Written by: Nkanyiso Zulu
Article source: JOY! Magazine
One of the main themes in the Bible is worship – who you worship matters… In the Bible, God calls us to worship Him and Him alone. Not because of any other reason, but simply because we belong to Him. The question is, how does His call to worship Him relate to us who come from South African and African backgrounds?
Worship in our traditions
For example, in the South African upbringing, most of us grew up hearing about “izinyanya”– isiXhosa, “badimo”– Setswana/Sepedi, “abaphantsi” – isiZulu, etc. All these words have the same or similar meaning of those who have deceased or “those who are down below – the dead who are believed to be living or existing and influencing our lives”. We grew up having been taught to honour them as worthy of our obedience, i.e. to worship or to bow down to them or paying respect to them.
The well-known and common way of paying respect to our ancestors that is taught and practiced today is to offer sacrifices to them by slaughtering goats, bulls (cows), etc. These are done for many reasons because they are believed to be mediators between us and God. And when we do not sacrifice to them, they are thought to be angry with us – meaning that things will go bad in our families because we have disappointed them by not paying respect to them.
God wants us to worship Him, even when we come from South African or African black community backgrounds where we are taught to give honour to our ancestors “badimo”, “izinyana”, “abaphantsi.”
The how of worship
So, how are we, (Christians and non-Christians) to worship the God of the Bible who calls us to worship Him? To answer this question, we will need to consider and agree with the following:
• If we believe or think that God is bigger and wiser than us, we ought to allow Him – through the Bible – to define Himself to us as well as how we are to worship Him. If God is truly God, surely we should then allow Him to define the terms of worshiping Him?
• Also, we should allow God to question our practices too, especially the ones we’ve inherited from our (human) predecessors so that we can know whether He approves or disproves of them.
Look to the Bible
A fitting Bible book for our topic is Deuteronomy. It will help us find answers to these questions from God Himself. In this book, God was reminding and preparing His people (the Israelites) to enter the promised land by instructing them regarding many things, such as how to worship Him and how they were to live in the promised land.
Worship in scripture
In Deuteronomy 18:9-13, God instructs;
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”
Scripture shows God’s nature
This scripture is helpful for us to read, understand, and apply what God was saying. This was relevant so many years ago, but also today in our 21st century South Africa. In these verses, God was instructing them about what they should not do when they take over and enter the promised land that He had given them (v 9). God lists the abominable practices that they should not partake in (v 10-11).
What is an abomination?
“An abomination is a disgusting, detestable, or abominable thing. When something is disgusting it is extremely unpleasant and unacceptable. ‘Detestable’ refers to something that deserves to be hated. An abomination therefore is something that God cannot accept . . . it also means He cannot stand those who engage in it (v 12), because they are themselves an abomination.” – A. Mhlophe
Hardcore words, I know. This means that if the Israelites do not practice these things as God commanded them not to, then they will be truly worshiping Him (they are listening to Him and doing what He says). But, if they do them (partake in what God disproves of) then they are not worshiping Him, and they are an “abomination to the Lord.” If you focus on v 11, which is related to our topic, you will note it mentions “or one who inquires of the dead.”
God cannot associate with sin
In v 12, God mentions His reason why these nations were taken out of the promised land (Canaan). Can you see it? read v 12 again, “It was because of these practices” that God was chasing them out and punishing them by allowing the killing of all people (whether young or old) from these nations – simply because these practices are sinful (abominations to the Lord) and God does not associate Himself with sin…
To be continued…
Nkanyiso Zulu is a writer for Living Legacy Movement, born in KZN now living in Port Elizabeth. Visit livinglegacymovement.com for more resources.
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