Summary: Fifth in a six-part series on the life of faith as seen in the person of Abraham
Cross a pessimist with a comedian and you get Woody Allen. His brand of off-beat, self-deprecating, hang-dog humor can be sometimes insightful, sometimes depressing, but usually, pretty funny. A sampling of his best one-liners:
“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another boy.”
“I’ve often said, the only thing standing between me and greatness is me.”
“Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle.”
“More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
“I feel so much better now that I’ve given up all hope.”
And yet, that’s not so funny after all; can we live without hope? Say what you will about Jesse Jackson, it’s hard to argue with his three-word motto: “Keep Hope Alive”. Jesse understands what is so important for us to understand as Christ-followers, that without hope, life is hardly worth living; in fact, we are hardly even able to live without hope. Paul lists hope, along with faith and love, as the three greatest spiritual virtues. This series is about living by faith; we hear a lot about faith and love, but not nearly so much about hope. Yet it strikes me that these passages give us substantial theological basis for just that: hope!
3 themes emerge from these texts that form the basis for hope in the life of the follower of God: His presence, His power, and His grace.
Our Basis for Hope:
1. God’s Presence
• Physical Appearance to Abraham
When visitors approached a dwelling, it was customary for the owner of the tent to offer a meal to the strangers, winning, at least temporarily, their friendship. It was customary to offer a meal, but then to outdo the original offer, and Abraham does this, coming through with roast beef, which wouldn’t have been a normal part of a meal in these times, as well as milk and yogurt, by-products of the herd as well.
The time of day was the midday siesta, but this does not prevent Abraham from treating these visitors as royalty. At this point, it’s difficult to know whether or not Abraham recognized these visitors as anything other than sojourners who happened by; we cannot be at all sure that he knew that this was a heavenly entourage. Hebrews 13:2 indicates the importance of hospitality, noting that some have even entertained angels without knowing it! But whether or not Abraham was aware at first of the nature of these visitors, we ought to be reminded of our Savior’s words in Matthew 25, when He tells us that we serve Him when we visit those in prison, care for the sick and dying, feed the hungry, and the like.
It’s a bit of a comical picture; Abraham “ran” back to the tent, and said, “Quick, Sarah, bake some bread”. We can imagine Sarah responding by reminding Abe that she was 89, that she no longer did anything particularly quickly, that if he’d hold his camels, she’d get it done as soon as she could. Then Abraham “ran” to the herd and picked out a fat calf for the day’s meal. Here’s a guy who obviously understood that something important was up!
Three visitors; one is the “Lord”. The entire chapter has to be understood in this context: God has chosen to appear (again) directly to Abraham for the purpose of imparting truth to him that he needs to understand. The God of the Bible is “One who makes Himself known intimately and concretely to His covenant people”, said John Sailhamer. In fact, honestly causes us to admit that we do not know precisely the arrangement here. Abraham addresses the three men together as “Lord”; though some have been tempted to see the Trinity incarnate, that seems a stretch. At certain times in the Old Testament, we see what is called a “theophany”, which is a “pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus”. This would seem to be Jesus in a pre-incarnate state, but the other two men are not deity, but rather, most likely, angels. An alternate interpretation would be that the three visitors, taken together, represent the presence of God, instead of any particular one being Jesus Himself; this would be a parallel situation to, for instance, the presence of God being in the burning bush, but the bush not actually being God Himself.
The significance of the visit of the three guests is that we see God being present on the scene, conversing with Abraham, showing up in an unmistakable way. Three times, the Scriptures record that Abraham was a “friend of God”, not the least of which is Isaiah 41:8, where God speaks of “my friend Abraham”. Here, under the oaks at Mamre, were two friends conversing; what an incredible conversation it must have been. And yet, we too have the promises of God regarding His presence: