Sunday, June 9, 2013

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head

Heaping burning coals on another’s head, this phrase can be found in Scripture here:

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

Rom 12:20-21 – 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

What does the phrase mean?
I came across this phrase reading a blog article, and I kind of not see how the described scenario by the author was explaining the meaning of the phrase or could have lighted up the “now I got it” bulb of the writer.  This is NOT meant to put down that blogger whom I, from time to time, tried to be encouraging.

It is NOT negative!
Heaping burning coals on another’s head is NOT having a negative connotation.  It is NOT hitting back or taking revenge or “doing someone in”.  It is NOT doing a bad thing to another.  Whether you are reading the Proverbs text or the Romans text, it is clear from the 2 verses, in each case.

When one is hungry and you give him food to eat, or when he is thirsty, you give him water to drink, how can that be bad?  In the Proverbs, the 2nd verse said that the LORD would reward you.  God would NOT reward you for your bad action, would He?  Then, if you are looking at the Romans text, the 2nd verse said NOT to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  In other words, such action(s) is(are) good, NOT bad, NOT evil.

From living tradition
From the way life went about for the Jews or people in that period and place, we can understand why “heaping burning coals on another’s head” is NOT a bad thing, but a good one!

In olden days (we can still find it at some, more remote places), people carried all sorts of things using their heads.  I was told by a missionary from Madagascar that bricks are being moved about by people (women, mostly), being carried on the heads, 10 or more bricks, each time!  Of course, most of us have seen pictures of water jugs or jars being carried on heads of people.

Now, in the holy land in those days, even fire braziers could be carried on the heads of people when there was a need.  Fire braziers were a “must have” in the homes, and fire was kept “alive” all the time to keep warm, etc.  When it was cold in the desert-land, it was cold, and people needed fire to keep warm. When it happened that the fire in the brazier died out in a home, a person might carry the brazier on his head over to his neighbor’s house and ask for some burning (live) coal.  If you were a generous or charitable (loving) neighbour, you would heap the burning coals from your brazier to the person’s brazier on his head, so that the person could bring the fire back home to warm the people who had lost the warm because the fire of their brazier had died out.  Of course, from there, you could also get the fire to cook your food, etc.  See, it was and is a good act, not a bad one.

The closest one to this, that I have lived out, is this: When I was a boy, I lived with my parents in a saw-mill.  In those days, much work was still manually done, and there were many labourers working on the processes of turning a log into wood and planks for building construction, etc.  Because there were many labourers and they stayed there, in the sawmill, too, and they needed to be provided with meals and drinking water, there was a common stove compound where the wood scraps were used as fuel to boil water and make meals.  There were several huge stoves there, and the fire was kept alive most of the day (except the night).

My father worked as a timber grader in the saw-mill; and there were other families in the sawmills, most were families of the office staff, although some of the labourers also had moved their families into the sawmill quarters.  The families, the mothers, they had to cook for their family to eat.  And the families were allowed to take the burning charcoals from those huge stoves that I mentioned earlier; and I would see and sometimes assisted my mother to take these live charcoals from the compound stoves to our own household kitchen stoves to cook the meals of the day.  We did NOT bring our kitchen stoves to the huge stove compound, though; what we did was that we would bring tin containers (“dustpans” in shape) made out of rectangular biscuit or oil tins (cut diagonally across, giving 2 triangular “dustpans”).  From the common huge stoves, we would use a common shovel to get the burning charcoals and heap them into the “dustpan” containers.  We would walk back home holding the “dustpan of burning charcoals”. When we reach home, we would pour the live charcoals into our kitchen stove, and mom could then have the fire to cook or boil water.  This would be a daily affair.  Oh, I could picture my childhood in the sawmill compound.  Oh, how time has passed me by!

Well, the sawmill company did a charitable thing – allowing everyone to access and take, on a daily basis, the burning charcoals, home for cooking, etc.  Otherwise, we would have to spend time starting and building a sustained fire for cooking or boiling water each time.

Now, there are of course, people who said that, nonetheless, when used in Scripture, of that phrase, it was NOT linked to that kind of tradition; I leave you to consider.

