By F. M. Perry, November 5, 2001.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21,22)

"But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 20, 21)

Terrorist atrocities, especially those of last September 11, reveal that Western Civilization has enemies. A terrorist leader, Usama bin-Ladin, seeks to propagandize his terrorism as an especially justified crusade against Christians and Christian sympathizers. But this enmity is simply another case of a group of human beings actively hostile to another group of human beings, generically similar to cases of enmity between human beings ever since Cain rose up and killed Abel. That this phenomena of enmity between people has always been common among human beings is clearly recognized in God's Holy Bible. The human actions necessary to discourage such enmity also are given in the Bible.

God's ancient advice to His people can be read in Proverbs 25:21: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. Contrary to that advice human nature usually tells one to meet enmity with enmity. Human reasoning calls for an enemy to be deprived of food so he can be more easily defeated. Of course, in that context the enemy may be defeated, but his enmity is not destroyed. He remains an enemy and no real peace is achieved. But God's advice in the proverb surely was designed to discourage enmity and encourage peace. In God's context enmity is evil and only peace is good. The only real victory over the evil of enmity is to achieve peace through conversion of the enemy to friendship. No peaceful future is achieved in trying to quell enmity with further enmity.

The proverb explains, albeit bewilderingly, how the feeding of one's enemy achieves God's purpose. By feeding your enemy, the proverb says, you will heap burning coals upon his head. Surely the proverb speaks metaphorically, not literally. The kind act of feeding someone who is hungry would normally have no direct connection with the unkind act of heaping burning coals on him. To heap burning coals upon someone's head would undoubtedly produce pain. The meaning seems to be that, somehow, the feeding of one's enemy will bring pain upon him, and the bringing of this pain to bear upon him may have a desirable effect upon him. How does the giving of food to one's enemy bring about this paradoxical effect?

A popular understanding of the proverb suggests that the purpose of the action is to bring a type of pain to the enemy that will result in his shame, his remorse of conscience, and a conviction of the evil of his conduct that may lead to his repentance for his enmity. The apostle Paul's statement of this proverb in Romans 12:20.21 supports this understanding by addition of the words: Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good. We are led to the conclusion that the way to bring someone to repentance for his enmity is to do him good.

The first thing that might have come to mind for readers of this proverb, especially in Old Testament times, was an actual battlefield situation when God's people might be confronted by an hostile enemy. Is an actual battlefield situation the origin of the analogy of the metaphor used in this proverb? Were there any actual historical battlefield situations where the feeding of an hungry enemy resulted in the quelling of his enmity? There is a confrontation of armies mentioned in 2nd Kings, chapter 6, where enmity was placated by the giving of food by one army to its enemy. An army of Arameans came into Israel to maraud through the nation. The prophet Elisha prayed that God strike the marauders with blindness. They became so blind that Elisha was able to lead them to a very uneven confrontation with the vast army of Israel at the capital city, Samaria. Arriving there, Elisha prayed that the marauders eyes be opened to see themselves in confrontation with the army of Israel. The king of Israel was inclined to have his army fall upon the marauders and kill them. But, Elisha constrained him, instructing instead that he set bread and water before them that they might eat and drink. The king prepared a feast for them and then sent them home unharmed. The result is stated: And the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel. (2nd Kings 6:23). Undoubtedly, if the captured Arameans had been killed, the king of Aram and all the other Arameans would have been so inflamed as to continue, and even to increase, their warfare against Israel. But the overcoming of evil with good resulted in a period of peace for Israel. Thus the basis for the occasion to serve as an apt metaphor, as contained in the proverb, was established.

This proverb, while stating a principle applicable to human life in the fleshly world, formed an analogy to better understand the spiritual realm. In Old Testament times human beings were called to live by faith in an invisible spiritual God just as people are called in New Testament times. People of faith, even before the coming of the Messiah, came to understand that they too were spiritual beings, only temporarily clothed in flesh. It seems, however, that God's people who lived under the first covenant, lived closer to the fleshly side of the analogies (as stated in the proverbs) simply because they had not seen as yet the spiritual fulfillment of many prophecies as have God's people of the second covenant under the risen Christ. My point is that people of the Christian era have more opportunities, perhaps, to be aware of the reality of the spiritual realm and the application of analogies of Biblical "figures of speech" to spiritual life. Anyway, my prayer is that we grow to live closer to the spiritual realities revealed especially in God's Word spoken to us by the Son of God who once lived clothed in flesh as we do, but who now lives wholly in spirit as we soon will.

And such was the purpose of God's Spirit through the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 12, that we fully analyze the application of a proverb to the actions of a spiritual people living on the threshold of the wholly spiritual realm. In the Roman letter, Paul wrote to Christians living in a secular world basically not unlike our world of today. By necessity those Christians lived in a secular world, held secular jobs, engaged in worldly commerce to some extent, and raised families, as Christians do today. They were admonished by God's Word, however, to not be "of the world" in the basic purpose and goals of their lives. They were admonished to carry out the purposes of God as though Jesus Christ lived in them, just as Christians are admonished today. It is clear as we read the same New Testament today that a prime goal before them at all times was to preach the gospel of Christ to all the people of the world with whom they came in contact.

