Month 1:19 (Aviv), Week 3:4 (Revee/Shavu'ot), Year 5935:019 AM|
CHAG HA-MATZAH (Unleavened Bread) ANNUAL MOED 2:5
Gregorian Calendar: Friday 22 [Red] April 2011
Chag haMatzah 2011 V
The Spirit of Israelite Hospitality
Continued from Part 4
On the island of Okinawa, where a terrible battle was fought between the Japanese defenders and the American invaders in 1945, they have an ancient toast for first-time visitors and guests - Ichariba chode! - which literally translated means, "Once we have met, you are as our family!"
The two longest assemblies in the sacred calendar are Pesach with Chag haMatzah and Sukkot with Shemini Atseret. At these times of the year both long-time friends and complete strangers assemble together for eight days to worship, fellowship and make covenants of salt. And one thing that is special about these (and indeed the other) times is that complete strangers are welcomed unreservedly as the Family of Israel. For once we have been born again in Messiah and are walking in Torah we are, in Yahweh's eyes, a single family, and His allegorical Bride-in-the-making. The challenge for all who assemble together is to ensure that what is true in Yahweh is also true in our lives in practice.
In ancient times the responsibility of caring for travellers and those in need was taken for granted in Israel, as it still is in most Middle Eastern countries. And because it was a 'taken', little is said about it in the Tanakh or Old Testament, for nobody needed admonishing as we often do today. The same was true in New Testament times. It was assumed that the Messianic Israelite, as the Israelite before him, would automatically extend the hand of hospitality both to a fellow countryman and to a stranger in the land.
We see this right-heartedness in Abraham's treatment of the three strangers who came to his tent (Gen.18:1-2 cp. 19:1). He didn't know at first that they were exalted messengers from Yahweh and it wouldn't have mattered to him because he would have treated them the same whether they had been ordinary folk or important dignitaries. The strangers were received as honoured guests and the best possible provision was made for them.
In neighbouring Midian some generations later Reuel, who would become a father-in-law of Moses, expressed astonishment that his daughters could meet a stranger and not invite him to a meal:
I am hoping that it has not escaped your notice that Reuel (or Jethro as he is also known) had seven daughters and that he was concerned that Moses, the stranger, should receive lechem or bread. You might say that his home became a Beit Lechem of House of Bread for Moses - an early Bethlehem, where Yah'shua was born. It was in this same House that Moses married Zipporah:
"Now the cohen (priest) of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew mayim (water), and they filled the troughs to water their father's flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, 'How is it that you have come so soon today?' And they said, 'An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock' So he said to his daughters, 'And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat lechem (bread)'" (Ex.2:16-20, NKJV).
I won't go into all the parallels between this occasion and the hospitality of Yah'shua (Jesus) towards us, suffice to say that He has welcomed us with open arms and given us lechem or bread too - Himself. At Chag haMatazah we eat unleavened bread together to remind us of these things as we extend the hand of hospitality without the chametz or leaven of sin.
"And she bore him a son, and he called his name Gershom; for he said, 'I have been a stranger in a foreign land'" (Ex.2:21-22, NKJV).
A very special word is used by Reuel (Jethro) when he orders his daughters to summonse Moses, namely, qara. It is not a passive verb as you might suppose in reading the New King James Version, for example, which renders it as "call". It is a much stronger word, more like "summonse", coming as it does from a root word impliying a degree of force. It is used of kings:
This qara is not like a birthday invitation which you can refuse if you want to. When a king summonses, you go! When Yahweh wants to bless you, you don't refuse! For Moses to have refused Reuel's summonse would have been unthinkable, and for Reuel not to have summonsed him would have been unthinkable too. This is biblical hospitality. And Yahweh has summonsed - not 'invited' - us to the Feast of Unleavened Bread and for us to not receive His bounty would be unthinkable. It doesn't matter that we are at the beginning of our journey or far advanced down the road, for all are called and all are treated alike. The one who has understood this generosity of heart that is Yahweh's, and who feels impelled to serve, and summonses guests in this way, is well down the road in understanding the spirit which is authentic Messianic Israel. And what better time to learn it than at Chag haMatazah! Those who belong to Yahweh are not stingy but generous! Abraham was and Reuel was.
"Be silent in the presence of Yahweh-Elohim; for the day of Yahweh is at hand, for Yahweh has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited (qara, summonsed) His guests" (Zeph.1:7, NKJV).
