Sunday School Lesson: Learn about Israel’s Thanksgiving Feast

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Free Sunday School LessonsThis lesson introduces students to how the Israelites celebrated Thanksgiving as they celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.  The celebration was written in God’s Law for His people to keep each year as a way to remember His goodness to them.  As His people remember all that He has done for them they are filled with joy and thanksgiving.  This lesson can be adapted to meet different ministry needs.

Bible Story: How Israel Celebrated Thanksgiving: Feast of Tabernacles
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-18 (Scriptures about Feast of Tabernacles: Leviticus 23:33-44; Numbers 29:12-39; Deuteronomy 16:13)
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Supply List: Pillow cases, objects symbolizing Thanksgiving and what God has done, Bibles, tent or other items to build a ‘booth’, craft sticks,
Learning Goal: Students will learn that as they remember what God has done for them it will cause them to be thankful.
Learning Indicator: Review Questions
Learning Activity #1: Thanksgiving Grab Bag: Have 2 bags in one bag put items that symbolize different things about Thanksgiving (pilgrim, ship, corn, Indian, turkey, etc.).  In the second bag put items that symbolize things that cause us to remember what God has done for us (Cross, Bible, food, toys, clothes, band aid or medicine as a reminder that God heals us, etc.) Use the first bag of symbols of Thanksgiving to introduce why and how America celebrates Thanksgiving to introduce how God’s people Israel celebrated Thanksgiving.  At the end of the lesson use the second bag of items symbolizing things believers need to remember so his/her heart is filled with Thanksgiving for all that God has done.
Learning Activity #2: Depending on size of your class you and your students can construct a ‘tabernacle/booth’ and the lesson can be told inside.  An easy assemble tent could be used.
Test: Review Questions
Memory Verse: Psalm 77:11 “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes I will remember Your miracles of long ago.
Optional: You can use our Thanksgiving Sunday School crafts to supplement this lesson plan.
Memory Verse Activity: Using craft sticks have students write each word on a stick and create a tent that represents a tabernacle.

