God is always testing his people, and God’s testing of us does not come when we are warned and ready.
God had just appeared to Abram in a vision and affirmed the promise that Abram will have a son from whom will come a great nation. God sealed that promise by changing Abram’s name to Abraham and his wife Sarai’s name to Sarah.
However, God was not through with Abraham. Once more, God visits Abraham, but visibly and physically visits him. We are told, “The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre.” With the Lord come two angels who appear later on in connection with the destruction of Sodom.
Abraham does not recognize the Lord at first. He merely sees three travelers, weary and thirsty as they come in off the desert where the temperature often reaches 120-125° in the shade—and there is no shade.
Abraham is seated under the oaks of Mamre in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day looking out on the blazing countryside, and suddenly he sees three men coming toward him. In the custom of his day, Abraham greats the visitors and offers them food, rest, and water.
The manner in which he does this shows he has no idea whom he is entertaining. This is obviously a test of Abraham's heart in which God appears in such a commonplace way that Abraham is not aware of his identity. God is testing Abraham when he appears without warning in the heat of the day. How does Abraham do?
Well, look at the words of action here in the Bible: He “hastened into the tent,” and he said to Sarah, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal.” Then, “Abraham ran to the herd” and picked out a calf and gave it to the servant “who hastened to prepare it.”
Abraham soon had a wonderful meal ready. He had hot veal chops, cottage cheese salad (curds, it says), perhaps with figs cut up all nicely in it along with a tall glass of cool milk, and fresh hot bread right out of the oven.
To top off the meal, there was the gracious hospitality with which the guests were served. As they ate, Abraham visited with them. This story tells us that Abraham was prompt and ready to respond to the needs evident before him. Abraham passed his test well.
God is always testing his people, and God’s testing of us does not come when we are warned and ready. God’s tests catch us unprepared and off-guard, and this one does to Abraham. The test comes when some situation occurs in daily life that forces us to face the questions: Am I really available for God to do what he wants? Am I ready to respond to the need of the human heart right there in front of me, right there at that moment?
Abraham demonstrates a beautiful picture for us of the fellowship of a heart dedicated to becoming God’s instrument to meet the cry of human need all around us.
As Christians we are called to follow Abraham’s example. When Jesus comes in to our lives, he doesn't come in merely to give us a good time, to bless us, and make life an enjoyable experience. Jesus comes in to our lives in order to fulfill his long-standing desire to be what he came into the world for in the first place.
He wants to be a Savior to seek and to save that which was lost, to give and show compassion to others, to minister to human needs whatever they may be. And he wants to do all that through us.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)