Exodus 34:20 (Empty Hands)

Empty Hands

No one is to appear before me empty-handed. (Exodus 34:20)

Read: Exodus 34:1 – 35:9, Matthew 27:15-31, Psalm 33:12-22, Proverbs 9:1-6

Relate: From what I have read, the Japanese concept of gift giving, “chugen” (chu-gane), is a very important aspect of their culture. Phil Van Auken of Baylor University describes it as “giving until it hurts”. The gift giver has two primary motivations for giving so excessively to the recipient during their seasons of giving (mid-summer and the week surrounding Christmas). The first of these is to repay favors. Honor and obligation is huge in Japanese culture and when someone has done good for you, it is expected that you would recognize, appreciate, and reciprocate that through giving. The other motivation is to recognize continued patronage. The lesser person would give gifts to the greater, the employee to the boss, etc as a means of storing up favor to someone who is in a position of authority.

This is so different and so foreign from the Western, American, individualistic (unbiblical) culture in which I have been raised that I write what is above with hesitancy. If someone from Japanese or a similar eastern culture is reading this and would like to chime in with further explanation or correction, I would love to hear it and learn more. What I do know is that what I have read of this aspect of Japanese culture lines up far more closely to the Biblical culture that brings us Exodus than what I am inundated with.

React: It is a good thing too. I am sure that for many the knee jerk reaction to hearing “No one may appear before me without an offering” is to say, “See? God is a greedy narcissist!” Our ignorance to history and culture, our arrogance in believing our way of thinking and doing things, is the only or the best way. Perhaps it is time I… we… begin trying to look at things through the cultural lense of others.

With that in mind, two questions: 1) Has God blessed me in the past? 2) Is God Lord of my life? Both of these, without question or hesitation should be answered yes. He has given me so much more than I could ever have deserved. He is my Lord, my King, my God. He is so far greater than I could ever aspire to be. So how dare I come before him in arrogance or the flippancy, empty handed? Of course I need to bring with me a gift, an offering, and the only gift I have to offer is myself.

Respond: 

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13 thoughts on “Exodus 34:20 (Empty Hands)

  1. “Of course I need to bring with me a gift, an offering, and the only gift I have to offer is myself.”

    And both know how much of “myself” is being offered.

  2. Giving is a lifestyle that my grandfather instilled into me after I had given my life to Christ. It amazes me that the more I give, God, in turn, gives to me. Please understand…this is not the motivation for my giving. It is just a fact. When I am blessing to others, God always ensures that my need is met…and then some. Giving is a beautiful thing.

  3. It is important to note that the giving must be done with the right attitude. In 2 Cor 9, Paul is writing about giving. In verse 7 he writes, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” God so loved the world that He gave. As His children we are to have the same giving attitude as demonstrated by His example. The difference between Cain and Abel’s gift (sacrifice) was the attitude and motivation behind the giving. Abel’s gift was motivated by love and respect for His God. Cain’s attitude was more of, “You get what You get when I decide to give it to You!”

  4. Love this. Really appreciated your emphasis on cultural differences. We know others don’t think like us. Why do we always act like they do? Thanks for the beautiful reminder of what real giving is.

  5. While I see the message you are trying to convey, I don’t agree with the message presented here. Giving is a good thing, yes. Period. However, to compare biblical giving (selfless giving) to giving in the Eastern culture is comparing apples to oranges and I’ll explain.

    You wrote: The first of these is to repay favors. Honor and obligation is huge in Japanese culture and when someone has done good for you, it is expected that you would recognize, appreciate, and reciprocate that through giving. The other motivation is to recognize continued patronage. The lesser person would give gifts to the greater, the employee to the boss, etc. as a means of storing up favor to someone who is in a position of authority.

    The eastern cultures give as more of a “balancing” act for their earthly “accounts”. Giving over there is expected and has strings attached. In fact, anyone doing business over there understands the fine line of bribery. These people “give” with “expectations”. It’s more of a karma thing.

    This is so far from biblical that it cannot even be compared. We cannot “give” to “get”…see what I mean?
    Jesus Christ did it all…it’s done. We cannot “do” anything to “gain” salvation…it is a free gift for us to accept or not.

    You wrote: With that in mind, two questions: 1) Has God blessed me in the past? 2) Is God Lord of my life? Both of these, without question or hesitation should be answered yes. He has given me so much more than I could ever have deserved. He is my Lord, my King, my God. He is so far greater than I could ever aspire to be. So how dare I come before him in arrogance or the flippancy, empty handed? Of course I need to bring with me a gift, an offering, and the only gift I have to offer is myself.

    Exodus is in the OT under the Law of sacrifices and offerings. Jesus Christ was our Lamb. Not sure I agree with viewing our own self as “gifts” to God. That’s kind of like giving a clay vessel that we made to someone and having them “re-gift” it back to us a year later. God created us and shapes us and saves us. We were purchased through the saving sacrifice of His own Son. I don’t see how we can be gifts.

    I understand what you were trying to say and maybe I’m alone in seeing things differently but I don’t this this reference in Exodus fits with your message or the Eastern cultural practice of “gifting”.

    • “Therefore offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to tthe Lord. This is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

      I am not saying that eastern, Japanese, culture is perfect. No culture this side of heaven is. I am saying that with this regard, they are far far ahead of us. In the same way Hebrew culture at the time of Moses straight through to Babylon was pretty much the same. If we offer this sacrifice, God will forgive our sins. If we offer this sacrifice, our great God will be pleased with us. It wasn’t until the exile that the focus of Hebrew culture shifted from the Temple to the Tanakh, from the priest to the rabbi. While the exile was necessary to root out traditional idolatry from the Jewish heart once and for all, Im not so sure it was a step in the right direction in every aspect.

  6. I think your definitions of sacrifice and gift are different from mine. A gift is something given voluntarily without compensation or expectations. Sacrifice means 1.The act of offering something to a deity in propitiation or homage, especially the ritual slaughter of an animal or a person. This is NOT a gift and the sacrifice to a Christian was Jesus Christ for the propitiation of our sins.

    In the OT they were required to offer up sacrifices and tithing’s (which were not gifts). These were due God.

    If you are comparing this aspect of the Japanese culture with OT custom of sacrifices and tithing’s and saying they are stuck back in that time frame, then I would agree as it was more of a karma accounting. But to say that they are far ahead of us in this regard is not true, they are behind.

    When I read in the Bible about giving, all instances are relating to God giving to us and us giving to each other or the poor. Never us giving to God things, but we do offer worship, praise, honor etc. to God. But again, these are not tangible gifts.

  7. BJ, as I read this, I thought of the Romans 12:1 verse you quoted below. And rather than out of obligation, we give ourselves out of love. Because He loved us first, because He gives us unimaginable grace and peace and mercy. When we accept His gift, it becomes our desire to give ourselves to him completely. How could we not if we abide in Him?

    “For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” (Deut 32:9) If God considers us His portion, we are certainly His precious gift, too, just as any child would be to a loving Father.

  8. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
    Thank you for this reminder brother!

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