Complaining to God — Weekly Christian ed lesson

In this lesson, children will explore the Israelites' complaints in Exodus 17:1-7 noticing how God responds to their concerns.

Lesson background

My kid is wonderful, but I could do without the sass. Like me, you’ve probably heard some version of this from a parent or caretaker (or maybe you’ve even said it yourself). Kids can be sassy. Sometimes they speak in ways that can feel disrespectful or ungrateful to the adults who love them. But more often than not, they are trying to be independent and show they are on the same level as adults.

Sassiness isn’t limited to childhood or adolescence. Even adults can be sassy! As we see several times in Exodus, the Israelites grow distrustful and weary of traveling through the wilderness to find their forever home. And their sassiness isn’t confined to their interactions with one another. They freely express it to and about God. Instead of responding in anger or frustration, God responds by listening and hearing their true need. In this lesson, children will explore the Israelites’ complaints in Exodus 17:1-7 noticing how God responds to their concerns.

You will need:

Starting out

Greet the children as they arrive and hand them a simple “warm-up” activity. It can be a coloring sheet or something else that they can easily finish in about 5 minutes.

Have the children work on the warmup activity for about 5 minutes. Then, walk around collecting their work. Let them know you need to gather it even if they aren’t finished coloring. As you approach the children, use a variety of ways of speaking to them. Ask some children politely for their work (“May I have your sheet?” “Thank you!”). Act “sassy” to other children, rolling your eyes, sighing if they don’t respond right away, etc.

After you have collected all the activities, have the children reflect on the way you spoke to them. Ask them to share brief stories about times they were sassy to others or someone was sassy to them.

Exploring the passage

Say a prayer.

Provide context for the lectionary reading (Exodus 17:1-7):

  • This story is from the Old Testament book of Exodus, which recounts the experiences of the people of God as they left Egypt to journey toward the land God promised would be theirs forever.
  • Summarize the Israelites’ experience of slavery in Egypt and the way that they God freed them. Be sure to note that God called Moses to lead them.
  • While traveling through the wilderness, the people of God became hungry, so God provided them with food called manna. It was a flaky substance that appeared each day. God told them to only collect what they needed each day, trusting that God would provide more on the next day.
  • When this story begins, Moses has been leading the Israelites through the wilderness for some time. They are growing tired, weary, and distrustful.

Read aloud Exodus 17:1-7. After reading, ask:

  • What is upsetting the Israelites at the beginning of this story?
  • How would you respond if you were traveling without water?
  • How do the Israelites respond to the lack of water?
  • What does God do when Moses approaches God about the people’s complaints?
  • Why do you think God is willing to give the Israelites water even though they complain and distrust God?

Relating the passage to our lives

Help the children connect the scripture reading to their own lives through one or more of these activities.

  • Holy complaining (Lament): Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: “A Lament How-To” from Real Kids Real Faith, blank paper and crayons or markers. Before teaching the lesson, review “A Lament How-To” to explore how you can use prayers of lament with children. Share with the children that God encourages us to share our concerns, even if they include frustrations with God. Lament is a form of prayer that people have used for ages to share sadness, frustration and even anger with God. We can also use this form of prayer. Using the guiding questions in “A Lament How-To,” encourage children to identify topics for which they could create prayers of lament. Then, give each child a sheet of blank paper. Ask them to use the crayons or markers to draw a lament focused on that topic. Ask the children to share their prayers of lament with one another and/or hang their prayers up in the classroom so you can return to them in the future.
  • Wilderness survival guide: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: A computer with Internet access connected to a television or data projector, “Google Earth-Traditional Exodus Route video,” chart paper, and crayons or markers. Remind the children that the Israelites and Moses were traveling from Egypt to the land that God promised them in the book of Exodus. The story they read today is one short part of that journey. Show the video. After showing the video, ask the children to make a list of things the travelers would have encountered while on the journey. Write these on a sheet of chart paper. Then, divide the children in two small groups. Ask each small group to design a survival guide for traveling this route on a sheet of chart paper. Have each group share their creations.
  • Water is life: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with Internet access connected to a television or data projector, “Water is Life — Native Nations Institute 3 part video series,” chart paper and a marker. At the top of a sheet of chart paper write “Water is Life.” Have the children brainstorm why water is essential to life. Show the videos. If you don’t have time to show all three, be show the first video because it introduces the children to the Standing Rock Sioux people’s beliefs about the land that the pipeline was built on. After watching the video(s), ask the children to share important ideas they learned as well as connections to the Exodus story.