As we’ve seen from previous chapters in Genesis, the Lord isn’t squeamish about telling us the difficult-to-face truths — particularly with regard to how we treat each other.
Abraham’s family, we can safely say, doesn’t model a loving, stable, sacrificial home life — quite the opposite. In fact, his family life resembles a lurid soap opera, full of sin and selfishness and bad choices. Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t have children, so she lobbies for Abraham to impregnate her servant, Hagar. Abraham unwisely agrees. Of course, it all leads to anger, blame, contempt, doubt, and strife.
(Side note: Do you see how such unvarnished storytelling only strengthens the Bible as authentic? After all, if ancient people had actually fabricated Scripture, why would they use story after story of believers’ non-belief and failure? Not a very effective “marketing campaign,” is it? But then again, the Lord isn’t looking to “sell” us anything! The truth is always free.)
Yet in the midst of all the pain Abraham’s family members inflicted upon each other, God keeps meeting them at their lowest points and lifts each of them up. First Hagar — who now knows down to her bones that God has truly seen her — and then Abraham, who’s encouraged by the Lord to think much bigger. And now we come to Sarah in Genesis 18.
But first we’re thrust into an intriguing scene during which Abraham sees three men standing in front him — and one of them (denoted by the capitalized word “LORD,” or “Yahweh”) actually is God himself. However, Abraham apparently doesn’t know this, as he refers to the “man” as “Lord” — not all capitalized letters — which is another way of saying “Mister.” Abraham then implores the men to sit for a spell, after which Abraham and Sarah wait on them hand and foot.
The cool thing about this passage is that it underscores the stark differences between eastern and western culture when it comes to hospitality. Did you catch Pastor Scott explaining how in America when people knock on our doors, we’re all about the task at hand — and perhaps even reducing as much as face-to-face interaction as possible in those moments? But it’s the complete opposite in eastern cultures — in other words, efficiency and sticking to the task is decidedly not of the essence! Instead, relationships are where it’s at. And indeed, we see Abraham and Sarah putting the visitors’ needs way ahead of their own, and no matter what tasks they were up to, they’re putting to the side their work for the moment and attending to their guests and welcoming conversation, no matter how long it takes.
In that vein, let’s not forget Pastor Scott’s exhortation for all of us — that hospitality can be incredibly strategic and effective as a way of drawing others closer to Christ! As the New Testament book of Hebrews notes in chapter 13, verse 2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” All of us can simply open our homes — and hearts — for others. Just like Abraham did.
Now as for Sarah — despite her tendency to place blame on others and manipulate situations to her advantage — she’s a woman who loves God and who’s considered by others who came after her in the Bible as someone to look up to. In fact, she’s a member of the “Faith Hall of Fame” as noted in Hebrews.
But as Genesis 18 points out, doubts can take over the minds and hearts of even the godliest among us. And in Sarah’s case, she laughed at the Lord’s promise that she would bear a child — not a far-fetched reaction given her age and barren condition. Then Sarah even lies to God, denying that she laughed when she did. And don’t we lie to God sometimes, too? And more than that — why? Doesn’t the Lord already know what the truth is before we can fathom or understand it? But like Sarah, we also are afraid of God’s plan; we want others to like us, and we compromise; we take life’s matters into our own hands instead of trusting the Lord to lead us.
Then God simply and patiently asks Sarah and us: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Brothers and sisters, God’s purposes will be completed in you. He who sparks life itself into being where no life existed before is more than able to help and guide you through life. But even more, God wants you to be part of his spiritual family.
He wants to be your father — and he wants to be your friend. Believe it.