I wrote this as a “Games Workshop” lesson for my Rotation Model friends, and it’s easily adaptable by any Sunday School. You’ll begin with a demonstration game about “rules”, and then follow up with a larger game exploring stories in Numbers. It is part of my four lesson set, “Wanderin toward the Promised Land“.
This Background informs our game and goals. The Book of Numbers is essentially the 40 year story of the Israelites “on their way” from Mt Sinai to the Promised Land. It gets its name from the dividing up of the people into tribes, aka, “numbers”. But the book also seems obsessed with numbers, -how many of this, how many of that, as well as, rules and name places along the journey. Some of the most famous “minor” stories of the Exodus happen in Numbers, though most people don’t remember where they read them!
The first ten chapters take place around Mt. Sinai and center on the giving of laws and organizing of people. The first game demonstration covers this.
Chapters 11-20 are the Forty Years Wandering. Chapters 21-36 are the stories of conquest in Edom and then Canaan. Our second games structure will parallel this way of remembering what’s in Numbers.
Our Bible goal in this lesson is to introduce the book of Numbers as something your students should be familiar with, and encouraged to wander into on their own.
Our life application goal is to see life as a journey during which many things change, and not always for the good, –but God remains steadfast.
Poll the kids to see what they know what’s in the book of Numbers. Assuming they don’t know much… ask them to guess. Give them clues. What would you EXPECT a book named Numbers to be about? Show a map of Sinai and invite students to trace the route of the Exodus. Say that “the first part of the Book of Numbers is about getting organized for a long trip.” How do you get ready for a big trip? Organization, planning, etc. Who’s going to sit where, bring what, be responsible for snacks, maps, etc etc.
You’ll now do a demonstration that ultimately explains WHY the people of Israel, and why WE need rules and leaders and organizations.
2. A Demonstration (Optional. Could be used in another lesson as well.)
“Why should you follow GOD’s rules, …instead of making up your own?”
In this demonstration “game”, each student is going to be given a set of unique instructions. They read their instructions and then you announce that they are going to be trying to do various things together. You will announce what things they are to do, and then say “go” and they must act according to their own unique instructions.
Here is a list of “instructions” to divide up and give to your students. Feel free to add more or adjust! The point is that different instructions/rules will compete or thwart what the group is asked to do, or just be ridiculous. You can give the same instructions to more than one student.
- Announce everything you are doing with a loud voice.
- Try to do everything while balancing on one foot.
- Use only your elbows.
- No matter what you are asked to do, just stand there and every 10 seconds say, “I have a better way,” but don’t help.
- Pick someone who is trying to help, and every 15 seconds UNDO what they are doing.
Here is a list of “things to try and do”. Add your own based on your classroom options and opportunities. We first start off with simple.
1. First, I need everyone to help move these tables and chairs over here into a circle. (You might have the room kind of disorganized to begin with.)
2. We are going to read from Deuteronomy 30: 15-19 (the great “choice” passage). I need everyone to get a Bible and form a circle and we’ll each read a verse.
3. Poor Mr Jones here needs our counseling. He thinks nobody likes him. He needs some hugs, and some advice. I want you to look up Deuteronomy 6:5 and quote it to him as well. (Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.)
3. The Big Numbers Board Game
You’ll be laying out a giant board game on your floor that will take some setup time. Please note how the board game layout and way you play the game helps teach and reinforce concepts!
Players will advance to locations based on their getting answers right or wrong, and some random fun.
The players objective in this game is to get to the Promised Land by answering questions.. The teaching objective is to share a lot of interesting stories from Numbers and give the teacher an opportunity to mention what they were about. The kids will guess at answers, and that’s okay because the Israelites did a lot of guessing too!
There’s a wonderfully LARGE satellite map of the Wilderness wandering you can print from http://www.bibleornot.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/exodus-route-map.jpg which has the lay of the land and many of the locations found in Numbers. Use it as your approximate guide to laying out your floor so that your game shape also teaches some geography.
Use a blue tarp for the Dead Sea, and several brown tarps thrown over a pile of chair for mountains, like Mt Sinai. Use other tarps or blankets for the desert area. Move some plastic trees in for an oasis. Use your imagination and go big!
Lay out the 14 place names on the floor from Mt Sinai to the Promised Land in approximate geographical locations. (Numbers mentions many more places, but below I’ve listed many of the typical names your students will likely encounter in other studies.) Tape posterboard to the floor as your placemarkers because it will hold up to the kids walking on them.
The players can dress like trekkers with bedouin headdresses. Use costumes if you have them. Prior to class, cut some brown and black FELT BEARDS. Tie a piece of elastic to each end of the beard and give one to each student. Have two of the encampments reward the kids with snacks.
Now here’s the thing: few kids should know the answers to these questions, so you’re going to have a lot of kids NOT moving forward. That’s where the SPINNER comes in. Each time you ask a question, spin the SPINNER FIRST to see how many “trek forward steps” the question will be worth. And remember: COMPLAINING is part of the experience, just like it was for the Israelites.
On your Spinner, have the following sections: 1 encampment forward, 2 encampments forward, everybody back one encampment, and lose a turn because of faithlessness. (Even the spinner teaches!) The players can work in pairs. Spin for them and then ask them a question. If they get it right, they advance based on what the spinner says.
