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Hospitality opened the way for a priceless promise

December 21, 2023

Daily Scripture

Genesis 18:1-14

1 The LORD appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre while he sat at the entrance of his tent in the day’s heat. 2 He looked up and suddenly saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed deeply. 3 He said, “Sirs, if you would be so kind, don’t just pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought so you may wash your feet and refresh yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me offer you a little bread so you will feel stronger, and after that you may leave your servant and go on your way—since you have visited your servant.”
They responded, “Fine. Do just as you have said.”
6 So Abraham hurried to Sarah at his tent and said, “Hurry! Knead three seahs [One seah is seven and a half quarts] of the finest flour and make some baked goods!” 7 Abraham ran to the cattle, took a healthy young calf, and gave it to a young servant, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then Abraham took butter, milk, and the calf that had been prepared, put the food in front of them, and stood under the tree near them as they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where’s your wife Sarah?”
And he said, “Right here in the tent.”
10 Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!”
Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were both very old. Sarah was no longer menstruating. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old.
13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ 14 Is anything too difficult for the LORD? When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Last week we read this passage and focused on the role of divine messengers in promising a child’s birth to people who didn’t expect that to happen. Another important theme in the passage is the generous hospitality Abraham and Sarah showed these unexpected visitors. As we’ve seen during this series, these visitors did not wear haloes or flash their wings at Abraham. Verse two simply described their appearance as “three men.”

  • “Genesis 18 begins by telling us God appeared to Abraham… it will be some time before Abraham realizes the identity of his mysterious visitors. When three humanlike figures show up at his encampment, there is nothing to suggest they are anything other than three men.” Why might God not demand attention by showing up with lightning, thunder, dazzling light? Might one reason, at least, have been to see if Abraham and Sarah’s welcome was not just for an ultimate “celebrity”?
  • Who exactly did the elderly couple welcome? “As we might have guessed… the spokesman is the one among the three who is or who represents God…. On the other hand, the person who the storyteller has told us is God refers to God in the third person (‘Is anything too difficult for the LORD?’).” ** How did this reflection of the ambiguity of just who Abraham and Sarah’s visitors were emphasize their welcoming hospitality, rather than undercutting it?

Creator God, you later told Moses, “You can’t see my face because no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20). During Advent, I look forward to honoring when you came with a human face. But I thank you that I can recognize your presence through love’s power even when I can’t see you. Amen.

GPS Insights

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory serves on the Resurrection staff as Human Resources Lead Director. Janelle finds that her heart is constantly wrestling with the truth that she needs a Savior, and the times when she's at her very best are when she's just too tired to put up a fight.

At the first read through of today’s passage, I find myself admiring Abraham. Here he was in the heat of the day, likely tired and potentially sore following his circumcision (Chapter 17). That’s when he spotted three men. He must have sensed that they were weary, in need of some water and nourishment. Filled with generosity in his heart, that’s what he offered them. He brought them freshly baked bread made from the finest flour, the choicest of calves, curds, and milk. It’s a truly thoughtful gesture of radical hospitality, one that I would strive to emulate.

Yet on my second read through, I saw it from another angle. Abraham recognized the need of these strangers. At once, he went to his 90-year-old wife and asked her to bake bread using the finest of flour. Did I mention that it was the heat of the day?!! He then went to his servants and asked them to slaughter a choice calf. With bread and calf in hand, he gathered curd and milk to give to these strangers.

I feel like Abraham gets a lot of credit for being hospitable in this story. I mean, good on him for recognizing when people were in need of help, but it seems like most of the hospitality was actually provided by his wife and servants. They did the work, and he got the credit. On behalf of Sarah, I’m struggling. Honestly, I don’t know that I would have had it in me. “You want me to bake what? For whom? Honey, it’s 100 degrees out! Are you out of your ever-loving mind?” I realize that was a different time and in a different culture. She likely didn’t have the option to refuse, and perhaps she didn’t want to. Either way, she didn’t. In the heat of the day, she got the finest flour, she kneaded it, and she baked the bread to feed the strangers.

What I love is that God didn’t overlook Sarah. He saw her. He knew her decades of desperation to have a child. And despite her age, he was going to fulfill his promise by fulfilling her wishes. I don’t know that God did this because Sarah was the kind of woman who would bake bread for strangers, but what I do know is that because Sarah baked bread for strangers, these men reassured her of the promise that had been made. Had she refused to offer this gesture, these men may have gone on their way, and she would have missed out on the message from God.

God is all around and ever present. My hope for each of us is that we’re anxiously open to hearing from him. Often. I’ve found that his messages may come through a small still voice or through reading of the Scriptures. But every so often, they might even come when we’re showing generosity and kindness to others.

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* John Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 17–50. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p. 18.
** Ibid., p. 19.