How do we practice hospitality?

The Bible clearly tells us to show hospitality.

Heb. 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

1Pet. 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

So what is hospitality? Is it saying hello? Is it providing a meal? Is it friendliness? Or is it something deeper?

Both of the verses printed above were originally written in Greek. The Greek word that is translated hospitality is the word philoxenos. This word literally means to love a stranger. Loving a stranger is a broad concept that could mean different things in different situations. Genesis 29 provides an example of hospitality. We don’t necessarily have to do exactly what we see in Genesis 29, but it does provide a glimpse into how the authors of the Bible viewed hospitality. Let’s start with some background.

Abraham was born and raised in the Land of the East. When Abram was 75, Yahweh instructed him to move to the land of Canaan. Abram had a son named Isaac while living in Canaan, but Abram sent his servant back to his relatives in the East to find a wife for Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah and had a son named Jacob. When it was time for Jacob to marry, Isaac sent Jacob back to their relatives in the East to find a wife. In Genesis 29 we read about Jacob arriving in the east and meeting his relatives. To the best of our knowledge, Jacob had never met his relatives before; therefore, Jacob would have been a stranger.

First, we see that Jacob arrived in the East.

Gen. 29:1 ¶ Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east.

Next, notice the description of the stone on the well. The stone was large.

Gen. 29:2 He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large.

Gen. 29:3 When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob asked some questions to make sure he was in the right place.

Gen. 29:4 ¶ Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.”

Gen. 29:5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.”

Gen. 29:6 And he said to them, “Is it well with him?” And they said, “It is well, and here is Rachel his daughter coming with the sheep.”

While reading the next few verses, it is helpful to ask how old the shepherds were. I think we usually think of them as being men; however, they may have been boys. If they were boys, that may explain why they were waiting for someone else to move the stone. (Notice the pronoun “they” in verse 8.) Perhaps the stone was too big for the boys to move.

Gen. 29:7 He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.”

Gen. 29:8 But they said, “We cannot, until all the flocks are gathered, and they roll the stone from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

Gen. 29:9 ¶ While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess.

Gen. 29:10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.

Next, notice the word “kissed” and notice what Laban did. What was Laban’s concept of showing hospitality?

Gen. 29:11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept.

Gen. 29:12 Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.

Gen. 29:13 ¶ So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things.

Gen. 29:14 Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him a month.

Jacob arrived unannounced and unknown, and yet Laban immediately made Jacob a priority amd Laban put forth effort to welcome Jacob and provide for him.

This was the Biblical concept of hospitality. Due to safety concerns, it is a little scary to think of doing that in our society, and we don’t necessarily have to do exactly what Laban did; however, what we need to learn from Laban is his willingness to make Jacob a priority. Laban went out of his way to welcome Jacob and provide for him. Even though Laban did not know Jacob, Laban treated him as if he did know him, and that is the essence of hospitality: loving a stranger and treating a stranger as if he is a friend.


 Further Reading

Should we read ancient Bible stories?

How hospitable do we need to be?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”