I believe many of us have a tendency to overlook the fact that the Scriptures originated in the East and each of the Bible writers were actually “Easterners”.
Far more than we realize, we read into the Bible stories our own cultural manners and customs instead of viewing them through the proper Eastern perspective.
You would be amazed at how many indiscernible passages of Scripture can readily be explained via even a simple understanding of the customs and traditions of the Bible lands.
On the other hand, if you choose to ignore this cultural aspect of the Bible, I can guarantee you will never gain a thorough mastery of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.
In this sense it may be easier for those of Asian background to comprehend certain situations in the Scriptures that might not be so obvious to Westerners.
My father is Japanese and I’ve lived in South Korea for one year and Japan for about 13 years (I’m actually typing this post from a posh cafe in Tokyo).
During my time in Japan, I’ve worked for a total of three Japanese companies where I was the only English speaker in the workplace.
So I think I can speak with some authority on this matter.
Now one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in the communication styles between Easterners and Westerners is that Westerners are much, much more direct in expressing their feelings and asserting their individuality.
Not so with Asians.
In certain situations, you really have to read behind the lines when communicating with an Asian because what they are saying on the surface can be the total opposite of their intent or what they’re actually feeling.
Allowing the other party to save face or not appearing arrogant is very important in Eastern cultures.
For example, in Japan when you’re invited to somebody’s house for dinner, you’re expected to bring a gift, maybe a bottle of wine or a nice box of chocolates.
Now get this, after arriving at the host’s house and dispensing with the normal pleasantries, when you hand over the gift, it is customary to say, “TSUMURANAI-MONO-DESU-GA…“
A direct translation would be “This is a real piece of junk but...this is for you.“
Now what a Westerner is probably thinking, “Well if it’s a real piece of junk, why the hell did you bring it in the first place?“
However, the Asian understands that the other party is just being polite and humble and will say, “Oh not at all. Thank you for your gift.“
These kind of funky Kabuki dances occur all the time in Asian cultures and Scripture is also replete with them.
We encounter a perfect example of this here in Genesis Chapter 33.
Upon meeting, with the utmost respect Jacob offers gifts to his brother.
However, Esau at first refuses but then accepts.
What’s going on behind the surface here?
The Eastern customs of that time demanded that all gifts be initially declined.
Esau was simply being polite.
There was no special spiritual meaning behind his actions.