Flies, frogs, fires, and floods explode across the screen in the new Bible-inspired epic, Exodus: Gods and Kings, from 20th Century Fox. It’s the story of Moses taking on the full might and power of the Egyptian empire to free a nation of Hebrew slaves.
This movie version of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt in 1446 BC bases its story on a speculated rivalry between Moses, played by Christian Bale, and Pharaoh Seti’s son Prince Ramses, played by Joel Edgerton. Much is added to the Bible’s historical record to fill out the story for the movie. Some is acceptable artistic license, but much is not.
In addition to Bale and Edgerton, the movie stars Ben Kingsley as Nun, an Israelite elder and the father of Joshua, Aaron Paul as Joshua, John Turturro as Pharaoh, and Sigourney Weaver as Pharaoh’s wife and Ramses’ mother. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie lasts about two and a half hours with a PG-13 rating for violence, battle sequences, and intense scenes.
The movie was released on Friday December 12, 2014. My wife and I viewed it Saturday afternoon December 13. Only one other couple was in the theater with us.
The goal of the movie seemed to be to serve as a display for grand and impressive visual effects, rather than to dramatically portray an accurate retelling of the Biblical account of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. It excelled at the former, but failed spectacularly at the latter.
The visual effects were truly outstanding. The battle scenes, plagues, massive Hebrew emigration, and walls of water at the Red Sea crossing were all well done (with some Biblical discrepancies). The movie can help the Bible believer imagine what such events may have looked like.
Most movies and TV shows today focus on or include adulterous relationships. But the film Exodus presents two healthy marriages. Both Moses and his wife Zipporah and Pharaoh Ramses and his wife exhibited affectionate, companionable, trusting marriages.
For example, twice Moses undoes his wife’s hair and/or headscarf in a tender moment, shown as a privileged intimacy and an almost ceremonial unveiling. Zipporah is trusting and willing. When Zipporah disagrees later, she speaks to Moses with tact and sweetness. Their solidarity and commitment was beautifully demonstrated, a rare jewel in a Hollywood film.
The movie was clean with none of the salacious elements that dominate so many of today’s movies and TV shows.
The movie starts with Moses as the commanding general in Pharaoh Seti’s army in 1300 BC. Seti considers him a favored son along with his true son Ramses and charges each to look out for the other in the coming battle against the Hittites. The battle is a visual extravaganza during which Moses saves Ramses’ life.
All of this is extra-Biblical, as the Bible does not name the Pharaoh of the Exodus. In fact the stated setting in 1300 BC is wrong, so Ramses was not the Pharaoh of the Exodus. According to the Biblical chronology, Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt in 1446 BC.
But the movie wanted to use Ramses the Great and his Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites as the context for its story of Moses. Interestingly, both Ramses and the Hittites of history claim the win, and the movie shows the Egyptians brainstorming how to spin the battle results as a win.
Much of the movie deals with the conflict between Moses and Ramses who have been raised as brothers and princes in Pharaoh Seti’s palace. This is not indicated in the Bible, but it could be accepted as a possible story line.
The movie incorrectly attributes the caretaking of Moses in Pharaoh’s palace to his sister Miriam instead of to his mother Jochebed. The movie also incorrectly says Miriam placed Moses in a basket in the Nile instead of his mother doing so. (Exodus 2:1-11; 6:20)
The Moses of the movie is quite different from the historical Moses of the Bible. For part of the movie, Moses is a terrorist, fomenting rebellion and instigating guerrilla warfare by the Hebrews against the Egyptians. The Hebrews burn food stores and firebomb Egyptian homes — not in the Bible.
It’s good that Bale read the Pentateuch preparing for the role of Moses, but it was only one of several sources he used including irreverent religious satires, the Koran, and Jonathan Kirsch’s 1999 biography Moses: A Life. It seems that he gave no preference to the Bible, the only true authoritative source on Moses’ life. Bale portrays Moses as a doubting cynic and as an arrogant leader, contrary to Scripture’s report, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3)
Actor Christian Bale said of Moses, “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.” (source: Huffington Post) Yet God calls Moses faithful (Numbers 12:7; Hebrews 3:5) and praises him as one who refused the pleasures and treasures of Egypt in order to identify with his Hebrew kinsman in obedience to God (Hebrews 11:24–29). Bale’s warped view of Moses undoubtedly influenced his portrayal of the role.
Moses Flees Egypt
The historical record in the Bible says Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew; then he fled Egypt for Midian when it became known and Pharaoh tried to kill him. The movie has Moses killing a guard who eavesdropped on his secret night meeting with Nun. In the film Moses was exiled by Pharaoh Ramses due to reports of his Hebrew origins and not for killing the guard — which was rationalized and only slightly blamed. His departure was depicted as orderly and officially escorted, with sentimental leave-taking from his mother and sister–not “fleeing from Pharaoh” as Scripture reports (Exodus 2:15).
