Africa , Land Of Biblical Traditions“Wherever I went, I found that my Master had been there before me.” So declared Dr. H. Ph. Junod, a missionary and researcher, after a 30- year sojourn in Africa. (From A History of Christianity In Ghana, p .1 under the heading “He came into His own Home”).
In speaking of his experiences in Africa, Dr. Junod was not exaggerating nor was he romanticizing African beliefs and practices. The fact is, African culture resonates with Biblical traditions - what some scholars call “Hebrewisms”- which point up a strong Israelite identity.
Among these traditions stands out the seventh-day Sabbath ordained by God as a perpetual sign between Himself and the children of Israel (and subsequently all true believers of all nationalities ) – Exodus 31:16 -17; Isa.56:1-5; Heb. 4:4, 9-10. And, indeed, from Jerusalem to Ethiopia to West Africa, the Sabbath truth occupies a pride of place in the culture of the people.
The Ashantis of Ghana, for instance, possess such a profound and biblically apposite knowledge of the seventh day as “the Sabbath of the Lord” that they have made it part of the Creator’s Name. In Akan society ( the larger clan to which the Asante belongs), a boy or girl born a particular day of the week is given a name derived from that particular day. A boy born on Saturday, for example, is called “Kwame”, which means “God’s child.” Thus the Ashantis, in recognition of Saturday as the holy day dedicated to the worship of the Creator God, call the heavenly Father “Otwedeampong Kwame” which means “Almighty God of Saturday “. The Akan word for the seventh day itself leaves no doubt as to whom the day belongs. It is called “Memeneda,” which translates as “the day of the I AM.”(Exodus3:14).
In the 1920’s, at a ceremony to present a wedding gift intended for princess Mary of England, Nana Serwaa Akoto, the then queenmother of Asante Mampong, made a speech which eloquently affirmed the Saturday- Sabbath tradition of the Asante nation:
I place this stool in your hands.
It is a gift for the king’s child, Princess Mary.
Asante stool makers have carved it and Asante silver-smiths have embossed it. …
We pray that the great God Nyankopon, on whom men lean and do not fall, whose day of worship is Saturday, and whom the Asante serve just as she serves him, that He may give the king’s child and her husband long life and happiness.
(Emphasis mine. From the Asante Monarchy in exile by Ivor Agyemang–Dua, pp 27-28).
Indeed as Charles E. Bradford observes in the introduction to his revealing book SabbathRoots: The African Connection, “The Sabbath has vital roots in Africa, an African connection, if you please, carried forward by a people who bear, in some mysterious way, visceral memories of the Sabbath, however faint.” (p 11).
Well entrenched is the Sabbath tradition in Africa, but it’s by no means the only ‘Jewish relic’ showing a connection with ancient Israel. It’s only one of a number.
Other Hebrew customs found in Africa include but not limited to:
- 24-hour day period reckoned from sunset to sunset instead of 12 . midnight to 12 midnight – Gen. 1;5; Lev. 23:32.
- Presentation of the right shoulder of the sacrificial animal to the priest or king [as obtains among the Akans of Ghana]- Lev. 7:32-34.
- The Royal Palanquin – Song of Solomon 3:9.
- The separation of women in their menses - Lev. 15:19-20; Ezek.18:6.
- The traditional Great Oath [as in Asante] - Judges 21:5.
- The Golden Stool [also in Asante] -1 Kings 10:18.
- The erection of statues of lions, symbolic of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, in front of traditional Palaces – 1 Kings 10:18-20.
- The Royal sword – Isa 1:20.
- The traditional blowing of 7 trumpets [as in Ashanti] – Joshua 6:6.
- The Royal sceptre – Gen.49:10.
- The use of the hyssop plant (in Akan “Adwera”) for purification –Ps.51:7.
- The Royal footstool - Ps.110:1-3; Isa 66:1.
- The African traditional musical instruments –Ps 150.
- The ‘Homowo’ festival of the Gas of Ghana corresponding to the Passover – Ex. 12.
- Traditional queen mothers avoiding the wearing of earrings – Ex. 21:6; 1 Pet.3:3-5.
- The above examples of cultural practices in Africa, and West Africa especially, are indisputably Hebraic in origin and character as the scriptural references clearly establish.
Now arises the question : How did Africa come to possess such distinctive Hebrew customs if it were not related to Israel? Does the fact that some few elements of African culture are decidedly pagan suggest a mere coincidence?
No. That even serves to put the connection with Israel in the appropriate historical and prophetic context. Biblical Israel for this very sin of idolatry and flirtation with paganism came under divine judgment, which among other punishments, led to their banishment from the Holy land as enemy troops overran the land and laid it to waste. In the ensuing flight from the enemy’s sword, historical accounts show that, many Jews came to mainland Africa resulting in Jewish communities springing up in North Africa.
In the course of time, these Jewish escapees and their descendants, facing further waves of gentile persecution, fled southwards to the Western Sudan where they settled to building such great empires as the Ghana and Sonhay Empires.(Rudolph Windsor’s From Babylon To Timbuktu treats this subject in depth).
Still unrepentant, divine visitation was not through with them, however. A series of invasions by Arab forces set the African Jews on another southward march, this time to the west coast of Africa.
Today, under the onslaught of modernity and the imposition of European gentile traditions in the guise of religion, such as Sunday worship and Saturnalia (Christmas), the Hebrew cultural heritage of Africa appears to be on the wane. Nevertheless, it’s still recognizable.
And God’s sentence for sin and covenant breaking remains in force. To this day, Africa still bears the scars of the curses prophesied to afflict Israel for her violation of God’s covenant. Deut. 28:15-68 gives the prophetic background to the many tragic episodes in the history of the Hebrew world community in general and the African Hebrew in particular.
- It foretold the slave Trade stating even the means by which the slaves would be carried off and sold in the gentile lands: “with ships” – vs 47-48, 68.
- It foretold the colonization and exploitation of Africa – vs 49-51.
- It foretold the economic stagnation of Africa and its dependence on . foreign handouts – vs 43-44.
- It foretold the banishment of African Hebrew kings like Prempeh I of Asante – vs 36.
- It foretold the disease burden of Africa including diseases hitherto unknown, e.g. AIDS and Ebola - vs 58-61.
- It foretold hunger in Africa (vs 38 -39) and a host of other harsh realities that define life for millions of Africans today.
The recent daring, but dangerous, attempts by hordes of hungry, unemployed
African youths to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the supposed greener pastures of Europe - at risk to life and limb - illustrate once more the life of curse being lived in Africa. (Verses 29, 65-67).
The sad reality is that even though Africa is the richest continent in terms of mineral resources, its people are among are the poorest in the world. Now we know why. It’s time Ethiopia stretched out her hands unto the Lord God of Israel (Ps 68:31).
Gospel Message to Africa (GMA) calls the African Hebrew to his true roots. Rest is found only in Jesus, the seed of the woman who was ordained to bruise the head of the serpent who caused the first fall in Eden, which embraced Ethiopia or East Africa (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 2:13).
In typical African fashion (where in a town or village plagued with curses refuse from the town are dumped on the town’s outskirts to signify the removal of the curses), Christ “suffered without [ie outside] the gate” of Jerusalem to remove all our sins and curses. (Hebrew 13:12, Gal. 3:13).
He still calls: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden [which is true for many Africans], and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28).
A genuine response to the call demands repentance and faith in Christ which entails the abandonment of all pagan beliefs and practices, ‘home–grown’ or otherwise.
Christ is prepared to heal the land; He is prepared to RESTORE! (2Chron.7:14; Jer.6:16; Joel 2:25-26). Amen!