Genesis 18 – We Appreciate Your Hostility

Genesis 18 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageGenesis 18

I could swear my dad had marked up this chapter more. He’s certainly talked to me about it enough, speculating as to whether the three men whom Abraham encounters are in fact the Trinity, investigating the notion that this may be a pre-incarnate Christophany, pointing out some detail of the original Hebrew that I cannot at this moment recall. But my dad, whose Bible I use, has only written a single marginal note on this whole chapter. It’s three words, which you may be able to see in the photo above: “Hospitality – 1) Inconvenient 2) Costly.”

And I’m not surprised. My dad cannot discuss this chapter without mentioning the importance of hospitality, and frankly, he’s right. Abraham encounters some strangers, he makes a meal for them, and at least one of the strangers turns out to be God. But as I cracked open the chapter this time, it struck me: Abraham may call himself the men’s “servant” (3, 5), but who’s really doing the service here? No sooner have the three men accepted his offer of hospitality than he runs into the tent to have Sarah make fresh bread. Then he grabs a calf from his herd and…hands it off to a servant to prepare. It’s not clear whether Abraham even brings out the meal to the men when it’s ready, or if he leaves that to the servant too. All in all, I wasn’t impressed.

On the other hand, Abraham doesn’t do nothing. He runs throughout the camp to ensure that his people put the meal together quickly. And my dad is correct to note that Abraham’s generosity is costly. The calf he picks is “tender and choice” (7); we’re talking about quality meat here. Abraham organizes, and he provides the goods from his own possessions. Perhaps he even brought out the food himself, as opposed to delegating even that task to his servant. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if you are.

Now, I wouldn’t say that God rewards Abraham’s hospitality, per se. It appears he’s in the neighborhood to deliver a particular message to Abraham, namely that his wife will finally have her son in a year’s time (10). He also discloses, after a moment’s deliberation (insofar as God in his omniscience can meaningfully be said to deliberate), that he plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Honestly, I think God would have had this talk with Abraham even if Abraham had been less than hospitable, though if Old Man Father-of-a-Multitude had met the visitors with open hostility, I’m sure the conversation would have had a different tone. But that’s all hypothetical. Abraham does pull out all the stops to make his household serve the three strangers, and for his trouble, he gets to talk openly and person-to-person with God.

But the destruction-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah thing is bad news. As you recall, Abraham’s nephew Lot currently resides in the area. Uncle Abe goes to bat for his nephew, going through an extended negotiation sequence at the end of which God promises not to destroy the two cities if there are ten righteous people found living there. But given that there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10), and that Sodom and Gomorrah are a wretched hive of scum and villainy to begin with, it doesn’t take a genius to see the dark clouds on the horizon.

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