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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Gift, Giving

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I. In the OT . 1. In the East what is described as a ‘gift’ is often hardly worthy of the name. ‘Gift’ may be a courtesy title for much that is of the nature of barter or exchange, tribute or compulsory homage, or even of bribery. It is well understood that a gift accepted lays the recipient under the obligation of returning a quid pro quo in some form or other. The queen of Sheba’s gifts to Solomon were a sort of royal commerce. The charming picture of Ephron’s generosity to Abraham with regard to the cave of Machpelah ( Genesis 23:1-20 ) must be interpreted in the light of Oriental custom; it is a mere piece of politeness, not intended to be accepted. An Arab will give anything to an intending buyer, and appeal to witnesses that he does so, but it is understood to be only a form, to help him to raise the price (see Driver, Genesis, ad. loc. ). Cf. the transaction between David and Araunah ( 2 Samuel 24:22 ). In other cases the return is of a less material character, consisting of the granting of a request or the restoring of favour. Hence Jacob’s anxiety as to Esau’s acceptance of his gifts ( Genesis 32:20; Genesis 33:10 ); cf. the present to Joseph ( Genesis 43:11 ) and 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:28 . The principle is stated in Proverbs 18:16 ‘A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men’ (cf. Proverbs 19:8 ). It is obvious that a gift in this sense easily becomes a bribe; hence the frequent commands to receive no gift, ‘for a gift blindeth the eyes of the wise’ ( Exodus 23:8 , Deuteronomy 16:19; Deuteronomy 27:25 , Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 17:23 , Psalms 15:5 , Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 5:23 etc.). It should be noticed that in this connexion a special Heb. word ( shôchad ) is used, meaning a ‘bribe’; AV [Note: Authorized Version.] and RV [Note: Revised Version.] often tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘gift’ or ‘reward.’ In 1 Kings 15:19 , 2 Kings 16:8 it is used of a bribe from king to king. Even the Roman Felix expects a gift ( Acts 24:26 ).

2. In a more legitimate sense we find gifts offered to kings, etc., by way of homage ( 1 Samuel 10:27 , Psalms 45:12 ), or tribute ( Judges 3:15 , 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:6 , 1 Kings 4:21 , Psalms 72:10 ); the presents to Assyria, etc., are clearly not spontaneous, and the receiving of such homage from subject kings is a favourite subject of sculptures and paintings. 1 Samuel 25:1-44 illustrates the ground on which such a gift was sometimes claimed; it was a payment for protection. Gifts were expected in consulting a prophet or oracle ( Num 22:1-41 , 1 Samuel 9:7 , 2Ki 5:5 , 2 Kings 8:9 , Daniel 5:17 ). Whether regulated or unregulated, they formed the chief support of priests and Levites, and were the necessary accompaniment of worship. ‘None shall appear before me empty’ ( Exodus 23:15; Exodus 34:20 ). One side of sacrifice is giving to God. The spiritual religion realized that Jehovah’s favour did not depend on these things ( Isaiah 1:1-31 , Psalms 50:1-23 ), still more that He was not to be bribed. In Deuteronomy 10:17 it is said that He is One ‘who taketh not reward’ [the word for ‘bribe’; see above]. But there can be no doubt that in the popular view a gift to God was supposed to operate in precisely the same manner as a gift to a judge or earthly monarch ( Malachi 1:8 ). Its acceptance was the sign of favour and of the granting of the request ( Judges 13:23 , 2 Chronicles 7:1 ); its rejection, of disfavour ( Genesis 4:4 , Malachi 1:10 ). 1 Samuel 26:10 shows that a gift was regarded as propitiatory, and the machinery of the vow takes the same point of view. It should be noted that the word minchah , which is continually used of gifts and homage to men, is also specially used of offerings to God, and in P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] technically of the ‘meal-offering.’ For the meaning of ‘gift’ or Corban in Mark 7:11 etc., see art. Sacrifice and Offering. Almsgiving became one of the three things by which merit was earned before God, the other two being prayer and fasting; and magnificent gifts to the Temple were a means of personal display ( Luke 21:5 , Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant. XV. xi. 3).

3. Passing from cases where the gift is neither spontaneous nor disinterested, but is only a polite Oriental periphrasis for other things, we turn to instances where the word is used in a truer sense. If the king looked for ‘gifts’ from his subjects, he was also expected to return them in the shape of largess, especially on festive occasions ( Esther 2:18 ). This often took the form of an allowance from the royal table ( Genesis 43:34 , 2 Samuel 11:8 , Jeremiah 40:5 ). We read more generally of gifts to the needy in Nehemiah 8:10 , Esther 9:22 , Ecclesiastes 11:2 , Psalms 112:9 (see Almsgiving). The gift of a rohe, or other article from the person, was of special significance ( 1 Samuel 18:4 ). Interchanges of gifts between equals are mentioned in Esther 9:19 , Revelation 11:10 . On the occasion of a wedding, presents are sent by friends to the bridegroom’s house. Gifts, as distinct from the ‘dowry,’ were sometimes given by the bridegroom to the bride ( Genesis 24:63; Genesis 34:12 ); sometimes by the bride’s father ( Judges 1:14 , 1 Kings 9:18 ).

II. In the NT . It is characteristic of the NT that many of its usages of the word ‘gift’ are connected with God’s gifts to men His Son, life, the Holy Spirit, etc. ‘Grace’ is the free gift of God. ‘Gifts’ is specially used of the manifestations of the Spirit (see Spiritual Gifts). Ephesians 4:8 illustrates well the change of attitude. St. Paul quotes from Psalms 68:19 , where the point is the homage which Jehovah receives from vanquished foes, and applies the words to the gifts which the victorious Christ has won for His Church. It is more Divine, more characteristic of God, to give than to receive. This is, in fact, the teaching of the NT on the subject. As the Father and His Son freely give all things, so must the Christian. Almsgiving is restored to its proper place; the true gift is not given to win merit from God, or to gain the praise of men, but proceeds from love, hoping for nothing again ( Matthew 6:1 , Luke 6:32; see Almsgiving). Our Lord Himself accepted gifts, and taught that it is our highest privilege to give to Him and His ‘little ones’ ( Luke 5:29; Luke 7:37; Luke 8:2 , John 12:2 ). And giving remains an integral part of Christian worship, as a willing homage to God, the wrong ideas of compulsion or persuasion being cast aside ( 1 Chronicles 29:14 , Matthew 2:11; Matthew 5:25 , 2 Corinthians 9:7 ff., Revelation 21:24 ). The gifts to St. Paul from his converts ( Philippians 4:16 ), and from the Gentile Churches to Jerusalem ( Acts 11:29 , Romans 15:20 , 1Co 16:1 , 2 Corinthians 8:1-24; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 ), play a very important part in the history of the early Church.

C. W. Emmet.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gift, Giving'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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