Perplex the Western Mind, by B.M. Bowen, p. 29).

We see this Hebraic understanding in a 1903 Bible translation by Ferrar Fenton, a man steeped in the knowledge of ancient languages and literature:  “If your enemy hungers, feed him; If he thirsts, give water to drink, And a fire besides for his needs; And then the LORD will repay you.”

Heaping coals on an enemy's head is, therefore, a metaphor for providing his basic survival needs.  
How do we apply that understanding to our lives today?

When a woman in ancient Israel knocked on a neighbor’s door with an empty fire pan, the owners of the home had a choice to make:  keep their coals for themselves, ensuring warmth, cooked meals, and life for their own family, or generously share their coal supply and risk going cold and hungry themselves.
When people betray or insult us, we have a choice to make:  bless their lives through acts of love or curse them through acts of revenge.

Blessing the lives of our enemies is not just a proverbial suggestion; it is a divine instruction in God’s written Torah ( God's Law).In fact, it is the second greatest commandment:  “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.”  (Leviticus 19:18; compare with Matthew 22:36–40)

In other words, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor.”  (Avot d’Rebbe Natan: 26, a compilation of Jewish proverbs and parables)

Heaping Coals for Heavenly Rewards

Why does God want us to give life to our enemies? What’s in it for us? We could answer, “Because the Lord says so,” and that would be enough.

We could also remind ourselves that we are "God's workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life"  (Ephesians 2:10).  And that would be enough, too.

But the Lord knows that we also need incentives to follow Him, and so we find in the wisdom of Proverbs that by heaping coals on (giving life to) our enemies, we will reap a reward from the LORD (YHVH) Himself.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”  (Proverbs 25:21–22)
The Lord rewards those who follow His laws.

A view from Mount Gerizim (left) toward Mount Ebal (right), the two mountains from which God commanded blessings for obedience (on Mt.Gerizim) and curses for disobedience (on Mt. Ebal) over the Israelites  (Deuteronomy 11:29).  Today, the city of Nablus sits between these mountains.

Fourteen verses overflowing with blessings are promised in Deuteronomy 28 to those who obey God’s laws—those include loving our neighbor.

If you will only obey the LORD your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. ...
The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way, and flee before you seven ways. …
All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.”  (Deuteronomy 28:1–14)

The apostle Peter also wanted Believers to know that a blessing awaits those who repay evil with kindness:  “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  (1 Peter 3:9)

Departure of Israelites from Egypt (Wikicommons)

Heaping Coals in War

Blessing our enemies with life does not mean that God wants us to become a pacifist in the face of aggression and destruction.  If that were the case, Israel would have surrendered when five neighboring armies waged war against her the day after she declared independence.
Instead, Israel fought and prevailed in every act of aggression against her since her rebirth as a nation on May 14, 1947 (I am not considering when the UN agreed; the nation was actually rebirthed in May 1947 (the UN, although world leaders bow to it, does not have final say; this was by the Hand of YHVH, and we should begin to recognize the UN for what it is; but that is another subject for another day) because as a sovereign nation, Israel had a right to defend herself.
God knows that war is sometimes obligatory (e.g., for self-defense) and sometimes discretionary (e.g., during preemptive strikes).  His laws, in fact, include rules for preparing for and engaging in war (see Deuteronomy 20).  
Early warning notice translated to English from Arabic, which was distributed to residents of Beit Lahiya in Gaza, July 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the last war between Hamas and Israel.
In a war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, for instance, where ammunition supplies are often housed in civilian homes, mosques, and schools, Israel has raised the bar on providing early warnings to civilians.
In Operation Cast Lead, the war with Gaza from 2008–2009, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped some 2,500,000 leaflets in the Gaza Strip warning civilians of where and when attacks would be made that could cause civilian casualties, like the one above.

