Thursday, January 8, 2015

Missing Mediation in Exodus: Gods and Kings

Last week, my husband and I got out to the movies to see Hollywood’s latest adaption of the Exodus story, Exodus: God and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses II. The movie was full of striking imagery, and the music was reminiscent of the 1998 soundtrack of the Prince of Egypt. It followed the basic plotline of the Exodus story, while taking artistic license in the interpretation of the story.

The director, Scott focused largely on the brotherly rivalry between Moses and Ramses, starting the movie off with a battle against the Hittites in which Moses is a hero. Their relationship plays a key role in the progression of the movie. When Ramses discovers Moses’ true origin he banishes Moses to the wilderness. In the wilderness Moses meets Jethro and his family, and eventually marries one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah. Through his relationship with Zipporah, we learn about Moses’ lack of faith in any god. When Moses encounters the burning bush, it is unclear to him whether it was a dream or whether God is really asking him to do something. Through further subtle urging, Moses decides to go back to Egypt and see about freeing his people. He believes that God wants him to be a military leader. Throughout the rest of the movie, Moses spends a lot of time trying to figure out what God wants him to do and acting according to his own judgment. It seems that God has left Moses to free the Israelites through guerilla warfare. Only when Moses attempts fail, does God step in. And when God acts, He does not use his servant, Moses, He does it on His own. Moses responds to the actions with anger towards God. Pharaoh is given no explanation. And the Israelites just sit back and watch.

Scott missed the whole point of Moses’ relationship towards God and the Israelites. He missed the fact that Moses was not just a leader, but was also a mediator. As Catholics we know that God relates to us through human mediators, beginning with the prophets and fathers in the Old Testament and ultimately through Christ.In the book of Exodus, the Lord, hearing the cries of His people, chooses Moses to be His mediator. The role of a mediator is one goes between one party and another. Moses hears and understands God’s plan, his only doubt being that he is not worthy of this role. Moses speaks the words of the Lord to Aaron, and Aaron in turn speaks them to Pharaoh and the Israelites. When the Israelites have a complaint to make to God, such as when Pharaoh increases their workload, they tell Moses and Aaron, who in turn go to God. For each and every plague God tells Moses to warn Pharaoh, and has Moses perform a physical action to bring the plague about. When Pharaoh considers allowing the Israelites to go out into the wilderness to worship he tells this to Moses and Aaron, who then speak to the Lord asking Him to bring an end to each plague. In the Scriptures, God explains the entirety of His plan to Moses, how He ultimately will take His people out of Egypt, how Pharaoh will resist, how He will smite Egypt, and how Moses will do the signs for Him. There is a clear understanding between God and Moses, a clear line of communication, and the Israelites go to Moses when they need to speak to God.

This role of mediator is almost entirely missing from the movie. While in Scripture, God tells Moses clearly what He desires him to do, in the movie Moses is left with a lot of guesswork. In Scripture Moses relies entirely on God as to what he is to do next, and in the movie Moses spends a lot of time seeking God’s help for decisions and not getting any help.

There are three instances where Scott demonstrates a slight understanding of the importance of Moses acting as a mediator between God and the Israelites and Pharaoh. The first is before the final plague, the Death of the First Born. There God reveals His plan to Moses, Moses instructs the Israelites in how to protect themselves through the blood of a Lamb, and Moses warns Pharaoh that the final plague will be the worst. The second instance is at the Red Sea. While in Scripture, Moses is told to raise his arms so that the sea will part, the movie shows Moses making an act of faith that the Israelites will be able to cross the Red Sea. He falls asleep at night trusting that the Israelites will be safe, and wakes the next morning to see that the sea is parting. The final instance is in the last scene where Moses and the Lord are together on Mount Sinai and Moses is writing down the law, finally in agreement with what the Lord is doing.

Maybe Scott intended to use the story of Moses to tell a story of a person growing in faith overtime, but in doing so he missed the point of a mediator. As Catholics, mediation is a crucial part of our practiced faith. Moses is a type of Christ prefiguring Christ and revealing what Christ will be like. Christ, while He is God, also is the definitive mediator. He became man to mediate salvation to us. He established for us the mediation of his mother and that of the Church. The Church mediates God to us through the Magisterium and the Sacraments. Mediation is at the foundation of how we relate to God, and when you take the role of Moses’ mediation from the Exodus story, you miss the crucial way in which God relates to humanity.

Originally posted at Truth and Charity.

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