181 YHWH appeared to Abraham at the Terebinths of Mamre while he sat in the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2He raised his eyes and, behold, he saw three men standing before him. As soon as Abraham saw them, he ran toward them from his tent entrance to greet them and bowed to the earth. 3He said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your eyes, pray don’t go past your servant. 4Let a little water be fetched so you may wash your feet and recline under the tree. 5Let me fetch you a bit of bread so you will be refreshed. Then you may travel after visiting your servant.”
They said, “Do as you have spoken.”
6So Abraham hurried into his tent, to Sarah, and said, “Hurry! Knead three measures of the finest semolina flour and make some loaves!” 7Abraham also ran to the herd, brought a tender calf, and gave it to a young servant, to hurry and prepare it. 8 Then Abraham fetched curds and milk and the prepared calf and set the food in front of them, and stood over them under the tree while they ate.
The author gives the reader information the character doesn’t know. It will be just a bit before this becomes clear. In the meantime, this unbalanced knowledge becomes a test of Abraham in his newly circumcised state. Can Abraham look past the mirage of life to glimpse its background state and participate in its generosity?
The setting is once again at the Terebinths of Mamre where, as Abram, he heard of Lot’s capture and the need to rescue him. Now, as Abraham, he looks out through the shimmering waves of heat to see three persons. This number is as suspect as any mirage. He begins in the singular and progresses to plural references to the visitor(s).
In a seeming moment, they stand before Abraham. Like a later prodigal father, Abraham runs to meet them. Again a mirage-like moment as this run didn’t take long because they were right there. The enthusiasm suggested by the speed of his welcome continues with importuning that the stranger(s) tarry. The offer is for water in a weary land, rest and refreshment, and nourishment on which to travel further.
Such an offer is both too good to turn down and an invitation that cannot be avoided without dishonoring the host.
In typical patriarchal fashion, Abraham’s generosity requires Sarah’s time and energy to provide a sizeable amount of bread. Abraham did select the fatted calf, but the actual slaughtering was delegated.
It takes some time to move from a little refreshment to a grand feast. There was time for the stranger(s) to have an extended siesta. So it was, Abraham welcomed strangers, unaware of their messenger (angelic) function. He attended to their eating with a solicitous urging to have more.
Abraham’s hospitality is a model of “premeditated mercy” that will later be codified. It is also a standard against which other opportunities for hospitality will be measured.