The exhortation in Hebrews 13:2 reads, “Do not neglect hospitality; by showing this, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The verb for entertain is xenizô, which here means to welcome or have as one’s guest. My previous blog on hospitality showed that in Greco-Roman traditions, sometimes hospitable guests received strangers that happened to be gods, and they were rewarded accordingly. Jewish traditions have similar stories, and Hebrews 13:2, inter alia, probably alludes to Genesis 18-19.
The Hospitality of Abraham and Lot
Perhaps the most famous stories about hospitality of this sort are found in Genesis 18–19. In Genesis 18 Abraham sees three travelling men approaching and bows before them requesting that they rest under the shade of a tree. He gives them water, calls out for Sarah to make a breaded treat for them (the TLB has “pancakes” or alternatively, “tortillas”!), and he prepares a calf for a meal with curds and milk (Gen 18).
One of the three guests happens to be YHWH (the name of God)! He promises that next year Sarah, despite her old age, will have a son (Isaac). Abraham’s hospitality thus turns out to be theoxenic—God is given hospitality. And God rewards Abraham by giving him an heir through his wife Sarah.
It turns out that the three were heading to Sodom; two set out to go, though YHWH stays behind a little longer and converses with Abraham. The other two arrive in Sodom where the text now identifies them as angels (Genesis 19). Lot, Abraham’s nephew, takes them into his home and feeds them. Later on that night, when the men of Sodom attempt to rape the new guests, Lot intercedes for his guests, even willing to offer his own daughters to the predators.
We see this today as a sheer act of stupidity and devaluing females. In the ancient patriarchal world of the text, however, Lot’s act would probably be interpreted as radical hospitality; a willingness to give up even one’s own family members for the sake of protecting one’s guests. All the same, the angels defend themselves, Lot escapes with his daughters, and God blows up the city.
Other Jewish traditions likewise commend Abraham’s hospitality as well as Lot’s.
The Jewish philosopher Philo stresses Abraham’s eagerness when meeting the three travellers: “being filled as to his soul with joy, he took every possible pains to make their extemporaneous reception worthy of them… For no one in the house of a wise man is ever slow to perform the duties of hospitality, but both women and men, and slaves and freemen, are most eager in the performance of all those duties towards strangers” (Concerning Abraham, 107–08).
Josephus, the Jewish historian, speaks highly of Lot entertaining the angels: “Lot entreated them to accept of a lodging with him; for he was a very generous and hospitable man, and one that had learned to imitate the goodness of Abraham” (Antiquities of the Jews 1.200).
Other Jewish Examples of Hospitality
John T. Fitzgerald writes regarding others in Jewish traditions that are to be recognized for their hospitality: “Melchizedek (Gen 14:17–24; Josephus Ant. 1.10.2 §181), Rebekah (Gen 24:16–25; Josephus Ant. 1.16.2 §§246, 250–51), the prostitute Rahab (Josh 2), whose house, in view of her profession, was called an inn (Josephus Ant. 5.1.2 §§7–8, 10, 13; see also 3.12.2 §276), Manoah (Judg 13; Josephus Ant. 5.8.3 §§282–84), Boaz (Josephus Ant. 5.9.2 §323) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8–17).”
Likewise in Rabbinic tradition, hospitality continues to be commended: “Yose b. Yohanan of Jerusalem says, (1) Let your house be wide open. (2) And seat the poor at your table” (Mishnah ’Abot 1:5A).
Independent of Abraham and Lot, the Torah likewise encourages hospitality. In Leviticus 19:33–34, Scripture says: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (ESV).
In Deuteronomy 10:17–18, the Lord loves the stranger, providing this person with food and clothing. We see through hospitality the fulfillment of the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This is popularized not only in Leviticus 19:18 but also by Jesus in the Gospels, who considered loving one’s neighbor as the greatest commandment (Matt 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34).
Are we as believers today exemplifying such love? Do we realize that when we welcome and love others, we are welcoming and loving the Lord?
 Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greeks Texts and English Translations, updated ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 41.
 John T. Fitzgerald, “Hospitality,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 522–25, esp. 524.
 Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 673.
Image: Abraham’s Philoxenia Painting Icon via pixabay.com