Heaping Coals of Fire on an Enemy

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Romans 12:20

In the Bible era an extremely important matter was the ability to provide fire. Such fires were often started by a single coal. 

In this narrative an enemy has a need for coal. To illustrate the way to respond to an enemy in need, that of a coal is used. The proportionate response was to give the enemy so many coals they had to be carried in a receptacle on his head. Carrying weights in such a way was common.

The story is a metaphor advocating repaying a wrong with a right. Generosity is encouraged by the instruction to give your enemy more than requested, surely more than deserved.

By abundantly giving an adversary more than needed it is equivalent to giving a person in need of a single coal so many he has to carry them on his head.

The writer of Proverbs notes the results of doing so.

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the LORD will reward you.”  Proverbs 25:21-22