We crowded into a dark lit theatre as we awaited the beginning to the telling of an age old story filled with adventure, action, violence, love, mystery, and yes, even the miraculous!! As the lights went down it was clear, no one around us could be recognized for their beliefs, no ones theology was visible to the neighbour beside them let alone written on their sleeves. We truly were Nicodemus’s in exodus of reality to a world of a called people and the wrestling with a God called “I AM”!!
I love these moments, the ones where we can retreat into our imaginations, seek out the deeper questions and meanings of these cultural stories, and see how they shape our lives and who we are! Yet, when the lights all come back on, it seems like the chains of dogmatic judgements, theological and denominational boundaries, all creep back in to enslave us back to the Christian Right to which we are supposedly apart of; as though our lack of imagination, our literal word for word expectations, and our inability to “read between the lines“, some how sets us a part from the world as people of righteousness; as people who are superior to that of the “non-believer”. What a people of enslaved grotesque spirituality we have become!
Ridley Scott, in his film ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’ has taken up the story of YHWH and his people once again. Yes, you heard right! It is not a story about Moses, Ramesses, or Pharaoh. It is a story about YHWH, the God named ‘IAM’, and the people he chose to call his own!! Hollywood got it right and it is the brilliance behind Scott’s film.
Sitting on the front opening to a house of a make believe king, Moses corrects an overseer to the Hebrew people who interprets the peoples name as meaning “One Who Fights With God” and rebukes him saying, “No, it means ‘One Who Wrestles With God’! There is a difference you know!” Ironically, historically this is what the Egyptian people did themselves with their gods as they appeased them through worship and sacrifice. To rebel against this was to fight their perceived powers; most often found in the natural elements of their culture. This is what the ten plagues was about! YHWH broke forth in showing His power by protecting his people while demolishing the gods of Egypt. Whether it was Osiris of the nile and the river of blood or Pharaoh himself pronouncing death to the first born; all of Egypts gods would fall to the greater power of YHWH, “I AM”, and his people. (Click Here to see the fall of Egypts gods to YHWH)
This paints an even deeper theme of wrestling that we find in the film. It wasn’t just the Hebrew people who wrestled with God; it was the Egyptians too! Who was this YHWH who held authority over their gods? Who were these Hebrew people, those called people of “I AM”? Who are they as a nation called Egypt, neighbours to YHWH’s called nation?
It wasn’t just Moses who sat on the shore of the Red Sea questioning God, “If I am not an Egyptian General, if not a deliverer, a messiah to the Hebrew people; who am I?” Ramesses too questioned his vocation and calling in the eyes of his creational identity. What are the issues a king is suppose to address – issues of glory, greatness, and inspiration or issues of legacy, death, and the altars of a tomb? From his own lips. “Am I a pharaoh who is to live as a Bedouin his hole life?” What contemplations that question may offer when you consider the coming 40 years Moses would spend roaming the dessert with the shadow of God in the midst of a Tabernacle moving from place to place!!
In Exodus 6:7 God speaks to his people and says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What does it mean to truly know God?
The word “to know” in Hebrew is “yada“. Yet yada is to know in the most deepest way, the most intimate way, so that ones vocation, ones calling and characteristics, ones very identity is intertwined into that which they are in relationship of knowing. To yada God, to know “I AM”, is to be eternally wrestling with the very fabric of what he is doing in shaping your character, your personhood, your life. God is saying, “I AM in your work place!”, “I AM in your home!”, “I AM in your thoughts!”, “I AM in your marriage’s!”, “I AM in your friendships!”, “I AM in your churches!”, “I AM in your theatres!”, “I AM in your life!!”
Yes, this is a film of a great many of people who wrestle with God and the ways in which they encounter him. It is a wrestling that still happens today as we are confronted in dimly lit theatres and the oppression of the Christian Right’s cracking whip to resist wrestling with the one called “I AM” as apposed to the one called “I say”.
I’m sure, like me, there is much that you are wrestling with in Ridley Scott’s latest telling of Exodus; some of which may be fair. Yet let us wrestle with this freely as people who God has given a promised land of imagination, freedom of expression, creative artistic talents, and a living heart for the one true God. And to those who would turn a face of condemning judgement over those who dare to see beyond the confines of earthly empires and institutional structures; I say to you… LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!