From earliest times the giving of presents played an important role in daily life. Abraham’s aged servant gave gifts of jewelry to Rebekah after seeing evidence that Jehovah had assigned her as a wife for Isaac. (Ge 24:13-22) Then, upon receiving the approval of Laban and Bethuel for the marriage, Abraham’s servant gave additional gifts to Rebekah and also “choice things to her brother and to her mother.” (Ge 24:50-53) Later, Abraham turned all his possessions over to Isaac, but he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away.—Ge 25:5, 6; compare 2Ch 21:3.
It may have been a practice in patriarchal times to give gifts to those who had suffered adversity. When Jehovah turned back the captive condition of Job, his brothers, sisters, and former acquaintances not only came to comfort him but each one gave him “a piece of money and each one a gold ring.”—Job 42:10, 11.
Gifts Given to Open the Way for Benefits. Gifts were often given with a view to gaining something desirable. Jacob got ready an impressive gift of livestock for Esau in order to find favor in the eyes of his brother. (Ge 32:13-18; 33:8) Jacob’s insistence that Esau accept this gift can be better understood when considering that, according to Eastern custom, refusing to accept a gift denoted that favor would not be granted. (Ge 33:10) Also, to gain the goodwill of the harsh-speaking food administrator of Egypt (who was actually their own brother Joseph), the sons of Jacob followed through on their father’s recommendation to take along a gift of the finest products of the land. (Ge 42:30; 43:11, 25, 26) King Asa sent a present of silver and gold to Ben-hadad in order to induce him to break his covenant with Baasha, the king of Israel.—1Ki 15:18, 19.
Regarding the benefits to the giver, the proverb says: “A man’s gift will make a large opening for him, and it will lead him even before great people.” (Pr 18:16) A gift can subdue anger, but it will not allay the rage of an able-bodied man against one who commits adultery with his wife, regardless of how great a present is offered by the adulterer.—Pr 21:14; 6:32-35.
Gifts to Kings, Prophets, and Others. The indications are that it was customary for those going to see a king to bring gifts. “Good-for-nothing men” who had no respect for Saul are singled out as not bringing any gift to him. Solomon especially was given gifts in great abundance by those coming from distant lands to hear his wisdom. The astrologers who came to see “the one born king of the Jews” were simply following this custom when they presented gifts to the young child Jesus. (1Sa 10:27; 1Ki 10:10, 24, 25; Mt 2:1, 2, 11; see also 2Ki 20:12; 2Ch 17:5.) Similarly, at times those going to inquire of a prophet took a gift along. (1Sa 9:7; 2Ki 8:8, 9) But God’s prophets did not expect or seek a gift for their services, as is evident from Elisha’s refusal to accept “a blessing gift” at Naaman’s hand.—2Ki 5:15, 16.
Gifts were often given to reward those successfully completing a certain task. (2Sa 18:11; Da 2:6, 48; 5:16, 17, 29) According to the Law, an emancipated slave was not to be sent away empty-handed but was to receive a gift, something from the flock, the threshing floor, and the oil and winepress. (De 15:13, 14) Also, occasions of great rejoicing might be attended by the giving of presents.—Es 9:20-22; compare Re 11:10.
In Connection With the Sanctuary. God took the Levites as a gift for the house of Aaron, as those given to Jehovah to carry on the service of the sanctuary. (Nu 18:6, 7) Also, the Gibeonites and others who were made servants at the sanctuary were called Nethinim, meaning “Given Ones.” (Jos 9:27; 1Ch 9:2; Ezr 8:20) Furthermore, the contributions for carrying on the service of the sanctuary and also the sacrifices are referred to as gifts.—Ex 28:38; Le 23:37, 38; Nu 18:29; Mt 5:23, 24; Lu 21:1.
By reason of his creatorship, Jehovah owns everything. Therefore, in giving material things for the furtherance of true worship, the giver is merely returning a portion of what he originally received from God.—Ps 50:10; 1Ch 29:14.
Admonition Concerning Gifts. Since gifts in the form of bribes can destroy the heart and pervert justice, the Scriptures admonish the hating of such gifts. Those who chase after gifts are condemned. (De 16:19, 20; Ec 7:7; Pr 15:27; Isa 1:23; see BRIBE.) Moreover, the “man boasting himself about a gift in falsehood,” not doing according to his boasting, is compared to vaporous clouds and a wind without any downpour. (Pr 25:14) The giver of gifts may have many companions, but his giving cannot ensure lasting friendship.—Pr 19:6.
The Christian Greek Scriptures strongly censure certain practices in connection with the giving of gifts. Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for overstepping the commandment to honor father and mother. According to them, if a person declared that his material things were a gift dedicated to God, he was free of obligation to use them to aid his parents, though he could personally continue to use them. (Mt 15:1-6; see CORBAN.) There is no merit in giving because one expects something in return. (Lu 6:30-36; 14:12-14) To be pleasing to Jehovah, giving must be done unselfishly and without showy display.—Mt 6:2-4; 1Co 13:3.
Christian Giving. Early Christians made gifts, or contributions, in behalf of their needy brothers. (Ro 15:26; 1Co 16:1, 2) However, all such gifts were voluntary, as is indicated by Paul’s words: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Co 9:7) Additionally, they aided those who devoted themselves fully to the Christian ministry, as did the apostle Paul. However, though very much appreciating the gifts sent to him by his brothers, Paul did not seek a gift.—Php 4:15-17.
Christians can give things more valuable than material presents. They can give of their time and abilities to edify and build others up mentally and spiritually, which brings greater happiness. The greatest gift that one can offer to another is an understanding of God’s Word, for this can lead the receiver to everlasting life.—Joh 6:26, 27; 17:3; Ac 20:35; 2Co 12:15; Re 22:17; see GIFTS OF MERCY.