“Love-shock approach”
If you have looked close enough, you would have noticed the words, “your enemy” in the texts.  Enemies are expected to disagree, bicker, fight, hit at each other, plotting against each other, and even gloating at each other – these are normal attitudes and actions of people at enmity.

God’s exhortation to us, as approach, is always love (unto righteousness), if do, always do good, never evil. Instead of an eye for an eye, or evil for evil, we are exhorted in Scripture, to reciprocate in love; be good, be generous, and be charitable.

When people are in need, but they do NOT offend us or afflict us, we help them, through various ways; in doing that, we are practising love.  Such people are looking to love and charity, and we respond in that direction.  Such people are NOT our enemy; we do NOT need to “fight” them.  Such a person, let’s say, had NOT eaten for 3 days, and approach you for food, and you respond with giving over of your lunch pack.  There is no shock there, but it is that you have responded as what was wanted and expected by the person in need.  The person is NOT your enemy; you do NOT, NOT only do NOT help him, with his hunger, rob him of his blanket that he needs to keep himself warm, do you?! 

The above described one way of practising love - be charitable towards another, a neighbour or a stranger, even. 

Now, if you do NOT accept the origin of the phrase, “heaping burning coals on another’s head” has to do with the tradition of living as outlined above, you should be able to accept that it was referring NOT to a bad thing, but a good act, as outlined by me under the caption of “It is NOT negative!”  It is doing good; an act of loving-kindness, a practice of love.

Used on our enemy, it, “heaping of burning coals on another’s head”, is exhorting a more difficult kind of practising of love.  It is shocking, and it is a love-shock to your enemy that you would love him/her.

Jesus epitomised both love approaches
Jesus’ own life and ministry epitomised both kinds of practising of love.  Jesus, for example, prayed for people to heal them of sickness and free them from oppression.  Such people, they were NOT Jesus’ enemy; they were people in need, and Jesus healed them in practise of love, although it did glorify God the Father. 

On top of that, Jesus practised loving His enemy.  At the Garden of Gethsemane, for example, the enemy of Jesus came for Him to catch Him, and from that capture, Jesus was crucified.  The Apostle Peter fought back, cutting the ear of one of the enemy’s men.  Jesus did what the 2 texts of this article, is about: the enemy now has a need, the ear was cut off, and needed “fixing”; Jesus fixed the ear back, and healed it.  Jesus did contrary to what enemy would be expected to do to each other (I have explained what enemies were expected to do to each other, above).  I call this the “love-shock” approach of practising love.

This approach of practising love is difficult for the practitioner (part of “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” {Matt 5:48}), for it goes against our natural tendency, but we are nonetheless exhorted to practise it, even directly by the Lord, Himself. 

Examples of such love-shock approach exhorted by the Lord, included: to turn the other cheek over, too (Matt 5:39; Luke 6:29), give the tunic, too, (Luke 6:29), and love your enemies, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them (Luke 6:27-28; also Matt 5:44).

Heaping burning coal on another’s head can be under the first approach, the simple moving out in love for another, a neighbour, or even a stranger; but it can also be employed in a love-shock approach, doing it on your enemy.

Romans 12:19 talks about vengeance-what!
Some of the people who are too quick to assume “heaping burning coals on another’s head” as a fight back or revenge, because they saw and focussed on the verse before, Romans 12:19.  Yes, Rom 12:19 talked about God does avenge, and we are to leave it to Him, but that does NOT mean that the common stance for us to take, is to have revenge, even through the Lord. 

The common stance was given in another verse earlier, in v18 – “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Yes, the most common stance for us, is to live at peace with everyone, and that includes our enemy.  It is NOT, “Ok, now Lord, whack the fellow!”  And the more excellent way is to love-shock.

What is the purpose of the love-shock approach?
It, love-shock approach, is out of this world, you-know, you crazy or what?!  It is out of this world; that I can agree with you, for the Bible said so. 

