Photo by Herve Lewandowski, the Louvre, Paris, France/Réunion des Musées Nationaux/Art Resource, NY

Abraham brings bread to three angels as Sarah listens through the open door, in Gérard de Lairesse’s 1685 painting. When Abraham first saw the three men near his home, he begged them not to “pass by” but to let him provide some refreshment (Genesis 18:3–5). He then tells Sarah to bake “cakes” while a servant prepares a calf. While the angels eat, they promise that “at the appointed time” the Lord will return and the aged Sarah will bear a son (Genesis 18:14).

Several phrases in the story have exact parallels in the Exodus account. The term “pass by” is not used of God again in the Bible until God “passes by” (or “over”) Egypt on Passover. When the Israelites flee Egypt, they bring unleavened “cakes” of dough. Throughout the Bible, the phrase “at the appointed time” is used to explain when Passover should be celebrated. In this way, the biblical author subtly suggests that Abraham and the angels were celebrating a Passover meal of their own.