Bible Text: Exodus 16:1–15; Joshua 24:14–18; Deuteronomy 6:4–9
Lesson Focus: We should focus our lives on God.
Big Question: I have so many important things in my life; why should I focus on God?
Key Words: PROVIDE, OBEDIENCE, FAITHFULNESS, PROMISE
• Once out of Egypt, the people begin to grumble; God provides food for them.
• The people worship the golden calf and so must wander in the wilderness for 40 years. During that time the Lord provides for them.
• Moses is not allowed to enter the promised land, and Joshua becomes the new leader of the people.
• The faithfulness of God in spite of the erratic behavior of God’s people is a prominent theme in these stories.
• Moses’ audience for many of his sermons is a new generation of Israelites. Moses is concerned that they know the history of their ancestors and the history of God’s direct involvement in their lives.
• Moses preaches with the backdrop of the Exodus and his sight set forward to the fulfillment of the promise of a marvelous land for God’s chosen people.
• Moses, and later Joshua, expands and clarifies the law throughout the people’s journey, always emphasizing the grace of the law that leads to the fulfilled life that God intends for the chosen people.
• Deuteronomy 6:4–9, especially verses 4–5 (called the Shema), is foundational for Jews in a very profound way to this day. All obedience, it claims, flows out of a sense of love toward God and dependence on God.
These chapters in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua describe ordinary life for God’s people. This is, of course, where most of life is lived—in the ordinary. This is also where we get off track most often. There are many themes in these narratives. The most dominant theme is the faithfulness of God and the erratic behavior of God’s people. This is a well-played theme throughout the biblical narrative, and we see it “live” and in rhetoric in these chapters.
Moses delivers sermons repeatedly after the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments: the main point being that God is present with them always and remains the people’s hope and source of all good things. Moses’ audience for many of his sermons is a new generation of Israelites. This is the generation that will be crossing the Jordan into the promised land, and Moses is concerned that they know the history of their ancestors and of God’s direct involvement in their lives. God is a promiser, a faithful presence, a victorious warrior, he tells them. God provides all they need: quail, manna, water from rocks, guidance during the day and night, and more. Always, Moses preaches with the backdrop of the Exodus and his sight set forward to the fulfillment of the promise of a marvelous land for God’s chosen people. He preaches on the importance of the law, emphasizing that the law is God’s good gift and is not arbitrary, lifeless legalism. Moses, and later Joshua, expands and clarifies the law throughout the people’s journey, always emphasizing the grace of the law that leads to the fulfilled life that God intends for the chosen people.
A new theological theme is introduced in these chapters—the theme of obedience. While not strictly new, the call to obedience is nuanced in the wilderness wanderings. Obedience leads to success, Moses and Joshua tell the people. Disobedience and rebellion lead to destruction and disaster. This theme shows up again in Judges and in 1 and 2 Kings, and plays out with amazing accuracy. The chosen people are a pioneer people. Their acquisition of the promised land involves displacement—sometimes violent displacement—of other peoples. Moses and Joshua and other leaders (indeed, later writers of these stories) are careful to link the response and actions of the people to their success or failure.
Moses does not move across the Jordan and is not allowed by God to enter the promised land. His term is over after he leads the “stiff-necked” people around in the wilderness. Joshua takes over as leader and continues Moses’ legacy of encouraging careful observance of the law for the purposes of gaining entry into the promised land. In these chapters we have tales of spies and military exercises, poetry describing a victorious warrior God, and hymnic reminders of God’s love and care for the Hebrew people. The exhortations for courage, obedience, and trust reach a fevered pitch in Joshua 24 when Joshua challenges the people to live in faithfulness in the promised land in response to the goodness and the gifts of God.
The center of all Jewish thought and belief occurs in these chapters. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) is foundational for Jews in a very profound way to this day. It has a beauty, passion, and grace to it that many confessions and faith instructions lack. All obedience, it claims, flows out of a sense of love toward God and dependence on God. We would do well to claim the Shema as ours as well.
I have so many important things in my life; why should I focus on God?
