Burning Coals

Let my enemies be destroyed
by the very evil they have planned for me.
Let burning coals fall down on their heads.
Let them be thrown into the fire
or into watery pits from which they can’t escape.
Psalm 140:9-10 NLT

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
and the LORD will reward you.
Proverbs 25:21-22 NLT

So here we have an apparent direct contradiction between what David wrote in Psalm 140 and what his son, Solomon, wrote in Proverbs 25. On the one hand David wanted his enemies to be destroyed, and on the other Solomon advised that we are to be kind to them. Which is it to be? But before we do a Google search for “contradictions in the Bible”, I would say it all depends what is meant by “enemy”. In the context of Psalm 140, David was going through a very difficult time with his enemies. And he wanted God to do something about it. I suppose if someone is coming at you waving a claymore or battle-axe, there wouldn’t be much point in offering them a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. It would be a case of a quick prayerful cry – “Help God!”  Or perhaps David was in a war situation with adjacent peoples – verse 7 mentions “the day of battle”. 

But Solomon’s definition of “enemy” might have been more benign, perhaps just meaning someone who is upset by us and has little more than malevolent feelings about us. In that case, of course we love our “enemies” and immediately respond to meet their needs in whatever way we can.

In David’s case, “burning coals” imply literal destruction. In Solomon’s case, perhaps “burning coals” mean that the “enemy” burns up with a guilty conscience, with shame. In the one case there is little we can do other than ask God to intervene. In the other we have a duty to be kind and loving, no matter how antagonistic the person is. 

In our pilgrimage through life we will find many “enemies” in our way. People who want to stop our progress. People who want us to take another path, perhaps leading in the wrong direction. But whether we take the path of the Psalm or the path of the Proverb, it is important that we involve God in the process. Only He knows the right way.

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