Grades 3-6 for Sunday School:
Moses: The Wandering (But Not Wasted) Years
Teacher’s Notes: In our last lesson, we found Moses and the Israelites on the brink of entering the Promised Land. But when the spies came back with a report of scary giants, the people cowered in fear, and wanted to go back to Egypt. As punishment, God said none of those who refused to go in would ever step foot in the Promised Land. God would give it, instead, to their children. This week’s lesson will be looking at what happened to the Israelites during those forty years of wandering in the wilderness. They may have missed out on the blessings of living in the Promised Land, as God had wanted. But they were to use that time to learn many valuable lessons about their God, while following Him through the wilderness.
Does anyone know what the term “grounded” means? It’s a word used in the airline industry. When there is something wrong with a plane or its flight crew, that plane is not allowed to take off…it’s “grounded” until the plane is fixed or a new flight crew arrives. In America, we sometimes use that same word for a form of punishment. When a child disobeys his or her parents, one consequence might be to have privileges taken away. For instance, the child may have to stay at home, rather than going out with their friends. Or perhaps something like telephone or tv privileges are taken away for a time. We refer to that as being “grounded.” It doesn’t mean the one being punished can’t leave the ground. It simply means that they’ve lost the privilege to do something because they’ve been disobedient.
The children of Israel had been disobedient to their Heavenly Father. He had brought them through the desert, to the edge of the land He had promised to their forefathers, and told them it was time to go in and possess the land. But the Israelites would not go in. Does anyone remember from last week’s lesson what stopped them from obeying God? (they were afraid of the people in Canaan, especially the giants)
They had been following Him for nearly two years, and had seen Him do some really miraculous things. But when it came time to trust and obey, they were afraid, and let their lack of faith stop them in their tracks. In fact, they complained by saying they wanted to turn right back around, and return to Egypt, where they had been treated so harshly as slaves.
And because of their disobedience and lack of faith, God had to punish them; just as a father does his children, to help them learn. So God grounded the Israelites, and would not let them go into the Land they had rejected. He told them they would have to wander around the wilderness till everyone over the age of twenty had died. Then, they would be ready to enter the Promised Land.
If you’ve been grounded, what did you do while waiting for your punishment to be over? (allow the students to discuss their activities while grounded). Sometimes kids sit and pout, doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes they just find something to do, like reading a book or playing a game, to keep busy, until they are able to once again have their freedom.
The Israelites weren’t grounded for just a day, or even a week, or even a year. They were not allowed into the Promised Land for forty years. And here’s how God came up with that number: “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.” Numbers 14:34 Forty years was a long time to think about what they’d done. And in today’s lesson, we’re going to look at some of the things that happened to the Israelites during those years of wandering, till they arrived back where they started, at the edge of the Promised Land. They were not just years of wasted time. God, instead, had many important lessons for the Israelites (and us) to learn.
So before we get into today’s lesson, let’s take a look at today’s memory verse to see why parents and God punish us when we disobey.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Hebrews 12:11
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for Your precious Word, where we can read and learn from the examples we see there. Help us, today, to have our eyes and ears open the lesson You would have us learn from the Israelites’ example. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: (Moses: The Wandering, But Not Wasted, Years from Numbers 16 and 21)
Is anyone here related to someone famous? Do you know anyone who has a famous relative? If so, do they get along well? Sometimes it’s hard to live in the shadow of someone who always gets the attention. And that’s what life may have been like for Moses’ and Aaron’s cousin, Korah. All three were grandsons of Kohath, who was a son of Levi. Yet God had selected Moses to lead the people of Israel. And He had chosen Aaron and his sons as priests. The other children of Levi had all been given special tasks that related to the Israelites’ worship. But they were not as seemingly important as the positions that Moses, Aaron, and his sons had been given.
And this didn’t make Korah very happy. Does anyone remember what the tenth Commandment says? It tells us not to covet something that belongs to someone else. And that is just what Korah did. He coveted the position of priest that had been given to Aaron’s family, and the leadership of Moses.
Numbers chapter 16 immediately follows last week’s lesson on the Israelites’ refusal to enter the Promised Land, and the punishment that followed. There, we find Korah rounding up an angry mob to stand against Moses and Aaron.
1Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
2And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
3And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?
What was Korah’s complaint? (allow the students to answer) He claimed that Moses and Aaron had put themselves in the positions of leading the children of Israel. He pointed out that the LORD was among all of them; so, in his opinion, they were all holy and equally deserving of the opportunity to lead the people.
