Is regarded by all oriental nations as one of the highest virtues. The following notices by modern travellers serve to illustrate very striking many passages of Scripture. Thus De la Roque says, "We did not arrive at the foot of the mountain till after sunset, and it was almost night when we entered the plain; but as it was full of villages, mostly inhabited by Maronites, we entered into the first we came to, to pass the night there. It was the priest of the place who wished to receive us; he gave us a supper under the trees before his little dwelling. As we were at the table, there came by a stranger, wearing a whit turban, who after have saluted the company, sat himself down to the table without ceremony, ate with us during some time, and then went away, repeating several times the name of God. They told us it was some traveller who no doubt stood in need of refreshment, and who had profited by the opportunity, according to the custom of the East, which is to exercise hospitality at all times and towards all persons." This reminds us of the guests of Abraham, Ge 18, of the conduct of Job, Job 31:17, and of the frankness with which the apostles of Christ were to enter into a man's house after a salutation, and there to continue "eating and drinking such things as were set before them," Lu 10:7. The universal prevalence of such customs, and of the spirit of hospitality, may help to explain the indignation of James and John against certain rude Samaritans, Lu 9:52-56, and also the stern retribution exacted for the crime of the men of Gibeah, Jg 19-20.
Says Niebuhr, "the hospitality of the Arabs has always been the subject of praise; and I believe that those of the present day exercise this virtue no less than their ancestors did. When the Arabs are at table, they invite those who happen to come, to eat with them, whether they are Christians or Mohammedas, gentle or simple. In the caravans, I have often seen with pleasure a mule-driver press those who passed to partake of his repast; and though the majority politely excused themselves, he gave, with an air of satisfaction, to those who would accept of it, a portion of his little meal of bread and dates; and I was not a little surprised when I saw, in Turkey, rich Turks withdraw themselves into corners, to avoid inviting those who might otherwise have sat at table with them."
We ought to notice here also the obligations understood to be contracted by the intercourse of the table. Niebuhr says, "When a Bedaween sheik eats bread with strangers, they may trust his fidelity and depend on his protection. A traveller will always do well therefore to take an early opportunity of securing the friendship of his guide by a meal." This brings to recollection the complaint of the psalmist, Ps 41:9, penetrated with the deep ingratitude of one whom he describes as having been his own familiar friend, in whom he trusted, "who did eat of my bread, even he hath lifted up his heel against me."
Beautiful pictures of primitive hospitality may be found in Ge 18-19; Ex 2:20; Jg 13:15; 19:1-9. The incidents of the first two narratives may have suggested the legends of the Greeks and Romans, which represent their gods as sometimes coming to them disguised as travellers, in order to test their hospitality, etc., Heb 13:2.
The primitive Christians considered one principal part of their duty to consist in showing hospitality to strangers, Ro 12:13; 1Ti 5:10; remembering that our Savior had said, whoever received those belonging to him, received himself; and that whatever was given to such a one, though but a cup of cold water, should not lose it reward, Mt 10:40-42; 25:34-45. They were, in fact, so ready in discharging this duty, that the very heathen admired them for it. They were hospitable to all strangers, but especially to those of the household of faith. Believers scarcely ever traveled without letters of communion, which testified the purity of their faith, and procured them a favorable reception wherever the name of Jesus Christ was known. Indeed, some supposed that the two minor epistles of John may be such letters of communion and recommendation.
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The law as to strangers and the poor encouraged it (Le 19:33-34; 25:14-15,23, etc.; De 15:7). Exemplified in Abraham, Genesis 18; Lot, Genesis 19; Reuel, Ex 2:20; Manoah, Jg 13:15; the old man of Gibeah (its inhospitality is instanced as a sign of how lost to all right feeling its people were), Jg 19:17-21. The Lord Jesus illustrates it in the good Samaritan, promises to reward it, and regards its exercise toward His disciples as being towards Himself, and will count it as one proof of the love whose crowning joy shall be the invitation, "Come ye blessed of My Father," etc. (Lu 10:30-37; Mt 10:42; 25:43). The apostles urge the duty (Ro 12:13; 1Ti 5:10; 3:2; Tit 1:8; Heb 13:2; 1Pe 4:9).
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In the life of the East there are no more attractive features than those that centre in the practice of hospitality. The virtue of hospitality ranked high in the ancient Orient, and the laws regulating its observance hold undisputed sway in the desert still. The pleasing picture of the magnanimous sheik, bidding strangers welcome to his tent and to the best he owns (Ge 18), is often repeated to this hour in the Arabian wilderness. It was to Lot's credit and advantage that he had preserved this virtue amid the corruptions of Sodom (Ge 19:2 ff.). To shirk an opportunity for its exercise was shameful (Jg 19:15,18). A man's worth was illustrated by his princely hospitality (Job 31:31 f.). Jesus sent forth the Twelve (Mt 10:9 f.), and the Seventy (Lu 10:4 ff.), relying on the hospitality of the people. Its exercise secured His blessing; woe threatened such as refused it. The Samaritans' churlish denial of hospitality to Jesus excited the wrath of His disciples (Lu 9:53). The guest had a right to expect certain attentions (Lu 7:44 ff.). The practice of hospitality distinguished those on the right from those on the left hand (Mt 25:35; cf. Mt 10:40; Joh 13:20). It is commended by precept (Ro 12:13,20; 1Ti 3:2 etc.), and also by example (Heb 13:2).