Scripture tells us that when we have entered into salvation, we are no longer of this world, although we are still in the world.  The ways that we are to live, since we are now God’s people, and of His Kingdom, are those of His Kingdom, and NOT those of this world; it is out of this world.  In other words, you and I don’t find it natural, but supernatural to do such love-shocks.  When we embrace and live out the ways of the Kingdom of God, we are being supernatural; and over time, we are to be naturally supernatural.  The thing to bear in mind is that, we can grow over time, and we are to grow in the right direction, over time, and so, be overcoming in the world.

What is the purpose of practising love?  Why are we to love; to love God, and to love our neighbours (which include brothers and sisters in Christ, and enemies, too!)?  Let’s say we leave out the “why” we love God, just to keep the article short, why is it that we are to love our neighbours?

Because we love God.  Because we love God, we love our neighbours.  God loves men - you, me, and she and he, and the one over here or there or everywhere.  That is the will of God; and so, when we love God, we share the heart of God; we should want to let God love (men) through us; that which is what He wants.  We are therefore, God’s vessels for extension of His love to men. Or, I always tell believers that we love men with the love of God, not with our own love!  Scripture said that our love, all of it, is to be devoted to God - we love God only, and no other, and we love Him with our all. 

Viewing it from the command perspective, God commands us to love, and so, we have to love, for to love Him, God, we are to obey His commands.  Jesus said those who love Him, obeys His commands, and those who obey His commands are the ones who love Him (John 14:15 & John 14:21).  Scripture said that the second (second greatest command), like the first (to love God with your all), is to love, to love your neighbours.  We have to love men, don’t we?!

Then, there is the “we have benefited from God’s love, and we would like other men to experience God’s love”.  The primary source of love is God, and it is He who loves, and we, He would like to love through, too.  So, it is NOT we decide who should be loved and who should NOT be loved.  Jesus said, if we love the loveable, and people who love you are loveable (unless you reject the love), what extra do you do, or what credit do you expect to receive?!  We are to love even the unloveables, like our enemies; we are NOT to pick and choose for God, indirectly, saying to Him, “This one, you can love; that one, you should NOT love or I don’t want you to love him/her!”  So, we can see, if we practised NOT, at all, love-shock approach, we are NOT training ourselves to be open to God’s loving freely, who He wants, through us. 

Jesus, in Matt 15:21-28, for example, used the word, “dog” on a Canaanite woman, yet in the end, Jesus still let love flowed out to the woman by doing as requested by the woman, healing of her daughter of demon-possession.  Was there really love-shock here?  The Canaanite woman did NOT really got a love-shock; she was expecting Jesus to help, and she gave Jesus an “faith-full” answer to Jesus’ questioning of why He, Jesus, should be addressing people who were NOT the children of God.  I submit to you, it was NOT just a matter of this healing/deliverance was recorded to show us that faith could draw God to heal, it was also to love-shock the disciples.  In other words, the occasion was also to teach the disciples that they must be prepared to act in love towards anyone God wanted to extend love (Before Jesus finally attended to woman, Scripture recorded that the disciples was wanting the woman be sent away).

Although in the above scenario of the Canaanite woman, Jesus’ agreement to deliver her daughter, did NOT appeared to have love-shocked the woman, it is possible that one of the purposes of love-shock approach of practising love is to bring the recipient to a position of humility, be contrite of heart, be filled with godly sorrow leading to repentance.  Perhaps, some of the disciples of Jesus did have that effect, realising that they were wrong to have simply brushed the Canaanite woman aside.

Also, I do NOT know about you, if you have some hang-up on this, it is up to you, but as far as I am concerned, I want more of God’s love, and when we practise love, we will experience more of God’s love. 

John 14:21 reads, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

We know that the 2 prime commands of God are to love Him with our all, and to love our neighbours.  Here, in the first part of v21, I have already said, Jesus said that those who obey His commands are the ones who loved Him, Jesus.  And in the commands, one of the 2 prime ones is ….. love our neighbours.  The 2nd part of the verse said, (1) those (those who obey) would be loved by the Father God, (2) Jesus too, would love them, and (3) Jesus would show Himself to them. Do you want more of these?  If you want to be modest, and think you don’t want them or need them; well, I want them all, more!  And so, what must I do?  Obey the Lord’s commands, prime of which, is to love my neighbours.  In other words, I need to practise love.