Bible Lesson: How Israel Celebrated Thanksgiving:  Feast of Tabernacles

Have students draw an object from pillow case that symbolizes something about Thanksgiving.  As each object is chosen talk about why that object makes us think about Thanksgiving.
Each family has their tradition of how they celebrate Thanksgiving each year.  Some of the traditions may be similar to what most people do and some may be very different and unique.  What are some traditions that you and your family share during Thanksgiving?  (Allow students to share how they celebrate.)
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November.  (Information about the history of Thanksgiving)
Many people who sailed on the Mayflower left their homes so they could freely practice their faith in God.  The people that arrived in America were called pilgrims.  A Native American named Squanto taught the pilgrims how to plant corn and how to survive in the new land.
After the first crop of corn was harvested the pilgrims celebrated a time of Thanksgiving.  They were thankful for their new home, new friends and for the food that God had provided them.
Thanksgiving became a yearly celebration to remember and thank God for all that He had done.  Whenever we stop and take time to remember what God has done for us we can’t help but to be thankful.
This brief summary of our history and how we celebrate Thanksgiving every year makes me think of another group of people who left a land where they once were slaves and had no freedom.  They were rescued and delivered by God and were given a new place to call home.  Can anyone guess who I am talking about?  (The Israelites, Jews, God’s people, Israelites)
The Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians for over 400 years.  God heard their cries and sent Moses to rescue His people and deliver them.  God freed His people and led them to the land He had promised them.  It took forty years for the Israelites to finally live in the land that God had promised.  As the Israelites traveled through the wilderness God gave Moses specific instructions for His people so they could know how to worship Him.  God also gave instructions for special celebrations for His people.  Today we are going to focus on the celebration that is like our celebration of Thanksgiving.
Let’s turn in our Bibles to Nehemiah 8:1-18.  (This is a brief summary of Israel’s history to give a background to this chapter.) God’s people had been blessed with so many things and yet just like us they forgot the wonderful things He had done and turned away from Him.  As His people forgot His blessings they turned away from Him and sinned against the laws He had given them to live as His people.  God warned His people that if they did not turn away from their sin and return to Him and follow His ways, He would punish them.  After many years watching His people forget Him and sin against Him, God punished His people and had enemies capture them and take them from the Promised Land.  They were removed from the land that God gave them and were taken to live as slaves in other countries.  When God’s people turned their hearts back to Him, they were allowed to return to the Promised Land.  When they returned to the Promised Land they had a lot of work to do to repair the damage that was done to the city of Jerusalem where God’s temple used to stand.
Our story today takes place after the walls around Jerusalem have been rebuilt.  It had been many years since God’s people had been taught what God’s Laws were.  Ezra was a priest and teacher of God’s laws.  Let’s read Nehemiah 8:1 and see what is taking place.
God’s people were hungry for God’s Words.  They had spent many years without His teachings that they wanted to hear and understand what His Word said.  Read Nehemiah 8:2 God’s people listened attentively from morning until noon as Ezra taught God’s Words.
What is your attitude when it seems like the church service is never going to end?  When God’s Words are being taught we should be attentive to listen and obey what He is trying to teach us.
Read Nehemiah 8:9.  As the people heard God’s laws their hearts were broken because they realized that they had not been obeying God’s commands because they had not remembered what He told them.  How do you respond when you realize you have disobeyed what God’s word teaches you?  When we realize we have sinned against God we should be sad.  As we read these verses it’s not that the Israelites were not supposed to mourn or be sad because of their sin.  On this particular day the Israelites were told that they were not to mourn because it was a time God wanted them to rejoice.
Read Nehemiah 8:13-15.  As the Israelites continued to gather together to hear God’s laws they realized that there was a celebration that God wanted them to celebrate every year to remember what He had done for them.  This celebration is called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths.
This Feast was a time of Thanksgiving for the Israelites to celebrate.  This celebration took place every year and lasted for seven days. Because the celebration took place during the fall harvest God’s people would thank Him for providing them to receive food from their gardens.
God wanted His people to always remember how He led them out of Egypt and provided for them as they traveled through the wilderness to the land He promised to give them. As a way to remember that time they were to build booths to remember the years they lived in the wilderness.  Read Nehemiah 8:16-17.
Although it was a time of remembering the difficulties the Israelites faced many years ago, the celebration was a time of great rejoicing. As they remembered their difficulties they remembered how God loved them and took care of them.  For seven days as the Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles they continued to gather together and hear Ezra teach God’s Law.
How would you feel if you were a child living during the times of Nehemiah 8?  Would you like to live in a tent made by branches for seven days as you heard stories of all the great things God had done?  As the Israelites remembered all that God had done for them they could not help but to thank Him and praise Him.
In this second bag we have items that help us to remember what things God has done for us.  (Use the second bag that symbolizes things God has done.)  After each item has been shown ask, is there anything else that could have been in this bag that helps you to remember what God has done for you?  Allow students to respond.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving what has God done for you that you have forgotten about?  In our busy lives it’s easy to forget the blessings God has given to each one of us.  If you have not kept a journal of how God has taken care of you, you may want to start one this year.  A journal will help you to remember that God has been with you every day of your life and you will live a life of thanksgiving each day of the year.
Allow students to share what they are thankful for.  Close in prayer.
Sharing the Gospel: As you use the symbols remembering what God has done the Gospel message can be shared through each object.  Example:  cross-Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
Review Questions:

  1. When Ezra read the Law how did the people act?  (They were attentive and listened from morning until noon.)
  2. Why were the Israelites not suppose to mourn?  (It was a day that God wanted them to rejoice.)
  3. What celebration did the Israelites learn they had not been celebrating? (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths)
  4. How many days did the Feast of Tabernacles take place?  (7)
  5. How did the Israelites celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?  (Built booths with branches)
  6. When the Israelites remembered what God had done for them how did they act?  (Thankful/rejoiced)
  7. What can you do in your life to help you remember all that God has done for you?

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