In the Bible, the opening scene of the three strangers’ visit to Abraham begins with the apparition of the Lord: “Yahweh appeared to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, while he was sitting by the entrance of the tent, in the hottest of the day. (Gen 18:1) In this story, the angel of the Lord is the only messenger, the other two are his companions, sent on a mission to Lot. The story of the foreigners who visit Abraham and Lot, therefore has two parts. They have two tasks to accomplish: the first is the announcement of a new beginning, the promise of the birth of a son and second, they must announce the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abraham is portrayed here as a house master par excellence. He greets his guests with great respect: something unexpected and very important is about to happen. His hospitality is rewarded with a gift: the birth of a child. But this announcement provokes disbelief because both Abraham and Sarah are old. In the face of their reaction, the Lord says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Am I going to have a child now that I am old?” (Gen 18 :13) and then comes the surprising question of God: “Is there anything too wonderful for Yahweh?” For the first time, it becomes clear that the stranger is a messenger of God.
In the center of Chagall’s painting Abraham and the Three Angels are stripes and lines that represent a tent. Sarah is on the left. Beneath her feet is a tree of life, and beneath her a basket overflowing with exotic fruits, a symbol of fertility. Abraham is dressed in a blue cafetan-style garment, matching the color of the angel’s garment on the right. The gold on this angel’s wings and the golden halo around his head obviously place this angel as the leading speaker. The Three Angels are at the center of the painting, sitting at a richly covered table. The angel in the middle and the one on the left have turned their faces so that they look at the viewer, while including us in the event.
In the bubble, placed at the top right of the painting, Chagall paints the episode of the Bible in which Abraham learns from the angels God’s will to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In the same canvas are evoked both a birth and a destruction.
«In Chagall’s painting, writes Caroline Blyth, the messengers sit round Abraham’s table – wings fluttering, feet dangling – seemingly tucking in with relish to the sumptuous feast he has prepared for them. Abraham, meanwhile, stands by rather nervously, not sure, perhaps, what’s going on… The colours in this picture are absolutely gorgeous, the brilliant red background and the brightness of the angels’ wings and garments suggestive of an atmosphere that pops with festive spirit. I just wish Abraham would relax, take a seat at the table, and enjoy the party.»
Abraham’s whole attitude evokes the acceptance of the divine will.