Nine years later according to the movie but 40 years later per Scripture, Moses saw the Burning Bush. In the Bible’s report, the holiness of God is paramount. For God tells Moses to remove his shoes as he is standing on holy ground. “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)
But in the movie Moses is buried in an avalanche of mud and stone and awakens with a broken leg to see the burning bush. There is no hint of either God’s holiness or Moses’ fear of God in the movie, and the Burning Bush has no apparent meaning.
One serious fault of the movie is the blasphemous way the movie presents God. Its complete and utter disrespect for the Creator, Ruler, and Sustainer of the universe is mind-boggling. The portrayal of Yahweh (I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) is completely disrespectful, false, and even blasphemous. In the movie, Yahweh appears to Moses as a whiny, sullen, petulant, capricious little boy, of about 12 years. The majesty and holiness of the Almighty Creator God of the Bible is completely absent.
The boy’s name in the movie is Malak, a Hebrew word meaning Messenger. Malak Yahweh is translated Angel of the Lord 65 times in the Old Testament. Malak is a common Islamic girl’s name in the Middle East, but is usually a boy’s name in America. Malak is close to Moloch (meaning King), the Canaanite god whose worship featured child sacrifice by fire.
Moses is portrayed as ignorant, uninformed, and uninterested in the True God, even until his son Gershom is 7 or 8 years old. After an agnostic-flavored father-son exchange, wife Zipporah sweetly demurs, “You’ll confuse him…I want him (Gershom) to know our ways; then he can decide for himself when he’s older, like you.” The implication is that Moses has decided to have no faith. Early scenes show Moses dismissive of a priestess, Moses urging Pharaoh and his advisors to be objective, Moses stating that he only believes what can be proven and observed. In the movie Moses leaves Gershom and Zipporah behind when he departs for Egypt. In the Bible he takes them with him.
Upon Moses’ return to Egypt, the movie depicts him brandishing a sword and threatening Pharaoh. Aaron was practically invisible in the movie, whereas in Scripture he is Moses’ mouthpiece and performs miracles with his staff.
Exodus graphically portrays nine of the ten plagues which devastated Egypt: waters turned to blood, frogs, flies, boils, livestock death, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborns. It left out the plague of gnats before the flies and moved the boils from after the livestock death to before.
The movie depicted the plagues as natural in origin. Interestingly, Ramses’ court priests proffered the usual naturalistic explanations for the plagues that liberal theologians spout today. But the skepticism on Ramses’ face showed he wasn’t convinced. Likewise in the Bible, the Pharaoh knew the plagues were supernatural, but Yahweh continued to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and how I performed My signs among them; that you may know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 10:1-2)
The movie omitted all the Moses-Pharaoh confrontations throughout the plagues except for the one preceding the tenth plague. The plagues start with no indication that they are being initiated by Moses or inflicted by God because Pharaoh will not let the Hebrews go. Movie director Ridley Scott said he tried to present “a more scientific or natural explanation” for the plagues. For example, he had a swarm of crocodiles attacking people and fish as the source of blood in the Nile. Moses appeared to be surprised.
Missing from the movie are Moses’ repeated calls to Pharaoh to “Let my people go” in order to worship God or else. This context for the plagues is important to understand, but it’s glossed over in the movie.
The movie showed the Hebrews applying lamb blood to their doorways, but no rationale was given. The “Passover of the death angel” for Hebrew homes was so significant that God commanded its yearly observance and detailed discussion, yet in the movie the reasoning was not explained.
Finally after the deaths of firstborns, Pharaoh lets the Hebrews leave. In the movie they leave in the daytime. In the Bible the journey begins at night.
The movie has Pharaoh and his army chasing after “400,000 slaves.” But at least 600,000 grown men left Egypt, based on a census Moses took a year later (Numbers 1:45-49). A conservative estimate for Israel’s population one year after the Exodus is 5 million people. (See Population Growth – Israel in Egypt)
There’s a great chase scene in the movie. Part of Pharaoh’s army of soldiers and chariots falls off the side of a mountain as they careen down a twisting mountain road trying to catch up to the Hebrews.
Red Sea Crossing
The movie gives an impressive representation of the Red Sea event. The towering walls of water looming over the Hebrews and crashing down over the Egyptians provide a good visual interpretation of what the event may have been like.
The Bible says the Hebrews crossed on dry land, but the movie shows them at times wading through waist-deep water. The movie has Moses saying they will cross the straits at low tide, thereby hinting at a possible non-miraculous explanation. But it doesn’t explain how the Egyptians would have drowned at low tide. The Bible says all the Egyptians drowned in the sea, but the movie shows Ramses swimming ashore to safety. The movie also incorrectly has Moses caught in the returning waters and swimming to shore, but the Bible reports him standing on the shore stretching out his hand over the sea to cause the waters to flood over the Egyptians. (Exodus 14:21-29)
The movie does not attribute the Red Sea parting, the Hebrews crossing, and the Egyptian army destruction to Yahweh’s direct miraculous action.
