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Hospitality Through the Bible: Old Testament

on May 14, 2013 by Jami Balmet 4 comments

This post is part of my series on The Joy of Hospitality: Practicing the Biblical art of serving others! You can follow along and read all posts in the series HERE.

Hospitality is not something our modern western culture is very used to. Journey through the Old Testament to find examples from Hero's of our faith such as Abraham and Sarah and discover the Joy of Hospitality!
Photo from Elin B

Hospitality is a very foreign concept in our modern North American society. We are exchanging deep conversations for 140 character tweets. Conversations are becoming more shallow and we are becoming increasingly individualistic.

The days of sitting on the porch with iced tea and good conversation has been replaced with watching TV and frittering away hours on Facebook. I am no stranger to technology {and think it can be very helpful and useful for many things} but our modern society has shied away from opening our homes to serve those around us. 

It wasn’t like this in the Ancient Near Eastern culture of the Old Testament. Hospitality was woven into the fabric of that society. It was a common and expected part of Jewish living and was an important part of serving in the Old Testament.

Hospitality in the Old Testament

The Old Testament culture is very different from ours. As people traveled through the land {and often through very dry desert areas} there were no McDonald’s or Starbucks’ to stop at when they got tired or thirsty.

When their feet were caked with mud and dried dust, they had nowhere to turn expect to houses they passed. Travelers often relied on the kindness of strangers for survival and they took the call of serving strangers seriously!

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” ~ Leviticus 19:33–34

In no uncertain terms, God commanded the Israelites to care for and love the strangers and travelers among them! Maybe they didn’t understand why God would issue this strong calling but all they knew was that God commanded it…and they should obey!

“For the people of God in the Old Testament the duty of hospitality came right from the center of who God was. I am the Lord your God who made a home for you and brought you there with all my might and all my soul. Therefore, you shall love the stranger as yourself. You shall be holy as I am holy (Leviticus 19:1). Your values shall mirror my values.” ~ Strategic Hospitality from Desiring God Blog

Learning From the Father of Our Faith

Abraham, the man called righteous because of his faith {James 2:23}, was a great example of hospitality that we can follow! Often the focus of this scene from Genesis 18:1-16 is that of Sarah who is promised to bear a son. While that is a profitable teaching from this passage, something else is illustrated as well: Abraham’s willing and eager heart to extend hospitality to these three men {who turn out to be angels & the Lord}.

*Note: I recently heard a fantastic sermon on this scene that really describes Abraham’s willingness to serve. I highly recommend you listen to it as Pastor Phil Layton can describe it much more effectively than I can. You can hear the message HERE {and in fact, he is currently going through a fantastic series on Genesis right now}.*

A few things to notice from this passage:

Abraham Ran

“When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth” ~ Genesis 18:2b

This was an unusual thing for a middle eastern man of that time. He “girded his loins” and RAN to greet these strangers approaching their homestead. Abraham and Sarah were old by this point and in fact Sarah was past menopause. It’s would have been very unusual to see an old grey haired man pull up his robe and literally run to greet strangers on the road – but that is exactly what Abraham did! He was eager to share hospitality with these strangers!

Abraham Called Them Lord

Calling someone Lord was a sign of respect. Abraham was a wealthy man and yet he called himself a servant to these strangers and ran to wash their feet – a humbling act of service! To wash someone’s feet was to make yourself lower in status to that person {which is one reason it was so shocking that Jesus would wash the apostles feet {John 13:1-17}.

“O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree” ~ Genesis 18:3-4

Jesus washing the disciples disciples feet!
Photo by paukrus

Abraham’s Hospitality Was Generous

“And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them.” ~Genesis 18:6-8

Originally, Abraham simply promised them a little water for their feet and some rest in the shade {Genesis 18:3-4}. But instead he was incredibly generous and treated these strangers as if they were kings!

Abraham rushed to Sarah and asked her to get out the fine flour and make enough fine cake to feed a dozen men let alone 3. He took their prized fattened calf and made a meal that was fit for a special occasion and not fitting for 3 travelers simply passing by.

But Abraham was generous with his time, energy, and possessions and together Abraham and Sarah showered love and affection on these strangers! Of course we find out later that these men were in fact Angels and one was even Christ Himself {Genesis 18:1,10 – the term LORD used in these verses is the highly personal name of God Himself – Yahweh – unlike the generic term “lord” that is used in verse 3 which simply signifies a higher position in society}. That is why the New Testament commands:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” ~ Hebrews 13:2

In Our Own Lives

So how does the Old Testament pattern of hospitality affect our own lives? The Old Testament’s emphasis on hospitality and having a serving heart spill over in the New Testament and the early church’s emphasis on hospitality {but come back tomorrow for a discussion of hospitality in the New Testament}. But it also teaches us a powerful lesson:

“We look back and remember that we owe our life to an act of God’s hospitality. We were once strangers and aliens in the Egypt of sin and death. But God came to us in the Passover of his Son’s cross (1 Corinthians 5:7) and made us alive (Ephesians 2:5) and brought us out through the Red Sea of conversion.” ~ Strategic Hospitality from Desiring God Blog

God remains the same throughout history. Hospitality was a strong commandment and expectation of the Jews in the Old Testament. This strongly informed the New Testament and serves as a powerful reminder for ourselves. Come back tomorrow as we will jump into what hospitality looks like in the New Testament and early church!

Read more in this series:

Come with me on a journey to discover the Biblical art of serving others in The Joy of Hospitality Series!

Do you want to learn more about hospitality?

You can sign up for my FREE 3-part video series on hospitality. We begin by first starting where any Gospel-Centered discussion should start: with the Bible! We then take that Biblical definition of hospitality and practically apply it with a beginner’s guide to hospitality – everything you need to know to have the confidence to start extending hospitality – today! Sign up HERE for free!

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Get instant free access to my Finding Joy in Your Home video course.

  • Do you want to discover more joy, peace, & tranquility within your home?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and like your house is out of control?
  • Join my free course and learn the essential habits for Christian homemakers
  1. Thanks for writing your series on hospitality. I wish I would have been more hospitable when I was single. I still have so much to learn!

  2. I have to disagree that conversations are becoming shallower and more centered on the individual. I have been able to keep up with friends and family across the globe through modern technology. With that being said, I also love having guests visit. I come from a close knit jewish family which means family is always coming to visit. My husband and I also entertain old and new friends at our house on a weekly basis and it really does renew the spirit. I am glad that you are promoting this essential traditional mitzvah.

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