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Holy days – Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the story of Moses and Jethro

An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive

Suitable for Key Stage 1


To examine the Jewish festival of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the importance of rest.

Preparation and materials

  • Have available an image of the Magen David or shield of David, commonly known as the Star of David, and the means to display it during the assembly.
  • Familiarize yourself with the passage Exodus 20.8–11 and have it available to read during the ‘Assembly’, Step 4. 


1. Show the children the image of the Magen David or Star of David.

Ask, ‘Do any of you recognize this symbol?’

It is the symbol of Judaism – the religion followed by Jewish people.

2. Inform the children that this symbol reminds Jewish people of the story at the very beginning of the Bible – the story of the creation. The Magen David has six points, standing for the six days God spent creating the world.

Remind the children briefly of what was created on each day:

– day 1: light

– day 2: air/atmosphere

– day 3: land and vegetation

– day 4: the galaxy

– day 5: animals

– day 6: humans.

3. Ask the children if they remember what happened on the seventh day (God rested). The middle of the symbol stands for the seventh day.

Every seventh day, therefore, Jewish people all around the world remember the day God rested by celebrating a festival called Shabbat or the Sabbath. Shabbat is very important to Jewish people and that's why it's in the middle of the Magen David.

4. Shabbat is a peaceful day. It is a day to be spent with loved ones and also a day to remember God.

Shabbat starts at sunset on Friday evening and ends at sunset on Saturday evening. It is a day of rest, so many Jewish people do no work of any kind during this period of time. For example, on Shabbat many Jewish people do not cook. Instead, they prepare their food on Friday afternoon and keep it warm throughout Shabbat. Some Jewish people do not even switch on a light during Shabbat. Instead, they set timers on Friday afternoon to make sure the lights come on automatically during Shabbat. In these ways, Jewish people try to ensure that everyone enjoys a day of rest, even farm animals.

This is what the Jews believe they were told by God.

Read the passage Exodus 20.8–11.

5. Ask the children to identify individuals who work too hard or jobs that make people work too hard. Ask them what they can do to help their parents or teachers have a break.

They could, for example, notice when someone is overworked. They could also help to relieve that person by doing things for themselves.

6. Explain that the story of Jethro and Moses that you are about to tell is found in the Bible shortly before God reveals to Moses the laws concerning Shabbat.

Jethro and Moses

When Moses returned to Egypt to lead the Jewish people out of slavery, his wife and two sons had stayed with her father, Jethro, in the land of Midian. After the Jews had escaped into the desert, Jethro brought his daughter and grandsons from Midian to be reunited with Moses.

So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law. Moses bowed down and then kissed him. The two men asked about each other's health. Then they went into Moses' tent. Moses told Jethro everything that had happened since he had seen him last. He told him all about Pharoah and the plagues and how the Sea of Reeds had parted.

Jethro was amazed.

‘Praise the Lord,’ he said, ‘now I know the Lord is greater than all other gods.’

That evening, Moses and Jethro enjoyed a great feast in God's name.

The next morning, there was a long queue of people at the entrance to Moses' tent. Jethro thought that they had come to greet him, but, instead, all these people had come to speak to Moses. All of them wanted Moses to sort out the disputes between them. Miriam and Hannah had argued over whose turn it was to collect firewood. Aaron and Joshua had fought about what colour the sand was and Rachel and Tamar had got into a squabble about their place in the queue and had actually forgotten what they had come to see Moses about in the first place.

Moses listened to these disputes all day until the sun went down. He didn't even get a break for lunch.

Jethro watched Moses all day. He was appalled.

When the two men sat down to have their supper together, Jethro said to his son-in-law, ‘You are going to wear yourself out and the people are going to get ill standing around in the sun all day. Listen to me. Pray to God and ask him for help and, when you've done that, get all the people together and remind them of the rules by which you live. Then, with God's help, choose some people whom you can trust and let them help you sort out all these different disagreements. Let them do the simple stuff and only send the difficult cases to you.’

‘That's what I think you should do,’ said Jethro, ‘but you need to pray about it to see if God thinks it's a good idea.’

Moses listened to Jethro and he took his advice. That night he prayed to God.

The next morning, Moses chose some people to help sort out the different disputes. As Jethro had suggested, they sorted out the simple stuff and Moses dealt with the hard cases.

When Jethro saw that his idea was working, he set off home, happy in the knowledge that his son-in-law would have more time to spend with his wife and children

Time for reflection


Dear God,
Help us to be like Jethro and notice when people are working too hard.
Inspire us with ideas to help them cope and prevent us from getting into petty arguments with other people.

Ideas for follow-up activities

1. Have the children find out more about how Jewish people celebrate Shabbat.

2. Read Exodus 16 to find out about the double portion of manna that God gave the people on the sixth day so they would have some for Shabbat (this chapter also has much to say on the subject of greed).

3. Read Exodus 18 to find out the full story of how Jethro prevented Moses from working too hard.

4. Read Luke 13.10–17 or Mark 3.1–6 to find out how Jesus got into trouble for healing people during Shabbat.


'Shabbat Shalom'

'Make me a channel of your peace' (Come and Praise, 147)

'When I needed a neighbour' (Come and Praise, 65)

Publication date: April 2015   (Vol.17 No.4)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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