To entertain or receive a stranger (sojourner) into one's home as an honored guest and to provide the guest with food, shelter, and protection. This was not merely an oriental custom or good manners but a sacred duty that everyone was expected to observe. Only the depraved would violate this obligation.
Hospitality probably grew out of the needs of nomadic life. Since public inns were rare, a traveler had to depend on the kindness of others and had a right to expect it. This practice was extended to every sojourner, even a runaway slave (Deuteronomy 23:16-17) or one's arch enemy.
Hospitality was regarded as a sacred obligation by the ancient Greeks and Romans, one that was approved by Zeus, the god and protector of strangers. The Egyptians claimed it as a meritorious deed in life. For the Bedouins, it was an expression of righteousness. The word is not used in the Old Testament, but its elements are recognizable: Abraham and the three visitors (Genesis 18:1-8), Lot and the two angels (Genesis 19:1-8), Abraham's servant at Nahor (Genesis 24:17-33), Reuel and Moses (Exodus 2:20), Manoah and the angel (Judges 13:15), Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10-11), and Elisha and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-11).
The Pentateuch contains specific commands for the Israelites to love the strangers as themselves (Leviticus 19:33-34;
Deuteronomy 10:18-19), and to look after their welfare (Deuteronomy 24:17-22). The reason for practicing hospitality was that the Israelites themselves were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Some acts of hospitality were rewarded, the most notable of which was Rahab's (Joshua 6:22-25;
James 2:25). Breaches of hospitality were condemned and punished, such as those of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-11) and Gibeah (Judges 19:10-25). The only exception was Jael who was praised for killing Sisera (Judges 4:18-24).
Hospitality seemed to form the background of many details in the life of Jesus and the early church (Matthew 8:20;
Luke 10:4-11). It was to be a characteristic of bishops and widows (1 Timothy 3:2;
1 Timothy 5:10;
Titus 1:8) and a duty of Christians (Romans 12:13;
1 Peter 4:9). It was a
natural expression of brotherly love (Hebrews 13:1-2;
1 Peter 4:8-9) and a necessary tool of evangelism. Furthermore, one might even entertain angels or the Lord unawares (Hebrews 13:2;
Matthew 25:31-46). Both the Didache, which contained early Christian instructions, and rabbinic literature provided guidelines for guests' behavior and their duration of stay. Guests were enjoined to act appropriately, to observe the rules of etiquette, and to avoid presuming upon their hosts. See Sojourner; Strangers.
Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan