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Commandments 1-5 (Projects and Activities)


Teaching the Ten Commandments by Barry Huff
This exercise goes nicely with Independence Day and discussions of freedom.

When my 3rd grade Sunday School class was studying the Ten Commandments, I brought a big wooden box to class (a sturdy suitcase or trunk also works). I invited each student to climb into the box and describe how they felt (trapped). Then, I turned the box over, the students climbed on top of it, and they described how they felt while standing on top of the box (elevated). I explained that, while some people think the Ten Commandments box you in and restrict you, they actually are meant to be foundations for freedom that give you a higher perspective.

God introduces the Ten Commandments by declaring, "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt…" (Exod 20:1). In the verses that follow, God gives this newly-liberated community the top ten ways to remain free.

As the box analogy illustrates, the purpose of the commandments is not to limit, but to liberate!


Mary Jane Chaignot wrote a description of the Ten Commandments. This would be a good review for both student and teacher of all ages. The commandments are our guide book for living the Golden Rule.

Print/ Download -- The Ten Commandments by Mary Jane Chaignot

The Ten Commandments

  • In Hebrew they are called the Decalogue. Deca = ten. Logue = word.

  • There are many parallels in Babylonian and Egyptian texts to the last six, which regulate the relationships between people. There aren't any parallels to the first four, which address the relationship of people to God.

  • Setting: These words are addressed by God to Israel gathered, by His command, to the perimeter of the mountain at the base of Sinai. These people have been on an emotional roller coaster for three months. They've been ecstatic, fearful, comforted, saved, complaining. They've been getting ready for three days. They were taking this all very seriously. Now, what was the first thing they heard? "I am the Lord your God." It could also be said: "I the Lord, am your God."

  • The first commandment starts with God. It sets the tone for everything that follows. First they were to know God; God is disclosing himself. "I am your God who brought you up, don't have any other gods before my face." This word demonstrated God's concern for their newly acquired freedom. They didn't have a clue how to be a people. God wanted them to be His people, and they didn't have it yet. They didn't know how. So He was trying to help them. Don't sell your birthright. Be single-minded. Start from God. To believe in God is to believe from the consciousness of God. We believe in a lot of things, we only believe from the standpoint of one thing.

  • Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Today: "Please have a God.” Many people don't. But is that really true? Isn't there always something as a last resort on which people depend and to which they give their final allegiance? When God is gone, people put something else in His place, some object in which they place their final trust, some idol of their own making. Everyone has a god. Now we're just talking about what kind of a god it will be.

  • Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... Today: The point is one's view of God. God cannot be imprisoned in the forms of this world. He is free. He is beyond creation's control, not concrete. He does not become tangible in holy things. God is in His voluntary self-giving, His love, free judgment, and sovereign grace. God does not want us to destroy ourselves by serving the creature instead of the Creator. He doesn't want anything between us. He doesn't want anything between us even if it is good. He wants direct communication.

  • Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain... Today: This has to do with the divine reputation. The Hebrew word for "take" is nasa -- sounds like NASA, sending up shuttles that carry things up, lift things up. Nasa means "to lift up, to carry, to bear." To do this in vain means to do it falsely, to make use of it for any idol, frivolous, or insincere purpose, or for mischief. God gave His name in friendship, for a relationship. All of God's names have to be honored, celebrated, blessed. To do anything less would be to treat this gift very lightly, to underestimate His power, and to misrepresent His nature. God's name is really saying, "I am here, you don't have to call me. I am here." God's name is consistent with His nature. And if we're going to that name, if we're going to carry it, bear it, and lift it up, then our nature must be consistent with it as well.

  • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Today: "Remember" is a very emphatic imperative. It isn't for those days when we have time to remember; it is to remember without lapse. Remember this in terms of the covenant. Do this every week. Why? God does not condemn people to slavery. He has built rest into His creation. We call it R and R, rest and recreation. And what is recreation except re - creation? The Sabbath is a time to step back; it is a time to be with God.

The next six words will focus on the horizontal line -- people to people.

  • Honor your father and your mother. Today: Honor is in the imperative; it means "give weight to, glorify, esteem in the sense of giving precedence." It means taking someone seriously. It's not meant to just be subject to them, but to be respectful and to recognize their right of importance, to esteem them for their priority of importance and to love them. In that sense, they will be honored. Now, as we honor parents, we become honored parents. To the extent that we are honorable and honored parents, that is what we are teaching. And that is what the children pick up.

