The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5 And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”—Génesis 18:1-5 (NLT)
Abraham’s culture had several negative aspects. Among them, his people exploited slaves, practiced polygamy and concubinage, and encouraged marriage between a brother and his half-sister. Abraham did not earn God’s favor through moral perfection, but received it by the grace of God who chose him and by the faith through which he received the promise (Genesis 15:6).
Every culture (and the different generations within them) have moral blind spots. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23, NLT). At the same time, God created human beings in the divine image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). In spite of sin, we continue to reflect the glory of God in many ways, including in certain cultural values.
The culture of hospitality illustrated in the story of the three visitors reflects the glory of God. In the Ancient Middle East, people sinned in many ways, but they shines in offering hospitality and food to the strangers and foreigners who visited them. They did not enjoy the hotels and restaurants that we have in the modern world, and since human well-being requires travel, people offered invaluable courtesy to those who came to their door. Every family felt an obligation to feed inopportune guests, even if it meant they would have to go without food to do so. A man would be willing to give his life to defend those who had sought refuge under his roof. Not acting in that way would expose a man to shame.
Our modern culture has many good values that Abraham’s culture did not have. In the same way, Abraham could give us master classes in hospitality. Churches, and every believer, ought to reflect on the quality of treatment they offer to travelers—especially to foreigners and immigrants—who come to their cities with needs. Nevertheless, the duty of hospitality has its limits, as we will see in the next entry.
Copyright©2013 by Joseph L. Castleberry.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus.
Follow him on Twitter @DrCastleberry and at www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.