The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) is the call of people of Jewish faith from biblical times to today. The call is the same for us now and for all people who follow God. This call contains the basis of faith. Essentially it says, “Listen up! The Lord is One . . .” Youth often have other “gods” they worship, such as material goods, popularity, being number one, and other non-Christian values. It is important to remind your students that their God is one God, the God, and all other gods are false. Often youth are not aware of the fact that they place other gods before God. This is an important concept. Encourage them to wrestle with the concept and to figure out just what or who it is they worship. Often they are unaware of the high place they have given to these other things they worship. Awakening this awareness may help youth put first things first and redesign their priorities.
Welcome and Review
Ask students to recall the previous week’s Lesson Focus, Key Words, and Big Question.
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
PROVIDE: to supply or give what is needed to meet or sustain one’s needs.
OBEDIENCE: complying with the guidelines that have been given to you.
FAITHFULNESS: allegiance and loyalty, especially to God, family, and friends.
PROMISE: a pledge or declaration that one will do what is declared.
Object Lesson Option: It is all about
Play the song “What You Need” by INXS from Best of INXS (Rhino Records, 2002). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
Use the song lyrics to call attention to how we need to learn to depend on God and trust God to supply all our needs, which was the same lesson the Israelites needed to learn over and over again?
Debrief the song with these questions:
• Do you believe that God will supply your needs, or do you still struggle with worry and doubt? What’s the role of prayer in trusting God?
• Can you think of a time when God supplied your needs in an extraordinary or surprising way?
• Why is it so easy to forget about others and to start focusing on ourselves and our own needs and wants?
The story of God leading his people out of bondage into the promised land is one of the great stories of the Bible. Christians cannot help but make connections to Jesus leading us out of slavery to sin and death. In response to being rescued, we naturally want to help rescue others. Provide handouts or project the prayer for all to see. As the students pray, have them think about places in their lives where people are hurting and what they could do to help in God’s work to rescue those in need.
Leader: God, we are thankful that you are our one true God.
Group: There is no other god before you.
Leader: Sometimes we put other things before you.
Group: Friends, clothes, material things, popularity . . .
Leader: Forgive us.
Group: Sometimes we ignore our neighbor and focus only on ourselves.
Leader: Forgive us.
Group: Sometimes we forget all that you have done for us.
Leader: Forgive us.
Group: Help us to keep our hearts and minds on you.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: I have so many important things in my life; why should I focus on God?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about what God has done in your life.
Today’s lesson focuses on the importance of remembering what God has done for us so that we can remember always to keep God front and center in our lives. We all are tempted to put other things ahead of God in our lives. It may be our career, social status, material possessions, anything that becomes more important to us than God. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell the students about some of the things that tempt you to place God second or third in your life. What helps you keep things in perspective?
Open the Bible
Have the students read Exodus 16:1–15. Almost as soon as the Israelites are out of Egypt, they begin grumbling. In these verses we see how God provided for the people in spite of their grumbling. God kept his promise, the covenant made several years earlier, to provide for the people, protect them, and bring them to the promised land. God remains faithful despite the erratic behavior of the people.
• These verses come right after the people cross the Red Sea. Why do you think the people forget what God has done for them so quickly?
•The people keep complaining, but God keeps delivering. What does that say about God?
Have the students read Joshua 24:14–18. Point out to the class that Moses did not enter the Promised Land with the Israelites. Joshua took over as the leader when Moses’ term was finished. Joshua, too, had to deal with the stubborn people who kept forgetting all that God had done for them. In Joshua 24 Joshua is challenging the people to live in obedience to God in the promised land in response to all the goodness and protection that God had provided. Joshua is considered a Bible hero because of his determination and commitment to follow God regardless of what everyone else might say or do.
• Explain what the last phrase of Joshua 24:15, Joshua’s statement of faith, means to you.
• How could following Joshua’s words be seen as heroic?
Have the students read Deuteronomy 6:4–9. The words in Deuteronomy 6:4–5 are called the Shema. It is foundational for Jews in a very profound way to this day. All obedience, it claims, flows out of a sense of love toward God and dependence on God. If the students are using their own Bibles, encourage them to underline these verses.
The Great Commandment is found in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 22:37–40; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–28). Each of these references is directly connected to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4.
