I recently went to see “Exodus: Gods & Kings” , and although much has already been said about this movie, and other recent and upcoming attempts by Hollywood to interpret Scripture, I thought I’d note a few thoughts, not just as a review, as you can get one of those anywhere, but as more of an observation of the movie and the ongoing way we as Christians can engage with a culture that still has an interest in the Bible, and also for those who have seen the movie, and either wondered what the fuss is all about, or whether any of the Bible is true at all..
Unlike the recent “Noah” movie, with Russell Crowe, rock monsters, and the like, I purposely approached this movie quite differently. ( https://letthewordreveal.wordpress.com/2015/01/03/noah-movie-review/) I did not read any reviews of it, and didn’t get around to watching until several weeks after it had been released. There didn’t seem to be as much uproar about this Exodus movie, but then again, I think a lot of people had fired all barrels at Noah, so nothing was left to say.
Both Noah and Moses deserve much more attention than we give them in our society, and church would do very well to actually study out their impact and importance in God’s plan for human history. Both accounts deserve to be preserved as they are recorded for us in God’s Word. They are there for our benefit, and we twist, ignore, or dismiss to our peril if we are to fully understand God’s revealed Word and truth.
Going to watch Exodus, I was not expecting a biblically accurate story, and my expectations were met.
I also expected a “better” movie than Noah, simply because of the cast and director involved. I expected a very entertaining, action-packed, suspenseful movie that was well directed and a cast that would play their roles extremely well. ( The moment I heard Batman would be playing Moses, I was keen to see how that would go down…) On that point, my expectations were also met.
I like Ridley Scott’s films. Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Robin Hood, would all be among some of my favourite movies.
I like Christian Bale as an actor.The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, The Fighter, 3:10 To Yuma, The Machinist,… He was also very, very, very good as Batman…if I hadn’t already said so…
That said, no matter how good I think the director will be, or how much I like Batman, this is a biblical story we are dealing with here, and none of these people ( that I’m aware of ) are believers.
This is a bible story, one of the most pivotal ones at that, being told by Hollywood. It’s not going to be all that great, no matter the other factors. It will be irreverent, even blasphemous in some way…it will be human, in other words, and very uninspired, even if it is artistic expression.
When non-believers tell a story that is so integral to Christian faith, we cannot expect them to get it right. Someone I saw it with summed it up well, “We cannot expect them to portray the appropriate glory and reverence for our God.”
So what happens when you have a non-Christian tell the story of one of the greatest and most influential biblical heroes we have?
Many things happen. Some surprising, some almost predictable…
Some of these things you can expect when Batman plays Moses, there will be a lot of good action, some clever character development and deeper themes that leave you guessing what the director really intended all along…
Moses in this movie is not the Moses we read of in Scripture. There are some similarities, but the real Moses appears about as much Bruce Wayne’s parents do in The Dark Knight series…
He is raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, after his sister Miriam brings him to her attention, and is a prince in Pharaoh’s house.
The relationship between Moses and ‘Ramses’ ( excellently played by Joel Edgerton), his cousin, who becomes Pharaoh, is by far the most interesting plot line in the movie, which says a lot for the rest of the material…
The journey they both take through the movie, from scepticism to faith ( Moses) and from integrity to depravity ( Ramses) is well portrayed.
But we’re here for Moses…
He kills a couple of Egyptians guards, and flees to Midian only when Ramses, in an act of mercy, banishes him for being a Hebrew rather than killing him.
Off in Midian, Moses gets married, has a son, and is a shepherd, and all the way along, from the courts of Pharaoh, to the desert of Midian, Moses is an ardent skeptic, atheist even. He mocks the priestess of the gods in Egypt, and pokes fun at his wife’s faith also. It’s all unreasonable, and foolish to him.
That all changes one day on the mountain when he falls and is hit on the head by a rock.
This leads to him seeing a burning bush, and having God speak to him, manifested as a young boy with a very serious and even petulant demeanour…
No staff, no leprosy, no assurances of God going with him and Aaron speaking for him, just a command to go back and see his people because “ I am” said so.
After some recovery, Moses sets off back to Egypt, much to the disgust of Zipporah ( his wife), who asks what sort of god would demand he leave his family behind…he sets off very begrudgingly, and with his weapons of choice, quite pointedly leaving his staff behind with his son, Gershom, taking along his ever present sword…
Back in Egypt, he sets about trying to release the people of Israel by training them in guerrilla warfare and then raiding Egyptian supply ships and generally trying to lead a revolt.
