In Genesis 18, God appears to Abraham in the heat of the day. Abraham looks up and sees three men approaching him. Now these three men are not ordinary men, although they appear to be. In fact, they are angels sent by God. Hebrews 13:2 comments and says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it!” Here Abraham models perfect hospitality. He gets up from his seat and runs to greet these strangers. He bows himself toward the ground and says “My Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not go past your servant . . . Let a little water be fetched and wash your feet, and rest . . . I will fetch a morsel of bread to your comfort your hearts...” The angels accept, and Abraham hurries into his tent to have a meal prepared for his guests. He prepares much more than a morsel of bread. He offers them fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk, along with three measures of fine flour (one measure for each visitor) baked into hot cakes. Note: Abraham’s offer is humble, but his delivery is great. His words are small, but his actions are large. The three angels are impressed as they sit and enjoy a delicious meal at Abraham’s table. In years prior, they had watched from a distance God make a covenant with this man, but now they get the opportunity to meet him up close and personally. They admire Abraham’s wisdom when he addresses them in the singular, “my Lord.” You see, Abraham recognizes them for who they are: representatives of the one true God. He is a man with spiritual eyesight, who sees beyond the physical reality. Before him are three men physically, but spiritually they are united. They come as one, on behalf of One. Abraham’s usage of the singular––“my Lord”––shows that Abraham recognizes more than meets the eye.
Zooming out, we come to learn what hospitality is from this chapter. Our father Abraham sets the bar very high for his children. We derive 5 principles of hospitality based on his behavior. As Rabbi Telushkin explains:
Genesis 18 is important to keep in mind as we turn the page and start reading chapter 19. In chapter 19, we will see a similar set up affording the same opportunities for hospitality. Instead of Abraham, though, Lot will be placed in the position of host. Lot is a believer; he is a “saved” person. But is his hospitality on par with Abraham’s? Well, let’s see what we find.
Chapter 19 begins as TWO angels approach the city of Sodom at dusk. Wait––just a moment ago, Genesis 18 said there were three angels. But now in Genesis 19, there are only two of them. What happened to the third angel? Well, we must understand something about angels. Angels sent by God are called to carry out a specific mission. Once they accomplish their task, they return to God for further instruction. Demons, on the other hand, like to play around. They like to poke and prod at situations just to see what havoc they can cause. Angels sent by God are not that way. Angels come into the world with an intended purpose in mind; they execute the mission in full obedience to God’s will. In the context of this story, one angel is meant to tell Abraham that he would soon have a child with Sarah. This angel accomplishes his mission in Genesis 18 and then exits the story. Genesis 19 picks up and only two angels remain. Their mission: to save Lot and destroy Sodom. Also, there are two of them because two witnesses are needed to establish any legal matter (Deuteronomy 19:15)––especially in cases of life and death. These two angels act as the two witnesses who will condemn Sodom to the death penalty.
As the two of them approach the city, they are spotted by Abraham’s nephew, Lot, who is sitting at the gate of Sodom. Immediately there are several items to note.
By this time, Lot has lived in Sodom for at least 15 years.
Lot first pitched his tents toward Sodom when Abraham was not yet 85 years old. When the angels meet Lot at the city gates, Abraham is now 99 years old. So based on how much Abraham has aged, we know for sure that Lot has been involved with Sodom for at least 15 years. (You can follow this timeline for yourself via Genesis 13:10-13, 15:1, 16:16, 17:24-25.)
Lot is likely an elder of the city.
The city’s elders would sit at the entrance of the city, at the city’s gate. (Reference Deuteronomy 25:7, Joshua 20:4, Proverbs 31:23.) Lot has come a long way since pitching his tent toward Sodom 15 years ago! Now he occupies a dignified position in the city. I would suggest that the great war against Mesopotamia is what boosted Lot’s reputation. Two reasons: 1) Many Sodomites went to war and died in battle, so the power fell upon fewer men afterward. 2) It was Lot’s uncle who saved the city! So by virtue of his relationship to Abraham the war hero, Lot became more esteemed in the community.
