Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Genesis 18:4-5 -- Giving & Receiving Hospitality

Genesis 18:4-5: “Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.”

There are several indications here that this is a very “physical” visit and that the visitors are plural in number. The Hebrew words referring to the visitors are translated as “yourselves” twice and as “they” once in the two-verse passage. Water for washing their feet was to be brought either by Abraham himself or his servants. No further reference is provided later in the chapter as to what actually happened. However, the direct translation implies that he himself was going to get some of the victuals for the visitors and later verses support this as being what actually happened although the servants were also involved, under his direction. What is interesting is that the visitors agreed.

Here we have not only the gift of hospitality so wonderfully displayed by Abraham, but also the complementary gift of gracious acceptance displayed by his visitors. God would have us at times be hospitable and at other times be accepting of hospitality. Some of us find it easier to be hospitable but struggle with accepting the hospitality of others, especially if it is not what we are used to. Others find it to easy to receive the hospitality of others, but very reluctant to offer it. I believe God wants us to exercise both well, according to what material means He has granted us. We are not to use our lack of means as an excuse for not extending hospitability, as He will provide; and we are not to use our over-abundance as a sub-conscious reason for avoiding the hospitality of those who have much less yet offer what they have with such humility. In short, it may be best that all of us, regardless of our standing in life, should be mindful of the fact that every good thing comes from God – the abundance He gives us is His, so is the scarcity!

One more thing to note: While Abraham acknowledges his guests and invites them to join him Sarah remains in the tent, silent. We have no knowledge as to how big Abraham’s tent really was and whether or not there were compartments in it, which is very possible. His invitation to the guests was made unilaterally even though his wife might have a significant role to play in fulfilling what Abraham offered. I grew up in a household where that was the norm. Mother was always ready to supply what father had offered. I married into a household where my wife was willing to do so, but would much rather have preferred advance warning or knowledge that I was going to offer something requiring her presence and involvement. Even as I write this, I am aware of those that will examine every single word to see where I may fall on this issue. I think a lot depends on the culture and the society in which one lives. I also believe that a husband and wife, living for God, should be in tune with and sensitive to each other that one does not make such unannounced expectations unnecessarily and that in the event they are made for good reasons, the other spouse will rise to the occasion. Hospitality is often ministry and husbands and wives should do much of their ministry together, having worked out necessary signals, arrangements, or understandings in advance, not only for the sake of their ministry, but also for the purpose of being blessed.

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