From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

Pecham , "a black coal," and Gachelath , "burning coals."  Proverbs 26:21; "as coals (fuel) are to burning coals," etc.; so we speak of quarrelsome men "adding fuel to the flame." "Coals of fire" in  2 Samuel 22:9;  2 Samuel 22:13, represent the lightning of God's wrath. In  Proverbs 25:22, "heap coals of fire upon thine enemy's head" ( Romans 12:20), the meaning is, melt him into burning shame at his own unworthy hatred, and love for thee who hast overcome his evil with thy good. Either he shall be like metals melted by fire or like clay hardened by it. In  Psalms 120:4 "coals of juniper" rather burning brands of broom, Retamim . The Arabs regard the retem (broom) the best firewood.

As their slanders burnt like coals on fire, so, by righteous retribution in kind, God will give them hot coals.  Psalms 140:10;  Psalms 18:12-13; compare the same image of the tongue,  James 3:6. In  2 Samuel 14:7 "they shall quench my coal that is left," i.e., extinguish the only surviving light of my home, my only son. In  Isaiah 6:6 and  1 Kings 19:6 the "coals" are in the Hebrew ( Rezeph ) hot stones, on which cakes were baked and flesh cooked. In  Habakkuk 3:5 ( Resheph ) "burning coals" poetically and figuratively express "burning diseases," as the parallel "pestilence" shows; also compare  Deuteronomy 32:24;  Psalms 91:6. In  Lamentations 4:8 translate as margin darker than blackness." Mineral coal protrudes through the strata to the surface of parts of Lebanon, at Cornale, eight miles from Beirut, the coal seams are three feet thick; but it seems not to have been anciently known as fuel. Charcoal is what is meant by "coal."

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]

COAL. —This word occurs in the Gospels only in  John 18:18;  John 21:9 (Gr. in both ἁνθρακιά, meaning properly ‘a brazier filled with lighted charcoal’). As a mineral, coal does not exist in Palestine except in the Wâdy Hummanâ in the Lebanon, and was mined there only during the rule of Muhammad Ali about 1834 (Thomson, The Land and the Book , 1886, iii. 193). The rendering ‘coal’ must be taken as = ‘charcoal.’ Both in ancient and in modern times, the latter substance, prepared from native timber, has been the common fuel of the East. The destruction of the forests of Palestine and Syria may be assigned as the main reason for the absence of timbered gables, and the universal prevalence, instead, of brickwork cupola roofs, and also for the wretched substitutes for fuel now employed by the natives, such as sun-dried cakes of chaff and dung, etc. The charred roots of the desert broom ( rôthem , see  Psalms 120:4) make an excellent fuel, and are much in demand in Cairo (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible , 1889, p. 360).

The geological survey of Palestine reveals its uniformly cretaceous formation, extending from the Lebanon ranges to the plateau of Hebron. The earlier rocks of the carboniferous period, if they do exist there at all under the subsequent strata, are buried at quite inaccessible depths. Traces of carboniferous outcrop, but destitute of carbonaceous deposits, have been found in the sandstone of the southern desert and the limestone of the Wâdy Nasb .

Literature.—W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book , 1886, iii. 193; Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible , 1889, p. 360; Conder, Tent Work in Pal . [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] ii. 326; Hull, Mount Seir , etc., 1889, p. 194; Gesenius, Thesaurus , p. 280; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, article ‘Coal.’

P. Henderson Aitken.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

COAL . Mineral coal was unknown in Bible times. Wherever ‘coal’ (or ‘coals’) is mentioned, therefore, we must in the great majority of cases understand wood or charcoal. Several species of wood used for heating purposes are named in   Isaiah 44:14-16 , to which   Psalms 120:4 adds ‘coals of broom’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). In two cases, however, the ‘live coal’ of Isaiah’s vision (  Isaiah 6:6 ) and the ‘coals’ on which was ‘a cake haken’ for Elijah (  1 Kings 19:6 ), the Heb. word denotes a hot stone (so RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] see Bread). The charcoal was generally burned in a brasier (  Jeremiah 36:22 ff. RV [Note: Revised Version.] , AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘hearth’) or chafing-dish, the ‘pan of fire’ of   Zechariah 12:6 RV [Note: Revised Version.] . See, further, House, § 7 .