Hospitality was highly esteemed amongst other ancient peoples. In Egypt its practice was thought to favour the soul in the future life. By kindness to strangers the Greeks secured the approval of Zeus Xenios, their protector. For the Romans hospitality was a sacred obligation.
In its simplest aspect, hospitality is the reception of the wayfarer as an honoured guest, providing shelter and food. In the ancient, as indeed for the most part in the modern, Orient, men journey only under necessity. Travel for purposes of pleasure and education is practically unknown. Save in cities, therefore, and in trading centres along the great highways, there was little call for places of public entertainment. Villages probably always contained what is called the med
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This was a striking feature of oriental life, as seen practised by Abraham in Ge 18:2-8, and it continues in these days to a partial extent. It is enforced in the N.T. as a duty among Christians. Ro 12:13; 1Ti 3:2; Tit 1:8; 1Pe 4:9. The fact is mentioned that by exercising hospitality "some have entertained angels unawares." Heb 13:2.
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Hospitality was regarded by most nations of the ancient world as one of the chief virtues. The Jewish laws respecting strangers
and the poor,
seq. Deut 15:7 and concerning redemption
seq., etc. are framed in accordance with the spirit of hospitality. In the law compassion to strangers is constantly enforced by the words "for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."
And before the law, Abraham's entertainment of the angels,
seq., and Lot's,
are in exact agreement with its precepts, and with modern usage. Comp.
Ex 2:20; Jg 13:15; 19:17,20-21
In the New Testament hospitality is yet more markedly enjoined; and in the more civilized state of society which then prevailed, its exercise became more a social virtue than a necessity of patriarchal life. The good Samaritan stands for all ages as an example of Christian hospitality. The neglect of Christ is symbolized by inhospitality to our neighbors.
The apostles urged the Church to "follow after hospitality,"
cf. 1Tim 5:10 to remember Abraham's example,
to "use hospitality one to another without grudging,"
while a bishop must be a "lover of hospitality
cf. 1Tim 3:2 The practice of the early Christians was in accord with these precepts. They had all things in common, and their hospitality was a characteristic of their belief. In the patriarchal ages we may take Abraham's example as the most fitting, as we have of it the fullest account. "The account," says Mr. Lane, "of Abraham's entertaining the three angels related in the Bible, presents a perfect picture of the manner in which a modern Bedawee sheikh receives travellers arriving at his encampment." The Oriental respect for the covenant of bread and salt, or salt alone, certainly sprang from the high regard in which hospitality was held.
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HOSPITALITY. Instances of ancient hospitality occur frequently in the Old Testament. So in the case of Abraham, Genesis xviii, where he invites the angels who appeared in the form of men to rest and refreshment, "And he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat." "Nothing is more common in India," says Mr. Ward, "than to see travellers and guests eating under the shade of trees. Even feasts are never held in houses. The house of a Hindoo serves for the purposes of sleeping and cooking, and of shutting up the women; but is never considered as a sitting or a dining room." "On my return to the boat," says Belzony, "I found the aga and all his retinue seated on a mat, under a cluster of palm trees, close to the water. The sun was then setting, and the shades of the western mountains had reached across the Nile, and covered the town. It is at this time the people recreate themselves in various scattered groups, drinking coffee, smoking their pipes, and talking of camels, horses, asses, dhourra, caravans, or boats." "The aga having prepared a dinner for me," says Mr. Light, "invited several of the natives to sit down. Water was brought in a skin by an attendant, to wash our hands. Two fowls roasted were served up on wheaten cakes, in a wooden bowl, covered with a small mat, and a number of the same cakes in another: in the centre of these were liquid butter, and preserved dates. These were divided, broken up, and mixed together by some of the party, while others pulled the fowls to pieces: which done, the party began to eat as fast as they could: getting up, one after the other, as soon as their hunger was satisfied." "Hospitality to travellers," says Mr. Forbes, "prevails throughout Guzerat: a person of any consideration passing through the province is presented, at the entrance of a village, with fruit, milk, butter, fire wood, and earthen pots for cookery; the women and children offer him wreaths of flowers. Small bowers are constructed on convenient spots, at a distance from a well or lake, where a person is maintained by the nearest villages, to take care of the water jars, and supply all travellers gratis. There are particular villages, where the inhabitants compel all travellers to accept of one day's provisions: whether they be many or few, rich or poor, European or native, they must not refuse the offered bounty."
So when angelic forms to Syria sent Sat in the cedar shade, by Abraham's tent, A spacious bowl th' admiring patriarch fills With dulcet water from the scanty rills;
Sweet fruits and kernels gathers from his hoard, With milk and butter piles the plenteous board; While on the heated hearth his consort bakes Fine flour well kneaded in unleavened cakes,
The guests ethereal quaff the lucid flood, Smile on their hosts, and taste terrestrial food; And while from seraph lips sweet converse spring, They lave their feet, and close their silver wings. DARWIN.