|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
12:17-21 Since men became enemies to God, they have been very ready to be enemies one to another. And those that embrace religion, must expect to meet with enemies in a world whose smiles seldom agree with Christ's. Recompense to no man evil for evil. That is a brutish recompence, befitting only animals, which are not conscious of any being above them, or of any existence hereafter. And not only do, but study and take care to do, that which is amiable and creditable, and recommends religion to all with whom you converse. Study the things that make for peace; if it be possible, without offending God and wounding conscience. Avenge not yourselves. This is a hard lesson to corrupt nature, therefore a remedy against it is added. Give place unto wrath. When a man's passion is up, and the stream is strong, let it pass off; lest it be made to rage the more against us. The line of our duty is clearly marked out, and if our enemies are not melted by persevering kindness, we are not to seek vengeance; they will be consumed by the fiery wrath of that God to whom vengeance belongeth. The last verse suggests what is not easily understood by the world; that in all strife and contention, those that revenge are conquered, and those that forgive are conquerors. Be not overcome of evil. Learn to defeat ill designs against you, either to change them, or to preserve your own peace. He that has this rule over his spirit, is better than the mighty. God's children may be asked whether it is not more sweet unto them than all earthly good, that God so enables them by his Spirit, thus to feel and act.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him,.... These words are taken from Proverbs 25:21, and to be understood, as a Jewish (o) writer observes, 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, "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 (p) 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, , and "he will take care of doing thee any ill";''
that is, for the time to come: and another of them observes (q) that
"this matter will be hard unto him, as if thou heapest coals on his head to burn him, , "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 (r) 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 (s), is a law common to all men, Greeks and Barbarians; but the Gospel and the grace of God teach us another lesson.
(o) Jarchi in Proverbs 25.21. (p) R. Aben Ezra in loc. (q) R. Levi ben Gersom in loc. Vid. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 147. 2.((r) Fragment. inter opera, par. 1. p. 533. (s) Ad Atheniens. p. 501.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
20. if thine enemy hunger, &c.—This is taken from Pr 25:21, 22, which without doubt supplied the basis of those lofty precepts on that subject which form the culminating point of the Sermon on the Mount.
in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head—As the heaping of "coals of fire" is in the Old Testament the figurative expression of divine vengeance (Ps 140:10; 11:6, &c.), the true sense of these words seems to be, "That will be the most effectual vengeance—a vengeance under which he will be fain to bend" (So Alford, Hodge, &c.). Ro 12:21 confirms this.
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