Our father Abraham is known for his faith, but also for his hospitality. The reading this Shabbat is from Vayera; Genesis 18:1 – 22:24. This text that is read around the world in every synagogue, like the portion of Genesis, and Noah and Lech Lecha, is another very significant reading in God’s Word.
The reading from the prophets, the Haftarah reading, is from 2 Kings 4:1-37. The reading from the New Testament is from Luke 1:26-38, and 24:36-53. I continue to be amazed and inspired every time that I read any significant portion of the Word of God. The key to being amazed and inspired reading the Word of God is not to read like a dummy.
When you read the Bible you are not reading for your pleasure. You need to read as if you were in a dialogue with the writer. You are reading to argue and to try to understand. You are reading to ask questions and possibly to argue and dig deep into the text in order to answer the questions that the text opens up in your mind.
You are in the arena and you are there to wave the red cape and to challenge the big bull that is snorting challenges at you. The challenges are to act, to argue, to get out of your comfort zone.
So, here we are, Parashat Vayera, starting in Genesis chapter 18:1:
“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]
This opening statement is already of great impact. Up until now God had talked to and had revealed Himself to Abraham in a dream, in a vision, and in a conversation, but this is so much more than any previous occasion in which the Lord had communicated with Abraham.
In this appearance, the Lord together with two angels simply appears unannounced and so to speak just knocks on Abraham’s door! There was no previous announcement, and under normal circumstances, this would not be appropriate.
For a king, for the Lord, for the creator of the Universe, to just drop in without fanfare, or to at least have hundreds of angels preceding the entourage of the King of kings and welcome Him with flowers and a red carpet, is highly unusual, and I would say shocking!
If I read this text carefully and also consider the reference to this event in the book of Hebrews 13:2:
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:2 [NKJV]
The teaching on hospitality and the requirement of hospitality for those who are elders in the church comes from the example of Abraham in this Torah portion.
Let us consider the basics of hospitality from this story of Abraham and the guests that he receives:
“So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant. They said, ‘Do as you have said.’” – Genesis 18:2-5 [NKJV]
- Welcoming the guests and honoring them humbly and bowing to the ground as a sign that they are more noble.
- They were strangers and Abraham didn’t know what they wanted. As a part of his welcome, he begs them to stay.
- Abraham immediately follows the protocol of the Middle East and offers to wash his guests’ feet. They have been walking on the road and washing their feet is like the gesture of taking your shoes off when you are in the Far East. It is the welcoming convention and in the Far East they offer you slippers to wear.
- The next thing that Abraham did was to immediately offer the guests food.
We are commanded in the New Testament to be hospitable, and this is even a requirement for people who are elders (pastors) in the church. If your elders and pastors are not hospitable they are not qualified to be in the position of elder or pastor (in the Bible these are identical offices – one is an elder and the other serves as a shepherd of the congregation – that is to say, in the New Testament, the two positions are interchangeable).
This story also amazes by the detail by which Abraham asks Sarah his wife to prepare bread for the guests, while he himself runs to the flock and picks out a calf to be prepared for them. It bears mentioning that meat was not eaten every day in this part of the world. Meat was only eaten on holidays and on special occasions like weddings and feasts (this custom is described in the first chapter of 1 Samuel).
We must remember that Abraham still doesn’t know who these three men are! He is treating strangers, just passersby, with such hospitality.
We should remember that Abraham was a very powerful sheik whose camp must have included hundreds of soldiers and their families. He must have had many servants as well as those who had followed him from Haran to the land of Canaan! Yet, he takes it upon himself to personally select a calf and tells Sarah to make cakes from fine meal, the best flour for baking the bread.
There is so much for us to learn here about biblical practices and to ask ourselves what part of this biblical paradigm should serve us as an example.
The next big thing in this text of Genesis is the revelation that the Lord reveals to Abraham:
“And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’” – Genesis 18:17-19 [NKJV]
The Lord shares His plans with His servants and Abraham is God’s servant. See this text in Amos 3:7,
“Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” – Amos 3:7 [NKJV]
This is important to me personally. I want to know what the Lord is doing and what I am to do. When the Lord enlightens me from His Word I always appreciate it. What I don’t think is right is to try to calculate the end times. The Lord has given us enough information to cause us to be vigilant and to be prepared and ready for Yeshua’s return.
The speculations and calculations boarder on false prophecy and even more serious than false prophecy. We have to simply be patient with the prophetic proclamations in the Bible and to neither try to rush or delay the hand of the Lord. His calendar is perfect and He Himself is the only one who knows the dates of the events. Yeshua Himself says that He does not know the day and the hour of His return.
If Yeshua doesn’t know and the angels don’t know, then who knows? I would automatically question anyone who claims he knows, whether he’s a television pastor, or some self-proclaimed television “prophet” who is doing what he does for profit.
Abraham’s concern that he does what is righteous in the eyes of the Lord, also makes an impression on me and teaches me to take it easy and to overcome my fears with regard to what is happening in the world, past, present, and future. Abraham’s question is for me a key issue:
“And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” – Genesis 18:23 [NKJV]
The question that Abraham is asking in simple English is: “Lord can You be unrighteous?”
Is God able to be unrighteous? Is God bound by moral principles? Or is God without limits when it involves His decisions and actions?
These are questions that Abraham has and this gives Abraham the right and the strength to haggle with God like someone buying fish in the Arab market of the Old City of Jerusalem. What amazes me is that God is willing to haggle with Abraham and actually, in spite of the fact that God knows the end before the beginning and knows how many righteous men are in Sodom, God is willing to allow Abraham the privilege of testing His measure of righteousness. The Lord allows this haggling of Abraham, for our benefit.
The Lord wants us to know that He is a righteous God. The Lord wants us to know that when it is necessary to punish cities, countries, or individuals for their sins, there will be divine consideration for God’s righteous servants and they will not be ignored. (The question is asked about the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The answer that I can give you is that only the Lord knows who is righteous and who is not. He is the only one who can see into people’s hearts. We don’t have the ability to know or to evaluate who is righteous.)
In Sodom, in the end, there were not even 10 people who were righteous. Sodom had to fall and be destroyed. Until this very day Sodom has not been rebuilt as a city. Until this day, Capernaum, Beit Saida, and Korazim, the three cities that Yeshua cursed, have not been rebuilt and are archaeological monuments and tourist sights.
Yes, the Lord keeps His promises! He keeps His promises to Abraham, and to Israel, and to the world. If we learn anything from the story of Abraham there are two things that must be taken seriously:
- The Lord keeps His promises!
- Each promise of the Lord puts the burden on us as humans and as disciples to keep the faith and to do His will and to serve Him by serving and caring for His children.
These above reasons my dear brothers and sisters are why it is so important to pray for each other and to pray for people whom we don’t even know personally, since by praying for them we confirm that we are members of a kingdom that is much greater than us and our small fellowships and small worlds.
When we pray for people, for brothers who are in need of healing or a job, and other needs for their life and comfort, we partner with the Creator in the care and protection and provision of His creatures and creation.
Keep praying and keep caring and keep doing everything you can to partner and participate with God’s people anywhere and everywhere you know, and anywhere you are faced with someone’s need. Like the song says, “I say a little prayer for you!”
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.