Romans 12:20

20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."

Romans 12:20 Meaning and Commentary

Romans 12:20

Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him
These words are taken from ( Proverbs 25:21 Proverbs 25:22 ) , and to be understood, as a Jewish F15 writer observes, (wemvmk) , according to "their literal sense"; though some of the Rabbins explain them in an allegorical way, of the corruption of nature. The Alexandrian copy and some others, and the Vulgate Latin version, reads "but if"; so far should the saints be from meditating revenge upon their enemies, that they should do good unto them, as Christ directs, ( Matthew 5:44 ) , by feeding them when hungry, and giving drink unto them when thirsty:

if he thirst give him drink;
which includes all offices of humanity and beneficence to be performed unto them: the reason, or argument inducing hereunto is,

for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head;
not to do him hurt, not to aggravate his condemnation, as if this would be a means of bringing down the wrath of God the more fiercely on him, which is a sense given by some; as if this would be an inducement to the saints to do such acts of kindness; which is just the reverse of the spirit and temper of mind the apostle is here cultivating; but rather the sense is, that by so doing, his conscience would be stung with a sense of former injuries done to his benefactor, and he be filled with shame on account of them, and be brought to repentance for them, and to love the person he before hated, and be careful of doing him any wrong for the future; all which may be considered as a prevailing motive to God's people to act the generous part they are here moved to: in the passage referred to, ( Proverbs 25:21 Proverbs 25:22 ) , "bread" and "water" are mentioned as to be given, which include all the necessaries of life: and it is added for encouragement, "and the Lord shall reward thee". The sense given of this passage by some of the Jewish commentators on it agrees with what has been observed in some measure; says one F16 of them,

``when he remembers the food and drink thou hast given him, thou shall burn him, as if thou puttest coals upon his head to burn him, (er Kl twvem rwmvyw) , and "he will take care of doing thee any ill";''

that is, for the time to come: and another of them observes F17 that

``this matter will be hard unto him, as if thou heapest coals on his head to burn him, (wtvb bwrm) , "because of the greatness of his shame", on account of the good that he shall receive from thee, for the evil which he hath rendered to thee.''

This advice of showing kindness to enemies, and against private revenge, is very contrary to the dictates of human nature, as corrupted by sin. The former of these Julian the emperor represents

F18 as a "paradox", though he owns it to be lawful, and a good action, to give clothes and food to enemies in war; and the latter, to revenge an injury, he says F19, is a law common to all men, Greeks and Barbarians; but the Gospel and the grace of God teach us another lesson.

F15 Jarchi in Prov. xxv. 21.
F16 R. Aben Ezra in loc.
F17 R. Levi ben Gersom in loc. Vid. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 147. 2.
F18 Fragment. inter opera, par. 1. p. 533.
F19 Ad Atheniens. p. 501.

Romans 12:20 In-Context

18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
20 No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.