With God on our side? - an interactive activity for Key Stage 2
When people fight, do you think God is on anybody's side? A hundred years ago, in the First World War, the British, the Germans, the Russians - and just about everyone else - thought that God was definitely on their side. But was God on anyone's side? This activity looks at the theme further through the retelling of a Bible story involving a great battle, as told in 1 Samuel 3-7. And one or two bits might seem strangely familiar to those who have seen the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You will need:
- some kind of 'ark of the covenant' for two pupils to carry around on 'poles' - for example, you could decorate a shoe box with gold-effect wrapping paper and insert two bamboo canes through holes in the sides so it can be carried by two pupils, like a sedan chair
- some recorded war-like music, such as 'Mars, the Bringer of War' from the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst
Start by choosing four volunteers to perform some specific roles in the drama - you could also give each of these something special to wear. The rest of the class will need to be sorted into two armies for later in the story. You could pick the volunteers by playing a drama warm-up game such as In-Out statues, acting out feelings such as 'proud noble warriors', 'arrogant, I don't care what other people think', 'scared, terrified', 'having a wow moment of awe and wonder'.
As the story progresses, your actors should repeat the words from the following story as you say them - 'in character'.
Once, there was an incredibly special golden box called the 'ark of the covenant', in which the ten commandments were kept. Imagine, God's laws of love for his people, carved on stone and given to Moses long ago - God's living words - were in that box. It was like he was living there! This special ark was kept in a special tent - the tabernacle - which served as a 'travelling' place of worship. This tent went wherever the ark went - it was constructed and placed over the ark wherever it came to rest. A special team of priests looked after the ark and the tabernacle, including three apprentices named Samuel, Hophni and Phinehas. Samuel was the youngest, and Hophni and Phinehas were twin brothers. The twins' father, Eli, was the chief priest, so they thought they had it made:
Hophni and Phinehas: We're important, because our dad's in charge here. We're going to be in charge of this place one day. Yes!
But the twins often got into trouble, stealing, drinking and fighting (act this out... carefully).
Eli: You're bringing shame on our family!
but the twins just replied:
Hophni and Phinehas: Yeah, whatever!
and carried on doing whatever they liked. For them, the job was just a job. And they deserved it all, didn't they?
Young Samuel saw them and wondered:
Samuel: Is that what being a grown-up is all about?
But one night, God came to him and said:
God: Listen up. I'm going to do something that will make everyone's ears tingle. Eli's family has brought shame on this place and I am going to bring an end to it.
Next morning, Samuel told Eli but Eli just said:
Meanwhile, a great battle was taking place not too far away. God's people - the Israelites - were fighting their traditional enemies - the Philistines - and it wasn't going well. The Israelites were scared as the Philistines looked and sounded like winners.
At this point, sort the rest of the class into two armies facing each other in two long lines. Explain that often before a battle, both sides would try to scare the others by shouting and acting like they were the meanest, roughest, toughest warriors. Teach and stage a 'haka' contest between the two armies, similar to that performed by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, with each side trying to scare the other by stomping forward and gesturing to a beat.
Back at the tabernacle, Hophni and Phinehas said:
Hophni and Phinehas: We've got a great idea.
Hophni and Phinehas: Let's bring God in on our side. He'll be our secret weapon.
Israelites: Brilliant...err... how?
Hophni and Phinehas: We'll go and get the ark.
But back at the tabernacle, Eli said:
Eli: What? Are you sure this is a good idea?
Hophni and Phinehas said:
Hophni and Phinehas: Of course, God's on our side, we're his people. We're taking him into battle and we're going to win.
Israelites: Yes, we're going to win.
But young Samuel said:
Samuel: It's all going to go wrong.
But nobody listened to him - he was just a boy, after all.
And so, the two armies lined up ready to fight, with Hophni and Phinehas carrying the ark. All the Israelites were chanting and stamping:
Israelites: We're going to win... we're going to win.
The Philistines saw what was coming and they were scared. They said:
Philistines: Look! It's their God coming to get us. He's the one who smashed up the Egyptians and their gods. We're all going to get smashed into little pieces. We're doomed.
But one Philistine leader (pick a Philistine warrior) said:
Philistine: Be strong... be men... be warriors or they'll turn our families into slaves. Fight for your people.
And so the battle began.
Pause at this point to explain how you are going to stage the battle, with particular emphasis on health & safety.
- Explain they will be using invisible weapons - swords, spears, war hammers and clubs, bows, arrows - in the battle in slow motion to music, with the weapons looking incredibly heavy... as they would be in real life.
- Emphasise that this is drama - real stunt men/women never get hurt because they're extremely careful when they act out battle scenes. You don't touch anyone!
- You will assign opponents, pairing up (one facing one down the middle) warriors from opposing sides to start their own 'battle', building up two battle lines until everyone is involved. Establish where everyone is meant to be fighting and emphasise that everyone stays in place - no going forwards or backwards once the fighting begins.
- In a real battle, warriors can get hurt or killed. In your battle, you will touch certain pupils on the shoulder and say 'You're dead!' If that happens, they can either 'leave' and go to a designated safe place or die a slow-motion death. Demonstrate how to 'die', emphasising a slow-motion fall, not banging your head or putting fingers where anyone else can tread on them. If someone 'dies' near you, extra care is needed not to tread on them or kick them by mistake.
- Explain that at a certain point you will shout 'FREEZE', at which time everybody still standing must stand completely still in silence and listen for the next instruction.
Now stage the battle with appropriate music playing in the background, building up the two lines of warriors, with Eli and Samuel watching from the sidelines. When the battle is 'in place', start killing off the Israelites until about half of them are 'dead'. Then shout 'FREEZE'.
Once everyone is still, say 'the Israelites are losing', to which Hophni and Phinehas say:
Hophni and Phinehas: This isn't in the script!
Then say 'Yes, they died too'.
Pick two Philistines to pick up and carry the ark while the rest of the Philistine army chants:
Philistines: Champions! Yes!
Sit everybody down and pick a 'messenger' from the Israelites to go to Eli and Samuel:
Israelite: We've lost the battle!
Eli: Where are my sons?
Israelite: Err, they've had a bit of an accident...
Eli: Where is the ark?
Israelite: The Philistines have got it!
Eli: No... why? Lord, why have you let this happen to us?
Samuel: Err... I told you so...
Eli: Whatever... [has a heart attack and dies]
Samuel: [to himself] So what happened? What was really going on here?
Give everyone a round of applause, then arrange for everyone to sit with a talking partner to discuss one or more of the following questions.
- Did anything surprise or puzzle you about this story?
- What's the most interesting question you can ask about this story?
- What messages do you think it might have about going to war?
For those pupils who are interested in what happened next, direct them to the whole Bible story in 1 Samuel 3-7.