The Israelites were Always Slaves in Egypt Until Moses Led Them Out of Bondage
Fade in: Act One. Once upon a time, there was a magical place called Tinsel Town, where they told marvelous tales of wonder etched on tablets of silver with the finger of God. And not only did it seem as though the images on the screen had come down from On-High, even the stories seemed to have descended from Heaven. That’s because when pioneers of the cinema sought to elevate their fledgling industry beyond the status of mere nickelodeons, they hedged their bet by reworking the stories they found in their most beloved book, the book of all books: The Bible.
The stories they were particularly drawn to contained elements that lent themselves to the very thing that made the movies so unique in the first place—stories expressed through the magic of special effects. And when these marvelous spectacles were produced, some of the best received were miracle-laden stories drawn directly from Scripture, like The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, and Ben-Hur.
So it was that one of the most famous of all misconceptions ever to be blamed on The Bible was born, courtesy of none other than Hollywood. In this case, the film in question concerns the twice-made epic, produced in 1923 and 1956, by Cecil B. DeMille: The Ten Commandments. Here’s how it goes.
As our story opens, the Israelites are struggling as slaves in abject poverty, completely dominated by their Egyptian overlords. From the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, the Israelites are systematically brutalized. Too despairing to lift their heads even in prayer, God nevertheless hears their cries and decides to act; He deigns to raise up a savior to deliver them from bondage.
Before long, rumors of the coming of this Hebrew messiah find the ear of the Pharaoh, and hoping to avert the fulfillment of this prophecy, he orders every male Israelite infant to be drowned in the Nile River. But, in a dramatic twist that not even Hollywood could have concocted, the baby Moses floats into Pharaoh’s court by way of the very river that was supposed to drown him.
Terrific stuff! You’re still with me, right?
Story Continues Below
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Story Continues From Above
Good; then comes Act Two. Growing up in the court of Pharaoh, Moses never realizes that he’s actually the son of Hebrew slaves, though for some strange reason he’s smitten at the sight of their suffering.
Then, through an ironic turn of events, Moses discovers his true identity; and even though it means forfeiting the riches and power of Egyptian royalty, he chooses to follow God’s call. After being slaves in Egypt for centuries, the Israelites’ dream of being free suddenly seems possible, if only Moses can persuade Pharaoh to let them go. So far, so good? Wonderful!
Act Three follows. Working hand in hand with God to rain down ten plagues upon Egypt, Moses induces Pharaoh to release the Israelites. A great mass of people vacate Egypt and begin their fateful trek to freedom, only to find that Pharaoh’s army is chasing them. And because the Red Sea blocks their way of escape, the people turn to Moses once again. But fear not. Moses raises his staff, the breath of God parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites escape the onslaught of Pharaoh’s army, which is then destroyed in a great avalanche of water—all courtesy of the best special effects that Hollywood can produce!
Wow, what a story! Who writes stuff like this? No wonder most people assume it wasn’t made up by any mere mortal. It comes straight from The Good Book, as is, right? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, folks, but think again. The story, I’m afraid, has undergone some editing for the sake of heightening the drama. Here’s what I mean.
Remember: According to the three laws of disinformation, the first order of business is to latch onto any truth that’s firmly founded on actual Scripture. In this case, one couldn’t hope to find a better example. Virtually the whole story as appropriated by Hollywood is in The Bible, but with one all-important variation. Tinsel Town’s version has the Israelites portrayed as slaves from the beginning of the story, as if they’d never known any other condition in their history. The Scriptures, however, reveal that far from starting out as slaves during their Egyptian sojourn, they were once a great and powerful nation living and ruling in the midst of Egypt’s heartland.
Now at first, this point of divergence may not seem important, but it actually makes all the difference in the world. I’ll explain why a little later, but before I do, let’s look at how Hollywood’s version differs from that of Scripture.
Just like every great misconception of The Bible, a great motion picture requires certain key elements; it needs a powerful story arc to be great. That means, in the case of The Ten Commandments, the Israelites must begin in bondage en route to being released into freedom. Otherwise, without this clearly sequential storyline, the movie itself might fail to deliver on its own terms.
But the truth is: What works for Hollywood doesn’t necessarily work for Scripture. Cecil B. DeMille may have insisted that the Israelites start out as slaves, but God obviously had a different story arc in mind. And He did so because He had an entirely different purpose to reveal to mankind than Mr. DeMille did.
Completely ignoring Hollywood’s demands, the God of The Bible made sure that when the Israelites entered Egypt some four hundred and thirty years before the Exodus they were led by the cunning patriarch Jacob and his twelve sons.
Eventually, Jacob’s most gifted son, Joseph, ascended to a position of immense power as Egypt’s viceroy.