Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Heb. 13:2
Who are the “strangers” the Bible is referring to here? A Biblical stranger is any person – apart from yourself – who has a need. It could even be your next door neighbor. But primarily, here, it refers to people that we do not know or whom under normal circumstances we could hardly care about.
Our key scripture above refers, chiefly, to the account, in Genesis chapter 18, of how Abraham entertained total strangers who just happened to be the LORD Himself and two of His angels. Let us look at this account up close.
“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. 9 And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. 10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.”
In this account, we can clearly see Abraham’s attitude to strangers in the way he treated the three men. Abraham had a heart of mercy. He lifts up his eyes and sees three men standing outside his tent “in the heat of the day”. This little detail – “in the heat of the day” – indicates that the men were tired, exhausted and in need.
Abraham does not know they are angels. The LORD was not wearing a three-piece suit, nor did He roll up in a private jet. He came on foot and He looked tired and hungry.
Clearly, the men have come a long way and they probably have a long way to go. Abraham decides he cannot let them pass. He must do something for them! His heart trembles with mercy – and generosity.
But first, he must get their permission. Abraham has a servant’s heart. Just because he has something to give to these men, Abraham does not walk up to them with his hands stuck in his pockets and tell them, “I can see you are hungry. Now, sit down and let me see what I can do for you. And don’t make noise. I don’t like noise around my house.”
Bless the Lord, no. Abraham does not talk or behave like that. Instead, he tells them:
“3 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.”
Abraham calls himself their servant and deliberately makes these strangers his lords. To which they replied,
“So do, as thou hast said.”
Abraham springs into action. Abraham has a large heart. Without thinking, his heart knows exactly what it needs to do to refresh these exhausted men. The rest, as they say, is history. The “morsel of bread” that he sets out to prepare for them turns out to be a banquet!
It could be that Abraham did not prepare a good and tender calf for every stranger who passed by… or, it may well be that he did. After all, not many people passed through the dry plains of Mamre in those days and Abraham’s heart was able to take care of anyone who had a need. But, whatever he did or did not do, Abraham’s heart to strangers, or people in need, is clearly revealed in these scriptures.
That is unlike so many of us. Many of us have an ‘accountant’ mind where keeping an account of the things we own is of more importance to us than helping someone in need. To many people, a stranger – or a needy person – is an intrusion into their lives! But it was not so with Abraham.
Has anyone passed by your house or your place of work lately, whom you felt was not deserving of your attention? They probably did not meet your (worldly) criteria of someone you needed to do a favor to.
Most people will bend over backwards to extend their warmest welcome to people they know or to people who look important – or to people they want to help – but not to “other” people.
But God comes incognito. When the Lord decides to visit you in person He does not send a celebrity your way. Nor does He send your best friend around. On the contrary, He will send a type of person that you couldn’t care about – or the kind of person that you loathe. That will be your angel. God knows our hearts and He knows all the pride and selfishness in us. This is a test that He therefore sets before us. Being the God of heaven, He is not going to give us kindergarten stuff. God will give us something that will test us to the core, for He longs to mature us in the Spirit.
But this test comes with a blessing. According to His good purposes, God sometimes does bless us materially to the extent that we do the same to others. But it is not the material blessing which we are to seek after, and that is why it is not a law for God to bless us in that manner. It is the fruit of the Spirit that is God’s true blessing to us. The Bible, in Luke 6:38, says:
“30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. 31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. 32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. 33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. 34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. 36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Lk. 6:30-38)
That is God’s character. But, again, notice God’s many promises to us when we “entertain strangers”. And God is faithful, which means He will fulfill every promise of His.
It all hinges on the heart. Do we have a loving, tender heart? Or is our heart hard and selfish and judgemental?
I thank God for the many men and women of God the world over who have exactly this heart. I personally have had the honor of coming across some of them. They are not necessarily the people who can preach the cross very well. But they are brothers and sisters who can live it.
God will bless these people with a heavenly blessing.