Proverbs 6:27

6:27 Can a man hold fire against his chest

without burning his clothes?

Proverbs 25:22

25:22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head,

and the Lord will reward you.


tn The Qal imperfect (with the interrogative) here has a potential nuance – “Is it possible to do this?” The sentence is obviously a rhetorical question making an affirmation that it is not possible.

sn “Fire” provides the analogy for the sage’s warning: Fire represents the sinful woman (hypocatastasis) drawn close, and the burning of the clothes the inevitable consequences of the liaison. See J. L. Crenshaw, “Impossible Questions, Sayings, and Tasks,” Semeia 17 (1980): 19-34. The word “fire” (אֵשׁ, ’esh) plays on the words “man” (אִישׁ,’ish) and “woman” (אִשָּׁה, ’ishah); a passage like this probably inspired R. Gamaliel’s little explanation that what binds a man and a woman together in a holy marriage is י (yod) and ה (he), the two main letters of the holy name Yah. But if the Lord is removed from the relationship, that is, if these two letters are removed, all that is left is the אֵשׁ – the fire of passion. Since Gamaliel was the teacher of Paul, this may have influenced Paul’s advice that it was better to marry than to burn (1 Cor 7:9).

tn Heb “snatch up fire into his bosom.”

tn The second colon begins with the vav (ו) disjunctive on the noun, indicating a disjunctive clause; here it is a circumstantial clause.

sn The imagery of the “burning coals” represents pangs of conscience, more readily effected by kindness than by violence. These coals produce the sharp pain of contrition through regret (e.g., 18:19; 20:22; 24:17; Gen 42-45; 1 Sam 24:18-20; Rom 12:20). The coals then would be an implied comparison with a searing conscience.

sn The second consequence of treating enemies with kindness is that the Lord will reward the act. The fact that this is promised shows that the instruction here belongs to the religious traditions of Israel.