This doesn’t turn out so well, as Pharaoh cracks down and Moses is left to question God in one of many encounters, he airs his frustration about leaving his family behind while God does nothing to help, and that Moses is sick of “ Dealing with a messenger” , which for me may be an indicator that this manifestation of God was not really meant to be God, just a messenger. Another theory about why God is portrayed as a young boy becomes more poignant after the Passover, but maybe I am reading too much into it…
God then tells Moses to just “watch”…(which is disappointing for those of us waiting to hear Batman say “ LET MY PEOPLE GO…!” to which we would hope that “joker” Ramses would respond “ Poor choice of words!”…..) and what follows with a depiction of the plagues is the highlight of the movie for me, being the most biblically accurate part of all.
The climax of the passover is extremely well done, portraying the very human loss and reality of it all, while depicting the obedience of the Israelites…
Moses, still somewhat skeptical, but now a little believing, has a bet both ways in maybe the most poignant line of the movie, “Pity the lambs if I am wrong. If I am right, we will bless them for all eternity.”
I’m not sure if the scriptwriter knew just how deep that line really was, but it summed up the movie well for me. “ This God-stuff could be right or wrong, but there’s no harm in trying, and if it goes pear-shaped, we’ll blame Him. If it goes right, we’ve done well!”
There is also something else underlying this very important Passover scene, where the people of Israel are indeed saved by the blood of the lamb, and when Moses informs a grieving and very mad Ramses that no Hebrew firstborn died that night, all seems to come to a point of final climax.
Moses now, it seems, truly believes, and Pharaoh and all of Egypt are truly judged by a just God.
God had not forgotten His people, and He had heard their cry, as the opening credits note…He delivered them from slavery, by bringing justice in an unimaginable way.
Pharaoh asks, along with all those who have ever questioned God, why would anyone believe in a God Who does such a thing?
We wonder at injustice in the death of the innocent, but just as Pharaoh ignored his own errors and the injustice subjugating a whole people and race for 400 years in slavery, we ignore the depraved nature of our own hearts, what we are capable of and what we have done.
We’re not as bad as the next person, we say in defence, and we would say we are better than God, because at least we don’t kill innocent babies and children for crimes others have committed.
We want a God who is truly just, but completely forgiving at the same time. If He is not, they we cannot and will not believe in Him, in fact, we would pit ourselves against him, as Ramses does in this movie – calling himself a god.
We want to be God. We want to decide what is right and wrong, but we can’t be God anymore than Ramses could, even with all his power and control. We can’t be God because we cannot die for our own sins, let alone for the sins of the whole world.
But this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Israel and the real Moses, is not an unjust, cruel, petulant bully who seeks revenge on anyone who gets on His bad side.
He is not a grumpy child who stamps his foot when His feelings get hurt.
He is the One and Only God. Creator, Sustainer, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Eternal, Omni-Presence One. The Sovereign Ruler. The Everlasting Father, Who gave His Only Son, The Lamb of God.
It’s hard to be objective when we look at injustice of any kind. When we perceive God as being unjust we not just lacking objectivity, we are lacking a correct understanding of Who God is and how He operates.
Even for the things that we don’t understand about God and His actions, we can be confident that God will never do wrong, never be unjust.
The guarantee we have of this is the Cross, the greatest act of injustice that ever occurred.
Pharaohs son’s death may have been an innocent death, but his father’s sins condemned him to death, and the death of God’s Son proves it was anything but unjust.God the Father gave His Son freely, without price, just all of grace. The suffering and death of the Eternal Son of God answers the questions we have no words for. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God offered for the sins of the whole world is the Lamb we will bless and praise for all eternity…
Back to the movie…
The culmination at the Red Sea only raises eyes in disbelief where it strays from the original, which if they had stuck with that, it would’ve been far more believable and awe-inspiring.
The “parting” is “kind of” miraculous and “mostly” supernatural, and Moses’ faith leads the people through on “mostly” dry ground…
When all are safely across, and Pharaoh has charged after them, we are left to wonder why Moses and Ramses need one final show down while the massive waves build again to wipe them both out…
As dramatic as it is, is seems very unbelievable that anyone would survive the deluge…but it wouldn’t be Hollywood without a suspension of disbelief…
There’s a brief glimpse the tablets and some instructions being given by God on the mount, and Moses dutifully being a scribe to record the laws that will guide the people of Israel after Moses dies, which was an interesting note to finish on, but it does close on the truth Moses spoke to God as man speaks to his friend.
Moses was a friend of God, a prophet of God, and the meekest man who ever lived.
