The Three Visitors: Genesis 18.1-15
Genesis 18 is a story of hospitality, biblical hospitality.
Offered to strangers
Verse one reveals to the reader what Abraham does not know, that the visitors are the LORD, Yahweh. It is told for the readers benefit. As for the hospitality offered, it is offered to strangers who are treated as guests.
A warm, respectful welcome
Verse one also gives the setting, it is in the heat of the day. Abraham has worked all morning and now is preparing for his afternoon siesta. It is time to rest.
The scripture says that he looks up and sees three men standing. Abraham is not sure how they got there. He probably assumes he dozed off and they approached as he was sleeping. With the narrator telling us who the visitors are, the LORD, it may cause us to wonder about the supernatural nature of these guests. Could they have supernaturally appeared?
Abraham, being that he didn’t notice them at first, sets off in a hurry or running to meet the guests. This demonstrates his joy at having guests. It is a warm welcome, a generous welcome. Elsewhere in Genesis people run to greet their relatives, but here Abraham runs to greet those whom he does not know. It is also a greeting of respect, as Abraham bows down, a position of worship.
He greets them with a rather lengthy greeting in biblical standards, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.” There is politeness; there is charm in “If I have found favor”. And he calls them lord with a small l. It is a title of respect and is more true to the identity of the guests than he knows.
Sees and meets needs
Then Abraham offers what any weary traveler needs: a drink of water, water to wash their feet, and a place to rest under a tree.
Generous, yet not making them feel as if they are imposing
He also offers them a bit of food, probably a pita roll. But as soon as they accept, he begins to prepare a feast. It is an understatement, which is characteristic of generous people in Scripture. If he had offered the feast, they may have felt they were imposing and not stayed. But now that they were staying, Abraham shifts into hurry mode again. In the Hebrew it is worded as if he goes to the tent and to the cattle almost at the same time. He hurries to Sarah, he runs to the cattle, the servant hurries to prepare it.
A seah is about two gallons, so six gallons of flour will make a lot of bread for three guests. And Abraham kills a bull, once again much more than needed. It is royal generosity.
And as they eat, Abraham, the good host, waits discreetly in the background.
Biblical Hospitality Defined
-This hospitality is not like that of today which is extended to someone we know, but hospitality that is extended to the stranger.
-Not hospitality like that of today that is extended to someone who is invited, but to the uninvited.
-A hospitality that sees the need and meets it.
-A hospitality that is not ruled by convenience, but generously spares nothing on behalf of the guest.
-It is a hospitality that does not entertain, but meets the needs of strangers, who may not be able to repay, and are not expected to repay.
“Hospitality meant extending to strangers a quality of kindness usually reserved for friends and family.” Especially focusing on strangers in need. (Christine Pohl, "Making Room")
It goes beyond meeting needs to recognizing and valuing the stranger and guest.
Hospitality in the first Century Church
Hebrews 13.1-3 is a reference to the Genesis 18 story.
Hebrews 13.2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hospitality begins with believers and extends to all:
Galatians 6.10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
In early Christian life, hospitality broke down cultural barriers and nurtured a sense of equality. It transformed relationships.
Whether they finally be lost or saved, you are expressly commanded
to feed the hungry and clohe the naked. If you can, and do not,
whatever become of them, you shall go away into everlasting fire. -John Wesley
The Disappearance of Hospitality occurred in the 1700s as inns developed. People were no longer dependent to stay at other’s homes, but could rent a room. Also, hospitals and hospices and other institutions developed. They cared for more people but not with the attention of hospitality that lifted one’s esteem and made one to feel special. This is still evident in our care systems today. The 16th Century Reformers called for a return to hospitality, with our John Wesley being the closest to achieve such a practice because his small groups returned to the use of the home for such meetings.
Offering Biblical Hospitality
Personally, I leave you to grapple with that question. We all know that we are cautious of picking up hitchhikers and inviting strangers into our homes. One of the factors prohibitive to this is that we have more “stuff” which can be stolen or broken.
But in the church, how can we offer Biblical Hospitality?
~Welcome all. Those who are different from us. Those who are not yet followers of Christ. Remember that we are all sinner saved by grace. Remember that places of biblical hospitality were transformational places.
~Offer hope. Give the gift of respect and dignity.
~Can we create centers of hope or centers of hospitality? Is that not what teen outreach centers are?
What about a clothing ministry? A ministry of outreach into our community. It’s not just a place to get clothes at an affordable price, but a place where people come and feel welcome and respected and gain dignity. A place where they are offered spiritual guidance and prayer. And as the ministry grows a place that can possibly offer career counseling, help women reentering the workforce, GED classes, parenting education, and the list goes on.
Angels unaware – we don’t know who we serve. Again referring to the story of Abraham and Sarah. The next section, after the guests have eaten, they ask where Sarah is (probably knowing where she is.) And they say that one year from now she will have a son. This story connects hospitality with God’s presence, with promise, and with blessing.