Coal, or rather charcoal, supplies several Scripture metaphors, the most interesting of which is illustrated by the expression of the wise woman of Tekoa, ‘thus shall they quench my coal that is left’ ( 2 Samuel 14:7 ). By this she means, as shown by the following words, the death of her son and the extinction of her family, an idea elsewhere expressed as a putting out of one’s lamp (  Proverbs 13:9 ).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [4]

Mineral coal is now known to exist in the Lebanon range, but was unknown in Biblical times. Fires were seldom needed for warmth, and were as a rule used only for the cooking of food: the fire named in  John 18:18 was in the night; food was cooked by charcoal or by warming the ovens with any vegetable refuse. The coal generally referred to in the O.T. was charcoal; but other words are used which imply the hot or glowing stones on which cakes were cooked.   1 Kings 19:6;  Song of Solomon 8:6;  Isaiah 6:6;  Habakkuk 3:5 .

Heaping coals of fire on an enemy's head by kindness ( Proverbs 25:21,22;  Romans 12:20 ) becomes a test to him (as metal is tested by the fire), the kindness shown him will either bring about contrition and friendship, or harden him yet the more.

King James Dictionary [5]

COAL, n.

1. A piece of wood, or other combustible substance, ignited, burning, or charred. When burning or ignited, it is called a live coal, or burning coal, or coal of fire. When the fire is extinct, it is called charcoal. 2. In the language of chimists, any substance containing oil, which has been exposed to a fire in a close vessel, so that its volatile matter is expelled, and it can sustain a red heat without further decomposition. 3. In mineralogy, a solid, opake, inflammable substance, found in the earth, and by way of distinction called fossil coal. It is divided by recent mineralogists into three species, anthracite or glance coal, black or bituminous coal, and brown coal or lignite under which are included many varieties, such as cannel coal, bovey coal, jet, &c.


1. To burn to coal, or charcoal to char. 2. To mark or delineate with charcoal.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Coal. The first and most frequent use of the word rendered Coal is A Live Ember, Burning Fuel.  Proverbs 26:21. In  2 Samuel 22:9;  2 Samuel 22:13, "coals of fire" are put metaphorically, for the lightning, s proceeding from God.  Psalms 18:8;  Psalms 18:12-13;  Psalms 140:10. In  Proverbs 26:21, fuel, not yet lighted, is clearly signified. The fuel meant in the above passage is probably Charcoal, and not Coal in our sense of the word.

Webster's Dictionary [7]

(1): (v. t.) To supply with coal; as, to coal a steamer.

(2): (n.) A thoroughly charred, and extinguished or still ignited, fragment from wood or other combustible substance; charcoal.

(3): (v. i.) To take in coal; as, the steamer coaled at Southampton.

(4): (n.) A black, or brownish black, solid, combustible substance, dug from beds or veins in the earth to be used for fuel, and consisting, like charcoal, mainly of carbon, but more compact, and often affording, when heated, a large amount of volatile matter.

(5): (v. t.) To burn to charcoal; to char.

(6): (v. t.) To mark or delineate with charcoal.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [8]

 Proverbs 26:21 Job 41:21 Proverbs 6:28 Isaiah 44:19 Isaiah 6:6  Lamentations 4:8  2 Samuel 22:9,13 Psalm 18:8,12,13 Psalm 120:4 James 3:6 Romans 12:20

Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types [9]

 Psalm 120:4 (b) The evil words of hostile enemies are compared to coals that burn and hurt when they strike.

 Proverbs 6:23 (b) This is a figure to describe the fact that those who live in sin are defiled and hurt by sin even as those who walk upon coals are burned by them.

 Isaiah 6:6 (b) The purging power of a live coal which destroys germs and corruption is here used to illustrate the effect of the Lord Himself in touching human life to purge, cleanse, and blot out the sins.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [10]

Usually in Scripture, charcoal, or the embers of fire. Mineral coal is now procured in mount Lebanon, eight hours from Beirut; but we have no certainty that it was known and used by the Jews. The following passages are those which most strongly suggest this substance,  2 Samuel 22:9,13;  Job 41:21 .

