Abraham welcomed three visitors in Genesis 18 NIV

1 Then the LORD appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. 2And Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 3“My lord,” said Abraham, “if I have found favor in your sight, please do not pass your servant by.

A chapter later, Lot similarly welcome two visitors in Genesis 19:

1 Now the two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When Lot saw them, he got up to meet them, bowed facedown, 2and said, “My lords, please turn aside into the house of your servant; wash your feet and spend the night.

When did they know these visitors were angels?

3 Answers 3


Note the general instruction in Heb 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

Abraham and Lot were, in most respects, typical eastern men who practiced generous hospitality. It is almost certain that they were unaware that these "strangers" were as special as they were. Note that while it was YHWH = "the LORD" in Gen 18:1, Abraham initially called them "my Lord" (V3).

Indeed, Abraham appears to have only become aware of who one of the "strangers" was when two things occurred:

  • One prophesies about a miraculous child, V10 & V14
  • Abraham begins negotiating or bargaining with the LORD, V17, 19, 22.

Lot probably only realized when the two angels wanted to have him escape and ultimate;y had to drag him out or Sodom.

  • 1
    Indeed, that is the point. It serves as a stark contrast to the bullying to which the Sodomites subjected the angelic "immigrants": [Mat 25:42-43 NLT] (42) For I was hungry, and you didn't feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn't give me a drink. (43) I was a stranger, and you didn't invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn't give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 23:52
  • 1
    [Mat 25:44-46 NLT] (44) "Then they will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?' (45) "And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' (46) "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life."
    – Ruminator
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 23:52
  • 2
    @Ruminator - Good point, well made - agreed!
    – Dottard
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 23:59

Someone mentioned above that Abraham called them lord only after the prophecy of his son. Not true, before they had time to eat and talk, Abraham already bowed to the ground and called them lord. Also, we are focusing too much on Abraham, what of lot? Surely a easterner can't see every visitor and from afar and ask him/her to spend the night.. What if the visitor came to see someone in that city...ål this answers are not so genuine.

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    – agarza
    Commented Jan 7 at 13:43

It is very possible that physical visitors never actually came to Abraham and Lot. Maimonides in the Guide points out that such incidents as Bilam and the talking donkey (Nu22 21-35) should not be considered actual physical events (arguing that donkeys do not talk) but rather dreams in which these events happened (Per the text, the talking donkey incident is part of a larger confrontation with an Angel of God). One can generalize and posit that all prophetic encounters mentioned in the Bible took place in dreams. NOTE: I in no way detract from the excellent points made above; the dreams would use imagery from the dreamer and in this case the fact that the dreams take the form of hospitality visits directly addresses Abraham's accomplishments over the practices of Sedom.

  • 1
    I believe that Maimonides is wrong. Genesis 18:1, "Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre etc. This is a physical appearance because Abraham offered the three men water to wash their feet and food to eat. Vs 4-8. One of the men was the angel of the Lord and the other two were actual angels. vs33, the Lord departed Abraham and the two angels, Gen: 1:1 went to Sodom. At Genesis 17:1 the Lord appeared to Abram claiming to be God Almighty. At vs22, "And when He/God finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham, due North. This is not a dream and donkeys are not relevant here.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 23:27
  • To answer the two objections: #1) The position is that Abraham had a dream and in that dream he had 3 visitors to whom he provided hospitality. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 22:54
  • #2) Maimonides' position is that if an event (like a talking donkey) appears not real, ascribe it to a dream. Similarly, the appearance of a physical angel creates problems: (Some angels have wings; what physical object did Abraham see?). To avoid these problems and not lose meaning we can alternatively say they happened in a dream. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 23:00
  • At times God will say like at Gen. 15:1, "the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision." Even in a vision your seeing something. At Genesis 18 this is a physical appearance of the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord is not an actual angel but the pre-incarnation of Jesus Christ. He first appears at Genesis 16:7. Please read what he says to Hagar from vs 8-13, Then notice what she says at vs13. "Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, "Thou art a GOD who sees," for she said, Have I even remained alive after SEEING HIM." Now read Genesis 17:1-2 and note verse 22.
    – Mr. Bond
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 1:14
  • Are we then agreeing? My sole purpose is to argue that "Seeing angels" or any prophetic vision happens in a dream. (I am not commenting on anything else you said). You state "Even in a vision you see something" Agree but it is something in the dream not in the physical world. My point is that when Abraham woke up he became aware of this vision. As for Hagar: "GOD who sees" could be interpreted "God who watches mankind" Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 3:42

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