Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13:2
God sets incredibly high standards for us as His children! But again, such stringent standards are almost nothing compared to the responsibilities that He has reserved for us in heaven. Amongst them, the Bible says, is that we will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3). Now, we would hardly expect a person who will judge angels in heaven to be someone who does not care about the attitude of his or her heart – or his actions. That is why when such a person momentarily loses their faith and becomes careless in their actions, like Abraham did with Hagar, the repercussions reverberate far beyond anyone’s realm of sight. They are beyond catastrophic.
But, anyway, back to our subject.
Right at the outset, notice that this scripture is tied in with the exhortation to “Let brotherly love continue” (v.1).
A brother is someone whom you know, someone close to you. A stranger, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He is just that… a stranger. He is someone you do not know. In today’s violence-prone atmosphere, we could even fear strangers. But scripture here firmly instructs us that, while our first priority is to uphold brotherly love, yet we have a responsibility to those who are outside our fold. That’s a Godly charge. As people who have God’s nature in us, we should not only minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to strangers. There are believers (and church communities) who live such insulated lives they spend all their energy on themselves and their close ones.
But the Bible here tells us to “be not forgetful” because you can become so inward-looking that other people become of little value to you. You become insensitive to people’s needs, people’s suffering.
Hebrews 13:2 refers specifically to Abraham, among others. Abraham was a man such as you and I, but he entertained angels unawares. Now, you would expect that when angels visited men they would come in all their glory, trumpets sounding and golden wings flashing. But these came to Abraham’s tent in the form of strangers. Flesh and blood, tired strangers. Abraham’s story is well-known.
Here is the account in full:
“1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: 4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. 7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. 8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” Gen. 18:1-8
It is clear from this account that Abraham did not know that these men were angels (and the LORD was among them!) Abraham just saw three men approaching his tent “in the heat of the day”.
Under such hot conditions the men must have appeared tired and worn out. Upon looking at their dust-covered feet Abraham knew they must have travelled far and that they were hungry. And Abraham pleaded with them to accept “a little” generosity from him. The “little water” and “morsel of bread” that Abraham prepared for them turned out to be probably the biggest feast of their lives, and the service they received from this dusty nomad and his wife far exceeded what any modern man would receive at the top Hyatt hotel.
“A morsel of bread”! God’s people are incredibly humble!!
It was not like Abraham spent all his time seated outside his tent forcing any Tom, Dick and Harry into his house to eat and wash their feet. But he knew when a man was in trouble, and he spared no effort in making them feel welcome and comfortable in his house. The heart that Abraham carried was what mattered.
When we are taking up our cross and following Christ, we will do the same. A stranger is someone who in a sense is at our mercy. A stranger is a man or woman who has a need. And he does not have to come from our denomination. The Bible is actually talking about people who are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we have the heart of Christ, who died for us while we were yet strangers, all because of mercy.
Meeting such a person’s need, therefore, requires a heart of mercy. May we not harden our hearts. Some, the Bible tells us, have entertained angels unawares.
In the final analysis, I wonder what a full, contented angel would do by way of thanking us? No doubt, much more than we could ask or dream! Such was the blessing that befell Abraham.
[Abraham took a heifer “tender and good” – the best – from his herd and prepared it for total strangers]