Proverbs 18:16

A man’s gift makes room for him
and brings him before the great.

What is the difference between a gift and a bribe? Is this proverb permitting the offering of bribes to get one’s way? The proverb may not be giving permission for anything. Many proverbs are mere observations about life, adding no comment about the moral value. That is true of this one.

And yet, there are many situations in which a gift may be used wisely. In this proverb the gift is used to win an audience with someone in a greater position. It is mere bribery – i.e. a payoff – to pay a sort of fee and obtain unfair advantage over others, especially in the matter of justice. And yet a wise person will take the time to give a pleasing gift that softens an otherwise stony composure and thus win a fair hearing. It is also appropriate to give gifts that express true sentiment of appreciation, such as giving a gift to someone whom you admire.

Again, this is not the case of a rich man able to give a higher cost bribe than his poorer opponent, or deliver secret bribes. Rather, it is the wise paving of the way that allows him to receive his hearing and to enhance good relations. Thus, Jesse sends David to his brothers not only with food for them, but for their commander; Jacob sends gifts to Esau and the brothers bring gifts to Joseph on behalf of their father. The givers are expressing to the recipients that they acknowledge their position of being under the recipients’ authority or power. They are not demanding rights, but appealing to generosity.

It is in such spirit that we come before our Lord in worship, offering gifts of worship, perhaps our tithes, and certainly offering ourselves in service. Such gifts, the Lord is pleased with, and in his generosity continues to overflow our cup with blessings.

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