Movie director Ridley Scott told Entertainment Weekly about the Red Sea crossing,
“I didn’t believe it…when I was just a kid sitting in the third row. I remember that feeling, and thought that I’d better come up with a more scientific or natural explanation.” (Entertainment Weekly, 2014/10/23)
The movie omitted the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day that separated the Israelites from the Egyptians before they crossed the Red Sea.
Official Movie Trailer
Evaluation & Recommendation
Exodus has powerful visual effects that enhance the human drama. Great costumes, equipment, and scenery all contribute to a strong impression. The crowd scenes reveal the scope of the population and are especially impactful. The logistics of organizing such an emigration are more than mind-blowing.
The excellent musical sound track was appropriate and enhancing. It did not distract one’s attention or detract from the movie.
A potential side benefit of Exodus doing well as a movie is that more Bible-inspired epics will make their way to the screen. Director Ridley Scott is considering doing a David and Goliath movie next. Such movies will provide more opportunities to talk about Bible truth with unbelievers and doubters, even when the movies depart significantly from the Biblical text, as last spring’s Noah did and as Exodus does.
Exodus will be the subject of numerous casual conversations at work, home, and play. The movie is opening serious public discussion about a Biblical account that is often ridiculed and disbelieved. Christians need to be ready to participate in the conversation with Biblical truth, whether one sees the movie or not. Use Exodus as an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with unbelievers. The movie can naturally lead to deep conversations about God’s holiness, judgment, love, and mercy. That’s a blessing Hollywood probably did not intend.
Here are some questions that believers can use (with or without watching the movie) to engage people about Moses and the Exodus. Encourage people to read the true account in Exodus 1 -14:
- What kind of man was the Moses of the movie? How does he compare with the Moses of the Bible?
- How did Moses know what the Creator wanted him to do?
- What was the reason for the Plagues in the movie? In the Bible?
- What did you like most and least about the movie?
- What most impresses you about the Biblical Moses?
- Can you identify with the stubbornness that Pharaoh displayed toward what God wanted him to do? What choice has God put in front of you today that’s hard to obey?
To prevent the movie’s imaginative additions and historical errors from infecting one’s mind, I encourage the careful reading of the true record of Moses and the Exodus in Exodus 1 -14 both before and after seeing the movie. I urge families to discuss the discrepancies between the movie and Scripture.
When watching this movie there is a danger that false ideas about Moses and the Exodus will stick in people’s minds due to the engaging visual presentation. And errors which are so powerfully visualized tend to stick in people’s minds better than the accurate history of Scripture. That’s why I think it’s especially important to review the true historical account in Exodus 1 -14 both before and after watching the movie. Dig into the true story of the Exodus recorded in Exodus 1 -14 and inculcate its truth. Sometimes listening to audio Scripture makes it fresh and vivid; audio is easily playable on the free YouVersion Bible app.
So what’s the bottom line? Do I recommend the movie or not? How do I rate the movie?
I give it 3 stars out of 5. This is an average of 4 stars out of 5 for visual entertainment and 2 stars out of 5 for accurate historical portrayal of people and events.
Many of the scenes can be valuable in bringing the Bible to life. The geographical vistas, plagues, the Hebrews in route, the Egyptian army in pursuit, and the Red Sea crossing are all impressive. So is the cultural setting of dress, surroundings, and daily tasks.
However, I recommend reading the true historical account of the Hebrews’ Exodus from Egypt in the Bible (Exodus 1 -14) both before and after seeing the movie in order to reduce the likelihood of the movie’s story corrupting your mind.
Message of Moses
The movie did not cover another great part of Moses’ life work. He wrote the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This includes the Exodus and the Ten Commandments which are briefly mentioned at the end of the movie. It also includes the record of Creation, Noah’s Flood, and the Tower of Babel.
Jesus of Nazareth placed foundational importance on Moses’ writings. For He equated believing them with believing His own words:
“Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. “But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:45-47)
Jesus said Moses accused the Jews of Jesus’ day for not believing Jesus. Moreover Moses appeared and conversed with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-9), thereby endorsing Jesus’ identity and mission. Thus the fundamental Message of Moses is to believe in Jesus of Nazareth.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Read my other movie reviews:
The Genesis Code (with video)
Marilyn Monroe and the Age of the Earth
Mystery of Noah’s Flood (with videos)
God’s Not Dead, the Movie (with videos)
Noah, the Movie (with videos)
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday December 17, 2014 A.D.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.