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