Holman Bible Dictionary [11]

 Leviticus 16:12 Isaiah 44:12 Isaiah 44:19 Ezekiel 24:11 Psalm 18:13

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

(Sept. and N.T. Ἄνθραξ ) is a translation usually of one or the other of two Heb. words, viz., גִּחֶלֶת ( Gachleeth, literally a Kindling, Ruina ) , which signifies an ignited or Live Coal, and is of frequent occurrence ( 2 Samuel 14:7;  2 Samuel 22:9;  Job 40:21;  Psalms 18:8;  Psalms 120:4;  Isaiah 44:19;  Isaiah 47:14;  Ezekiel 24:11), often with the emphatic addition of "burning" or of "fire" ( Leviticus 16:12;  2 Samuel 22:13;  Psalms 18:12-13;  Psalms 140:10;  Proverbs 6:28;  Proverbs 25:22;  Proverbs 26:21; Ezekiel 2:13;  Ezekiel 10:2), and פֶּחָם (pecham', literally black, carbo), which properly signifies a coal quenched and not reignited, or charcoal ( Proverbs 26:21, where the distinction between this and the former term is clearly made, "as Coals [ Pecham ] are to burning coals [gacheleth]"), and hence an ignited coal ( Isaiah 44:12;  Isaiah 54:16). (See Fuel).

Two other Heb. terms (erroneously) rendered "coal" are, רַצְפָּה ( Ritspah', "live coal,"  Isaiah 6:6, literally a Pavement, as elsewhere rendered), which appears to nave been a Hot Stone used for baking upon; רֶשֶׁ ( Re'Sheph ) , properly Flames (to which jealousy is compared,  Song of Solomon 8:6), and hence pestilential Fever ( Habakkuk 3:5; "burning heat, " Deuteronomy 22:24; elsewhere a " Spark,"  Job 5:7; Thunderbolt,"  Psalms 78:48); and רֶצֶ ( Re'Tseph, spoken of a cake "baken on the coals"), which appears to be cognate to both the preceding words and to combine their meaning, and may thus designate (as explained by the Rabbias a Coal, Sept. Ἐγκρυφία , Vulg. Subcinericus ) a loaf baked Among The Embers. (See Bread).

In  Lamentations 4:8, "their visage is blacker than a Coal," the word is שֶׁחוֹר ( Shechor' ) , which simply means Blackness, as in the margin. In the New Testament, the "fire of coals" ( Ἀνθρακία ,  John 18:18) evidently means a mass of live charcoal, used in a chafing-dish for warming in the East, and so explained by Suidas and parallel instances in the Apocrypha ( Sirach 8:10;  Sirach 11:32). The substance indicated in all the foregoing passages is doubtless Charcoal, although anthracite or bituminous coal has been found in Palestine in modern times (see Browning's Report; also Elliot, 2:257). (See Mineral).

"In  2 Samuel 22:9;  2 Samuel 22:13, coals of fire' are put metaphorically for the lightnings proceeding from God ( Psalms 18:8;  Psalms 18:12-13;  Psalms 140:10). In  Proverbs 25:22, we have the proverbial expression Thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head,' which has been adopted by Paul in  Romans 12:20, and by which is metaphorically expressed the burning shame and confusion which men must feel when their evil is requited by good. (See the essays on this text by Heinrich [Lug-d. B. 1716], Wahner [Gott. 1740].), In like manner, the Arabs speak of coals of the heart, fire of the liver, to denote burning care, anxiety, remorse, and shame (Gesen. Thesaur. Heb. p. 280). In  Psalms 120:4, coals' burning brands of wood (not juniper,' but broom), to which the false tongue is compared ( James 3:6). In  2 Samuel 14:7, the quenching of the live coal is used to indicate the threatened destruction of the single remaining branch of the family of the widow of Tekoah suborned by Joab; just as Lucian (Timothy § 3) uses the word Ζώπυρον in the same connection." (See Fire).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [13]

