Abraham’s hospitality vs. Lot’s hospitality

By Elizabeth Prata

Last week I posted a few blogs about hospitality.

Hospitality and Apostle John’s shocking words about false teachers
Anxious about Hospitality?
One way to be hospitable

I was reading a commentary on Genesis, focusing on the outcry of Sodom. It was written by John Phillips, called “Exploring Genesis”. It’s a new-to-me commentary. So far it’s not only been solid in doctrine but it is an absorbing read, not just for reference.

Mr Phillips has pointed out some things about the hospitality of Abraham and Lot. I’ll summarize in my own words.

In the biblical Eastern lands, which many call Oriental, hospitality was woven into the fabric of the culture with hard unwritten rules. A man’s reputation rested by how well he hosted guests.

In New Testament times, there are biblical rules about hosting. In fact, a widow was not allowed to be on the list to receive food support if she had not “shown hospitality to strangers.” (1 Timothy 5:10). Jesus rebuked the Pharisee hosts, saying that they had failed in hosting duties- “When I entered your house, you did not give Me water for My feet… you gave Me no kiss…you did not anoint My head“, (Luke 7:44-46). One of the qualifications to be an overseer is that he is a hospitable person. (1 Timothy 3:2).

Genesis 18 has the story of Abraham and Lot’s visitations from heaven before the destruction of Sodom.

At the cusp of the destruction of four of the Cities of the Plain, (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim), three men appeared at Abraham’s tent. Several things should be noted. First, it seems that as Abraham was relaxing during the heat of the day at the opening of his tent, the three men were not there, then suddenly they were. Abraham didn’t see them from a distance far off, he looked and suddenly they were “standing opposite him”.

Next, see how Abraham began hosting briskly. He didn’t linger, delay, or in any way demonstrate the was reluctant to host.

Verse 2: When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them
Verse 6a: So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah
Verse 6b: “Quickly, prepare…
Verse 7: Abraham also ran to the herd

He fed them, standing by while they ate. Picture a waiter, at attention near your table, and that was Abraham’s attitude, he didn’t sit with them. He stood, ready to serve.

A normal practice in Bible lands at that time was when the host saw visitors approaching, they stand by their house door or tent flap and await the guest’s arrival. That Abraham rushed to greet them and then bowed, indicated Abraham somehow intuited that these three were not normal men, but the Lord and heavenly visitors. The other two were angels who later went on to Sodom and spoke with Lot. So not only was Abraham a good host but had spiritual insight and worshiped.

Now let’s compare Lot’s hospitality. Genesis 19 has the scene.

Lot was sitting by the Gate. I’ll write another essay later about what that meant and what it entailed. Suffice to say now that being an elder by the gate meant you were a city official doing official things for the city such as administering, judging, ambassadorial greetings, security, etc.

Abraham’s honor at his war-time success likely dribbled onto Lot, and Lot ate it up. So Lot was an elder at the gate, now fully embedded in the city’s life. He was participating in the city. He had even allowed his daughters to marry its unholy citizens. Lot saw the two men (angels) approaching and did the expected as an elder would do, he greeted them and bowed.

However they were not as cordial with Lot as they had been with Abraham and later, Sarah. No conversation, no meal, no chit chat, not as friendly and pleasant with Lot. Lot extended his hospitality to them, saying in verse 2, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.

The angels curtly replied, ‘Nah, we’re good. We’ll stay in the park.’ 

This bears thinking about for a moment. Some commenters say that declining an offer of hospitality was expected at first pass, a sign of modesty not to be too forward. Others say the angels were testing the sincerity of Lot’s offer. But I compare the scene with Abraham. In a theophany (incarnated appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament), Jesus came to Abraham. The three stayed a while, had a meal, calmly discussed things. They invited Sarah to join.

But Jesus did not accompany the angels to Sodom. The angels demurred at an invitation to stay with Lot. They did not inquire after Mrs. Lot as they had for Sarah. Their initial preference was to stay in the park. It was only Lot ‘strongly urging’ them that the angels agreed to lodge in Lot’s house.

BTW this is the first mention in the Bible of a house. Lot had one. Abraham, spiritually and materially rich, had a tent.

Lot brought them to his house, but the description of the food Lot put out was not lovingly described as it was for Abraham’s feast, which had included cold milk, tender meat, fine flour bread-cakes. All that is described is that Lot offered a slab of unleavened tasteless bread.

There are many scenes within these scenes that could be pondered. I’ll finish with a direct quote from “Exploring Genesis” by John Phillips-

 “Abraham’s haste and humility teach us the much-neglected lesson of reverence in the presence of God. It was not a matter of forced or artificial posturing. It was a question of spiritual intuition, an overwhelming sense of the presence of God.”

“God took Abraham into His confidence and revealed to His servant a new line of truth-apocalyptic truth, truth concerning the impending overthrow of an utterly vile civilization. The revelation of that truth was an interesting test of Abraham’s growth in grace and of his increase in the knowledge of God.”

“How does a faithful, maturing, obedient child of God react to the truth that a holocaust of judgment is about to engulf a world of vile and godless men? Jonah, faced with apocalyptic truth, was glad. He pondered the impending doom of Nineveh with glee, determined to do nothing to stay its fall, careless of the thousands of little children who lived within its walls. Jesus, faced with apocalyptic truth, was moved to tears. … And He wept, wept for the city whose sins called for vengeance so thorough and so complete. Faced with apocalyptic truth, Abraham prayed.”

And we should do the same. Weep and pray for those caught in sin, pray for their repentance and turning from their immoral ways. Bow with reverence to the One who carries justice and mercy in His bosom. Pray for patience to see which will emerge on behalf of our sinning friends, family, co-workers, and pray for peace with the result, whichever it may be. For Jesus is the Lord of glory.

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