If you don’t have a giant game spinner, you can simply make it into a single “DIE” made out a large box with your sections written on the six sides of the box.
List of Place Names
- Mt Sinai
- Wilderness of Paran
- Ebion Geber
- Wilderness of Sin
- Kadesh Barnea
- Mt Hor
- Abarim Mountains
- Mt Nebo
- Promised Land
List Questions about Major Events in the Book of Numbers
Answers with ~!~ are the correct answers.
- Numbers 1 tells the story of Moses counting the men of Israel for this reason: To split up the Promised Land into Tribes? To count all the men over 20 who could fight in battle! To determine how much gold and silver each family could give?
- Numbers 3 tells the story of THIS man and his sons being appointed as the Priests. They were then called “Levites”. Aaron! Caleb? Levi? The descendants of Aaron became the priestly class. Anyone else who went into the holy sanctuary was put to death.
- Numbers 3 tells the story of how Eleazar became the High Priest in Israel, second only in command to Moses. He took part in anointing Joshua as Moses’ replacement. His descendants were the high priests in charge of the Temple in Jesus’ time. Who was Eleazar’s famous father? Moses? Aaron! or Jethro? (Aaron)
- Numbers 8 tells the story of the Tabernacle being completed and stocked with gold and silver. When Moses entered the Tent, he would hear the voice of God speaking to him from above two of these: Two gold doves? Two gold winged cherubim! (on the Ark), Two Golden Rams?
- Numbers 10 tells the story of the Israelites leaving Mt Sinai, being followed by the cloud of the Lord, and carrying something important before them, what was it? Ark! Staff of Moses, the Tabernacle?
- Numbers 10 also tells the story of God telling Moses to “make two of these” to call the people to worship and to announce festivals. What were they? Two golden cymbals? Two silver trumpets! Two drums?
- Numbers 13 tells the story of sending spies into the land of Canaan to see if the children of Israel could easily conquer it. What did the spies report ? Giants in the land! Land flowing with milk and honey? The people there are too strong?
- Numbers 14 tells the story of how the Israelites thought they could defeat other tribes, but got beat badly by the Amalekites because they forgot to carry something into battle at the head of their troops. What was it? Staff of Moses, Ark of Covenant! A burnt offering?
- Numbers 16 tells the story of a man named Korah who was burnt to a crisp for conspiring to overthrow Moses and Joshua. Two of his helpers and all their family were swallowed into the ground which split open beneath their feet. What does “Korah” mean? Baldness! Boldness, Evil One?
- Numbers 17 tells the story of Moses collecting all the grumbling leaders wooden staffs, and overnight Aaron’s staff blossomed with flowers and what kind of nuts as a sign of God’s favor? Walnuts? Date nuts? Almonds!
- Numbers 20 tells the story of Moses leading the people through the Wilderness of Sin and into Kadesh Barnea where he struck a rock, shouted “listen Rebels, must we prove ourselves by bringing water from a rock?” and made it gush water. However, God said to Moses and Aaron that they would now not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because…. they had struck the rock in anger? Because they did not give credit to the Lord for making the water come from the rock! Because they let the livestock drink the water?
- Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses fixing bronze snake to a pole which could heal people bitten by snakes in the wilderness. This symbol has now become the worldwide symbol of what profession? Medical Doctors! Park Rangers? Disaster Relief Workers?
- Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses and his army defeating King OG of Bashan which is east of the Dead Sea. King Og’s defeat is also mentioned in the Psalms and the Book of Amos. What was he famous for? Being really fat? Being very evil? Being very tall and very strong like a “cedar” !
- True or False: Numbers 22 tells the story of a talking donkey. True, the donkey saw an angel and refused to take his master Balaam on a trip to curse the Israelites.
- Numbers 28 describes in great detail several Israelite Holy Festivals. Which of the following is NOT a religious Holy Festival: Passover? Festival of Weeks? (Harvest), Festival of Trumpets?(New Years), Day of Atonement? Festival of Grapes!
- Numbers 30 describes in great detail the Law of Making Vows or Promises. True or False: It states that a father can override the promises made by a young person living in his house, including vows of love. True!
- Everybody knows there are 12 tribes of Israel, but in Numbers 34, when the Promised Land is split up between the tribes, only 10 tribes are given land IN the Promised Land. Where did the tribes of Gad and Reuben request land? Lebanon? Egypt? Moab! East of the Jordan.
- Numbers 35 tells the strange story of how the Levites created six “Cities of Refuge”, 3 in Canaan on one side of the Jordan and 3 in Moab that a person could escape to in order to avoid prosecution for murder. The story also has a set of laws for judging what kind of crime? Theft? Murder! Lieing?
4. Take a “Closing Walk”
Walk with your students from Sinai to Canaan. Discuss how Israel’s journey in the wilderness has become a story that people, churches, and nations can relate to. Life is like a journey through the wilderness, through testing. What can happen in a person’s life that makes it feel like a desert? Or makes it feel like God had abandoned them? What REMINDERS did they create to remember God’s faithfulness? (Tabernacle, Offerings, Festivals)
What do we know about GOD from the Book of Numbers that gives us hope for our journey?
Pray on Mt Nebo for the journey, for learning to trust God, and for the life God promises us if we will follow him.