While many of the threads of New Testament hospitality are rather inconspicuously woven into the fabric of larger accounts like Luke 10:25-37, the Old Testament gives several examples where hospitality comes off in a bold pattern. One of these is found in Genesis 18:1-16. It is the account of Abraham and his three special guests.
As the scene unfolds, Abraham is sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day and sees three men nearby. Immediately the rules of hospitality kick in:
- He greets them and invites them to stay.
- He offers them water so they can wash their feet.
- He offers them food.
Once they accept, Abraham enlists Sarah to make cakes out of “fine meal,” arranges to have a “tender and good” calf killed and cooked, and then, as a gracious host, serves his guests under the welcoming shade of the terebinth trees. Once their repast is finished, Abraham fulfills his final duty by seeing these strangers on their way.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes this vignette as “an exquisite example of the etiquette of hospitality” (article, “Hospitality”).
His nephew Lot responds to two angels in much the same manner (Genesis 19):
- He sees them and bows before them.
- He issues an invitation to put them up for the night.
- He offers them water to wash their feet.
- He makes them a feast.
- He acts as their protector (although in a way I find hard to comprehend).
Here are several other examples for further consideration:
- Genesis 26:28-30 Isaac provides food and lodging.
- Genesis 29:13 Laban welcomes Jacob.
- Exodus 2:18-20 Jethro scolds his daughters for lack of hospitality.
- Job 31:32 Job says he opened his door to the traveler.
While the principals in the above accounts are men, there are several examples of hospitable women in the Old Testament. Mary Hendren will be introducing us to one of them in our next post. Her name is Abigail.