The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” – Genesis 18:1-5 (NIV)
The previous chapters, although very important did not refer to water so I did not focus on them. They included important descriptions of the covenant that God made with Abraham through his sons Ishmael and Isaac. In this verse Abraham encounters God through three visitors. It is not clear to me how he knew these three visitors were angels sent from God, but Abraham immediately calls for water to wash the visitor’s feet.
This is the first time I can remember that water to wash feet has been described. Since Jesus did this with his disciples in a very prominent and symbolic way it seems fitting to reflect upon this first instance. On one level the washing of feet in this case is merely functional, the travellers have been walking with sandals or bare feet for perhaps many days in a dry dusty desert. How better to serve them than to provide water to wash their feet. It does not appear that Abraham washed the feet of the travellers as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.
This provides an interesting contrast between the relationship Abraham enjoyed with God and the more intimate relationship we can have with God through Jesus. Abraham was still in the mode of sacrifice and service to a relatively impersonal God. The preceding verse describes circumcising all the male members of his household and himself. I imagine the male members of his household were a bit surprised when Abraham described what God had asked him to do. I can almost hear them saying “you want to do what!”
Jesus clearly began a new type of relationship when he arrived in which the God of the universe does what would normally be done for oneself or by a servant. He washed the disciples feet. What an amazing, and surprising, God we have through Jesus — A God who serves rather than a God to be served.
Prayer: Thank you God that you were willing to show us love through your son Jesus Christ. Help me to be willing to “wash the feet” of those around me to show them the way you love us.