And he took butter and milk
Jarchi says, it was the fat of the milk gathered from the top of it, he means cream, and is different both from butter and from milk: this was either Abraham himself, who took and brought these, as Sarah or her maidens might bring the cakes when baked; or else Abraham's young man, since it follows: and the calf which he had dressed;
either the whole of it, or some principal parts of it, reckoned the finest and choicest; though by what follows it seems to be Abraham himself, who may be said to dress the calf, it being done by his orders: and set [it] before them;
a table being placed under the tree, he set, or ordered to be set, all those provisions before the three men, to feed upon, the cakes and butter, the milk and fatted calf: and he stood by them under the tree;
not only to bid them welcome, but to minister to them; nor will this seem strange, or that the above several things were chiefly done by Abraham and Sarah, when it is observed that the greatest personages in the eastern countries, in early times, used to perform such services, and still do to this day, as a late traveller F18 informs us:
``it is here (says he) no disgrace for persons of the highest character to busy themselves in what we should reckon menial employments; the greatest prince assists in the most laborious actions of husbandry; neither is he ashamed to fetch a lamb from his herd and kill it, while the princess his wife is impatient till she has prepared her fire and her kettle to seethe and dress it: the custom that still continues of walking either barefoot or with slippers requires the ancient compliment of bringing water upon the arrival of a stranger to wash his feet; and who is the person that presents himself first to do this office, and to give the "mar habbeh", or welcome, but the master of the family himself? who always distinguishes himself by being the most officious; and, after his entertainment is prepared, accounts it a breach of respect to sit down with his guests, but stands up all the time and serves them.''All which serves greatly to illustrate this passage; and the same learned author observes, that in this manner we find Achilles and Patroclus employed, as described by Homer F19, in providing an entertainment: and they did eat;
or seemed to eat, as the Targum of Jonathan and Jarchi; though as they assumed bodies so animated as to be capable of talking and walking, why not of eating and drinking? and there must have been a consumption of food some way or other, or Abraham would have known they had not eaten: we read of angels' food, ( Psalms 78:25 ) ; our English poet had a notion of angels eating, and represents Eve providing a repast for the angel, which he owns to be no ungrateful food F20.
F18 Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 237, 238. Ed. 2.
F19 Iliad. 9. ver. 205.
F20 Milton's Paradise Lost, B. 5. ver. 412