I do feel I need to underline this sense of compulsion to you because it is so alien to some Western attitudes. For both host and guest not to be so disposed would be a shame and a disgrace. And if you don't believe me when I tell you that qara implies a degree force, just look elsewhere where it is used, for those who reject Yahweh are similarly 'guests in hell':
Do you remember the condemnation meted out to the Ammonites and Moabites who failed to meet their relatives, the children of Israel, with lechem (bread) and mayim (water)?
"A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing. For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their way: 'Whoever is simple, let him turn in here'; and as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, 'Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.' But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests (qara) are in the depths of hell" (Prov 9:13-18, NKJV; cp. 1 Ki.1:41.49).
Hospitality is so sacred to Yahweh that those who refused to extend it to their fellow Semites were judged harshly! No wonder Abraham and Reuel were afraid not to extend hospitality! For this is Yahweh's lev (heart) too for did He not serve a meal to Moses and the Elders of Israel on Mt.Sinai? Even in the days of terrible apostacy, in the rude and rough days of the Judges, the same spirit of hospitality continued. Did not Manoah show an alacrity - a cheerful readiness and promptness - in providing for his guest which recalls the generous courtesy of Abraham (Jdg.13:15)? Indeed, it is significant that in the licentious atmosphere of Gibeah the lack of any spiritual or moral consciousness in the people is accompanied by a complete lack of hospitality (Jdg.19:5), with the notable exception of the old man who retained the spirit of earlier days. For you see, he not only received the stranger but refused to accept any provision from his guest!
"An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the congregation of Yahweh forever, because they did not meet you with lechem (bread) and mayim (water) on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you" (Deut.23:3-4, NKJV).
If a guest's welfare wes endangered, it was the responsibility of the host to protect him. I realise this may be hard for some to understand but because it has to do with scales of morality, that is, what is most important and what is less important. That is why, I think, we are shocked by Lot's behaviour in Sodom - you see, he considered his responsibility as a host was more binding upon him than his duty as a father. That is why David was so bitter against the one who had eaten his lechem (bread) had abused him as a host and risen up against him:
How can I convey this to you? It is very important to understand! A man's labour provides lechem (bread) which is sacred because it is his life-energy that has produced it. By the same token, every meal is sacred too! That is why money is sacred because it is the medium of exchange between a man's expended life-energy and his lechem (bread). When a man invites a guest to his house he is inviting him to partake of his life-substance in exactly the same way that Yah'shua (Jesus) invites us to partake of His. THAT IS WHY CHAG HA-MATZAH IS SO SACRED! It is all about partaking of the generosity of Yahweh in providing the life of His Son so that we might, as summonsed guests who claim to have accepted Him, might live. And because He has done this for us, He expects us to do the same when it comes to hospitality. The two are inseparable. The way we treat our guests reflects back on the way we treat the Bread of Life in our lives. It reveals whether we accept it casually or whether we really appreciate the cost of making that Sacred Bread (Lechem) available for us. It reveals how we look at sin, whether as something of little consequence or as something deadly to the one who embraces it and expensive for the one who pays for it. It's all connected!
"Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my lechem (bread), has lifted up his heel against me" (Ps.41:9, NKJV).
Now of course the guest has a duty toward the host. He has a duty to behave rightly toward the one who has provided for him. Neither should he take advantage of, or exploit, his host's generosity. Those who are Yahweh's people have an awareness of this special duty toward His servants. Thus we see the huge cost for the widow at Zarepthath in providing for Elijah (1 Ki.17:10ff.) or in the permanent provision made for Elisha by the Shunammite woman (2 Ki.4:8ff.) Indeed, was not one of the indictments of the formalistic religion of Isaiah's day its failure to be a true religion because of its neglect of the hungry and naked? (Is.58:7)
I expect we all of us have cause for shame in our failure as hosts and guests in comparing ourselves with these people from the Tanakah (Old Testament) and we shall find no respite in the B'rit Chadashah Scriptures (New Testament) either, for the same tavnith or pattern exists in the latter as in the former, as one would expect. Indeed, in the parable of the final assize in Matthew 25, the offering or withholding of hospitality when another is in need is considered to be a decisive indication of the presence or absence of spiritual life, and is judged accordingly. Again we find the special sense of responsibility towards Yahweh's servants. Thus Yah'shua (Jesus) finds a ready welcome in Lazarus' home in Bethany. Lydia, at Philippi, having heard and received the Gospel, urges Paul and his companions to lodge with her. So too when Yah'shua (Jesus) sends out the Twelve and the Seventy He expects them to be provided for by those to whom they preach (Mt.10:9; Lk.4:4) and indeed a refusal to receive them in a hospitable fashion is tantamount to rejecting their message. You might say, then, that hospitality is the meat on the gospel bone.
