Eastern Hospitality

An Orientalism:
A Custom or Mannerism in the Bible Times

Read Time: 6 Minutes

Eastern Hospitality is quite different then that of the Western cultures. Specifically I'll be talking about taking care of / serving guests.

In John 13 during the preparation for the Passover during the last supper Jesus Christ was eating with the disciples. He instituted communion and washed their feet. A deeper understanding of entertaining guests will bring greater meaning to Jesus dipping a sop (morsel of bread) and giving it to Judas.

John 13:
26 ... And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

This is part of the ritual that is performed in the East for guests.  Jesus Christ only did the Father's will; let us understand the significance of this gesture.

The people of the East believe it is a duty to God to honor guests. They consider the giving of food and lodging to strangers as entertaining an angel unawares. Before lunch they will go to the village common and look for someone to invite to their meal. When they find someone, they bow down and say something like: "Please give us the privilege of serving you. You will honor our home." The guest is never questioned as to who they are or who they know. They could be a scoundrel but it doesn't matter.

A great example of Eastern Hospitality is in Genesis when three men (angles) were sent by God to Abraham.

Genesis 18:

1 And the LORD appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre:
   and he [Abraham] sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo,
   three men stood by him: [was appointed to / set aside for Abraham]
   and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door,
   and bowed himself toward the ground,
3 And said,
   My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away,
   I pray thee, from thy servant:
4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet,
   and rest yourselves under the tree:
5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts;
   after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant.
   And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said,
   Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it,
   and make cakes upon the hearth.
7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good,
   and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
8 And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed,
   and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree,
   and they did eat.

This record in Genesis shows Abraham honoring the strangers. He took them in and washed their feet. Since they wore sandals primarily, their feet would be dirty from travel. Then Abraham served them food. There is no hostess for the meal, the woman/women attended to the meal preparation. Abraham, the host, fed the strangers but did not eat with them. Also, the host would give the first sop to the most honored guest and then serve others. The only time the host would eat with the guest is if they were personal friends.

The Eastern custom of hospitality also includes the sprinkling of perfume over the head and body. This is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which makes him acceptable. In Isiah  we read:

Isiah 52:
15 So shall he [the messiah] sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.

By Christ's crucifixion many people will be made acceptable to the Lord.

We see more from God's Word about the hospitality when two of these angels went to visit Lot (Abraham's cousin) in Sodom after visiting with Abraham.

Genesis 19:
1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even;
   and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: [Lot was a judge]
   and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them;
   and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
2 And he said,
   Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house,
   and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early,
   and go on your ways.
   And they said,
   Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.
3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him,
   and entered into his house; and he made them a feast,
   and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

We see additional information about hospitality here. Lot was sitting at the gate looking for guests to invite to supper. When Lot approached the angels he bowed before them, not that he knew they were angels but, it is Eastern culture. When Lot asked the angels to come and stay with him they declined saying, "Nay; but we will abide in the street all night." Each town has an area like a village commons that travelers can stay overnight and pitch their tent if they have one. They wouldn't technically be sleeping in the street. Lot had "pressed upon them greatly" or constrained them to stay with him. This is customary for the guest to refuse and give excuses several times and the host to continue to give the guest reasons why he should stay. The persistence of the host lets the guest know that he is truly welcome.

4 But before they lay down,
   the men [enosh morally depraved men] of the city, even the men of Sodom,
   compassed the house round, both old and young,
   all the people from every quarter:
5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him,
   Where are the men which came in to thee this night?
   bring them out unto us, that we may know them. [be intimate with]
6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,
7 And said,
   I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.
8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man;
   let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you,
   and do ye to them as is good in your eyes:
   only unto these men do nothing;
   for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
9 And they said,
   Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow  [Lot] came in to sojourn,
   and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee,
   than with them [the angles]. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot,
   and came near to break the door.
10 But the men [angels] put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them,
   and shut to the door.
11 And they [angels] smote the men [of Sodom] that were at the door of the house with blindness,
   both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.

When the host brings in a guest they also pledge to protect them through the night. The men of Sodom were so corrupt they didn't even observe the sanctity of Lot's hospitality.

It is not uncommon for some Easterners to take advantage of this custom and live on hospitality entirely.  These customs can take up a considerable amount of time and be counter productive. This is why Jesus told his disciples not to go from house to house, but to stay in one house while they were in a certain village. He knew that these customs would take up their time needlessly.

Let us apply what we have learned to the dinner with Jesus and the disciples before his crucifixion. Jesus Christ was performing the duties of the host. He washed their feet, an act of service. (John 13:4-16) Jesus was also explaining to them that the servant is not greater than his lord, neither he that is sent (Jesus Christ) greater than he that sent him (God). (John 13:16) He also served the sop to Judas Iscariot, honoring him. Jesus knew he would betray him, yet he had only love toward him. Jesus only did God's will. *

Jesus Christ also ate with the disciples, considering them his personal friends.

Finally, let us consider Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:
if any man hear my voice, and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

When we invite Jesus Christ to be our Lord and believe that God has raised him from the dead we will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) We then may dine with the lord and be known personally by him.


* See also "Receiving the Holy Spirit Studies in Acts: Who Received the Holy Spirit and Where" for more information on Judas Iscariot.


This article is from notes taken during a teaching by Bishop K.C. Pillai