God the Father showed it
It is possible that some stubborn people would NOT turn from their unkind or evil ways, when experiencing the love of God the normal way, receiving acts of kindness of love from people who are NOT their enemy, but love-shock can open people up to see God for whom He truly is.  God the Father showed it to us!

Are we NOT the enemy of God, in our fallen state?  So, what did God do; did He simply fought us, did us in, or plotted against us or gloated at us?  No, He did NOT do what we would expect, or did the common things we, in our fallen state, would do to our enemy; instead He heaped burning coals on our heads – He let His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the Cross, so that through Jesus’ propitiation, we may be reconciled back to Him, and have eternal life.  Although we were at enmity with God, we still, like in the 2 texts, Pro 25:21-22 and Rom 12:20-21, needed spiritual food, and we needed the living water; God gave His Son to us as the food and drink. 

What did Jesus say about His body and His blood?  Eat and drink these (His body and His blood), in remembrance of what He did – that while we were at enmity with God (sinners), in an act of love, both the Father God and He, the Son, agreed to overcome the evil Man has done (in the Garden of Eden – The Fall), with good.  Jesus is the good, and the Good News.

Even if our enemy’s conscience, at times, is NOT pricked by our love-shock practice of love, and no repentance results, we are to still to practise that, so that we can be free vessel of God’s love flowing out to touch lives.  Did all men come to repentance and received in, the love-shock by the Father God (and Jesus, even)? No, NOT all accept Jesus.  When God still went ahead, why shouldn’t we?!

So, remember now, practise love, including shock your enemy with your love. Keep up the heaping of burning coals on another’s head!  It is love in action; good, and NOT bad or evil.

PS: It means you have forgiven?
To have heaped burning coals on another’s head = you have forgiven?  Some people link it to Lev 16, and Isaiah 6:5, in this regard. 

In Lev 16, the High Priest brought a censer of burning coals from the altar to before the most holy place (before God), and it was God who forgave. 

In Isa 6, prophet Isaiah, when given the vision of the throne-place, was highly conscious of his sinfulness (“Woe to me!”), and an angel took a burning coal from the altar and touched the lips of Isaiah, cleansing him. 

So, when you heap burning coals on another’s head, are YOU forgiving the enemy, and God will reward you (Pro 25:22)? Or, are YOU overcoming evil with forgiveness (Rom 12:21)? 

Although I am one of those who would take John 20:23, literally, to mean when I forgive my enemy (wrongdoings against me, NOT another), God would forgive that person, on my account (that I have forgiven),  I kind of feel it is too much of a round-about way of saying thing, if indeed, that is the intent of the text – that if we would feed our enemy or satisfy their thirst, it means we have forgiven the person.  In my view, forgiveness, need to be specifically done, first, in our heart, apart from any separate gestures.  The latter are only evidence of a state - that you have forgiven.  It is putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.  Does one get a reward, specifically, for forgiving; or is it we are commanded to forgive?  I think it is more like the latter.  Rom 12:21 is clear that it said to overcome evil with good.  Even though, forgiving is good, is the good here ONLY confined to forgiveness?  Probably NOT. 

My inclination is still that “heaping burning coals on another’s head means, “helping to bring the person (the enemy) to a position of seeing the error of his ways, and change”.  It is, it MAY bring …., and NOT it definitely would bring (there will be some who are stubborn and would NOT see the errors of their ways, despite whatever good you have done) repentance, but God honours your effort and heart-condition, and rewards you (Pro 25:22), and what you have done (seeing to the needs of your enemy) is good, loving-kindness, and likely to, NOT only confound evil, but also melt evil.

I know, some people linked it to Lev 16 and Isa 6:5, but still come to a similar conclusion that I have just expressed in the above paragraph; but really, I have felt no need of that linking (to Lev 16 and Isa 6:5) {too tenuous}, and could still arrive at the conclusion.  I believe the sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in us, helps, in spiritual understanding of the Word.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions
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