Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 29, 2009

Tel Arad

On the afternoon of March 9 we visited Tel Arad. The word “tel” is an archaeological term that means “mound.” When an ancient city experienced a natural disaster or was destroyed by some other means, instead of removing the rubble, the next generation built on top of the ruins. Over time, the site was progressively elevated with the growing mound covering centuries of debris. Arad is located in a part of the Negev Desert that receives very little rainfall. We walked through the ruins of this ancient city and stood in what once was a home. With a cold wind blowing, we lingered and talked about hospitality in ancient times. Hospitality often meant life and refreshment to those traveling through this hostile desert region.

The Ruins of Tel Arad

From Arad we walked a few miles across the adjacent rolling moonscape to a nearby Bedouin village. As we approached, the children ran out to greet us and escorted us to their camp. Our lesson in desert hospitality took on special meaning as our hosts served us hot tea and prepared their version of the tortilla for us. Although we had only walked a short distance, we were grateful for the opportunity to sit and enjoy hot tea on this cold afternoon. Here are a few thoughts I pondered as I meditated on the meaning of hospitality.

H = Heart | Offering hospitality to strangers was a moral imperative and sacred duty in Bible times. God told His people to show their “love for the alien” because they had been “aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:19). They knew what it meant to be treated harshly and unjustly. Hospitality is a matter of the heart — of extending to others the kind of care we would want for others to extend to us, especially in difficult circumstances and hostile places.

O = Openness | Offering hospitality requires that we have an openness to those in need. Jesus said that at the judgment He “will say to those on His right … I was a stranger and you invited Me in” (Matt. 25:34-35). And “to those on His left … I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in” (Matt. 25:41-42). Mother Teresa defined her mission as looking for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor and then showing hospitality to those individuals.

S = Sent | People in Old Testament times believed guests were sent to them from God. Abraham showed this attitude when he entertained three strangers who proved to be angels (Gen. 18). The writer of Hebrews admonished his readers to “show hospitality to strangers” as Abraham had done, “for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

P = Philoxenos | The Greek word for hospitality is “philoxenos” — from the words “philo” (love) and “xenos” (stranger or guest). This word means “lover of strangers or guests” and conveys the idea of enjoying being a host. Our English word hospitality is from the Latin word “hostis” which means “enemy or stranger.” The Latin word “hospitem” can refer to a host or guest. Hospitals were originally hostels or hospices, places where pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land found a friendly reception.

Michael Haynes enjoying cup of tea.

I = Initiative | When Abraham saw three men near his tent, “he ran from the tent door to meet them” (Gen. 18:2). Abraham took the initiative to meet these strangers and then “hurried into the tent” (Gen. 18:6) to alert Sarah to prepare a meal for them. Abraham then “ran to the herd” to select a calf for the meal and then “hurried to prepare it” (Gen. 18:7). Abraham’s enthusiasm indicates his belief that God expected him to take the initiative to show hospitality to strangers.

T = Table | The table is central to hospitality. Abraham and Sarah prepared a meal for their guests (Gen. 18:2-8). One of the first things a host did was to offer a guest something to drink (Gen. 24:17-18) and then a meal (Gen. 26:30). Lot prepared a meal for his guests (Gen. 19:3). As Christ-followers, we should do the same (Mark 9:41).

A = Acceptance | A remarkable feature of hospitality in Biblical times was receiving an enemy as a guest. Some cultures have a rule that an enemy who has dismounted and touched the rope of a single tent is safe. Enemies enjoyed the same protection as friends (Gen. 19:4-8). I have been a guest in many Muslim homes on my travels. Once, while in the mountains of Pakistan, our host assured us of his protection. “You are my guest,” he said, “and I offer you my food and assure you of my protection.” I felt accepted and safe (Ps. 23:5).

The Bedouin version of the tortilla.

L = Linger | When the time came for a guest to depart, a host did his best to urge his guest to linger and stay a little longer — to enjoy one more meal or one more night before departing (Judges 19:5-10). When a guest was ready to leave, the guest would say, “With your permission,” to which the host replied, “Depart in peace” (Gen. 26:31). One way to honor a departing guest was to walk with him for a distance, as Abraham did with his guests (Gen. 18:16).

I = Insight | While the Bible encourages hospitality, it also offers a word of caution to those who offer hospitality. In 2 John 10 we read, “If anyone” [a traveling teacher] comes to you and does not bring this teaching [probably refers to the teaching about the incarnation (see verse 7)], do not take him into your house [do not offer shelter and lodging; keep them at a distance because they can endanger the spiritual health of the home and the church] or welcome [in either a private or official way; to give a welcome indicates fellowship and solidarity] him.”

3 John 5 offers this encouragement about opening our homes to God’s servants: “Dear friend [refers to Gaius], you are faithful in what you are doing [Gaius’ service was really a service to Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 10:40; 25:34-40)] for the brothers [traveling ministers or missionaries; sincere ministers of the gospel as opposed to the false teachers of 2 John; read 1 Cor. 16:6; Titus 3:13], even though they are strangers [same as “brothers” in the first part of this verse; cf. Heb. 13:2] to you.”

T = Time | In Biblical times, a host devoted time to his guests. Guests did not expect privacy and would feel ill-treated or deserted if left alone, even at night. Because people slept with their clothes on, a male host and family members would sleep in the same room as their male guests.

Y = Yes | Offering hospitality seems to be an increasingly difficult thing in our culture. Our calendars are so full that we hardly have time to say yes to guests. Yet, unless we do so our children may not learn the importance of showing hospitality to guests or how to do so. So, let’s heed Paul’s advice in Romans 12:13 and practice, or pursue, hospitality.


  1. The Bedouin version of a tortilla brought back fond memories for me, Omar. Things did not get much better than a hot tortilla off a comal in Oaxaca, unless of course, it included a mug of hot chocolate frothed up with a bit of cinnamon stick in the pot! smile


    • Tammy…

      Amen. Hospitality is wonderful, indeed!


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