There is no denying that the restrictions that COVID-19 has imposed on our lives add at least one layer of stress to our interactions with our children. Many of us are balancing working from home and supporting our children’s at-home learning or modified school schedule. We’re trying to convince our little ones to keep their masks on and stay six feet from others. We’ve been at this now for many months, so on one hand, it seems like our children should be with the program. (Seriously, how many times do we have to say, “Keep the mask up over your nose!”?) On the other hand, we know how overwhelming and even frightening these safety precautions can be, so we try to offer our reminders with a heavy dose of compassion.
These two responses to an exasperating situation are not unique to our current time and circumstances. In Exodus 32:1-14, we see God become frustrated and angry at the Israelites when they construct a golden calf to worship instead of the one who led them to freedom. And we also see Moses intercede on the people’s behalf, reminding God of the promise to support and perpetuate the faith community. In this lesson, you’ll explore this text with your children and consider the importance of second chances, especially in times when we are most anxious.
Begin the time with your children by asking them to think about a time when they made a mistake or did something that upset someone. If they have trouble coming up with something, you can share a personal experience. Ask them to consider what it would be like if they didn’t have the chance to correct the mistake. How would things have been different? How would they feel? Explain that we all make mistakes or cause others to be hurt — sometimes intentionally, but often unintentionally. Frequently we get a second chance. We can fix the mistake or we can repair the hurt. Second chances give us a chance to learn and to move forward in our lives.
Read aloud Exodus 32:1-14. Before you read, you may want to give your children some context to help them understand the story. God has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and has brought them to a land that God has promised will be theirs forever. God has called their leader Moses up to the top of a mountain to share the rules they should follow to have a peaceful and loving community. Moses ends up being on the mountain with God longer than the people expect, so they turn to another leader (Aaron) with an idea.
After reading, ask your children to reflect on the golden calf that the people make while Moses is away. Why do they make this statue? What does it mean to them? Note that they are making it so that they can worship it and give it the respect they gave God. This could be seen as them replacing God with this statue. Then, ask your children how God felt when the people did this. Explain that God’s sadness led to anger. God talked about harshly punishing them for what they did. Ask your children to consider how they would feel if they were the Israelites and they heard God say this.
Next focus in on what Moses does in response to God’s anger. Because this dialogue has several allusions to earlier stories in the Bible, you may need to flesh them out for your children. Moses reminds God of God’s promises to the people. God promised Abraham that his descendants would build the family of God. And these people would have a special place that would be theirs forever. The Israelites are these people. Moses reminds God that God has supported them during very tough times and God loves them. Now God should forgive them. God agrees to give them a second chance. Ask your children to reflect on what Moses does and how God responds. How does this make them feel? What does it show them that they can do in their own lives?
Conclude the time with your children by talking about ways they can intercede on someone else’s behalf just like Moses did. It may be helpful to talk about concrete scenarios in their lives when this sort of action would be best. You may also want to come up with some phrases they can use. You can also role play situations, so they can gain experience advocating for another person.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.