In that context of life the Spirit reminded them of this Old Testament proverb: "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." And then the Spirit added: Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20.21).


Today our government's war defines an "enemy" for the fleshly citizens of the United States generally as the terrorists of the world, terrorists who desire to perform atrocities similar to those for which September 11, 2001 will be remembered forever in history. Our government insists that only those people who strive to kill the flesh of innocent people or disrupt innocent fleshly lives can be classed as enemy in the war. Although many of the terrorists seem to base their terrorism on so-called tenets of the Islamic religion, the rules of the war are that Muslims (those of the Islamic religion) at large cannot be classed as enemy if they do not seek to carry out terrorism. The government rules for the war are based on humanitarian and political principles and not on religious or spiritual principles. They are, however, designed to protect all secular and religious cultures that exist under our secular law. I am not a lawyer able to define legally and exactly who is an enemy of the United States in this war, but I want to point out that the word "enemy" as used in the context of Romans 12:20 is different from the "enemy" that our government has defined for this secular war.

The enemy of the Christian in the spiritual warfare is anyone who opposes the spiritual purpose of God as defined in God's Bible, not necessarily one who opposes the Christian's secular government. In Paul's Roman letter Christian warfare occurs in the spiritual realm and the weapon wielded by a Christian is a spiritual weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The Christian warfare is not only non-threatening to the fleshly life of the enemy but promises life extension and everything good to the enemy who capitulates. Thus, in the spiritual warfare of a Christian it becomes perfectly rational and necessary that the enemy who hungers is to be fed. (And we might add, since all things in our secular material world were created for us according to spiritual principles, it is also perfectly rational that we feed our hungry enemies in secular warfare as well. The secular strategy of starving the enemy is a spiritually seditious innovation by Satan designed to destroy God's human creation.)


In the same way that a contemplation of spiritual warfare, as opposed to secular warfare, puts a different definition on the word "enemy," so it also puts a different definition on the word "hunger." Whereas in secular warfare an enemy's body may literally hunger for food, in spiritual warfare the enemy's soul hungers for spiritual sustenance. Spiritual sustenance is what Christ spoke of when He said in His Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,. for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). He spoke of spiritual sustenance when He discoursed with Simon Peter and told him to Feed My lambs, and Feed My sheep (John 21:15,17). Christ spoke of spiritual sustenance when He commissioned Christians to Go into all the world and preach the gospel, to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Spiritual warfare is based on the implication that everyone needs, or has a hunger for, the gospel of Christ. If the non-Christian enemy does not acknowledge his hunger for spiritual sustenance, it must be that he does not understand the reality of his own need. The very fact that he is termed an "enemy" in this warfare defines his inherent hunger even though he may not recognize the reality of his hunger. It really is not a rational decision for one to take a position as an enemy of Christ and engage himself in such spiritual warfare. Christ pleaded the irrationality of His enemies when He cried out as His enemies crucified Him, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

All (humans) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and their sin has earned for them positions as enemies of God. But it is God's desire to impart the glory of His righteousness to his human enemies. God's only offensive weapon in the warfare against His enemies is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And the word of God is that for which every enemy has a deep soul hunger. God defeats His human enemies by overcoming their evil with good. Therefore the spiritual warfare in which Christians are called upon to engage is a warfare in which they always feed the enemy, thus, overcoming evil with good.

In chapter 12 of the Roman letter Paul is stating practical principles of how Christians should go about living in the world, but not living as part of the world. The inclusion in this section of this holy proverb (But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink), confirms the fact that Paul recognized that the major priority of the Christian's life was to be preaching God's gospel to the sinners of the world. The purpose of the use of this proverb in God's word seems to lie primarily in its use as an analogy of the way things work in God's spiritual realm. And it is God's spiritual principles which Christians must learn to apply even as they live in the world.


"The hijacking of innocent people to kill innocent people ... this is not cowardice. This is not terrorism. This is evil. This is a date with the Devil, a date of September 11, 9-11, 911, that serves as an emergency call for a nation that is in desperate trouble, a citizenry that for too long has been guilty of what late 19th century social activist William Barclay called 'The Seven National Crimes: I don't think, I don't know, I don't care, I'm too busy, I leave well enough alone, I have no time to read and find out, and, I am not interested'."

Consider the above quotation from a sermon by evangelist Len Sweet, <>. It may help us wake up to what really is going on around us. In the Devil's war with God, the Devil captures human souls and holds them hostage, using them as expendable "cannon fodder." To the many Christians who have been apathetic to what has been happening, the September 11th catastrophe is a "Trumpet of Warning" to wake us up to the fact that the forces of Christ have "hungry enemies" to be fed. We must respond by wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God to the feeding of the unbelievers of the world.

The phrase in the "feed your enemy" proverb which says, for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head, is not an inappropriate metaphor. If the figurative "burning coals" do not bring the enemy to repentance, they foretell the dreadfulness of his judgement to come. The escape from this judgement is offered only in the gospel which must be communicated to the world by Christians. That is why we must awake from apathy and accept Christ's Great Commission.

With Love, F. M. Perry

© 2002, F. M. Perry>