Generally speaking, I like movies that look at the Bible, even if they’re done by people whose worldview differs from mine. I don’t dig Darren Aronofsky flicks, but his Noah gave me some food for thought (and definitely made me think about those outside the ark). But Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings seemed to be an exercise in exploring tenacious brotherhood, more than a Biblical exploration; the fact that Scott’s brother Tony had committed suicide months prior to the film’s release seemed to indicate that. Re-reading the opening chapters of Exodus, I am reminded again of this truth that Scott missed out on: God is present, faithful, and active for the people’s good.
From the beginning of Exodus, we see that the Israelite numbers/power have the new Pharaoh assuming the worst: a riot might take place. But God’s people respond to the oppression by growing (1:12), and their women are sturdier than the Egyptian women (1:19) in a hilarious inclusion in the text. But the Pharaoh escalates from persecution to annihilation with his order for all newborn males to be put to death (1:22) and this becomes deadly serious.
Moses undergoes a sort of ‘baptism,’ being brought out of the water to new life (2:5-6), much the way that his people will be brought through the Red Sea to new life (Exodus 14). The flash forward takes us to Moses’ young adulthood, the murder of an Egyptian overseer, and the flight to the home of Jethro. But things get really interesting when God decides to intercede in physics, biology, and chemistry by visiting Moses through a “bush that doesn’t burn up” (3:3).
Where Moses meets God is declared to be holy ground (3:5) not because the place is holy but because God is there. Stop and consider that one for a minute: what would change about how we see the world if we see it as holy when God is present versus going to places (churches, synagogues, mosques., etc.) and invoking God? Doesn’t that change our perspective on the holy, and on how we value time and space? But God doesn’t stop there (or maybe it’s that God continues that line of thinking): God tells Moses that God will be with him when he goes to speak to Pharaoh, and that worship will occur on Mount Sinai when the people leave Egypt.
Again, this is not a god tied to a specific time, space, or situation; this is the God who wrestled with Jacob in the middle of nowhere, who was with Abraham and is now speaking to Moses as part of the covenant, who can go (and control) whatever God pleases. The ‘worship game’ has changed.
When God declares “I am who I am,” it gives me chills (3:14). We can minimize creation to being like Gepetto creating Pinocchio in the wood shop, God forming Adam out of some dust and breath. But when God says God always was/is/will be, there’s the implosion (a big bang if you will) of space spreading all around us that suddenly threatens to unload an immensity we can’t wrap our arms around. God can’t be contained, quantified, or measured. God merely is – and, in this case, Moses is drawn into a relationship, because God wants to intercede on behalf of the people.
This God that Moses knew of but had not previously worshipped prophecies/predicts that the king of Egypt won’t respond well to the demands for worship. God gives the reluctant Moses signs to perform, miracles intended to show that Moses has a particular set of skills – but they’re just the warm-up to the plagues God will unleash on the Egyptian people. There’s a curious dynamic there though: God gives Moses all of these “tools” but continues to “harden” the heart of Pharaoh. I don’t think it’s the arteries snapping shut from too much bacon, but rather the closing down of his ability to reason, find compassion, really – God allows Pharaoh to back himself into a corner.
Pharaoh certainly does that – all the way through the plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. But then the plagues become more than topical, more than economic or uncomfortable. God ratchets it up in Exodus 11 – which I’ll get to next – proving that there comes a time when God has had enough.
But Moses’ story (which is far from finished) reminds me again of the way God works: God called a broken man, an outcast man (from two origination groups, no less!), an insecure man to be the leader of God’s people. God saw in Moses what Moses couldn’t see in himself, and God was willing to patiently use and empower Moses to make good come from evil. That’s part of the story I don’t see in Exodus: Gods and Kings – how God looks inside our hearts and brings out the best of us. But in the exploration of the Bible, there is no one less-heroic-turned-hero than Moses. There’s more to his story, webs we haven’t yet untangled, and it raises questions about how we see ourselves and what God would really do with us if we went…
Moses is one of my favorites – maybe even the one I relate to the most. What Biblical figure do you best relate to and why?