kōl ( פחם , peḥam , "charcoal"; compare Arabic faḥm , "charcoal"; גּחלת , gaḥeleth , "burning coal" or "hot ember"; compare Arabic jaḥam , "to kindle"; שׁחור , sheḥōr , "a black coal" ( Lamentations 4:8 ); compare Arabic shaḥḥār , "soot" or "dark-colored sandstone"; רצף , receph ( 1 Kings 19:6 ), and רצפה , ricpāh (= Rizpah) ( Isaiah 6:6 ), margin "a hot stone"; compare רשׁף , resheph , "a flame" ( Song of Solomon 8:6;  Habakkuk 3:5 ); ἄνθραξ , ánthrax , "a live coal" ( Romans 12:20 ) (= gaḥeleth in  Proverbs 25:22 ); ανθρακια , ἀνθρακιά , anthrakiá , "a live coal" ( John 18:18;  John 21:9 )): There is no reference to mineral coal in the Bible. Coal, or more properly lignite, of inferior quality, is found in thin beds (not exceeding 3 ft.) in the sandstone formation (see Geology , Nubian Sandstone), but there is no evidence of its use in ancient times. Charcoal is manufactured in a primitive fashion which does not permit the conservation of any by-products. A flat, circular place (Arabic beidar , same name as for a threshing-floor) 10 or 15 ft. in diameter is prepared in or conveniently near to the forest. On this the wood, to be converted into charcoal, is carefully stacked in a dome-shaped structure, leaving an open space in the middle for fine kindlings. All except the center is first covered with leaves, and then with earth. The kindlings in the center are then fired and afterward covered in the same manner as the rest. While it is burning or smoldering it is carefully watched, and earth is immediately placed upon any holes that may be formed in the covering by the burning of the wood below. In several days, more or less, according to the size of the pile, the wood is converted into charcoal and the heap is opened. The charcoal floor is also called in Arabic mashḥarah , from shaḥḥār , "soot"; compare Hebrew sheḥōr ̌ . The characteristic odor of the mashḥarah clings for months to the spot.

In  Psalm 120:4 , there is mention of "coals of juniper," the Revised Version, margin "broom," rōthem . This is doubtless the Arabic retem , Retama roetam , Forsk., a kind of broom which is abundant in Judea and Moab. Charcoal from oak wood, especially Quercus coccifera , L., Arabic sindyān , is much preferred to other kinds, and fetches a higher price.

In most of the passages where English versions have "coal," the reference is not necessarily to charcoal, but may be to coals of burning wood. Peḥam in  Proverbs 26:21 , however, seems to stand for charcoal:

"As coals are to hot embers, and wood to fire,

So is a contentious man to inflame strife."

The same may be true of peḥam in  Isaiah 44:12 and   Isaiah 54:16; also of sheḥōr in  Lamentations 4:8 .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [14]

It is generally assumed that, in those numerous passages of our version in which the word coal occurs, charcoal, or some other kind of artificial fuel, is to be understood; at all events, that the word has not its English meaning. The idea is founded upon the supposition that fossil coal was not known to the ancients as an article of fuel, and especially to the ancient inhabitants of Syria, whose country it is generally imagined did not produce it. But the existence of coal in Syria is now placed beyond a doubt. Many indications of coal occur in the Lebanon Mountains; the seams of this mineral even protrude through the superincumbent strata in various directions. At Cornale, eight hours from Beirut, at 2500 feet above the level of the sea, where the coal seams are three feet in thickness, a mine is actually being worked by order of Mohammed Ali, in which more than 100 men are employed. The coal is of good quality, and mixed with iron pyrites. In 1837 the quantity of coal extracted was 14,700 cantars of 217 okes, each making about 4000 tons. A furnace for smelting the ore and a railroad to convey the coals to Beirut were then in contemplation.

It appears from the testimony of Theophrastus that pit-coal was used by artificers in Greece, nearly 300 years B.C., and the well-ascertained existence of coal in Syria, emerging to the very surface, may, in conjunction with some particulars respecting the mention of coal in the Scriptures, tend to show the possibility that coal, in the proper sense, was not wholly unknown or unemployed by the ancient Hebrews, etc.