  • Thou shalt not kill. Today: It would be a whole lot better if there had been a direct object. Unfortunately, it is open ended. But wait! Isn't this the same society that just witnessed the death of a whole lot of Egyptians, who fought a big battle with the Amelekites? Before they ever move away from this mountain, 3,000 of their own community are going to die. So what is this "Don't kill?" Does it make any sense? Let's go a little bit deeper. At that time, the sovereignty of God was determined by geographical boundaries. Each community had its own gods. The one with the strongest god was expected to prevail. Enjoying the spoils of war was really demonstrating glory to their god. But within the group, they were expected to hold each other in mutual esteem. All were under the care of that same God. Since God is the author of life, no one should dare act as God. And if someone did, the community acted on God's behalf. There is an underlying, basic principle that life belonged to God. When they went to war, they asked God. When crimes were committed, they cast lots or needed corroborating testimony from two witnesses. Both were considered to be signs from God. This word was intended to stop feudal killing. Such behaviors violated the standard of living that God expected of those who had given themselves to Him. This is still hard for us today. We have war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia. These all raise hard questions. Whether we like it or not, these are all forms of killing.

  • Thou shalt not commit adultery. Today: Again, this was given by God to a forming community. It is intimately connected to life within that community. The word "adultery" comes from two words meaning "add and other." Together, they mean to "add other," to dilute something by adding something else to it. To adulterate means to cheapen the quality or to upset the completeness. In antiquity, adultery meant sexual intercourse with the wife of another man, the fiancée of another man, or a wife with a married man. It was not meant to regulate one's love life; it was given to protect the institution of marriage. It provided societal stability. Marriages were not monogamous and divorce was permitted. But an existing marriage was given fullest protection. Actions that dilute, cheapen the quality, pollute, or upset the completeness in relation to marriage violate the covenantal agreement. In so doing, we adulterate our own self worth as persons, sell ourselves short on the real meaning of life, and all of this affects our relationship with God. At issue is the purity of our actions not the prudishness of them. God did not make us to use or to be used by other people. We should love and regard each other as priceless because we are each in a relationship with God.

  • Don't steal. Today: This is best described as depicting stealing of any kind and sometimes may apply to the duplicity of it, the secrecy of it. Stealing of any kind disrupts relationships. This word was given by God to a forming community that had agreed to live in relationship, first of all, with Him. The penalty was not the main point; the real point was the breech of covenantal relations and the loss of God's presence. People who live in a relationship with God were not to steal from one another. A Thesaurus has dozens of words available to depict stealing. There's really only one way to be honest. Nothing anyone has is really his in any ultimate sense. Everything is God's; we are merely custodians. This is a word that speaks to those who are tempted to misuse their lives, to pilfer other people's lives, or to rape the earth. It stems from a vision that is out of focus. What's mine is God's, and we'll share it.

  • Don't bear false witness against your neighbor. Today: In ancient Israel, occasions that demanded truth-telling were in relation to public affairs. Disputes between families involved property, business, and personal injury. If an Israelite had a dispute with someone, he brought his witnesses and spoke before the elders at the main gate. There a decision would be rendered. Witnessing depended on truth-telling. At the heart of this commandment was the knowledge that language is the essence of culture and community life.

  • Don't desire anything that is your neighbor's. Today: The Hebrew word is chamad. Typically, it means "desire, yearn for, covet, lust after someone or something specifically for your own use or gratification." But, some say that this is too broad, too inclusive. It's too strict, too hard. They then argue for a narrower meaning, like connive, saying that it prohibits any practical action that attempts to acquire what belongs to your neighbor. But we have to read the whole commandment. It doesn't say desire is bad; it says desiring what belongs to your neighbor is bad. This is a commandment that deals with root causes. Attitudes affect the way people live. This is like an itch that won't go away. There may also be some significance in the fact that this is the tenth and last of the series. In fact, let's think of this as a summary commandment. The violation of this commandment is like the gateway to the violation of all the others. Because it describes an attitude, it is also unenforceable. How can you enforce against coveting or desire? Who would know? If it were limited to connive, we might be able to see that. But as desire, that is something just between God and us.

These were spiritual guidelines. This was a pattern for living. These were the limits. Everything else was okay. This was not a one-time thing; this was a process. The children of Israel spent the rest of their days figuring out the practical application of those Ten Commandments given to them at the base of that mountain. They learned how to live with God and, thereby, how to live with each other. In a very real sense, we are still learning, too. Our story is very much connected to theirs.

— Mary Jane Chaignot


Making Hand Puppets to Teach the Ten Commandments
by Genelle Austin Lett

Print/ Download -- Making Hand Puppets to Teach the Ten Commandments

In the pre-school Sunday School class, I prepared hand puppet packets for each pupil.

