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God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ who taught it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

I’ve certainly heard Proverbs 18:16 taught a number of different ways.  The most frequent is that “gift” refers to a talent or natural ability, like playing the piano.  Basically, what is taught is that if you’re talented or have some gift or anointing, then eventually your place will be made for you, and people of great means will get to hear you or partake of your gift.  However, in Hebrew the writer is referring to financial things, gifts of value appropriate or suitable to the specific situation.

We don’t have that same custom or tradition here in the West.  Our president may still receive gifts of this nature from visiting dignitaries.  However, for the most part the Western world may view these gifts as bribes.  But this was not so in the Bible.  This type of gift giving was proper and appropriate in the Eastern culture.  Let’s look at the verse.

Proverbs 18:16:
A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.

Notice that gift spoken of in Proverbs 18:16 does two things:  it makes room for him and it brings him before great men.  “Makes room” is a translation of the Hebrew rachab.  It means “to grow wide” or “enlarge.”  The word gift is mattan.  Although the verb from which mattan is derived is used over 2000 times mattan, the Hebrew word translated “gift” in Proverbs 18:16 only occurs 5 times (two in the Pentateuch and three in Proverbs) and is translated only “gift(s)” in the KJV.  The term signifies the present which duty or friendship offers to one whom one wishes to please.  This verse is an allusion to the Eastern custom of seeking audience with a gift.  Bishop Pillai taught us that it was customary for a man to bring a gift whenever visiting a king, a prophet, a pregnant woman, or a sick person.  It would be an insult to ever go before one of these people empty-handed (I Samuel 10:27).  It was a way to show respect (I Kings 4:21; 10:25; I Chronicles 17:5; 32:23), appease anger (Genesis 32:20; I Samuel 25:18-25), and initiate friendships (I Kings 10:10; Proverbs 19:6).

Following this Oriental custom of offering suitable gifts to one in authority, when a favour or an audience is desired causes two things to happen.  It enlarges the giver and brings him before great men.  “Giving and receiving” or “sowing and reaping” is a law of God.  Those who are wise practice it.  Liberal giving where duty demands it, and prudence commends it, does not promote loss; it insures gain (Luke 6:38).  Although the custom has been used nefariously does not negate the consistently observed truth which the proverb captures (Acts 5:1ff).

The first uses of mattan in the Bible is in Genesis 34:12 and referred to the gift that accompanied the dowry in negotiating a wife.  The second is in Numbers 18:11 where God gives the heave and wave offerings to the Levites for their service in the temple.  The other two in proverbs are listed below.

Proverbs 19:6:
Many will intreat the favour of the prince: and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.

Proverbs 21:14:
A gift in secret pacifieth anger: and a reward in the bosom strong wrath.

Because the Eastern and Western cultures are so different a proper understanding of Bible customs allows us to make sense where understanding had been missing.