When a guest was received anciently there were certainties to be performed by the host (Lk.7:44ff.) There was the kiss of welcome. Water was provided to wash the dust from his feet and oil to anoint his head. The guests reclined at the meal, and, judging by the easy way in which the woman who anointed Yah'shua (Jesus) came in, there was free access for the passer-by. It was literally an open house.
In the Epistles very precise instructions are commanded because of the circumstances. In days of persecution, hospitality could become a matter of life or death, when believers were scattered from their homes and in many cases had very real material needs, making food and lodging an urgent necessity (Ac.8:1). In addition, many of the brethren wandered from place to place preaching the Gospel, much as they do in India today. Supporting evangelists in this way became an essential part of the missionary program whilst false teachers were not only to have their teachings rejected but were not allowed to even enter the houses of true believers (1 Jn.10). We should not, in consequence, allow those claiming to be believers into out homes, let alone sit at our tables, who are reprobate. An open house does not mean admitting the whole world indiscriminately, and especially not false believers.
Hospitality in the bible is literally to be persued - we are not supposed to wait for it to come to us! It is to be done with determination. We are not allowed to elude it because of selfishness or slackness (Rom.12:13). Our mandate is clear:
We are to do good to all but with the emphasis on believers. Paul admonishes the Colossians to receive Mark (Col.4:10) and takes the promision for hospitality for himself when he writes to Philemon as he speaks of his hoped-for release, asking for a room to be prepared for him (Phm.22). High on the list of the duties of a congregational leader is hospitality (1 Tim.3:2; Tit.1:8).
"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal.6:10, NKJV).
What is to be the driving force of hospitality?
Indeed the quality of our hospitality becomes a barometer of the love in our hearts. Not only that, it actually allows love to maninatin its momentum and it openes the way for even greater blessings:
"Be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.' Be hospitable to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:7-9, NKJV).
Abraham certainly did. This agapé or ahavah love that Peter speaks of is essentially outward-looking and leads to readiness in giving to the needs of others. So Christian hospitality is not the grudging performance of a duty but the glad act of a cheerful giver. Furthermore, Peter points out that giving is possible only because we have already received gifts from Elohim (God). The believer should be constantly aware of the fact that he is in debt to Yahweh for all he has; and so the care of others is the discharge of a debt in gratitude.
"Let brotherly love (agapé) continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" (Heb.13:1-2, NKJV).
I pray that this Chag haMatzah our hearts will be overflowing with the spirit of hospitality, as they should, and that our toast to everyone we bring under our roof - and especially the stranger - will be: Ichariba chode! "Once we have met, you are as our family!" - the Family of Elohim (God). Amen.
Continued in Part 6
Comments from Readers
"Your devotional about biblical hospitality was very good! I have thought before about biblical hospitality, and what it is and isn't...While fellowshipping at the church a while ago, when I baked various things and brought them to things like disciplship meetings, one or two of the girls told me I had the gift of hospitality (I think they said that especially in connection to the baking and where I was bringing that)...After that, I have thought at times how biblical hospitality is not necessarily to be a good cook (though that can play a role or be a tool in showing biblical hospitality), but rather, connects to selfless (Messiah-centered) generosity. For instance, one woman may be a great cook, even often entertain guests or hold things such as dinner parties... but if she is doing it firstly to be 'praised' or glorified for her ability to cook or entertain, or because she is looking to be the center of attention or something else with the guests (rather then seeking what her soul really needs in tavnith from her husband and Elohim), that is not biblical hospitality (in truth, the idolatry and wrong motives of why she is entertaining or the reason she is giving to them is sin). And how someone who may not be the best cook, or have much, but when they give sincerely, generously, selflessly of what they have, and where the center and heart of that is sincerely love for Elohim, and in that, love for those people, that that is biblical hospitality. I am reminded of, for instance, where Paul Washer tells of when he was still working I think in Peru when the rebels were at work, and where their lives were at risk, and they came to a village, not knowing where to go (knowing if they fell into the wrong hands, they would die). Coming in, they quietly asked someone if there were any brothers there (something the peopel there understood to mean believers), and they pointed them to the hut of an older women... When they knocked on the door, and when she opened, explained they were brothers in Messiah, she not only pulled them in the give them shelter and protection, but she called to her grandson to slaughter a chicken... where, though she was in much poverty, she sought to give of her best for them in Messiah, rejoicing to have brothers in the faith there!" (DP, South Africa, 22 April 2011)