As you will see this week, though we are moving through the scriptural narrative quite rapidly, the pattern of crisis and covenant continues. As David finishes his reign and is on his deathbed, palace intrigue leads to Solomon’s anointing as the new king over Israel. Solomon is, for the most part, portrayed as a wise and complex character, much like David. During his reign, the Temple is built in Jerusalem and worship of God is consolidated in a central location. Solomon’s reign is a time of prosperity, a detail that helps support the idea that Solomon and the Davidic line still dwell in God’s favor. Over time and as rulers succeed Solomon, the people of Israel grow increasingly far from worship of the one God and devotion in the temple. A split between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah follows Solomon’s death. For some time the people move back and forth between times of dedication and devotion to God and worship of other idols. During this time, there are often foreign powers that threaten their existence.
Remember that for our purposes, the theme of crisis describes alienation from God, one another, and the earth. This pattern alienation continues as the people of Israel away from worship of God in the temple and begin to follow the gods of other foreign peoples. As they grow further from God, we will see that they also grow further from one another–many of our early prophets will rail against Israel’s abandonment of the poor, widowed, orphan, and alien.
Around this time, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, prophets begins to emerge (today we will focus on Isaiah). These prophets tell Israel that if they do not turn back to God and love their neighbor, they will be destroyed and sent out of the land that God has given to the people. The people have forgotten who the one true God is, the God who brought the people up out of the land of Egypt, out a slavery and bondage; because of this, they tend to rely on their own strength or on other gods. The prophets remind the people of who God is and of who the people are supposed to be in response to God.
Even as Isaiah proclaims a rather gloomy message, he says that God will raise up another who will bring the people back to God–this person is Jesus (though he does not say this and there are alternative interpretations). Even though Isaiah claims that “the Lord is hiding his face from the house of Jacob” (Isaiah 8:17), he says the throne of David will be upheld in the birth of a child. This would have been a hopeful message for a people who were living under the weight of political oppression. In response to this message, the people come to expect a political savior who will liberate them from their political oppressors (kind of like Moses).
1. To describe how the people of Israel sometimes had a challenging relationship with God–sometimes close and sometimes far, but often strained because of their own wanderings.
2. To begin to introduce the expectation for salvation and the restoration of the close relationship of God with the people.
Hear the Story
You may want to give the students in your class some of the historical background that I have outlined above, but especially for our youngest classes, this history may be too involved and complicated. The theme of the story that is important to grasp is that the people move from covenant to crisis/alienation and back again in almost cyclical fashion. The exile–the people’s being taken out of the land by foreign powers–is often understood in the Biblical narrative as a judgement from God, and they begin to plea for the restoration of their favor–and the promise of such favor begins to take root in the words of the prophets.
The text we will focus on this week is Isaiah 9:1-7. You can read this story from the Bible, tell it in your own words beginning with the background above, or use one of our children’s Bibles to tell the story. Unfortunately, so many of the children’s Bibles don’t deal well with the period of the Prophets and there is very little specific focus on any part of the text. If you use any of the following, you may want to use them only as supplemental materials and read chapter 9 from a real Bible.
The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story of Isaiah’s prophecies under the title “Operation ‘No More Tears'” (pages 144-151) in the form of a letter from God. It’s a very brief presentation of the entire book and puts special emphasis on the prophecy about a “rescuer.” The Children of God Storybook Bible does not tell the story from Isaiah 9, but has some good material introducing the reasons why Isaiah was asked to address the people. You can find this under “Isaiah Becomes God’s Messenger” (p. 52-3). The Children’s Illustrated Bible shares part of Isaiah’s prophecies on p.154.
Respond to the Story
1. Light and Dark. Sometimes when we are not exploring a narrative story, but a piece of poetry as Isaiah 9 is, we can focus on the images rather than characters or plot points. the following activities help reflect on the significance of the phrase: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shone” (9:2).
- Walking in Darkness Game:
- Dark and Light: Together, brainstorm things about light and darkness. You might write each of the lists on the whiteboard. What does darkness look like? What does the dark make us feel like? What do you think the dark was like to the people of Israel? What does light look like? What does the light make us feel? What or who do you think the people of Israel thought the light would be?
- Light Songs (Use our contact list and ask one of our musicians to come to your class). Some of these songs might help us think about light:
- Light of the World (you stepped down into darkness)
- Marching [in the light of God]
- This little light of mine
- Advent Light: The growing light of our Advent wreaths ties the image of light closely to the coming of Christ.
- Mosaic of light: Make mosaic images of light using pieces of tissue paper on wax paper (so it can be hung like stained glass). Older children might like to try a mosaic with words “the light shines” or “the light shines in the dark.” Younger children may like to try making symbols and images of light– a candle, the sun, a bright halo, etc.
- Decorate your room for Advent: In the church we use many symbols of light and dark during the Advent season. One kind of light we see a lot at this time of the year are lights on a tree. In a gray tub in the supply closet marked “Advent” (under the first aid kit), we have strings of white lights. With your class, you might want to string up some of those lights for the next two weeks. You can start or end your class with all of the lights off (except for the stringed lights) and with the words “Jesus is the light of the world” and response: “Which no darkness can overwhelm.”
2. How best to Rescue?
- Come up with a plan or strategy: Together discuss what it is that the people of Israel need to be rescued from–exile, sin, being far from God– and divide into teams. Each team can come up with a strategy for how they think the people of Israel might best be saved from these things. The people of Israel thought that they might be saved from exile by a strong military or political leader, someone who could show the world the strength of God. Instead, God chose to meet the people in a child. Was this the only way to make things right? Was this the best way? Why did God choose something so unexpected?
- Extra! Extra!: Imagine that you are the prophet Isaiah. Write a newspaper page about what is going on and what the people need to do to change and enter back into right relationship with God. Decorate your newspaper letter just like the front cover of a newspaper.
3. Names of Jesus: Feel free to generate more ideas on this theme for your class. I might have run out of steam. 🙂
- Wonderful Counselor: Write a poem, design a piece of art, or write a journal entry about what these names mean to you. Is there another name in the Bible for Jesus that is important to you? Is there a name that isn’t in the Bible that you think should be?
Close with a feast and prayer