If your enemy is hungry, give him some food to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him some water to drink.
⌊In this way⌋ you will make him feel guilty and ashamed,
and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22 GW)
(Context—Proverbs 25:1-22 GW)
Polarized. This is the common and current description of American society. Where various groups of people are pitted against each other as archenemies. But the sense of polarization among people or within a culture is nothing new.
Perhaps the news media, the internet, and social media heighten our awareness of it. Even contribute to it. And, some of the reactionary rhetoric fans the flames higher than needed.
But enemies—perceived or real— have existed since the beginning.
The serpent in the garden of Paradise was no friend to God or the first humans (Gen 3:14-15). It appears Cain viewed is brother Abel as an enemy of sorts. Cain perceived God honored his brother over him, so he killed him.
And so it continues
Some people become our enemies because of nationalism, jealousy, economics, politics, religion, ambitions, and a variety of other reasons. These enemies can be real. They want to harm us, even destroy us.
Other people we perceive as enemies. Perhaps for one of the previous reasons given but more often it’s because of personal slights, insecurities on our part, or a difference of opinion.
During the anti-war, anti-nuke protests and love-ins of the sixties, a popular slogan was—Make love, not war!
Maybe in our polarized times we can start a new slogan to depolarize things—Make friends, not enemies!
Both slogans may seem idealistic and naive but they echo similar conduct esteemed in preschool and kindergarten. Not only were we encouraged to share toys and such, but when some conflict erupted we were challenged to “say you’re sorry” and shake hands or hug.
Again, maybe this seems too naive and idealistic but this is the intent of these verses in Proverbs. The idea is to turn an enemy into a friend or at least defuse or deflect the animosity of an enemy.
Another Bible version phrases verse 22 this way—
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Prov 25:22 NIV)
Taken literally, this doesn’t seem to be an effective way to make a friend of your enemy. But there’s at least a couple of thoughts on this.
Taken literally, the inference is one person lending their “enemy” burning coals to start a cooking fire with much less effort. They would place the burning coals in a pot carried on the head of the other person.
But figuratively and most likely, it refers to the effect of a person’s kindness to an enemy. It brings a sense of conviction, perhaps shame for the enemy’s spiteful attitude.
Jesus referred to this in His sermons on the mount in Matthew (Matt 5:43-48) and on the plain in Luke (Luke 6:27-31). This is tied to the Golden Rule to—do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and to the merciful nature of God.
I’ve learned the effectiveness of this approach first hand from my wife. She’s done this many times with me when I’m in one of my antagonistic moods.
I’ve watched her successful use of this same strategy with feuding children, disgruntled staff, and quarrelsome people in our ministry in the US and abroad.
This is a simple way to turn enemies into friends or at least defuse their combative attitude.
But, it’s also difficult. What makes it difficult is our part. It requires us to be peacemakers—to humble ourselves, choose reconciliation instead of revenge, and trust in the Lord to honor our effort.
So, feed your enemy when he or she is hungry. It they’re thirsty, give them some refreshing water.
Be a peacemaker. It’s one of the ways we show ourselves to be true children of God (Matt 5:9).
Who knows, we just might bring some depolarization to the world around us.
God’s people are called to be peacemakers—to do our best to defuse and deflect antagonism from others. It requires humility and choosing to trust in God.
Are there people who have slighted or wronged you? People you dislike because of their opinions, or what they stand for or who they are? Then, ask the Lord to help you see them with His eyes and to help change your heart to become a peacemaker.
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