• Read Matthew 22:37–40; Mark 12:28–31; and Luke 10:25–37. What does Jesus say about the words in Deuteronomy 6:4–5?
• Why is Deuteronomy 6:4–5 called the Great Commandment?
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The Shema is . . .
a. what you say to someone who has sneezed.
b. the name of your pet alligator.
c. the Jewish understanding of faithfulness, devotion, and love to God. (Correct)
d. the newest kind of soft drink to hit the market.
2. Manna is . . .
a. slang for “banana.”
b. a type of bread that was provided in the wilderness. (Correct)
c. the newest dance craze.
d. the newest kind of soft drink to hit the market.
3. When God makes a covenant, or promise, with people . . .
a. you can bet that it won’t happen.
b. it is a for a short time only.
c. God will always keep it. (Correct)
d. none of the above.
4. Living for yourself rather than living for God means . . .
a. God will be very pleased with you and will jump up and down for joy.
b. you have broken the First Commandment.
c. your relationship with God will suffer.
d. both b and c. (Correct)
5. God provided manna and quail for the Hebrew people when they wandered in the wilderness because . . .
a. God had nothing better to do.
b. God had a new recipe for a manna and quail hot dish and was eager to try it out.
c. it was a reminder that God is always faithful, even if we’re not. (Correct)
d. manna and quail are well-known desert delicacies.
6. Allowing God to sit in the “driver’s seat” means . . .
a. God wants to take your car out for a spin.
b. giving God the best seat at the drive-in movie.
c. God is the one who is steering the bumper car at the arcade.
d. giving God full reign and full control of your life. (Correct)
7. Joshua said that he and his house were serving . . .
a. the latest soft drink to hit the market.
b. manna and quail hot dish.
c. the Lord. (Correct)
d. whomever they wanted.
8. When asked about the Great Command, Jesus told the parable of . . .
a. the boy who cried wolf.
b. manna tree seed.
c. Little Red Riding Hood.
d. the good Samaritan. (Correct)
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Object Lesson Option: It’s All About . . .
Before the lesson begins, have two easels with chart paper at the front of the room. On one sheet, write, “It’s All about Me.” On the other sheet of paper, write, “It’s All about God.” Invite students to come up in small groups to draw one picture on each sheet that, for the group, represents each of the headlines. Allow time for each group to finish.
Debrief the activity with these questions.
• Which one was easier to do, the “me” stuff or the “God” stuff? Why?
• How would you explain the difference between what is pictured under “me” and what is pictured under “God”?
• Some people say that we focus too much on ourselves. Do you think that is true? Why or why not?
Option 2: Movie Option: Brother Bear
Play a scene from the movie Brother Bear (rated G; Disney, 2003). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
Start cue: Scene 25; 00:00. Kenai (as a bear) has crawled to the top of the snow-covered mountain to seek his oldest brother, Sitka.
End cue: Scene 25; 4:50. The brothers Kenai, Sitka, and Denahi embrace.
God’s wandering people are confronted with an all-or-nothing choice: “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). The people respond immediately by proclaiming their unwavering devotion to God. But Joshua wants to make sure they understand that they cannot serve the God of Israel and other gods at the same time. This is an all-or-nothing proposition. We can be forgiven for wavering in our devotion, but we cannot choose both. Kenai, in Brother Bear, has to make a decision. His oldest brother, Sitka, was killed by a bear and has magically changed Kenai into a bear to teach him a lesson. Kenai is forced to wander in the wilderness, learning to understand the ways and listen to the wisdom of other bears. At the end, he has an all-or-nothing choice to make: return to being a human or remain a bear. He cannot choose both. The three brothers are reunited as they reach their version of the “promised land” (where everyone gets to live as they wish).
Debrief the movie clip with these questions.
• How does the scene from the movie fit in with the story of God’s people wandering in the wilderness and finally getting to the promised land?
• What are some all or nothing choices you have to make in your life? What can help you make those choices?
Option 3: Music Option: Home
Play the song “Home” by Chris Daughtry from Daughtry (19 Recordings Limited, 2006). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
In this lesson, we learn that the Israelites are on a long journey to the promised land. Through Moses’s many speeches, the people learn that their special relationship with God is based on love. The Israelites feel that the promised land is to be their home. Chris Daughtry sings about a journey home: a place where love is. Even though he is not always the best man, the love that abides at home is always there.
