Ridley Scott’s recently released film, Exodus: God and Kings, has elicited an enormous amount of ink, metaphorically speaking nowadays, getting mixed reviews at best, and scathing reviews from many, especially Christians and Jews. Given it was directed by an avowed atheist, Bible believing Christians and Jews had to know it was going to be a mixed bag. One fascinating review comes from the assistant managing editor of the The Atlantic magazine’s website, Emma Green. She says she is Jewish, although where on the scale of modern Judaism she falls we have no idea, but as a Jew she has some skin in the game. The story of Moses and the Exodus is after all foundational to Jewish identity and religion.
Green sees in Scott’s movie a reframing of the Biblical narrative because obviously letting the Bible speak for itself can be troubling to the 21st Century secularist. She phrases it as the “morally troubling quality of any people being a ‘chosen people.'” The idea of a sovereign God choosing certain people and exclusively offering them salvation has always been problematic. But if you read the early books of the Bible, it wasn’t because the Hebrews were special that he chose them, but simply because he wanted to.
God to Green, and certainly to Ridley Scott, seems cruel and capricious. How could this God in his choosing let ostensibly innocent people die? Especially children. As she says:
This sets up a difficult moral question: Is the freedom of the Hebrews worth more than the lives of Egyptians? God, after all, did not merely liberate the Jews in the spirit of freeing the oppressed; he wiped out Egyptians, per the Bible and per Exodus, because the nation they’d enslaved happened to be his anointed one. Is one people, even the people God has chosen, worth more than another?
This is an impossible question to answer. It depends upon a theory of justice that assigns blame for the system to the individuals that inhabit it. It depends upon the idea that, by designation of God, certain humans can be more holy, or historically worthy, than others; that the accident of birth is enough to determine which side of God’s wrath you deserve to be on.
As a Christian there are still many difficult questions that need to be addressed, or unanswered questions accepted, but having a grasp of the scope of redemptive history, from Genesis to Revelation, makes the answering much easier. Throughout her piece, Green assumes that God can be judged by 21st Century notions of right and wrong, of what is just and what is not. She fails the notice that many of these notions have come from the influence of the Jewish and Christian religion.
If she read her Bible more carefully she would find that God’s theory of justice is that the soul that sins, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). In Genesis 3 we see the origin of all the suffering in the world; we call it the fall. In Genesis 2 we read:
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
In the following chapter we see Satan in the form of a serpent tempt the woman, Eve, to do exactly what God expressly has forbidden. First he questions if God really even made that command, and Eve reiterates that indeed he did, and that if they do they will die. And then Satan does what he does best, lies:
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Here you have it, the best explanation that exists for the misery of mankind. Death cries out for an explanation, and nobody has offered one any better. In this one act, the entire human race became complicit in an act of rebellion against its creator. At the heart of every human is a usurper, one who wants to be God, to determine for him or herself what is right and wrong. I know it’s terribly unpopular and politically incorrect to say such things today, but a holy God must judge sin. God’s wrath and judgment against sin is perfectly just because he is God and we are not; justice is his nature. Any judgment God makes is by definition just! For us to say otherwise is hubris; it buys into the temptation that we know better than our creator.
Green assumes that those God had killed were not guilty, that they did not deserve to die. From a human perspective, from a Ridley Scott perspective, that of course makes sense, but God’s revelation tells us otherwise. That anyone is allowed to live is because of God’s mercy and grace. God’s actions may seem harsh to us today, but that ignores the ancient near eastern context in which actually the Hebrew’s God comes off looking pretty good. For anyone wanting a non-Ridley Scott perspective, two books I recently read are worth the time. One is Paul Copan’s, “Is God a Moral Monster,” and the other is, “The Gift of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill.