by Joshua Crutchfield
Hollywood has always been one to take notice and profiteer off of the telling public. Series like The Bible, that drew over 14.8 million viewers to the History channel, and the Emmy-nominated game show, The American Bible Challenge, that was the Game Show Network’s highest rated original game show in the history of the network, were telltale signs of what is captivating the American audience. The recent Noah film reveals that while Hollywood is willing to whet the appetite of the biblical craving audience, they are going to do it their way.
As a pastor, I have many that ask what I think of such films, and inquire as to whether or not they should see/endorse such films. With Moses being one of the most iconic figures within the Bible—his staff, his beard, phrases like “Let my people go,” and images such as the parting of the Red Sea—it makes perfect sense for Hollywood to return Moses to the silver screen. However, Ridley Scott’s rendition of the Exodus misses these high points.
The film offers a poor adaptation of an incredible story and fails to do justice developing the character of Moses as seen in Scripture. While other reviews have offered perspective regarding the biblical accuracy of the movie, I would like to offer some theological and philosophical thoughts regarding the movie that fails to capture the true narrative of Exodus, but displays the rationale and thought of our society today.
For pastors/leaders who are questioned about such films, and also, any who might have a curiosity about the film, caution is advised if you’re viewing the movie for accurate biblical insight. However, the movie does portray current skepticism engrained in our culture, providing opportunities for discussion and evangelism.
Eliminating the Supernatural
First, the movie presents a modern struggle within an ancient account—how can we reasonably believe that supernatural happenings took place when we are capable of eliminating them scientific explanations? This concept appears early on in the movie when Seti seeks an omen to know whether or not Egypt would defeat the Hittite army. As the priestess looks at the entrails of a bird, Moses stands in the back scoffing. He mocks the process, claiming that reason is what will allow the Egyptian army to obtain victory. It is at this point that we discover Scott’s Moses to be at worst an atheist and at best an agnostic.
While the scenes provide a possible glimpse into what training and education Moses might have obtained in Pharaoh’s house, one cannot help but notice that the 21st century has crammed its way into the 14th century (as they present it) BC. A telling scene that describes the struggle well is when Moses encounters the corrupt viceroy. The viceroy wrongly interprets the name “Israel” (fighting with God), to which Moses corrects him, stating that Israel means, “to wrestle with God.” That is exactly what this movie does—wrestles with God. Even as the plagues, somewhat impressively, fall upon Egypt, it is not without explanation.
Ramses’s advisor offers scientific explanations that echo recent theories such as the “red Nile,” where the sediment is churned up to a point that the Nile looks like blood and the creatures in the river are choked out. Of course, what would follow would be the subsequent plagues as a result of the red Nile. What the theory does not account for and the movie does not depict is the isolation of the plagues and the purpose behind each one. As each plague falls on Egypt, Israel is distinctly set a part and free from any of the devastation caused by the plagues, especially the final plague. Likewise, as the movie fails to set a part Israel from the plagues that pummeled Egypt, the movie also fails setting a part the God of Israel.
The Juvenile God
This leads to my second observation: God is presented in a manner that reflects current modern perceptions—the God of the Bible is nothing more than a child throwing a temper tantrum.
The first time that Moses encounters God, it will not be the burning bush that will grab your attention, but the young boy who appears to be a theophany of God. He is looking for a “general” to go liberate his people from slavery. Unfortunately, we do not know why boy Yahweh (a term borrowed from Robert Chisholm, Jr.) wants Israel liberated. It appears that he has a vendetta with the people of Egypt, who are nothing more than “flesh and blood.” Stamping his feet like a toddler’s outburst, he tells Moses that he wants to bring Egypt to its knees. Still, his motives are unknown, but it seems that Ridley Scott’s are not.
Scott’s depiction of God is seen clearly when Ramses carries his lifeless son to Moses and asks if he really follows a God who is capable of murdering children—which is ironic since his father ordered an edict that demanded the death of Israel’s firstborn sons. However, that is not Scott’s concern. He is more concerned with the notion that the God of the Bible would be willing to cause such devastation to a people, and further the destruction of children, that he must now question the rationality of such beliefs.
This brings me to my third and final observation: though Ridley failed to offer any true purpose behind the Exodus event, and though he attempted to undermine the supernatural within the book of Exodus (especially the Red Sea crossing), Ridley could not escape the Passover. This is an event that is clearly supernatural, and provides no room for any alternative explanation. While Ridley offers no theological motive for the Passover, it is not necessary. With the lambs sacrificed and the blood spread upon the doorposts and lintels, it is quite clear that “when he sees the blood, he will pass over them.” This event is the defining moment within Israel’s history, just as the crucifixion of Christ is the defining moment for every believer. Such a moment cannot be overlooked, even within a skeptical film led by a well-renowned skeptical director.
The movie provides little biblical thought, but much that is modern. There is a great struggle within humanity regarding the supernatural. Skepticism is the current practice, and reveals that man is still wrestling with God. Though Ridley attempts to deliver his audience from the bondage of faith, he demonstrates that we are incapable of escaping the supernatural God who has brought about a great deliverance, not only for Israel, but also for all who find themselves under the blood of Christ.
Joshua Crutchfield is Pastor of First Baptist Church Trenton, Texas. He is a two-time graduate of Criswell College and a Ph.D. student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter.