Watching Exodus: Gods and Kings stirred me to read the Biblical account once again. I’ve read it many, many times in Exodus chapters 2-14. Reading the story with the Ridley Scott movie fresh in my mind illuminated a few things. First, that Scott’s version of the account, while weak on the theological aspects of the characters, didn’t do a half bad job at the Biblical story elements (and ludicrously bad at being historically accurate).
But that’s not what I want to focus on.
If I were to make an Exodus movie, I’d take a different tack than everyone else. Everyone from DeMille to Disney to Scott has focused on Moses’ relationship with Rameses. By doing that, they ignore a rich vein running through the story, only briefly touched on by Scott: Moses’ relationship with Israel. The Bible paints a complex picture:
And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.”
Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?”
Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.
In my Exodus movie, Moses always knew that he was a Hebrew. There was no sudden revelation or confrontation of that truth. It was more or less an open secret. Rameses knew, Moses knew. Moses, by virtue of his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter, was not made a slave, but he was certainly known to be a Hebrew.
Scott’s reason for having Moses go out and see the Hebrews’ burden is no less plausible than any other reason we could come up with. The Bible just said he went. Maybe he felt some compassion. Maybe it was purely a work assignment. In my version, it would be a little of both. He would repeatedly ask permission from Pharaoh to go, and be repeatedly warned to stay away, that his people would reject him, that he’d be a pariah to them, a betrayer because he was a Hebrew living in Egyptian luxury. Hebrew in race, but not in spirit.
Finally, Moses would win out by his persistence, and Pharaoh would send him. Pharaoh was thinking that he may never see Moses again, that his own people would kill him. He was hoping Moses would simply see his people, and return, thankful for the life he’d been given away from the toil. Pharaoh was not prepared for what did happen.
There’s no doubt that Moses killed the Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He hid the body, but left the Hebrew to go out and tell everyone what happened. News like that spreads fast. The people were asking: is this a deliverer? Is this a dilettante coming to satisfy his own conscience? Why doesn’t he come live with us, instead of dwelling at the palace? Who does Moses think he is?
Moses comes back and sees two Hebrews fighting. He can’t understand why they’d fight, since they are all slaves, and tries to break it up…that’s when he learns the horrible news: everyone knew about his crime. If there was a daily newspaper in Egypt, this was the front-page story. Pharaoh couldn’t let it stand: the Hebrews were looking for a deliverer, and if Moses were allowed to live, there’d be no end of trouble. So the death warrant was given.
It wasn’t Pharaoh who put Moses out of Egypt. It was Moses. He ran for his life, a guilty fugitive from the King’s justice and rejected by his own brethren. This was what broke Moses and made him humble. Instead of the great conflict coming from Moses and Rameses and the secret of Moses birth, the conflict was inside Moses, and he fell by his own hand slain by his own pride.
Then forty years later, Moses meets God, who tells him not only will he free Israel, “[but] every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:22). Right, of course you will (I think we’d all react that way). Moses doesn’t doubt God, but he doesn’t think he’s the guy to do the job. He argues with God, who shows him miracle after miracle, then still declines. But God won’t take no for an answer (Scott gets it right on this also).
Moses and Aaron meet with Israel’s elders, who gladly accept that God is about to deliver them (after seeing a few miracles to prove the point), but then turn on Moses again when Rameses makes them gather their own straw. As for Rameses, God says,
So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”
The relationship between Moses and Rameses was really secondary. God said he’d harden Pharaoh’s heart, and it was so. The major conflict was, and continued to be, Moses’ relationship with Israel, an Israel he was never part of growing up, an Israel that rejected him, rebelled against him, and complained against him his whole life.
This is the movie I’d make. Moses was the rejected deliverer. He was the ultimate outsider. He was an outsider to Israel in Egypt, an outsider in the wilderness, and ultimately, an outsider who was never allowed to enter Canaan. Moses was never fully accepted by the Israelites as one of them; God used the least likely person to lead His people out of bondage.
And that’s the message of the Gospel at Christmastime. Jesus was the ultimate outsider too. He wasn’t a Levite or a Priest. He was the son of a peasant woman, a carpenter’s son, announced by shepherds, born in a simple animal stall in Bethlehem. Jesus was never accepted by Israel. He was also the rejected Savior. God was painting a portrait with Moses, one which he’d use almost two thousand years later.
Let’s dwell on that this Christmas.