In addition, the IDF made about 165,000 phone calls along with radio broadcasts just before an attack.  It even fired warning shots on roofs (known as “roof knocking”) to further encourage civilians to leave the targeted site.  (International Committee of the Red Cross).

In another example, Abraham Lincoln, whose rules of warfare during America's Civil War form the foundation of international rules of war today, was reportedly "telling a group of White House visitors about his plans to treat the South leniently after the war.

"A guest objected with, ‘But Mr. President, I would think you would want to destroy your enemies.
"Lincoln replied with, Don’t I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? (Jesus’ Twenty Megatruths, by Herb Miller, p. 96).

Lincoln’s reply was so profound, it has risen to bumper sticker status.

Heaping Coals of Forgiveness

We hate it when someone doesn't forgive us for our misdeeds toward them, and we especially hate it when we think that God hasn't forgiven us. We cry out for His mercy, grace, love, and everlasting kindness.
But do we put that much effort into forgiving others?

So important is forgiving others that Yeshua (Jesus) placed it in His model prayer.  He wants us to ask our Father in heaven to "forgive our trespassesin the exact same way that we "have forgiven those who trespass against us."  (Matthew 6:12)

Our Father expects us to extend life to others in the same way that He extends life to us.  So, if we don't forgive others, He will do likewise to us.

This sounds harsh, but Yeshua made this divine principle abundantly clear in the story of the unforgiving servant who received forgiveness of a large debt from his master but threw his own servant to the lions for a debt he could not pay.

"In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed."  
And Yeshua promised, "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  (Matthew 18:21–35)

Heaping Coals of Everlasting Life

In our own daily lives, the proverb to heap coals on our enemy's head is about finding ways to give life to others, even when we are waging our own personal civil war against them.
After all, “if you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?”  (Matthew 5:46)

While God promises rewards for giving this kind of physical and even emotional life to others, He is also concerned with life everlasting—ours and our enemies’.  It is His desire that we lead our enemies to eternal life, which brings with it eternal rewards for both of us.

Western Wall study area at night

The Jewish sage, Rashi (1040–1105), suggested that this instruction to feed our enemy does not relate to physical hunger but to the spiritual hunger that results from our enemy's sin.

Rashi says, “Draw yourself into the study hall and feed him the bread of Torah, and likewise, give him the water of Torah to drink.”  (Rashi’s commentary on the Bible)Interestingly, Yeshua (Jesus) taught His disciples that He is the Bread of Life and we are also told in Genesis as well as John that He is the Word made flesh. He is the Bread of Life – the Torah. This is in context.

Jesus answered them and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say to you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were satisfied; work not for the food that is perishing, but for the food that is remaining to life age-during, which the Son of Man will give to you, for him did the Father seal — [even] God.’ They said therefore unto him, ‘What may we do that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye may believe in him whom He did send.’ They said therefore to him, ‘What sign, then, dost thou, that we may see and may believe thee? what dost thou work?our fathers the manna did eat in the wilderness, accordingly as it is having been written, Bread out of the heaven He gave them to eat.’ Jesus, therefore, said to them, ‘Verily, verily, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread out of the heaven; but my Father doth give you the true bread out of the heaven; for the bread of God is that which is coming down out of the heaven, and giving life to the world.’ They said, therefore, unto him, ‘Sir, always give us this bread.’

And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of the life; he who is coming unto me may not hunger, and he who is believing in me may not thirst — at any time; but I said to you, that ye also have seen me, and ye believe not;7all that the Father doth give to me will come unto me; and him who is coming unto me, I may in no wise cast without, because I have come down out of the heaven, not that I may do my will, but the will of Him who sent me. ‘And this is the will of the Father who sent me, that all that He hath given to me I may not lose of it, but may raise it up in the last day; and this is the will of Him who sent me, that every one who is beholding the Son, and is believing in him, may have life age-during, and I will raise him up in the last day.” John 6:26-40 (Young's Literal Translation).

