The third issue to be addressed is the motive of the Lord’s visit in human form. The main concern here is to decide whether the Lord visits Abraham to test the righteousness of his behavior (being hospitable towards unknown visitors) or rather to share covenantal fellowship with Abraham. Scholars who hold the view of Abraham’s later recognition of the divinity of the three visitors commonly interpret that the motive for the disguised appearance of the Lord is to test Abraham’s hospitality.
Many of them conduct inter-textual study with pagan parallels (cf. Gunkel 1997:193). In the Greek mythology, the motif of deities’ visit is usually to test the hospitality of a host. So gods disguise themselves therefore in plain human form. Hospitality is the only real virtue to be tested among pagan parallels (cf. Von Rad 1972:205; Roop 1987:126). So they attempt to interpret the motive of the Lord’s visit as the testing of Abraham’s hospitality in the fashion of Greek legends (cf. Gunkel 1997:193; Simpson 1978:616-617; Skinner 1980:299).
Generally in the Old Testament the anthropomorphic appearance of a divine being is indicated by the expression of a single angel (cf. Jos 5:13; Jdg 6:11; 13:3; 2 Sm 24:16; Bush 1981:282-283). But in the episode of Genesis 18 the Lord appeared in the form of three men (cf. Von Rad 1972:205). Therefore, some attempted to interpret the narrative by means of a retribution theology assuming that they are dealing here with a reminiscent of pagan polytheism (cf. Gunkel 1997:193-194; Skinner 1980:299; Simpson 1978:616; Wenham 1994:45).
The incognito visitors give a majestic reward after the hospitality of their host is proved (cf. Skinner 1980:302-303; Von Rad 1972:205; Wenham 1994:45). But this simple retribution theology that emphasizes only the meritorious works of Abraham collides with the main themes of the whole Abraham narrative: God unilaterally showing his grace in election, giving promises, and showing faithfulness to fulfill his promise towards his covenant partners (cf. Hasel 1998:77, 92; Westermann 1985:276; Tenney 1977; Keiser 1979:89; Mathews 1996:122).
On the other hand, scholars who uphold the view of Abraham’s immediate recognition assert that the motive of the Lord’s visit is not to test Abraham’s hospitality but to share covenantal fellowship with God’s covenant partners (cf. Hamilton 1995:17; Sailhamer 1976:144; Ross 1988:343). Thus, the motive of eating is related closely to the purpose of God’s visit (cf. Ross 1988:342-343; Keil 1996:146; Greidanus 1999:79).
The motif of God’s visit in human form is closely related to different perspectives in the main part of the narrative. Therefore, it is important to sort out these conflicting views on the motive for the visit by thorough textual analysis. Investigating both the intent of the eating and the motive of God’s visit are research gaps in this thesis.
This work presumes that the Lord visited Abraham for having the covenantal fellowship (Gn 18:1). Naming the first section (Gn 18:1-15) of the Hebron narrative needs to be relevant to the motif of God’s visit. Therefore, from now on, this writer will name the first section (Gn 18:1-15) “the Fellowship Narrative” for the sake of convenient discussions on my research works.