A retelling of the Birth of Isaac
It was the hottest part of the day and Abraham had decided to take a break from whatever he was up to and sit at the entrance of his tent, his home. Sarah was inside taking care of what she needed to that day, and together they were just going about their daily business.
But as Abraham sat there by his tent, near the great trees of Mamre, he could see three strangers approaching in the distance and little did Abraham know that the encounter that would happen next would radically change his and Sarah's life. Abraham could have continued to sit there by his tent. He could have ignored the strangers in the distance. There was nothing required that said he had to go and make these strangers feel welcome. It would have been a lot easier to ignore them, than to get up from his comfortable spot and welcome him.
But because of who Abraham was as person, and because of what he valued in life, he couldn't just sit there. He gets up, goes out, and he meets them. But he doesn't just get up and meet them. He welcomes them and makes conversation with them. But he doesn't just do that either. He asks them to stay a while and to allow him to be their servant while they were passing through. Abraham was choosing not to just exist for himself, but to exist for others too.
He welcomes them into his home, and Sarah follows suite. She makes a meal for them, and not just any meal. A good meal. The kind of meal that fills you and gives you energy for the journey ahead. Together, Abraham and Sarah were serving these strangers now turned guests, attending to their needs.
As Abraham and these strangers sat beneath the tree, drinking milk and eating bread and meat together, one of the strangers pronounces an unexpected blessing on Abraham and Sarah. The stranger would be passing through again about this time next year, and the stranger promises them that when they returned, Abraham and Sarah would have a son.
Of course this was a little hard to believe. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have any children at this point in life. You could say they were getting old enough for retirement. Raising kids was for a past season of life but sure enough, by the time these strangers came around the following the year, Sarah had a son and they had named him Isaac whose name means laughter.
God had brought unexpected joy, and love, and laughter into their lives but what started out as servanthood and hospitality to three strangers would end with a baby boy. It would be just the beginning of a promise God was making to Abraham, a promise to bless Abraham as the father of a multitude, the father of a nation. Sarai whose name originally meant quarrelsome would become Sarah, the princess, the royal mother of a nation. Abram whose name originally meant high father would become Abraham, the father of many.
And Issac? He would go on to have sons who would become the nation of Israel and Jesus himself, the son of God, would rise up out of this nation, out of this bloodline, his name meaning that God is salvation. A little hospitality and servanthood can go a long way. Never in a million years could Abraham have imagined that God would take his hospitality and servanthood and multiply it into a nation where a Savior would be born to be the ultimate image of hospitality and servanthood by making a way for us by way of the cross.
- Working Preacher Commentary on Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
- The Binding of Isaac
Storyline Commentary on Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7
The Setting Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent resting from the heat of the day, sitting near the great oak trees of Mamre. He has no idea that the birth of Isaac is about to be foretold through his simple act of hospitality.
The Characters Abram to Abraham whose name transforms from high father to the father of many, Sarai to Sarah whose name transforms from quarrelsome to princess, the future birth of Isaac whose name means laughter, not necessarily because Sarah laughed at the notion of a child in old age, but because children bring laughter, and joy, and blessing when they're born into this world, and 3 strangers that Abraham notices off in the distance.
The Tension Anyone at the campsite could have shown hospitality to the three strangers that day. Abraham could have ignored the 3 strangers. But he decided to not sit back and wonder why the 3 were there, he chose to be hospitable to them, willingly chose to even declare himself a servant, to out loud name himself a servant to them. These 3 strangers go on to foretell Abraham and Sarah of the birth of Isaac, something seemingly impossible.
The Resolution God would take Abraham's hospitality and multiply it in ways that Abraham could never have imaged. God would take names and name into existence a nation, born with the hospitality of God, a nation that would exist to bless the world and it all starts with a man sitting by his tent choosing to be hospitable to three strangers.
The Through Line Hospitality is the start of this story from beginning to end, from Abraham showing hospitality to 3 strangers, to God showing hospitality to Abraham and Sarah with the birth of Isaac, and all way through Isaac to eventually the incredible servanthood and hospitality of Jesus.
Why has this story endured? In the story of a nation being being born. That's a big deal. We all like to know where we've come from. This story is significant in that Jesus will come from this family line and it all started with servanthood and hospitality. Jesus is the ultimate personification of this.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Hospitality and servanthood, even to the stranger, is a big deal. It's something Jesus certainly values and we hear it not only in the Hebrew scriptures many times, but also the Greek scriptures. Jesus when did we see you hungry? The Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Widows mite, and so the list goes on.
How does this story help us love God? It's easy to think of God as absent or distant. But this story is just one of many where God is actively at work making a way for humanity. The birth of Isaac symbolized the work of God taking us from life to new life, from creation to new creation.
How does this story help us love others? Not that it's about getting what we want, but this story illustrates how hospitality and servanthood leads to greatness. It wasn't Abraham's money or power that God used to raise a nation, but his hospitality and servanthood. These are both acts of love Abraham displayed on the day he tended to three strangers.