Dear Prof Hattingh,
I am currently leading an Assembly. The men’s department decided to have a discussion about ancestral worship. I need your help regarding the following verses: 1 Samuel 28: 15/16 & Luke 16: 24-29.
After the discussions I will be required to give direction on this matter. Can you kindly clarify these verses for me within the context of ancestral worship?
The story in 1 Samuel 28 is one of the most strange and inconceivable stories of the Old Testament. It is also a very sad story of Israel’s first anointed king falling into sin and the grip of darkness, so much so that he afterwards killed himself. Furthermore, it is also a display of the strange reality of darkness and evil – it is a story of the night.
It is strange, if you read the story hastily, that a saint of God like the prophet Samuel responded to the call of a medium and spiritualist. She was, however, shocked and cried out in fear when she saw Samuel and immediately recognised Saul, the king. She was not fully clued-in with the situation.
Samuel was upset that Saul disturbed him by “bringing him up”, but none the less spoke God’s judgement on Saul: “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me”.
What do I try to understand from this story:
- There is a strange world of evil and spirit forces.
- God is in control and even this display of the reality of darkness was totally under God’s control and it served his purpose. God is the great reality.
- There are two forces in this world: On the one side God who is light and truth and on the other side the devil, darkness and the lie, which is no threat to God. The Biblical truth is that everything, even the evil and the devil exist only because God allows it to exist. In the Psalms the night which is seen as the birth place and habitat of evil, is employed as messenger of God. Although this Samuel and medium story is very strange and evil, God is still in control.
- This strange story should not allow us to think that mediums and spiritualists are ways to make contact with the spirit world or with God, or to take part in ancestral worship.
- The Bible mentions this reality and warns us against it. Paul wrote: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12).
- In 1 Chronicles 10:11 we read: “So the Lord put him (Saul) to death and turned the kingdom to David, son of Jesse.” God did it because Saul: “… did not keep the word of the Lord but consulted a medium for guidance, …”.
- Leviticus 19:31 and Deuteronomy 18:9-14 contains God’s warning against: a medium or spiritist or whoever consults the death.
- The Biblical truth is that the only way to go to God is through Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said: “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).
The Luke 16 story is a parable although it is not mentioned as such. Many of Jesus’ parables started with: “There was …”. The content of Luke 16 is in the parable gender style. In a parable the speaker is conveying certain truths with the help of a story. One is not allowed to give meaning to every detail of the story. You have to ask: “What is the specific truth that the speaker wants to convey with this parable?” Certainly it is not possible that the parable suggests a conversation between the rich man in hell and Abraham in heaven or the possibility that somebody in heaven can put water on the tongue of somebody in hell or that somebody from there can come to earth to convey a message.
The parable does however convey the truth that there are two different destinations: one for God fearing people and another for those who do not fear God, an eternal heaven and an eternal hell with no crossing between the two. And also that there is no possibility of sending a messenger from the other side to warn people on this side. They have to listen to Moses and the Prophets, the Bible and God’s messengers.
There is no indication that one can or is allowed to make contact with people in hell or heaven or ancestral worship.
Finally, I have to put it straight, as you already know that the New Testament is very clear that Jesus our Lord and Saviour is the only door to God and salvation, and that salvation is worked through the Holy Spirit. The people of Galatians wanted to add something else to this truth of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit but Paul was furious with them for doing this: “…let them be eternally condemned!” (Gal 1:9).
I trust that this will help.