I first made up my own hand as Moses.

  1. Put double-stick tape on your thumb and over your forefinger.
  2. Add loose yarn to make a head of hair and beard as seen in the picture.
  3. Take blue or brown adhesive dots and
    place them as eyes on your hand.
  4. Use a pink dot for the nose.
  5. Use lip stick to create a red mouth between forefinger and thumb.
  6. Take a plastic glass and turn it upside down.
  7. Drape the glass in a striped dish towel.

Then I practiced moving my fingers to make Moses "talk."

The packets for each child include:

  1. Dots for eyes and nose
  2. A strip of red for the lips
  3. Double stick tape for hair line
  4. Colored yarn for hair

When each child arrives, make up his/her hand and explain that he/she is one of the Children of Israel.

Moses starts by teaching a commandment. Each child repeats the commandment as a child of Israel. By tagging the hand puppet with a piece of wax paper with the child's name on it, everyone can take off their hand costumes and keep them for subsequent weeks work.

The first Sunday, I taught the children to say, "Power belongeth unto God" after they heard each commandment. Then we started the specific work of memorizing the commandments. I have found that the children learn the commandments quickly as they get their hands to mouth the words of their puppets.

This project was taken so seriously that one Sunday when I asked the students to close their eyes for the Lord's prayer, one little boy went so far as to cover the eyes on his hand!


Posters of Commandments 1-5

This is a great exercise to help children put meaning behind each commandment. The students in class were each assigned a commandment. They were told to make a poster to help them not only remember the commandment but understand its meaning.

The following are examples of posters made by a 6th grade class of the first five commandments.


Writing the Commandments as Beatitudes

Ask the students to write each of the commandments as if they were beatitudes. This helps them think of the message of the commandment and the reward for obedience. For example: Blessed are ye when you make God your first priority for you shall be happy. Or: I am happy when I don’t let anything interfere with my relationship to God. That way I’m always safe. Or: Blessed are those who adore only one God for they shall truly know God. Do two a week as you work through the Ten Commandments.


Fun Memory Activity to Learn the Commandments by Sally S. Johnston

Print/ Download -- Fun Memory Activity to Learn the Commandments

If you would like a small child to memorize a passage or a prayer, try this activity. This will be a joint effort between you and the child's parents, with the majority of work done at home.

Each night the child is to open a numbered envelope. Inside is an index card with a line from a passage or prayer. This line is to be repeated and memorized for that night. After the child has memorized the new line, the parent hands the child a star sticker for him to stick on the index card, showing that he did a great job. Each consecutive night, the child opens the next envelope. The new card has a new line to be memorized, and then the child repeats the lines from the previous nights. By the end of the week, the child will have memorized the whole passage or prayer. Ask him to return the cards to Sunday School the following week. Have a "great job" poster on the wall to stick stars on. As the child repeats each card correctly, put a new star on the poster. The child will feel so proud of himself when he repeats the passage by heart, and sees all the stars under his name.

A fun extension to this activity is to write questions or instructions on the back of each card. These questions can be for both the child and his/her parent. They can be random or tailored to the passage on the front of the card. This is a great and fun way to get parents involved in the spiritual growth of their child. The list could go on and on, but here are a few ideas:

  • What does this line mean to you/your mom/your dad?

  • Give an example of how you can show or express this thought.

  • How has your mom/dad expressed this thought?

  • What three things does your mom/dad love most about you?

  • What three things do you love most about your mom/dad?

  • Give your mom/dad a big hug and a super-duper kiss.

  • Where is God?

  • How does God love you?


  • Box of small envelopes

  • Colored index cards

  • Package of small and large sticker stars

  • Poster board


  1. Set aside 7 envelopes and number them 1-7. The numbers represent the order of the envelopes. (Example - the first envelope opened will have 1 written on it.)
  2. Divide your passage or prayer into 7 equal parts.
  3. Write these on the 7 separate index cards. At the top of the card, write the new line that is to be memorized for that night. Below this, write all the lines that have been memorized before. You can also write this information on a computer and paste the print out on the index card.
  4. Place the index cards in correct order in the envelopes.
  5. Include at least one star in each envelope.
  6. On Sunday, give each child a collection of envelopes to take home, and explain the activity to the parent. It is important to ask for, and get a verbal commitment from the parent. Be sure to explain the activity to the child and get him excited about it. This way if the parent forgets, the child will remind him.
  7. Prepare a "great job" poster for your Sunday School class wall and have fun.

— Sally S. Johnston

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