If you decide to see Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, promise me you’ll do one thing: sit down and read Exodus 1—15. Don’t let the movie stand in for the text.
In these chapters, God acts powerfully to redeem his people, calling them out of bondage to their inheritance, intimately relating with Moses, providing for them in big and small ways, and reminding them of his love and protection of them. Sound familiar? The story of the Exodus is a central narrative for the Israelites and later for the Jews, and it is a precursor to the narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who redeems us, calls us from the bondage of sin, promises us an inheritance with him, communes with us, provides for us, loves and protects us. The central character in these biblical chapters is God.
As you may have guessed, the movie does not match the biblical text. Two particular changes make for glaring flaws. Moses, instead of growing in trust for God and modeling increasing obedience in his encounters with Pharaoh, is not quite sure what to think of God or whether to trust him. When God calls Moses at the burning bush, he does not remind him of his connection with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Likewise, Moses does not ponder his call, his voice, or his worth with God. God does not reassure Moses, introduce Aaron’s partnership, or provide Moses with signs of authority (like the staff-turned-serpent).
Those who watch will understand why Moses doesn’t trust God. The worst flaw in the movie is the casting of God in the form of a young boy. This casting decision is, of course, a conundrum. Even a booming voice in the sky doesn’t quite work. But the ramifications are not worth the choice. Even if it doesn’t strike you as a violation of the second commandment for an actor to “play God,” it will strike you as an irreverent and false depiction of God’s character. God comes across as bratty and capricious; there is no sense of protection, deep love, or a partnership with Moses. In short, God as a kid doesn’t work.
Without God as the central character and God as a powerful, faithful one who cares about his people and who works in particular with his chosen servant Moses, the real story falls apart.
Is there reason to watch the film? Perhaps. Though the characterizations of God and Moses are off, the plot is similar to the biblical narrative in its grand arc, and the sheer magnitude of devastation caused by the plagues is sobering to behold. The Pharaohs alternate between consulting mediums, worshipping idols, and counting themselves gods. Indeed all of these occurred in ancient Egypt. The worship of one invisible God was unique to the Hebrews, and the contrast is striking in the film. In addition, the movie boasts incredible cinematography and special effects that draw viewers into the story. Though the story is imperfect, some will benefit from the thrilling images. Familiar stories from Scripture may lose their drama in our mind’s eye over time, and this film recaptures the drama.
Exodus: Gods and Kings misses out on God’s power, faithfulness, and intimacy with Moses. It distorts the narrative, and the visual experience cannot replace the power of the characters and of God’s action. However, watching the movie sent me back to the text of Exodus. I read and reflected on God’s true character. It is God who redeemed his people out of bondage in Egypt and who redeemed you and me in Christ. Blood from Passover lambs saved the people in Exodus and the blood of our Passover Lamb Jesus saves us. Don’t forget the real Exodus story, whether or not you watch the film.
Anna Moseley Gissing is a recent transplant to Bethlehem who researches, writes, and speaks about family, faith, and culture. She currently serves as Associate for Engagement with InterVarsity’s Women in the Academy and Professions and as a writing instructor for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Anna is married to Jeff (Director of Discipleship) and is mother to a first-grade son and a preschool daughter.