And now it wasn’t just Korah. He had been able to assemble two friends, Dathan and Abirma, and another hundred and fifty men to stand with him, against Moses and Aaron. Was this mob right? Had Moses and Aaron lifted themselves up to these important positions in the camp? No! In fact, how had Moses responded when God first told him that He wanted Moses to lead His people out of Egypt? (allow the students to respond) Moses did not want that responsibility, and asked God to send someone else.
But Moses and Aaron were God’s choices. And it was important for all of the people of Israel to recognize that. Otherwise, men like Korah would continue to challenge the leadership, and God would not be able to work with His people as He wanted to. So when Korah and his followers challenged Moses and Aaron, they were also challenging God! And God had no intention of letting such an attitude continue.
Here’s what God decided to do, to show whom He had chosen as the leaders of His people:
28And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind.
29If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.
30But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD.
Now, you should know that in the verses just before these, Moses had instructed the two hundred and fifty men, along with Korah and his two friends to collect censors, and fill them with incense to bring before the LORD, to see if He would accept them. Then, he had spoken to the entire congregation of Israel, and told them to move away from the men who were testing God. So, as Moses explained the test, do you think that the people who were standing close to Korah and his friends began to move away? What did Moses say would happen to them if they were wrong, and God had, in fact, chosen Moses and Aaron to be their leaders? (allow the students to respond) He said the earth would open and swallow them up!
What do you think you might have done if you were standing close to these men? The entire congregation had now spent years watching and listening to Moses interact with God. They had seen God perform many miracles through both Moses and Aaron. Do you think many of them doubted God’s choice? And would anyone like to guess what happened next?
31And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.
34And all Israel that were round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up also.
35And there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
Just as Moses predicted, the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and his two friends, Dathan and Abiram, their families, their tents, and anyone who had joined with them, against Moses. There were, apparently, some who didn’t move quite far enough away, and went running when the ground opened up, so they wouldn’t get swallowed alive, too. Then, the rest of the men who had followed Korah, and who were not swallowed up by the earth, were consumed by fire that came right out from the LORD, Himself.
Do you think there was any doubt, now, in anyone’s minds that God was in charge; and that He had chosen Moses and Aaron to lead the people?
And what about the people God has put in authority over you? Teachers, parents, bosses, older brothers or sisters. Do you ever wonder why God put them in charge over you? It’s best for us to remember that God knows what He’s doing. And that He doesn’t much like it when we question His choices.
There was still quite a long road ahead for the Israelites. There would be another thirty-eight years wandering in the wilderness, under the leadership of Moses. And God wanted it to be very clear, from now on, that He would not tolerate such an uprising against His will.
Do you think the Israelites will ever again complain about Moses’ leadership? I’m sorry to say they did not learn their lesson very well.
(the bronze serpent)
For, perhaps the best known story from the years of wandering in the wilderness can be found sometime later, in Numbers chapter 21. By this time, Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, had both died in the wilderness. And Moses, himself, had endured another great heartache, as he disobediently struck a rock twice to bring water out of it, rather than speaking to it as God had directed. Because of this act of disobedience before the people of Israel, God had told Moses he would not be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. What a terrible blow that must have been for Moses. Yet he still remained faithful to God, in leading the people towards Canaan.
And not only did he remain faithful to God, he also did not give up on the Israelites when they once again complained about his leadership. Let’s look at our passage in Numbers 21, to see what the people did, this time.
5And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
It’s that same old complaint, again. The Israelites whined about being in the desert, and about the manna God had provided for them. Do you think God was willing to tolerate such an attitude, after what we just read about Korah? Let’s find out…
6And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
There was no warning. God had heard enough, and He was tired of the Israelites complaining about the food and the leadership He had provided. So He sent snakes to get their attention.
Does anyone here like snakes? Has anyone ever been bitten, or know of anyone who’s been bitten by a poisonous one? Today we have antidotes for the venom of many snakes. But at that time, they didn’t have any such thing. There was no cure for the bite of a poisonous snake, unless God chose to miraculously heal the one that was bitten. So as the people of Israel began to die from the snake bites, they finally admitted what they had done, and cried out to Moses:
7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us…
Remember that Moses has now lost his family, and the privilege of going into the Promised Land. He could have been very bitter, and chosen to let the people suffer the consequences of their sin. But when he heard their words of repentance, acknowledging that they had sinned against both God and him, he had compassion for them, once again.
