The backstory to the Ten Commandments

I am thankful that you seek for your family a means to connect all of your living to faith!

Last week I’d said that our Rotation on the Ten Commandments was likely to be difficult for your kids to grasp. Why did I say that? Do you suppose it was because…

(A) I spent weeks studying this story. How could I expect a child to grasp it?


(B) It is an Old Testament story, and you know, the Old Testament can be tough…


(C) The Bible is an unfolding narrative and for the Ten Commandments, there is a lot of important backstory. How could we possibly cover all of the story in Sunday’s Cool!

Answer: All of the above, but mostly the last one.

But I can relax! You are here to learn about that backstory and to help extend the learning at home.

So let’s address the backstory!

We’ll answer the questions:

  • How Moses and the Ten Commandments connects back to Abraham and Sarah? And Isaac and Rebekah. And Jacob & Rachel. And Joseph and all of his brothers. (They were all related weren’t they?)
  • How did the Israelites end up in Egypt?

Abraham looking up at the stars

Remember Abraham? He was living somewhere in current day Iraq and God called him. Over time God revealed his purpose to Abraham: “I want you to be a new tribe; a people that blesses others. You’ll show the world I care!” (Genesis 12:1-3; I’m paraphrasing here.)

The take-away point is that this was a radical new thought. Consider how other tribes at that time thought of their gods: distant and uncaring. Ponder the prospect of blessing your neighbors when what you’d been trained to do was to wipe them out!

Seriously different!

a speech bubble
Question to ponder: Did this new way of thinking stick?

the family tree of Abraham and Sarah

So God is starting something big. He makes a Covenant with Abraham which included the promise of lots of descendants. And sure enough, God sticks to his promise! We met some of Abraham’s extended family when we covered the stories of Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandsons Jacob and Esau, and his numerous great-grandchildren (Jacob’s kids), including Joseph (with the multi-colored coat).

It was Joseph who caused the family (known as Hebrews or Israelites) to move to Egypt (Genesis 27:28, 42:3, 46:27). In fact, for a review on that story, let’s watch a video! (One that stars our kids!)

Can’t see the video? View it here on Vimeo.

Very entertaining!

Okay. We’ve still got some ground to cover to bring us to our story of Moses and the Ten C… So all of Jacob and his sons and their families (the stars in the video!) moved to Egypt; there were about 70 of them (of course in those days they only counted the men). Four hundred years later Abraham’s progeny have grown to include 600,000 — you guessed it — men! (Exodus 12:37).

However, life is not rosy for these descendants of Abraham. They are living in slavery in Egypt under a cruel pharaoh. Yet, God has not forgotten his covenant with these people. (Oh, yes – God had added to his promises: an enduring relationship with Abraham’s extended family, and as Genesis 17:7 reminds us: “I will be their God.”)

So God calls Moses (through a burning bush) to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom. Many plagues later, they are on their way “home” to God’s promised land!

Mt. Sinai Before Sunrise
Mt. Sinai

There is much drama in the tales which follow: their escape complete with a dramatic water crossing, journeying through the desert, manna from heaven, water from rocks, and finally, vivid events on Mount Sinai, where the story of the Ten Commandments takes place.

Whew! The backstory is complete!
Now read our current story: Exodus 19:1-11, 16-19; 20:1-17; 24:1-2, 12-18; 31:18-32:24. I’m sure that it will be the backstory to yet another story!

Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Abram counts stars by Stjepan Mokatelo, via Christian Clip Art.
I created the family tree.
The video starred kids in 1st-6th grade at FUMC in Ann Arbor, MI. (Many, many thanks to Tom Gardner as photographer and video creator!)
Mt. Sinai by YoHandy, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Discussing Joseph in Egypt, part two

Here’s a daily hint: Spend time GROWing at the dinner table.
Growing as in…

Grace (say a table grace together).
Review the days highs and lows while you eat.
Open the Bible and read just a tiny bit.
Work on applying it to life.

The “work on it” part doesn’t have to be elaborate. It’s all about…

Asking questions or doing activities
that help us to see that the Bible applies to our lives.

So if our current Rotation story is about Joseph in Egypt, how can such a long story—with numerous characters and complex plot twists—be broken down in bite-sized (dinner table-sized) chunks?

Easy! Use the following reading/discussion guide!

Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt. Unwittingly they bow down before Joseph! (Genesis 42:6)

Clipart - a girl points out while readingIf you’d like to print out this reading plan/discussion guide, click here.
Need a review? See part one of Joseph in Egypt here. And if you’d like to go even further back, review the discussion guide for Joseph’s “Coat” portion of the story, here.


Read in Genesis Discuss…
42:1-4 Why did Jacob have fears about Benjamin going to Egypt? Kids: Do you suppose that your parents have fears about you going places without them? What can help your parents when they are afraid?
42:5-7 Why do you suppose Joseph pretended to not know his brothers? What would your reaction have been if you were Joseph?
42:8-9 What “dreams” is Joseph talking about? (Hint: Genesis 37:5-11) How do you suppose Joseph is feeling watching his dreams come true!?
42:8-17 Why do you suppose Joseph locked up all of his brothers for three days? Describe a time when you schemed to “get back” at someone who had wronged you. Did you follow through with your plans?
42:18-23 Joseph says he “fears” God (verse 18) meaning he respects God. Where would you put Joseph’s trust-in-God-level at this point in the story? How do you suppose the brothers of Joseph are feeling: upset at their lot in life or sorry about what they did to Joseph?
Where are they on the trust-in-God-meter?

Share in the comments how applying-it-to-life helps you to GROW your family faith!


Photo credits:
Clip art “reader” by Improulx, in the Public Domain. Slightly altered and shared at Flickr.
Joseph is governor, an ilustration by Owen Jones from
The History of Joseph and His Brethren (Day & Son, 1869) in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.