Proverbs 25:22

For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.
– Proverbs 25:22

Verse 22 provides two results from the patient kindness to be shown to enemies in the previous verse. Paul refers to these two verses in a passage where he exhorts us to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:17-21). He also referred to another key Old Testament passage when exhorting not to take vengeance. What Paul had to say in that passage sheds much light on the meaning of these verses in Proverbs, and particularly verse 22. Paul wrote not to repay “evil for evil,” and ended with “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). He acknowledges that we are sinned against by others, but exhorts us not to respond to that sin by sinning against them in a reciprocal manner.

We are to strive to live at peace with others and he gives us two foundational reasons and ways to do this. First, we have to give up any rights we think we have to avenge ourselves for being wronged. The reason for this is given in reference to Deuteronomy 32:35. Vengeance belongs to God. He is the judge and executer of justice. We are not to usurp his judicial purview. Jesus modeled this for us in his death (1 Peter 2:23). However, it is not that only the prerogative belongs to God, but he will revenge all injustice. So, we are to trust that to him.

Second, we respond to the unjust treatment we have received with a compassionate and patient kindness. We give bread and water to our hungering and thirsting adversary. We are to do good to them as Jesus taught in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44-45). Paul also quotes the result being coals of fire heaped on their heads through our actions. We know that Paul doesn’t mean we should show a fake kindness in order to fatten them for the kill. Jesus said doing so means we will be like our Father in Heaven. The phrase is best understood as bringing them to contrition, which would mean that we are seeking their good and not our own back in revenge.

These other Scriptures bring the meaning of this verse to light. Paul did not include the last phrase, “and the LORD shall reward thee.” However, understanding this phrase gives a meaning consistent with the meaning Paul used in his passage. The word for reward means to be safe, or to be completed. Actually, the word has such a broad range of meaning that it is obscure unless the immediate context, or some other passage, clarifies it. The word is used in a variety of ways in the Old Testament, but two instances will help us. The principle of restitution in the law uses this word to “make it good” (Exodus 22:14; Leviticus 24:18), referring to requiting, or repaying, one whom you have wronged. The word is used in this same vein in the other verse Paul quoted and it is there translated “recompence” (Deuteronomy 32:35). So, this proverb is teaching that compassionate and patient kindness can be shown to enemies, because the Lord will repay any vengeance necessary. This is exactly what Paul understood the proverb to mean and the way he used it in Romans 12:17-21.

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Proverbs 24:29

Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.
– Proverbs 24:29

The warning of verse 29 could be in light of the warning in the previous verse against false witness in the form of baseless accusations. This verse has to do with retaliation, or seeking revenge. Rendering to men according their works is the sole work of Yahweh (Proverbs 20:22; 24:12; Romans 2:5-6; Romans 12:19-21). Personal retaliations tend to escalate anger, which is contrary to wisdom (Proverbs 10:12; 15:1, 18; 28:25; 29:22).

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Proverbs 20:22

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
– Proverbs 20:22

The word for recompense means to reciprocate, or to repay. The repaying of evil refers to revenge, or vengeance. The first phrase speaks of getting back, or getting even with someone who has done you evil. It is natural for man to want to give as he gets; to repay evil with evil. On the one hand we have an inherent sense of justice, especially when it comes to wrongs personally suffered. This is a remnant of the imago dei, though being marred by sin that image present in our conscience is flawed (Romans 2:14-15). On the other hand, our pride is offended in personal injury and we want to put ourselves in the place of God to mete out justice as we see fit. Wisdom, of course, teaches a better way.

Proverbs considers this common experience from a few different angles. In Proverbs 17:13, wisdom understands the one who repays evil for good shall reap what he sows. So when we suffer evil for good we have done, we can know the offender will not “get away with it.” Proverbs 24:29 plainly instructs us not to seek vengeance at our own hands. If we consider this proverb with the one before it (Proverbs 24:28), wisdom will not violate law and justice in order to repay one who has done the same to us. Proverbs 25:21 provides an alternative, positive response to being wronged.

Proverbs 20:22 appeals to the sovereignty of God as a wise comfort in suffering wrong. However, this proverb makes the unique contribution in the second line. Wisdom instructs to wait, which means have patience. But it is not to wait for Diving vengeance to fall on our adversary, but rather our own deliverance, or rescue as the word for save means. Rather than take vengeance in our own hands or wait for justice to come from elsewhere, we are to wait on the Lord and trust in him. Jesus exampled this for us (1 Peter 2:23; 4:19), and so Paul found comfort in his many sufferings (2 Timothy 1:12).

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