May we be so zealous for the salvation of our enemies that we feed them the Word of Life found in the Scriptures and through Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), who is the Word of Life; the Bread of Life itself. 

While dwelling among us, Yeshua (whose name means Salvation) was so concerned with the salvation of sinners that He told a crowd of Galileans gathered to hear His "Sermon on the Mount":
Pray for those who persecute you, so you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:44–45)
By praying for those who insult, betray, and slander us, we inherit the supreme blessing of being called God’s children, and we inherit an eternal home where we will be in our Father's love forever.
How do we pray for our enemies?

A story in the Talmud (Rabinic commentaries) gives us some Hebraic insight into how to pray for those who harm us:
Once there were some bandits living near Reb (Rabbi) Meir who were very troublesome to him.  Reb Meir prayed that they should die.  His wife Beruria said to him, ‘What makes you think a prayer like that is permissible? Instead, you should pray for them that they will repent, and then there will be no more wicked.’  Meir prayed for them, and they repented.”  (b. Berachot 10a).

Leading people to repentance is the reason Yeshua came to the Jew first and then to the nations.
So important is repentance that it is the first command Yeshua gave as He established His ministry base in Capernaum:
“‘The time is fulfilled,’ He said, ‘and the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe in the gospel!’”  (Mark 1:15)

Let us pray, too—that the Jewish nation would recognize that Yeshua is the Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures and that they would return to their covenant promise to obey all that the Lord had commanded them. As Yeshua did confront the Pharisees of His day, He did so because He loved them. He wanted them to return to His Father's Way instead of mounting up burdens upon the people so that following YHVH's Law became a burden. This is demonstrated throughout Yeshua's teachings. He was chiding them, but He did so because He loved them. They turned a deaf ear upon these. They perceived Him as a threat to them.  
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray that our Father will give peace and safety to His people there and all across the Middle East. Pray that they will have health, peace, and be useful vessels for Him in the coming days. 

Author's Note: There may be those who say something such as, “But we don't have to obey the Law because the Law was done away with.” Various scriptures (usually from Paul's writings) taken completely out of context are used to prop up this lie. And, usually, these are followed by “We were only given two commandments.” If this happens to be you, consider this:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and if there is any of other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of The Torah.'” (Romans 13:8-10).

Paul succinctly stated this premise in Galatians by saying, “For the whole of The Torah is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14). Wouldn't it be absurd to take that as a blanket justification for disregarding whatever commandments we don't like on the basis that as long as we love one another, nothing else matters? One might just as effectively suggest, “As long as I love my neighbor, it is all right to eat whatever I want, and sleep with whomever I want.” But that would not be demonstrating true love, would it? 

The practice of God's Word must result in love. For example, if a person set out to keep a particular commandment but failed to and insulted and embittered others over it, then he/she may have kept the commandment, but failed to keep The Torah because The Torah's essence is love. Love of God and love of neighbor. This is what Yeshua meant when He said that all of the Torah hung upon the two “commandments” which were love thy God with all thy might, all thy soul; and love thy neighbor as thyself (paraphrased). The Torah's statutes cover these two things: love thy God and love thy neighbor.
The Torah defines love with commandments that instruct us how to treat one another. 

All the commandments in the Torah that involve our obligation to our brother or our obligation to our neighbor are commandments about love. The commandments are acts of real love. Love is not the replacement of the Torah, it is the summary of the Torah. It is the greatest principle of the Torah. Submitting to the commandments displays God's love because those commandments are contrary to our lazy, selfish nature. When we truly keep the commandments about how to love one another, we are truly loving others. And when we truly love God and others, we will keep the commandments. This is not optional for those who claim to be followers of Yeshua or “Christians.”

How ironic that we might take the words of Paul and of Yeshua who tell us the commandments are summarized in love, and use those very words as justification for breaking the commandments. “I don't need the letter of the law because I am under the law of love.” Or, as some say, “I am under grace.”

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