If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and Yahweh will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22, New Living Translation)
“If your enemy…”
The word Solomon chooses here, translated ‘enemy,’ is one that literally means ‘hater.’ It has behind it the force of someone filled and consumed with intense emotions of dislike toward another, and therefore, ones enemy. And Solomon wants to take up the way of wisdom for responding to a person like that when they begin to take actions against you expressing their hatred of you.
Namely, find out if they are hungry, and if so, set a meal before them;
ask if they are a bit parched, and if so, provide a refreshing glass of ice water, with a little wedge of lemon, if you please;
do all you can to meet their most basic needs and provide them comfort and aid.
Your enemy. Do this for your enemy.
Is that not one of the most counterintuitive things you’ve ever heard!? Everything in you says, “That’s not how I treat my enemies! That is how I treat my friends!”
So what is going on here? Why would Yahweh, via Solomon, instruct us in this way?
One of the best ways to interpret the Bible is to let the Bible interpret the Bible. Often, if we look at how a New Testament author uses and applies an Old Testament text, it illuminates the meaning of that text. So I looked in the New Testament to see if this proverb was quoted anywhere, and it is.
Paul is writing to the Romans, and he has spent a great deal of the letter arguing some pretty weighty theological principles and the workings of salvation. We are going to join in near the end of the letter, where he is now applying and working those principles out. Namely, he is describing what theology looks like in the life of a disciple of Jesus, and he is going to use our proverb under study as a foundational part of that description. We’ll pick it up in the twelfth chapter, verse nine…
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
(Romans 12:9-21, New Living Translation)
Do you see?
We asked above why Yahweh, via Solomon, would instruct us the way he did in the proverb. Paul has helped us find the answer—because it is an expression of the counterintuitive love that marks a follower of Yahweh as different from the way our broken world works.
In Paul’s words in the way of wisdom…
Don’t just pretend to love, really love.
Love with genuine affection.
Serve Jesus this way, enthusiastically.
Bless those who persecute you; don’t curse them, pray that God will bless them.
Never pay back evil with more evil.
Do these things so everyone will see you are honorable.
Dear friends, never take revenge, when someone, an enemy, expresses their hatred and aversion toward you. Instead, leave that to the righteous anger of God. And do you know how he will heap the burning coals of his wrath and their shame upon their heads? Through an expression of your love for your enemy, by giving them a meal of good food and drink in the face of their expressions of hatred. That will cause the world, and maybe your enemy, to take notice. You may even win your enemy!
Jesus said it this way, maybe with Solomon’s words in his head,
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.
44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.
(Matthew 5:43-47, New Living Translation)
Dear friend, Jesus has the right to expect such love because this is the very love he has shown for us—he loved us, even when we were enemies. He has given his body as the bread of life, and in partaking we are rescued and satisfied. He has given himself as living water, and in drinking, we will never be thirsty again. He has given his blood to cleanse us, and in confession we are forgiven and purified.
And now he wants us to follow his example and love others the way he loved us. For where would we be if he had only been kind to his friends, and those who loved him?
It is a stunning thing to consider that while we were yet your enemies, you made it possible to be reconciled with you, made sons and daughters, and given a future and a hope, all by the death of your Son. You have shown your love for us—we who were enemies, while we were enemies—by having Him die for us. O Jesus, thank you! Greater love has no man than this, that you would lay down your life for us. Such an expression of love, repeated through your people, down through the centuries has been a testimony to your saving power and work. So help us, Father. Fill us with your Spirit so that we might love our enemies well, that we might bring you glory, and may even win them for your sake, and their joy.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31
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