“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD. “— Romans 12:20, NASB
The other day I was looking into a verse the Holy Spirit led me to from our morning studies on “glory.” Its one of seven verses I believe He is using to take me deeper into the Word.
Isaiah 6:3 (NASB) says, “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’”
I ended up reading the whole chapter, which is titled Isaiah’s Vision in the New American Standard Bible, and its a chapter rich in God’s symbolism. So after spending time getting my imagination to stretch and envision a seraphim, I honed in on the verse that describes the seraphim that held the burning coal in his hand and touched it to Isaiah’s lips.
Isaiah had expressed woe in the previous verse because he was looking upon the King, the LORD of hosts, with sin on his lips and because he was among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5, NASB).
When the seraphim touched the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips in 6:7 (NASB) he said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”
Immediately, I thought of Jesus. But, why? I mean, I get that iniquity removed and sins forgiven reminds me of Jesus, but burning coal?
When the Holy Spirit brought to my remembrance a verse about kindness being like heaping coals on an enemy’s head, I looked it up in my concordance and found that Romans 12:20 is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22 (NASB), “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.”
The Lord will reward us for heaping burning coals on the head of our enemy? OK, obviously He does not mean for us to literally heap burning coals on the head of our enemy, but what is the connection here?
If we read Romans 12:21 (NASB), it tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Why is it then that nearly every time I have heard a sister or brother in Christ use the expression to kill someone—let’s say “challenging” in our life—with kindness, the tone is neither kind nor good? In fact, nearly every time I’ve heard that expression used, the person sounded offended or angry, and their eyes were full of daggers.
What are we misunderstanding about the symbolism of heaping burning coals on the head of our enemy and about being kind to our enemies?
Visiting the website Study Light, I found commentaries that helped clarify the symbolism found in Isaiah 6:6. The excerpt from Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible was particularly interesting (http://m.studylight.org/commentary/isaiah/6-6.html).
According to Gill’s, the live or burning coal is the word of God and comparable to fire, which he cites Jeremiah 23:29 for reference. The burning coal is also symbolic of purity or purification (Gill’s).
When I read about the purification symbolism I made a connection with an earlier thought I had about burning coals. I had thought about the Old Testament alter of burnt offerings which made me think of Jesus being the sacrificial lamb of God.
Gill’s goes right into the significance of the burning coal being removed from the very alter that was to always burn. This alter and the burnt offerings typify Christ and his sacrifice (Gill’s).
Why is this such an exciting excavation from the Word of God?
Beloveds, God is NOT punishing people with His kindness. If not punishing with His kindness, then what?
Paul wrote in Romans 2:4 (NASB), asking poignantly, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
The lovingkindness of God is what draws people to Him, changes our mind (repentance). When we are kind to our persecutors, forgiving them (the complete opposite expectation), we are heaping purification on their heads which has the power to change a person’s mind, and heart.
I think of Richard Wurmbrand’s story as told in his book Tortured for Christ.
In Tortured for Christ, Wurmbrand shares about the fourteen years he spent in the prisons of Communist Romania during the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s. There are stories in great detail of believers being severely beaten by their persecutors. In the face of such horrors, Wurmbrand, and many others in Christ practiced forgiveness, telling their persecutors about the love of God and forgiving them. This blessing and forgiving led persecutors to repent.
This caliber of forgiveness in Christ blows my mind. I have never experienced the physical kind of persecution that many of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ do all around the world.
I remember them, prayerfully—our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. I am encouraged by their boldness and unshakeable faith. I esteem them greatly.
I will remember that kindness draws people to God and leads them to repentance. I will remember that we are salt and lights upon this earth, beloveds, and the whole earth is full of His glory.
Will you, will you remember?