A Meal Says More than You Think: The Importance of Hospitality
- Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Once more, the flow of the argument is worth meditating on. If someone were to say to me, "The world is ending very soon. What are you going to do?" I'm not confident that the first words out of my mouth would be, "Offer hospitality." By the same token, if someone said to me, "How will God glorify himself through Christ?" I am not sure that "the hospitality of God's people" would make my list.
So here I was, tasked with giving a three minute devotion on hospitality, but finding myself overwhelmed not by the number of times the word is used, but by the contexts in which it is located: Romans 12 and the basics of the Christian life; 1 Timothy and a necessary attribute of church leaders, male and female; 1 Peter 4 and how to prepare for the end times. Amazing. My word search prompted me to ask, why is hospitality so important in Scripture? To answer that, I had to dig a little deeper. More than a word search, I needed a biblical theology of hospitality.
In the Old Testament, hospitality is closely connected with a recognition of God's lordship and covenant loyalty. In Genesis 18, Abraham entertains three guests, one of whom is the Lord. And the Lord promises Abraham a son. So hospitality is often associated with promise and blessing.
In Genesis 19:1, Lot protects his two guests from the townsmen who surround the house and make threats. Here, hospitality is associated with protection. Similarly, Rahab offers protection and lodging to Israelite spies in Joshua 2, demonstrating her loyalty to Israel's God. Abigail provides hospitality to David and his men in 1 Samuel 25. The widow of Zerephath provides hospitality for Elijah when facing starvation herself in 1 Kings 17, prompting God to provide for her.
Again and again, acts of hospitality or inhospitality reveal the good or evil of a person or a community (Gen. 19, Judg. 19, 1 Sam. 25). Incidentally, the same is true in the New Testament. Hospitality is a characteristic of those who live as God intends. Think about which parable of Jesus' uses hospitality to indicate who fulfills the command to love and who does not: the parable of the good Samaritan.
But hospitality has a larger place in the Old Testament than just these individual examples….
Consider Abraham of Ur called out of the homeland of his fathers in order to travel to a foreign land that God has promised (Gen. 12:1-3).
Consider Joseph sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt.
Consider the Israelites, who become so numerous the Egyptians treated these "foreigners" as slaves.
Consider Moses leading these strangers, these aliens, through the wilderness for forty years, forced to live on God's miraculous provision of quail and manna.
Consider Judah's exile in Babylon.
Consider Daniel opening the windows of his room toward Jerusalem as he prayed, a holy man in a strange land.
In short, Israel's identity was continually formed and reformed through the experience of being a stranger and a sojourner, stuck in a temporary place, never quite at home, vulnerable to others, and always having to live according to God's provision. Does this sound familiar? Like the Christian life perhaps? I'll discuss this more in a moment. But again and again, God demonstrated he would provide everything the nation needed to survive. So Israel's status as sojourners and aliens functioned as both a reminder of their ultimate dependence on God and therefore as a basis for their gratitude, obedience, and hope in him.
Their experience of being foreigners was also essential in helping them understand the needs of strangers in their midst. They received the hospitality of God, which in turn taught them to turn and offer that same hospitality to others. Hence, Israel was the only ancient Near Eastern country with laws protecting the stranger and alien (Ex. 23:9, Deut. 10:19). Judges were commanded to deal impartially between aliens and Israelites (Dt. 1:16, 24L17). Cities of refuge were open to aliens and native-borns alike (Num. 35:15; Josh. 20:9). Sojourners were often classed with widows, orphans, and the poor as deserving the community's provision and just treatment (Ex. 22:21-24, Dt. 24:17-18).
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