Icebreaker: “Then or Now”

Have students stand in the middle of the room while you give instructions.

Designate one wall, “Then” and one wall “Now”.

Explain to students that you will read a law, and they will have five seconds to put a hand on the wall they think the law comes from, then or now. Anyone who chooses the wrong wall is out, and anyone who doesn’t commit to a wall is out. The last student standing wins. Ask the winner what would be his/her first law if he/she was in charge of helping people know how to live?


  • If anyone accuses another of murder but cannot prove it, then the accuser shall be put to death.  (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • It is illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub (Arizona State law - now)
  • If anyone accuses someone else of sorcery, the accused shall leap into the river, and if s/he drowns the accuser shall take possession of the accused's house and belongings.  (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • No one is allowed to hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. (Old Testament - Then)
  • A pickle must be able to bounce (Connecticut State law - now)
  • When you enter the land, and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden for three years. It must not be eaten. (Old Testament - Then)
  • If a judge tries a case, reaches a decision, and presents his judgment in writing but later an error is found that is the judge’s own fault, then the judge must pay twelve times the fine set by him in the case.  (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (Old Testament - Then)
  • It is illegal to sell dog’s hair (Delaware State law - now)
  • If anyone steals anything from the temple or the court, he will be put to death, and also the one who has received the stolen goods will be put to death. (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • You must stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly (Old Testament - Then)
  • Thou shall not live more than thirty days on a boat (Georgia State law - now)
  • If anyone breaks into a house to steal, he will be put to death before that point of entry and be buried there (walled into the house).  (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • If anyone is caught while committing a robbery, then s/he shall be put to death. (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • If a chieftain or man be caught in the misfortune of the king (captured in battle), and if his fields and garden be given to another and he takes possession, if he returns, his field and garden shall be returned to him, and he shall take it over again. (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)
  • Thou shalt not place a coin in one’s ear (Hawaii State law - now).
  • If outlaws meet in the tavern and are not captured and delivered to the court/palace, the tavern-keeper shall be put to death. (Hammurabi’s Code - Then)


Bible Lesson:

After the game, gather students and ask the following:

  • Which of the laws from the game stand out to you? Had you ever heard these laws before?
  • What do you think is the purpose of laws in society? What happens, or could happen when there are no laws?
  • If you were king/queen, or president, what kinds of laws would you want your people to follow?  Why?

The Israelites lived and worked as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. Egypt was the global center of power and wealth in the Ancient Near East. The power wielded by the Egyptian Pharaoh came from his lineage as he was considered a direct descendant from their “Sun God,” named Ra. This meant that in their belief system, the Pharaoh was also a god and in his god-status could define good and evil, normal and unnatural, fair and unfair. For centuries the Israelites worked under the oppression of the Pharaoh’s power structure, while daring to believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who they knew from their ancestors’ stories (Exodus 3:15), had a good future for them. They cried out to God in their slavery and were ultimately rescued.  Let’s explore that story.

The Israelites' rescue begins with a power confrontation.

Ask one student to read Exodus 5:1-2.

Do you see the confrontation being set up here? God is saying, “Let my people go” and Pharaoh is saying, “God? What God? These are my people.”)

Ask another student to read Exodus 6:1.

In this passage we can imagine Pharaoh is sitting comfortably, feeling like he is winning the tug-of-war over the slaves, meanwhile God is revealing part of his hand to Moses. “Now you will see...” is the language of someone who knows there is about to be a twist in the story.

Ask a third student to read Exodus 6:6-8.

God reveals his plan for the Israelites’ future. They will no longer be identified as the slaves on the bottom rung of the social ladder, subservient to Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s demands. Instead, they will be God’s treasured people. There are two powers at work.  One person poses as God, and oppresses the people. The other is God and sets the people free.

Take a moment to remember the story together.  

The point here is to engage students in discussion, filling in the blanks of the well-known story. Help students remember that the slaves were freed through a series of ten confrontations with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, which proved God’s dominance (Exodus 7-10). The final plague was the killing of the firstborn and the establishing of the Passover - when the angel of death passed over the Israelites (Exodus 11). God’s final act of dominance over Pharaoh’s corruption was the parting of the Red Sea for his people to walk through, closing the Sea again on the Egyptians in the middle of their pursuit (Exodus 14).

Ask a student to read Exodus 14:30-31.

Once the Israelites were freed from Pharaoh’s system of oppression, they faced an identity crisis. Pharaoh had essentially told the Israelites who they were, even though his definition was oppressive and dehumanizing to them. They needed something to help them know their identity as God’s people, and that they were under his protection in their new life together.

Ask a student (or two) to read Exodus 20:1-17.

  • What did the Ten Commandments fundamentally change for the Israelites? (think about how they differ from their lives as slaves)
  • How do these laws bring freedom?
  • How do laws in general help relationships grow?
  • How are the Ten Commandments a good thing for God’s people?
  • What do you think is at the heart of each commandment? Choose one.
  • Can you think of an example when someone in your life followed one of these commandments? Tell that story.

Where Pharaoh used his status and position to oppress others and make them subservient to him, God used his power to deliver his people. Under Pharaoh, God’s people were made to obey laws that kept them in bondage and slavery. God’s new laws set them free. In following God’s laws, we are liberated from the world’s oppressive program, and become who we were made to be, in Christ’s image.

Reflection Activity: Translating the Ten Commandments

Want to get hands on?  Try this incredible activity from the Youth Worker Collective:

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