Hospitality in the Old Testament

Ok. So let's talk about hospitality.

First of all, let's admit that when we hear the word "hospitality" we don't usually think of it as something especially spiritual. We think of inviting someone over for dinner, cleaning the house, lighting some candles to set a warm mood, fixing a nice meal, offering good conversation.

And that definitely is hospitality, but when we start looking at hospitality in the Bible we see something that's much deeper and much grander than just fixing a nice meal for someone.

One of the best examples of hospitality in the Old Testament is Abraham when he provides for his three visitors (who turn out to be God and two angels). Here's that passage from Genesis 18:2-8:

Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.

Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant."

"Very well," they answered, "do as you say."

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

It's clear from this and other passages (like Lot in Genesis 19:1-8 and Job in Job 31:16-23 and 31-32) that hospitality is extremely important in the Old Testament.

In fact, the practice of hospitality is commanded in the Old Testament. Israel is commanded to leave some of their harvest for the aliens and the poor. We see this specifically in passages like Deuteronomy 24:19-22 and Leviticus 19:9-10. It's also how Ruth, a Moabitess, was able to provide for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 2:2-17).

The Leviticus 19 passage is, I believe, particularly important in understanding why hospitality is so important to God. The command ends with God saying, "I am the LORD your God." Why does God end with this? I believe (and I admit this is my non-academic opinion) that God is saying in regard to hospitality, "This is my nature--my character. I am a God who welcomes the outcast and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God." So Israel is commanded to care for the alien, because God cares for the alien.

And lastly, Israel is commanded to allow the alien to worship God among them. Here's Exodus 12:48-49:

"An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you."

God does not discriminate; God welcomes worship from anyone. I love that last line: "The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you."

So, it's clear that hospitality is extremely important in the Old Testament. And it continues to be important to Christians in the New Testament. I'll talk a little bit about that in my next post (or one of my next posts).


Sara said...

Hi there,
Just to say 'thanks' for an interesting and valuable post. I'm planning a Bible study on immigration issues for my youth group, and this was very helpful!

Brian said...

Came across this as I am working on a message on hospitality and find your clear exegesis of this theme so helpful. Thank you for your preparation of this post, and your clear heart for the Lord is refreshing...

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