“Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.” Gen. 18:1-3
There is some initial confusion when reading these verses: Is it God and three angels visiting Abraham? Is God Himself one of the three visitors? When Abraham says “My Lord” in verse two it is somewhat ambiguous (is the word ‘Lord’ meant as ‘God’? Is he speaking to one person or all three?) and there are varying translations on verse three – “do not pass your servant by”, and “please pass not away from your servant” or similar.
The first understanding steers us toward the assumption that God Himself is one of the three, and Abraham is admonishing the visitors to stay awhile. The second understanding is quite different – it implies that A) God is present, but separate from the three visitors, and B) Abraham is actually asking God to ‘wait’ while he tends to helping the three men. I will return to this point momentarily.
The outstanding details of verses 3-8 involve hospitality, which can be gathered by looking at the adjectives used. Abraham, even in his weakened state as having just been circumcised (see my previous posting The LORD visits Abraham) is literally running around to serve these three men. He offers little (water and bread) but prepares a veritable feast.
How often would we turn away a visitor when we aren’t quite feeling up to it? And if the second understanding of verse three is true – that Abraham asked God Himself to wait while he tended to the visitors, it would seem that Abraham placed an extremely high emphasis on hospitality.
Even if we disagree with this interpretation, we would do well to learn from this. Why? Consider the contrast in the hospitality offered to two of these same visitors by the townspeople when they get to the city of Sodom in Genesis 19.