God at the Movies: The Exodus (and the Presbyterian Rebellion)

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Exodus 1:8-14

This coming December, Christian Bale, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley will be staring in the movie, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. It has been interesting to read Christian Bale’s answers to questions about this movie. He is playing Moses…

When asked: What’s your take on Moses, one of the most iconic men—and beards—in history?

Bale said:I prefer to call him Moshe. Otherwise it’s like “Moooooses,” and everyone immediately thinks of Chuck Heston. Ridley and myself, we’d like to present a different interpretation. I’d never sat down and read the five books of the Torah—the Pentateuch—and there is some shocking stuff. Things you certainly never hear in Sunday school. He’s a fascinating guy, with all of the vulnerabilities and extraordinary capacities that come with being very human—almost too human, and quite harsh in his emotions. It’s a rawstory when you break it down.

Bale is right… it is a raw, emotional story… and a powerful story… and some would say it is THE definitive story of the Bible.

Just as the story of our fight for American independence is a raw and powerful story of freedom… so this story was to the Jews and early Christians. You would be hard pressed to say that there is a more important story in the Hebrew Bible… It is referred to at least 120 times in the Old Testament. It is the story our Jewish friends re-enact every year at Passover…

It is the story that is key to understanding Jesus… Matthew intentionally writes his Gospel to help connect Jesus with the story of the exodus… He is the new Moses. To fully understand the Lord’s supper, you have to know this story of exodus and Passover.

The story is a story of freedom… of liberation… It is a story of a God who has heard his people suffering and crying… though it had not always been that way. After Joseph had helped Egypt through a difficult time and his family moved there… life was good. But then the Jews kept multiplying… and as the years went by, there became (as Exodus says) a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph… Feeling threatened by the growing population of non-Egyptians…immigrants… Pharaoh’s policy forced them into slavery and hard labor. For generations they cried and cried for God to help… and Exodus is the story about how God answered their prayers… using unlikely and unwilling people like Moses to lead them to freedom… to the Promised Land. You really should read the story if you haven’t done so! It is a powerful and raw story. In many ways it is THE story you have to understand in order to understand the rest of Scripture.

I think it is a story they need to hear in Kilis Turkey these days. One of the highlights of our trip was to this town 6 miles from the Syrian border… where 120,000 refugees have fled… We went to a soup kitchen feeding 4000 of those refugees every day and fed many of them for a while. They come… mostly women and children…with stories of being bombed… I’ll never forget the face of the 25 year old woman with a baby… desperate for food… and the many others trapped by this war…

No doubt, like the Israelites they are crying for help. The organization helping them is aptly named: “Does anybody care?” Does anybody care? How is that for a name of an organization…?

The story of the Exodus is a story I hope they know… for it is the story of a God who hears cries… who answers prayers… Perhaps one day the refugees will be able to look back and claim that Exodus story as their own…

I know it is the story we claimed for our own as Americans during our time of struggle. Perhaps no story has been as influential as the Exodus in the forming of our nation. During the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams proposed a design for a national seal. It is on our bulletin cover today. (Take a look) It portrays the Egyptian pharaoh leading his troops through a divided Red Sea in pursuit of the fleeing Israelites. Surrounding the scene were the words, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”

Though the continental congress did not embrace their suggestion, the story was embraced by preachers and people to validate and rally the troops against a stronger foe. Clearly King George represented Pharaoh – oppressing the people… George Washington was the new Moses… leading them to freedom.

Interestingly, while rebellious Americans were using the Exodus against the British, others were using it against another tyrant- American slave owners.

American slaves before, during and after the revolution used the Exodus in much the same way as did white Americans who fought against the British. Spirituals such as “Go down Moses” were sung to encourage the slaves that one day God would deliver them just as God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptian slavery.

The Exodus story was used by both sides during the civil war and more recently it was a prominent story during the modern Civil Rights movement… as we should remember this week when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of Civil Rights legislation.

You would be hard pressed to interpret the story of America without knowing the story as the spiritual story that rallied our people—especially those feeling oppressed.

No doubt our Presbyterian pastors from that time used this story in their preaching. During the American Revolution, many Presbyterian pastors were active and in the thick of battle. Chaplain James Caldwell was known as the fighting parson… when the soldiers were running short of gun wadding, he told them to go into the church—tear the pages out of the hymn books and use it for wadding for their guns.

Some historians say there might not have been an American Revolution without the Presbyterians. I do not say that lightly.

The revolution was fanned by many sermons preached in many Presbyterian churches. So much so, some people called this a Presbyterian rebellion. British officials concluded that the conflict between the colonies and Britain were created by the Presbyterians. One person said, “Presbyterianism is really at the bottom of this whole conspiracy, has supplied it with vigor and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.”

A German mercenary soldier agreed: “Call this war… by whatsoever name you may… only call it not an American rebellion. It is nothing more than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.”

After the war began, Presbyterian churches were targeted for pillaging and burning.

What did Presbyterians—especially Presbyterian pastors do (so much for keeping out of politics)… that caused this reaction? They preached. They read the Scriptures… they saw that the God acting in stories like the Exodus was acting in their story… They refused to stay out of politics and keep faith only personal.

They preached that the Americans were God’s chosen people fighting for justice and liberty against the cruel and tyrannical British. They provided the spiritual and emotional fuel needed for the American Revolution… You could say that the American Revolution did not begin in 1776… but back around 1446 BC at the time of the Exodus. (Making this our 2450 anniversary!)

Around that time, there was a group of Israelites suffering under the oppression of those in power… The Egyptians were insensitive to their cries… they would not listen to their pleas… Justice was denied (to use prophetic language)…Around that time, God heard them crying… and there was no just king who would listen… so God listened.

And God called a reluctant Moses to lead them… to freedom. If you want to know what happened, you can wait for the movie I guess… but why wait? The story is right here… in the Bible… just ready to be read…ready to reveal the God who answers prayers of those who suffer… Ready to take slaves and form them into a very special people… in fact; ready to help these former slaves become a kingdom of priests and a holy people— ready to help others who would be oppressed in the generations to come. It is a great story. It is our story. Don’t believe me? Well, go read it for yourself. It is there in black and white!