Debrief the movie clip with these questions:
• How does it feel to go home after a long journey?
• What do you consider “home”?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Have your students each get together with a prayer partner. Ask them to share with their partner what things in their lives they feel may be making it difficult for them to put God first. Is there something in particular they would like their partner to pray for? Introduce the prayer and allow them time to pray for their prayer partners aloud or silently.
Gracious God, you create, sustain, and care for your people. Grant us eyes of faith that always see you first. Make us always be open to your word and open to the needs of our neighbors. (Allow time for partners to pray aloud or silently for each other.) In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Pick a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• What are some specific things that you think youth your age are most tempted to put ahead of God in their lives?
• How do you prioritize things in your life?
Turn to this week’s activity called “Wilderness to Land Crossword.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• What are the things that you are tempted to put ahead of God in your life?
Have the students think specifically about their own lives and what things they feel tempt them most. As they are listing them, encourage them to see how they are not alone in the struggle to keep things in the proper perspective. Also, remind them that God in Christ is with us to help us on our journey and to forgive us and renew us when we fail.
• Why do you think people have such a hard time putting God first in their lives?
As the students answer this, encourage them to think about what they know about the nature of sin and forgiveness. Though as baptized Christians we are ultimately free from the power of sin and death, we are not free from temptation nor are we able to live a sin-free life. We are simultaneously saint and sinner. Because of that, we struggle daily to respond to grace we have received in Christ Jesus our Lord. We may not be able to live perfect lives, but we are redeemed in the perfect love of God in Christ Jesus.
• Where can you find help to keep your priorities straight?
This may include prayer, worship, reading the Bible, or talking to fellow Christians, pastors, or spiritual mentors. Share with the students where you find help prioritizing things.
Student Book Connection
Here We Stand Student Book page 56: Read through “The Top 10 Bible Miracles and What They Mean” and find the three miracles listed here are part of the story of Moses leading the people out of Egypt through the wilderness and into the promised land. The exodus experience was seen by the people later as a miraculous story of God rescuing, renewing, and saving his people. Talk about this article with your group:
• What do you think makes something a “miracle”?
• What are some things today that people may once have considered miraculous but we today take for granted?
• The people of Israel were not very grateful to God, but God still provided for their needs. Why? What does this say about the nature of God’s grace?
Here We Stand Student Book page 45: After reading “Five Facts about Life in Old Testament Times,” ask students to name the thing they would find most difficult to deal with that was a fact of life in Old Testament time. The people of the Old Testament had a difficult life and yet were able to praise and thank God for all that God did for them. Do you think it was easier for people in the old days or for us today to focus on God and what God has done? It is often true that those with the least are most keenly aware of what God is doing in their lives. As you discuss this question, ask the students to consider how an affluent lifestyle may make it even more difficult to focus on the important things in life, especially to focus on God and the needs of our neighbors.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
Kids have a routine. And for most of them, it doesn’t involve a lot of consideration for God. Help them figure out how to do this week’s Life Connection successfully. It might be weird to switch around their schedule, but it will help them realize that they might need to reprioritize their days. How can they focus on God in everything they do each day?
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• How can you better prioritize things in your life so that God comes first?
• What can you do when you realize that your priorities may be “out of whack.”
Tell the students that today’s Closing Prayer will focus on keeping God number one in their lives. Ask them to take a minute to think of the good things that God has done in their lives.
Leader: Lord, you have given to us everything we have.
Group: Lord, you have given us all the people of our lives. Every one of them.
Leader: You give us food, clothing, shelter.
Group: You give us the kindness and love of family and friends.
Leader: For all you do for us, we thank you. (Allow time for class petitions.)
Group: Thank you, Lord.
Before students leave, be sure to give each of them the following blessing. Trace the cross on their foreheads at the points indicated.
May you keep God and the needs of your neighbor always foremost in your thoughts and actions. In the name of the Father+, and the Son+, and the Holy Spirit+. Amen.a