The entire chapter is thematically related by the repeated themes of the court, kings, and rule. If vv. 2-5 are the introductory material 6-15 seem to be related to God and kings while 16-27 perhaps are more concerned with the broader court and kingdom and particularly the relationship to wickedness and righteousness (cf. v. 5). But the entire chapter still has to do with “rule” (25:28). The end of the chapter is also a return to the theme of “glory” (25:27, cf. 25:2).
Vv. 16-27 are structured by the inclusio related to eating honey. While the first exhortation seems to have more to do with temperance and moderation, v. 27 is clearly concerned with selfishness and vainglory. This final form of overeating is parallel to the first exhortation not to exalt yourself in the presence of the king (25:6).
Waltke cites a commentator who notes the inclusio between eating-hating (v. 16-17) and hating-feeding (v. 21). “In verses 16-17 ‘eating’ runs the risk of creating a ‘hater,’ while in verses 21-22 the problem of the ‘hater’ is positively resolved by giving him something ‘to eat.’” (325)
16-17 are tied together in a couple of ways. First, the principle is one of moderation as opposed to excess. Too much of a good thing can have negative consequences. The Hebrew bears this out by using the same verb twice. “Lest you be filled and vomit it” and “lest he be filled and hate you.” Literally the exhortation is to make your foot precious and valuable to your neighbor. And value is frequently related to scarcity. Not “setting foot” in your neighbor’s house is the second geographical exhortation in the chapter, perhaps parallel with the idea not to go to court swiftly (v. 8). And the following verse is again related to how we treat our “neighbor” (cf. 25:8-9). The overarching principle is one of self control.
18 continues the theme of treatment of “neighbors” which is parallel to vv. 8-11. Verses 18-20 are all negative proberbs with a similar structure and syntax. First, structurally there is a simple comparison taking place in all three, and in the Hebrew, the image comes first followed by the concrete situation being considered. Second, there are at least three puns running through these proverbs. Neighbor, bad, and heavy; sharp, tooth; unfaithful man in a time of… , garment on a day of… are all echoes of each other in the Hebrew.
The three proverbs also seem to be running in a sort of descending order. Beginning with the false witness, it moves on to the unfaithful man in a day of trouble, and it finally descends to someone who is just thoughtless or rude. The comparisons descend accordingly: from images of assault violence and inflicted pain, to more passive pain as a rotting tooth and unstable/shaking foot. While the former pictures the false witness as a more active enemy, the latter is simply untrustworthy and painful especially in a day of trouble. Waltke points out that the three weapons listed in the arsenal of the false witness are the basic weapons of a warrior and ascend from close range to long range. On the other hand, the untrustworthy man is passively treacherous by leaving his friend wounded on the battlefield.
The final proverb in this series returns to weather imagery (cf. 13-14), but here the “cold” is uncomfortable and bothersome. The one who sings songs to a “bad heart” is being unseasonable. Again, the pain and discomfort is related to timing, singing songs on a “day of cold” like the untrustworthy man on a “day of trouble.”
As noted previously, this proverb is the answer to eating too much (v. 16); rather than eating too much, the son/prince ought to give food to the one who “hates” him. Literally, the text says to give your “enemy” bread if he is hungry, water if he is thirsty. This action, will “snatch up” burning coals onto his head and Yahweh will make a covenant of peace with you.
A number of possibilities here: First there may be something sacrificial being implied here. Coals were used for burning the incense that was burned in the tabernacle (Lev. 16:12). The result that Yahweh makes peace with you is an idea that is bound up in the sacrificial system. The same root is of course used for the “peace offering,” but the verb to “make peace” is used in the context of restitution (Lev. 5:16, 24, 24:18, 21). Previously, Proverbs has exhorted the son not to say “I will repay [make peace] with evil” (20:22).
The Psalmist prays for something like this to happen as more of a straightforward judgment from God (Ps. 140:11). But given the context of neighbors and being at peace, the implication seems to be that “snatching coals” is actually a way of bringing reconciliation, a way of removing the cause of contention (cf. Pr. 26:21). Ezekiel watches the man in linen who is called by God take colas from “between the cherubim” and scatter them over the city of Jerusalem (Ez. 10:2ff). This is part of the process of God’s glory leaving the city. But of course the judgments of God are usually include elements of punishment and deliverance so it does not seem that we must choose.
Heaping coals of fire on the head is at least vaguely reminiscent of a crown and thereby kingly. Not only is the command to treat an enemy as a neighbor, but perhaps the implication is that doing so is an act of bestowing glory, one which God honors by bringing peace. But this act of friendship and glory combined with food means that hospitality has far more potency than we might think. Hospitality is one of the instruments that God uses to bring his judgments to bear in the world. We leave room for God’s wrath, but that does not mean that we are not involved in overcoming evil (Rom. 12:19-21).
If the cross is God’s greatest act of hospitality, laying his life down for his enemies in order to make them friends, Pentecost is the completion of that hospitality. Christ pours out gifts on his enemies, crowning them with coals of fire which is for the peace of the world. And we ought not to forget that the Eucharist is related here as well. God is pleased to feed those who disobey, betray, and misuse him. We are the false witnesses, the untrustworthy friends, and the rude neighbors, and God invites us in our hunger and thirst to his table. And God is pleased to heap burning coals on our heads, and we confess our sins, we are forgiven, and we are crowned with peace.
Structurally, it looks as if many of the themes of vv. 6-15 are being repeated in vv. 16-22, and the implication seems to be that the lives of individuals and their neighbors and friends has a great deal to do with how a kingdom goes. The son being trained to be a king must see the day to day interactions of his subjects as directly related to the wellbeing of his kingdom. The final proverb of the chapter finally makes this plain: self-rule is likened to the security of a city (25:28).