A number of verses in Genesis 18 and 19 will become clearer to our Western minds when we understand Eastern customs of hospitality. This article will help us gain a greater understanding of some of these verses, as well as others, by looking at them in light of the emphasis that is placed on hospitality in the East.
The people of the ancient East believed it was their duty to welcome and honor anyone, even a stranger, into their home, for they believed the guest had been sent by God. They considered giving food and lodging to strangers as entertaining angels unawares.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
This verse helps to explain the regard with which Easterners received guests. We have examples of some of the customs relating to hospitality in Genesis 18 and 19. In the first part of Genesis 18 we find Abraham sitting in the door of his tent.
And the Lord appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.
Abraham’s sitting in the tent door indicated he was resting, possibly after his noon meal. As he rested, he noticed strangers passing by and invited them into his home.
And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground.
We see that Abraham responded to the approach of possible guests by running to meet them and bowing. He encouraged them to “pass not away” but to come in and stay awhile.
And [Abraham] said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.
He then proceeded to tell his guests how he would entertain them, giving them specific reasons to further encourage them to stay.
Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
Part of Eastern hospitality was to wash the feet of one’s guests; their feet would be dusty from traveling. Abraham also gave other reasons for his guests to stay.
And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
The Scriptures give a detailed account of how Abraham and his wife, Sarah, immediately moved to entertain these guests once they had accepted his invitation.
And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
Much time was also involved to properly serve these guests; it was considered an honor to extend this effort to serve them.
Genesis 18:7 and 8:
And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
Abraham stood while his guests ate. An Eastern host did not eat with his guests unless they were his intimate friends.
In Genesis 19 we get more insight on how strongly guests were encouraged to accept hospitality. In the first part of this chapter Lot was sitting at the city gate. Since this is where strangers would wait for accommodations, Lot would be able to see someone come by whom he could invite to stay at his house.
Genesis 19:1 and 2:
And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways….
Here we see the similarity to the customs in Genesis 18. Then verse 3 helps us to understand how strongly Lot encouraged his guests to stay.
And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.
“He pressed upon them greatly” means that Lot kept trying to persuade them to accept his hospitality. The Amplified Bible translates Genesis 19:3, “[Lot] entreated and urged them greatly until they yielded and [with him] entered his house….” The New International Version reads, “But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house….”
This is an excerpt from the November/December 2006 issue of The Way Magazine.
Copyright© 2006 by The Way International. All rights reserved.
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