When you read Bible stories to your children or your Sunday school class, do they react like you're telling them stories that might begin with, "a long time ago, in a faraway land..." That's because you are! Only these aren't fairy stories. These events really happened thousands of years ago, thousands of miles away from our homes in North America.
Camels, olive trees, foot washing and living in tents were part of everyday life for the people who lived in the Middle East during Bible times. But for your children, they're distant from the life they live here today.
Teaching your children about how people lived during Bible times can help them understand that, even though the events of the Bible happened long ago, in a place faraway, the people involved were real, just like them, had the same needs and feelings, and worshiped the same God you're teaching them about.
Why Children Need to Know About Bible History
Understanding the context of events in the Bible makes the Bible more interesting for children. It helps them understand the stories better. The knowledge can add realism to the stories. Suddenly they're not just a series of meaningless events, but the way people really lived.
Understanding Hebrew customs like the Passover and the Day of Atonement will help them understand God's plan of salvation for us. Learning about the special rules Jewish people followed for the Sabbath day can help them understand why Sunday is a special day for us.
Also, understanding context keeps kids from focusing on how different everything in the Bible is, or how "weird" it seems. Instead, they can focus on the lessons in the stories and God's grace.
How Are Bible Customs Like What We Do Today?
To help your kids relate to the people who lived in Bible times, you can help them compare our way of living with theirs. Some things are drastically different. Some are not as different as you might think.
Today, we live in houses and apartments. During the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, people lived in tents. A tent is like a house, but it can be moved. This made it easier for the people to move around. Do you sleep in a tent on a family camping trip? These aren't the same kinds of tents your family might take on a camping trip. Sometimes the people lay mats or carpets on the ground.
Just like our houses are divided into different rooms, the inside of the tent was divided into two or three separate rooms, or apartments. They didn't have hard walls like we do, but the rooms were divided by curtains made out of goat's hair.
Later on, when people lived in houses, they often only had one room. In their houses, the floor was bare ground. Sometimes the walls were made of bricks or stones, and the roof was flat.
Not only were the way they lived very different from what we know, the things they ate and the way they ate was different as well.
In Palestine during Bible times, bread was a very important food. Children today often eat a lot of bread too, in sandwiches at lunch and toast for breakfast. But they didn't put butter on their bread; instead they used olive oil.
They couldn't go to the local grocery store, but they ate milk and cheese from their flocks, and fruits from their orchards (figs, grapes, pomegranates) and vegetables from their gardens (beans and lentils were common).
Most of us eat meat as a regular part of our diet. During Bible times, meat was for special occasions. People who lived near the Sea of Galilee were able to eat fish regularly. They didn't have sugar, but used honey to sweeten their food.
Before we sit down to eat, we wash our hands. Then we usually sit around a table, and everyone has their own plate and silverware. In Bible times, people washed their hands before and after eating. Instead of a table, they usually spread a mat on the ground. The people would sit on the floor. But instead of silverware, they ate with their hands. They also used pieces of bread to scoop up food. Each person didn't have their own plate.
We say grace before we eat. The Jews did too, and they would sometimes pray after the meal too.
When we want to buy something, we use money like coins and dollar bills, checks, credit cards and debit cards. In Bible times, instead of using money to get things, people would trade or barter.
They would often make payments in goods like wheat or olive oil instead of with money. This is still done today. Countries will give other countries large quantities of wheat of other goods in exchange for something else.
In North America, we live in a democracy and elect our President or Prime Minister. In Bible times, most societies had a king or a queen. For a long time in the Old Testament, the Jewish people were led by judges who were appointed by God. In New Testament times, many countries were ruled by the emperor of Rome.
Activities to Teach Your Children about Bible Manners and Customs
Activity #1 Have a Biblical Meal
One fun activity you can use to teach children about Bible manners and customs is to pretend have a biblical meal. Lay a blanket or mat on the floor, and sit on the floor around it. See if you can eat without using silverware of plates. Remember to wash your hands before and after you eat!
For your meal, try to eat only things that could have been found in Palestine during Bible times. You could serve bread, olive oil, milk, cheese, beans, lentils, pomegranates, grapes, figs, and fish.
If you like you could also do some research to find other things they might have eaten and recreate some of the dishes that people from Bible times would have eaten.
Activity #2 Make a Comparison Poster.
As you teach your children about Bible customs and manners, you'll find many similarities, and some extreme differences between our two cultures. Another way to help your children learn and remember how we're similar, and also some interesting facts about Bible manners and customs, is to create a comparison poster.
You can get a sheet of poster paper from an arts and crafts store, or a dollar store. Across the top, write the title of your poster. Then make three columns. In the middle, make a column for ways we're the same. On one side, make a column for things they did in Bible times that we don't do now. Use the third column to show things we do now, that they didn't do in Bible times.
Then you can find pictures in magazines and catalogs to fit in each category. They don't have to be exactly like what they used in Bible times, just use pictures that will remind your children of something. For example, a picture of a camping tent might remind your children that people in Bible times sometimes lived in tents.
Your whole family or class can work on this project together. When you're finished, hang it up so everyone can remember how people in Bible times were very similar to us, and help us remember how they were different.
Train Up Children offers a children's Bible study titled: People Who Met Jesus Bible Study for Children 9-12 Yrs. In this study, children learn the very words Jesus spoke to each seeker, the wisdom He taught regarding the path of salvation, and learn from these accounts of His power and authority given to Him from Jehovah God. Jesus' words will be a tutor for your students ~ giving them the chance to gain wisdom unto salvation. For more information about this Bible Study for children and many others, come visit us at: http://www.trainupchildren.com/curriculum/categories/Teaching-Guides/ Chronological Study and Bible lessons also available: http://www.trainupchildren.com/curriculum/pages/Bible-Lessons.html
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