So here’s Lot sitting at the city gate when he sees these two men (angels) approaching Sodom. If we measure Lot’s greeting in light of Abraham’s greeting, we’ll notice it says nothing about Lot running to greet them (as did Abraham). Instead, Lot waits until the angels come to him. He is a city elder, after all. That is a respected position. So these visitors––they can come to him.
They finally get within speaking distance. Lot, the city elder, bows himself with his face toward the ground (Genesis 19:1). Whereas Abraham bowed himself toward the ground, Lot simply bows himself with his face toward the ground. It’s interesting to compare the two. The language implies Abraham prostrated his body to the ground, and Lot politely nodded.
Lot begins by saying, “My lords...” Plural! Recall, Abraham addressed them in the singular because he recognized their unity. Lot, on the other hand, puts more stock in the physical than he does the spiritual. To Lot, the physical is primary and the spiritual is secondary. He addresses the visitors in the plural because their physical separation is more real to him than the oneness they represent. He is physically minded. But this is typical of Lot. Take for example the time Lot decided to move toward Sodom in the Jordan Valley:
“Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east . . . Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:10-13 ESV).
Like I said, Lot beholds the physical reality more than he does the spiritual reality. He moves his family to Sodom because (physically) it is like the Garden of Eden! It is like the land of Egypt! I mean yeah, sure, the wickedness is great and the people are corrupt, but just look at that view! It’s gorgeous! Let’s go!
Lot says, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” Lot presses them strongly, urging them to come to his house. The angels accept the offer and go to his house. Genesis 19:3 tells us, “And [Lot] made them a feast...” but what does it say he made for them? “...and he did bake unleavened bread.”
...What? Where’s any mention of fresh meat tender and good dressed with butter and milk? Or what about the fine flour baked into hot cakes? Is there any mention of this? No. There is no mention of this whatsoever. The only detail we’re given is that he made them some unleavened bread. Compared to the description of Abraham’s meal, Lot’s meal seems to be less than grandiose. Lot’s meal seems to be closer to a morsel of bread than does Abraham’s. Note, though, the Torah is gracious. God (who is telling this story to Moses) does not call attention to Lot’s service...or lack thereof. But I think we can read between the lines and make a comparison between Abraham’s meal and Lot’s meal. The details are telling. We see that Abraham’s words were small but his delivery was great. The description of Lot’s meal is big (“a feast!”), but his delivery seems to be lacking. (...unleavened bread? Oh...thanks, Lot.)
Now Lot certainly deserves some credit. He does show hospitality to his dinner guests. It may not be on par with Abraham’s, but at least Lot does invite them into his house and offer them something to eat. He later stands up for them and tries to protect them from the men of Sodom. To his credit, Lot shows a degree of hospitality. But this brings us to thinking about two kinds of believers. How hospitable are we when it comes to inviting God into our lives?
Some believers are of Abraham’s stature: they see the spiritual world as primary and the physical world as secondary. They see God in the people they encounter. Their words are humble but their deeds are great. They run to the Lord. They worship Him with their whole being (“worship” and “bow” are the same word in Hebrew: shachah).
Meanwhile, other believers are of Lot’s stature: there is a degree of pride involved. To them, the physical world is primary and the spiritual world is an afterthought. They make themselves available to the Lord if He will just come to them. He is invited in, yes, but only for a time they so designate––like Lot says, “In the morning you can go on your way.” In other words, “I will be your host, Lord, but only from here to here. After that, you need to go. You need to be on your way.” This kind of believer may shachah God with their head, but not with their whole being. Everything is limited.
I suppose the question is: Are you Lot or are you Abraham? Which kind of believer are you? How hospitable are you to God? How hospitable are you to your neighbor? If I may speak personally, so often I am Lot. My hospitality is limited, not just to others but to God as well. Thankfully, God is gracious! He does not call attention to my shortcomings. But He does give me chapters like Genesis 18 & 19 to think on it, pray on it, and try to do better in the future. Now that I think about it, this is His invitation to me––to join Him in His house.