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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” The Chinese proverb speaks to the image put in front of us, but what about when no actual image is offered? What if you just have words that cause your mind to paint the picture?
When teaching Hermeneutics a few years ago, we took a sharp look at the culture to help determine the possible meaning behind pictorial wording. The example used was, “Heap burning coals on his head…” from Romans 12, below:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Ro. 12:17-21 (emphasis mine)
Not only was Paul painting a dandy of a picture, but he was speaking directly to the culture of that day, while also quoting Proverbs 25: 21-22. In that culture, fire was HUGE! It was important for warmth and cooking, and when your “fire went out”, (and out of burning material) it was not a good thing. These folks would travel distances to their neighbor to get more live burning coals. If the neighbor was generous and full of kindness, they would not just place a few hot coals in the pottery container, but HEAP the pot full. The person would then place a cloth on their head, putting the container there as well and carry it home that way, as was the custom. Reading the verse with this in mind has the potential of letting you see it differently then we might think.
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (vs. 20,21)
In doing so, you meet the need of the person, and you go big and beyond. Now YOU are not playing the game…rather, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
A picture of understanding.
DeDe Southwick, wife and mother of two wonderful sons, two lovely stepdaughters and a sweet granddaughter. She along with her husband Mark, reside outside of Portland, Oregon. She enjoys gardening, making her guys laugh, and a hardy theological geeky-looking book. She and Mark enjoy ministry as a team, he the solid calm strength to her silly geeky side. You can find her blog here.