It was a sweltering hot day and Sarah was thankful for the shade of the great oak trees under which Abraham had pitched their tent. She had hooked up a corner of the tent to allow any breeze to blow through but in the middle of the day there was no breeze and the only respite from the searing heat was to lie quietly and wait until the evening before attempting any work.
Despite the heat and the perspiration dripping down her forehead into her eyes Sarah was close to sleep when a noise prompted her to pull herself up onto her elbow. Abraham had been sitting at the door of the tent taking advantage of the shade from the oak trees. He was a good man. He was nearly 100 years old and had been a faithful husband. It was harder to get around these days and although she was a few years younger than Abraham, Sarah was feeling her age as well. There was only one thing that had been a note of sadness in their long life together. Abraham and Sarah had no children.
Sarah could see Abraham slowly pulling himself up onto his feet and she peered out of the darkness of the tent into the dazzling sunshine to see what had prompted him to move away from the shade. She could hear a voice and wondered who would be visiting their tent in the heat of the day, so moved a little closer to the door of the tent to get a better view of what was happening outside. Abraham was moving away from the tent and she could see what looked like three figures standing in the shade of the oak trees.
She made sure that no-one would be able to see her, but was anxious to get into a position where she could see what was happening and hopefully overhear the conversation. They lived alone and visitors were rare. There was something about the three figures under the Oak trees that intrigued her.
Now Abraham was moving quickly towards the strangers and Sarah watched as he bowed low to them. Abraham obviously didn’t know who these visitors were, but she smiled to herself because the way in which he bowed before them was typical of his gracious approach to all people, particularly strangers. He was only with them a few minutes then he began making his way back to the tent. Sarah slipped back to where she had been lying so it wouldn’t be too obvious she had been watching what was going on.
Abraham leaned over and stepped into the tent. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread. I’m going to get a calf and kill it for these visitors. Oh, where is that curds and milk? Sarah quickly got up and began preparing the bread as Abraham headed out of the tent at a rate that Sarah found a little disconcerting considering his age and the heat of the day. “Take it easy,” she called out to Abraham as he disappeared into the harsh sunlight.
While she was waiting for the bread to bake, Sarah edged back to her place near the door of the tent where she could remain unseen, but could watch what was going on. Abraham had found a place under the oak trees for the visitors to sit and was ably fulfilling the role of host to these strangers. Fortunately they were just within earshot, so although Sarah couldn’t catch everything that was being said, she could hear just enough.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked Abraham.
Sarah was taken aback: “Who were these men? How did they know my name,” she thought to herself.
Abraham was answering them now: “She’s just there, in the tent.” Sarah quickly pulled back away from the door of the tent just in case they looked up and saw her. She tried to stay within earshot because she didn’t want to miss anything now.
The one in the middle was an imposing figure. There was something distinctive about all three of the men. Something that made them stand out from other men she had seen. They didn’t look like locals, but she couldn’t place where they might have come from. The one in the middle then said: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah nearly blew her cover as she gasped. She pushed her shawl over her mouth to cover the sound of her laughing. Who was this man? Who did he think he was? She was well past childbearing years and although Abraham often talked about how sad he was that he didn’t have children, she knew that it wasn’t going to happen.
She tried to compose herself and was glad that the bread had finished baking and she was able to take it out to the visitors. It may give her a chance to see them a little closer. But as she approached them, one of the men asked Abraham why Sarah had laughed when he said that she would have a son.
It was an embarrassing moment. Abraham looked flustered, unsure how to answer the question, so Sarah piped up. “Oh, I didn’t laugh,” she lied. But the man looked directly at her said, “yes, you did laugh.”
At that moment Sarah knew that these were no ordinary men. She had a sense that this was God himself, the three in one, who could not only predict the future, but knew what was happening in the darkness of the tent, and more significantly, in the secret places of her mind.
As the men stood to leave, the one in the middle said: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Abraham and Sarah looked at each other as the men disappeared into the distance. We have just been visited by the Lord Almighty, Abraham stammered. I have hosted the Lord and he has eaten my bread and meat. Sarah looked up at Abraham. “And as you provided for him, he has provided for us. Our guest has provided a great gift.”
You can read the story yourself in Genesis 18. This post is the first in a series on “The Art of Hosting”. If Hospitality is a characteristic of God, then there is a need for God’s people to learn to exercise hospitality as well. I’m presenting the series each Sunday morning at Maida Vale Baptist Church. You can also hear the messages here.