…And Moses prayed for the people. (verse 7b)
Now there were many times in the past that God had provided instant relief for His people when they asked for forgiveness. This time God chose to work a little differently. He knew this congregation of Israel…they were His chosen children. And He knew that they needed to learn to trust Him more. So He devised a way to save them from death that would require an act of faith on their parts.
8And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
If you were one of the Israelites, and there were snakes all around you, biting people, and causing them to die, what would you be doing, and where would you be looking? (allow the students to respond) Most people’s instinct would be to look at the ground, to be sure there was not a snake there getting ready to bite them. But God’s instructions were to look where? (again let the students respond) God’s instructions required them to look away from the thing they feared would kill them, and look at the serpent on a pole, instead. It meant they had to trust Him to save them, instead of their own ability to avoid the snakes or survive a bite. So Moses did just as God said.
9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
How ridiculous this remedy must have seemed at first. But as some began to trust in God’s provision, and others saw that they lived, then perhaps many were saved that day because of the faith of those first few who trusted God enough to obey His words, and look on the snake that had been lifted up before them.
Did you know that Jesus spoke about this incident in the New Testament? In the Gospel of John, Jesus told a man named Nicodemus that the serpent Moses put up on the pole was a picture of Jesus, Himself. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and would have been very familiar with Old Testament scripture. He would have known this story that we just learned about, and understood that in order to be saved from death, the people had to trust God, and look up at the serpent on the pole; because that was the way God had chosen to save them.
So Jesus told Nicodemus these words, in John 3:14-15:
14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Jesus was speaking of Himself, on the cross, in these verses. Just like God had provided a way to save the Israelite from death by the snakes, He also provides salvation for all of us, today. And the way He chose was to lift up His own Son on a cross, much like the brass serpent was lifted on a pole, so that whoever will turn away from their own sin, and stop trusting in other ways they might think they have to get to Heaven, and will place their trust, instead, in the one on the cross, that person will be given eternal life.
Have you done that? Have you put your trust in the Christ who died on the cross, then rose again for you? Because if you have not, and you’re trusting in your own good works or some other way to get to Heaven, then you’re in about the same situation as those Israelites were, surrounded by certain eternal separation from God. That old serpent, Satan, is at your feet, trying to distract you from looking to your true Savior. But we mustn’t let him frighten us, because God is greater than Satan. And because He loves us, He had provided that way to save us. If you have not looked to Jesus to save you, why not do that today?!
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, we have learned, today, how important obedience is to You. And how faithful You are to provide a way of salvation for each one of us. If there’s anyone here, today, who does not know Jesus as their personal Savior, the One they need to look to for salvation, please speak to their hearts, so they will not leave without coming to that cross, to trust You. Amen.
Closing Comments/ Activity:
The Israelites sure had a lot to learn about the God who had brought them out of the slavery that bound them in Egypt. He is certainly a faithful and loving God. But He is also a holy God who expects obedience from His people. And when they rebelled, He had to let them suffer the consequences, so they would better learn to trust Him. And that’s just what they learned through their many years of wandering through the wilderness. Those years were not completely wasted. They were years of learning more about their God, and to trust Him, even when it meant suffering for a time.
That’s where today’s memory verse comes in. God sometimes has to chasten (or punish) us when we disobey, too. He doesn’t do that out of spite. He does it, like our parents do, to teach us not to do it again; and to teach us to trust Him.
But we don’t have to suffer such things if we can just learn to be obedient to Him in the first place. Are your parents happy with you when you do what they ask without complaining? I’m sure they are. So can you imagine how God must feel, as our Heavenly Father, when we do the things He asks…showing that we trust Him? Let’s all try to make our Father happy, this week, by being obedient and trusting children of God!
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. The snake bites in Numbers 21 killed many Israelites. (true)
2. There was no cure for those who were bitten. (false – they had to look up at the serpent on the pole)
3. Jesus spoke of the serpent on the pole in the book of John. (true)
4. Nicodemus was probably not familiar with the story of the brass serpent. (false – since he was a Pharisee, he would have been very familiar with the story)
5. Jesus was speaking of Himself when He said the “Son of Man” must be “lifted up.” (true)
The Only Way
Just like the snake upon the pole
Our Lord was lifted up;
To take our sin upon Himself,
And taste sin’s awful cup.
All we must do is trust that He’s
The one and only way.
Won’t you look up, into His face,
And trust in Him, today?
Lisa DeVinney, November 2014