What is the meaning of Proverbs 25:22 about hot coals?

Readers Question / Comment -  What is heaping hot coals on someones head?

 Dear JPN,

I do hope this finds you well.
I'm having a hard time understanding the meaning of Proverbs 25:22 - Would you please help me out?

Thank you so much

JPN Reply:


Yeah I'm doing ok... hope things are well with you too! : )

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

There are two possible meanings that commentators normally speak of:

The Bible Knowledge Commentary states '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. Also the kindness shown in giving someone food and water makes him ashamed of being an enemy, and brings God’s blessing on the benefactor. Compassion, not revenge, should characterize believers (cf. Pro_24:29). 
The also state: 'The coals on the head may refer to a ritual in Egypt in which a person showed his repentance by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head. Helping rather than cursing an enemy may cause him to be ashamed and penitent. As Paul summarized, Do not be overcome by evil, giving in to the temptation to retaliate, but overcome evil with good (cf. Mat_5:44, “love your enemies”). Again positive and negative commands are put together (cf. Rom_12:9, Rom_12:11, Rom_12:16-20).'

Others speak of this ritual from Egypt as the background to this expression as well.

The Believers Bible Commentary adds for Rom 12:20 (where this is quoted) 'Christianity goes beyond non-resistance to active benevolence. It does not destroy its enemies by violence but converts them by love. It feeds the enemy when he is hungry and satisfies his thirst, thus heaping live coals of fire on his head. If the live coal treatment seems cruel, it is because this idiomatic expression is not properly understood. To heap live coals on a person's head means to make him ashamed of his hostility by surprising him with unconventional kindness.

Bottom line is don't repay evil for evil but repay evil with good... it will bring conviction and possibly repentance. The Believers Bible Commentary also gives this real example:

"An irate neighbor called a new believer and delivered a violent tirade against the believer's five-year-old daughter for trampled flowers, a broken window, and other offenses. When the neighbor came up for air, the Christian asked her to come over to discuss the matter. 


 By the time the neighbor arrived, the table had been set for coffee and sweet rolls. "Oh, I'm sorry—you're having company." "No," replied the believer, "I thought we could talk about my daughter over a cup of coffee." The Christian gave thanks for the food and asked for God's wisdom. When she opened her eyes, the visitor was crying. "It's not your daughter, it's mine," blurted the neighbor. "I don't know why I lashed out at you. I just can't cope with my children, my husband, or my home!"
As soon as the neighbor made this admission, the young believer started sharing Christ. Within six weeks the neighbor and her family had been born again."

Now knowing what it means is the easy part... now comes the important part which is (with the Lord's help) living it when someone does us wrong! : )

God Bless,

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