Moses was many things, but he was a man, and that fact is something the movie portrays well. It doesn’t portray his faith all that well, until the end…Scripture summarises better for us who he really was and what really happened.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. Hebrews 11:23-29
If we are left with any impressions about what kind man Moses Hollywood thinks we should believe in, we may be a little confused, but we would have the biblical hero we deserve.
At the end of ‘The Dark Knight’, Gordon tells his son that Batman has to take the blame for Harvey “Two-Face” Dent’s errors and be a fugitive, because he is the hero Gotham deserves. Someone misunderstood, hunted, hiding in the shadows.
With Moses in this movie, the bottom line will be that we will get the ‘biblical’ hero we as a entertainment – obsessed, post-Christian society deserves. A selfish, some time atheistic, mostly agnostic doubter, who leans on his sword rather than his staff, who relies on his own understanding, experience and ability rather than the revealed Word of God.
We are left with the kind of Moses you would expect when we let someone tell a story they don’t really believe. When what has been recorded isn’t enough. When God’s Word isn’t enough, we will have a society that reinterprets the bible to suit itself.
A bible with a God whose love is separated from His justice. Whose mercy is moody.
A bible with human heroes that need a knock on the head so they can start a journey of faith rather than being chosen by God’s grace.
“Exodus:Gods & Kings” is a movie that misses the real God and substitutes with our perception of God. We are left with a fickle, moody, and confusing God rather than an Eternal, Gracious, and Mysterious One.
At one point, Pharaoh declares himself to be god, hence the plural title. But even Pharaoh with all his glory and vindication isn’t great in the end of this Hollywood movie. Even a skewed version of our God trumps pretenders.
We would do well to stop and consider what offends us as believers about this Hollywoodising of God and His Word.
It is right that we would be offended, it is a very twisted and wrong portrayal, but I’m not entirely sure all our energy should be spent on simply calling fellow Christians to boycott movies such as this. There are many more to come in the not too distant future. ( Cain & Abel with Will Smith is in the works, along with Brad Pitt doing Pontus Pilate, and Ridley Scott is rumoured to next take on biblical character, King David ).
Telling other believers not to watch these is all well and good,and they certainly aren’t edifying, especially for new believers or immature Christians who don’t have a full understanding of God’s Word, but Hollywood will still make these movies, because there are more people out there than just Christians who are watching them.
The world is watching them, and the world is also watching us for how we respond.
How will we answer?
Not watching is a valid response. You certainly won’t missing anything if you don’t watch them.
Watching with understanding, being wise as serpents and gentle as doves is another response.
How can a believing Christian go and watch a movie that undermines the Bible, whether directly and purposely or indirectly and by mistaken poetic licence you may ask?
Its easy, we should already know that God has already had the last word. His Word will endure forever, and not one iota, not one dot, will pass away.
Hollywood can really do nothing to the eternal Word of God, and I am of the opinion, rightly or wrongly, depending on your individual context and conscience, that we should seek to redeem these opportunities to speak out truth with love to a world that entertains itself with half-truths and outright lies.
If we can’t engage with a post-Christian culture that is feeding itself on modern interpretations of biblical stories right here and now in the moment, then when else can we?
The greatest truth of God’s Sovereignty over all things, including satan and evil, is that evil is only ever allowed to the extent it will defeat it’s own purpose.
Satan sought to get Job to curse God, so he attacked him ( within God’s boundary and with His permission ), and took all he had. In the end, Job praised God and satan’s intentions were defeated.
On the Cross, no doubt satan rejoiced as he saw the Son of God being killed by men. But that was satan’s greatest defeat.
Why would we think this is any different? I have no doubt that satan intends evil with the propaganda of Hollywood twisting Scripture, but we should know, if we are trusting in a Sovereign God, that anything satan intends for evil, God will work for good to those who are called according to His name.
As believers, the only thing we have to fear about movies like this is that we ourselves may have made the same mistake of Hollywood. That we would think God’s revealed Word is not enough, that we need to “do” something to make sure God will not die and His Word will endure.
We do need to preach the Word, and we must do it faithfully. But we are called to so in season, out of season. Becoming all things to all men that by any means, we might reach some. It’s a high and costly calling, one that may mean we will go places we would rather not, but in knowing that our God is greater than whatever lies are out there, we seize opportunities to spread the truth of the Gospel.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love…the former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely… What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that, I rejoice. ( Philippians 1:15-18).
Point out the error, by all means. But be sure to know the error, the full error, in it’s context, so you can more accurately direct people to the truth.
Give them the hero they don’t deserve, but by God’s grace, have access to all the same…
Give them Jesus.