The Prince of Egypt, The Servant of God: When God Says “Move,” Go Where He Leads
Come December, a wonderful movie will appear in theaters all over the country. It is an animated feature film entitled The Prince of Egypt, and it tells the Biblical story of Moses in a powerful and inspiring way. It is a movie you will want to see. Therefore, in order to prepare us for the experience of that movie, I am spending these weeks with you looking at how Moses, the Prince of Egypt became Moses, the Servant of God …
Here is one of my all-time favorite stories. One Sunday afternoon a father and his son were talking together and the father asked his son what he had learned in Sunday School that day. The young boy answered: “Well, she told us about Moses crossing the Red Sea.” The father asked: “And what did she tell you about it?” The boy hesitated for a few moments and then suddenly he launched into a remarkable narrative. He said: “Well, this guy named Moses got mad that the wicked King Pharaoh was holding people hostage so he warned him to let the people go or he would be in big trouble. So King Pharaoh said ‘okay.’ Moses then loaded those people up in big buses and started off down the road. But then King Pharaoh changed his mind. He called out his army, his tanks, his half-tracks, his big guns—and he began chasing old Moses. He even called in air strikes. When Moses and all those people in the buses got to the Red Sea they knew they were trapped. Then they got an idea. They took sand from the shore of the sea and they made sandbags. They laid two lines of sandbags all the way across that sea. Then they brought in pumps and they pumped out the water from between the lines of sandbags so they could cross on dry land. Then they put plastic explosives in those sandbags and when King Pharaoh’s army followed them they detonated those plastic explosives with a remote device and blew up Pharaoh’s army.” The father cried: “Wait a minute! Is that the way she told you that story?” The little boy shrugged: “Naw! But if I told you the story the way she did, you’d never believe it!”
Well, today there are so many people who don’t seem to believe the story the way the Bible tells it. But one of the reasons why I love what that little boy said is that he actually puts the story of Moses and the Red Sea into believable terms. Given our present technological and military capability, the little boy’s scenario sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Of course, why then would anyone doubt that the God who created the universe and everything in it could pull off the escape described in the Book of Exodus? For a God who can set the stars and planets in perfect order and who can create the unexplainable intricacy of the human body—for that kind of God parting the waters of the Red Sea would be akin to child’s play.
Here’s the story as the Bible has it…
Moses, under the direction of God and armed only with his shepherd’s staff as the symbol of God’s power, headed back toward Egypt and the inevitable confrontation with Pharaoh. I think Moses knew it would be an emotionally charged meeting and I think he approached it with a combination of fear and dread. Why? Well, the movie The Prince of Egypt makes clear what the Bible only implies. You see, in Exodus 2 we are told that the Pharaoh who was the father of Moses’ Egyptian mother died while Moses was enduring those long years in the desert tending his flocks. Understand, please, that at that time in Egypt the royal succession came through the mother. Therefore, we can logically assume that the Pharaoh on the throne in Egypt at this point in time was none other than Moses’ adopted brother. The two boys would have grown up together in the Egyptian royal palace, sharing the experiences of childhood and youth. No doubt they were bound together as most brothers are, by a combination of love and competition.
Little wonder then that Moses would have dreaded this confrontation. The love binding these two would have to be set aside; only the spirit of competition would remain. No longer would it be childish or youthful sport—now it would be life or death. And what Pharaoh did not accept until it was too late was that he was not contesting with Moses, but with God. Ten plagues, especially the last one, when the angel of death took the life of the Egyptian’s sons, were too much for him. The Bible tells us that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened against Moses and the Israelites. I think what hardened his heart was his stubborn determination to beat his adopted brother, Moses, at all costs.
So when Moses demanded that Pharaoh let God’s people go, Pharaoh replied: “No, a thousand times no!” Moses then utilized that power-filled shepherd’s staff of his to trigger ten successive plagues upon the Egyptian people. First, the Nile River was rendered undrinkable. There followed the onslaught of an overwhelming number of pests: frogs, gnats, flies, locusts. And there were weather-related disasters: destructive hail and days of total darkness created no doubt by desert sandstorms. The Egyptian men were afflicted with boils, and their livestock began to die from disease. Now, interestingly enough, the first nine plagues would not have been so surprising to the Egyptians in and of themselves. Every one of those things had occurred at various times throughout Egypt’s history. What was different here was the collective impact of all of them hitting in such quick succession. Yet, even that was not enough for Pharaoh to cry “Enough!” It took the tenth plague to do that. The tenth plague was new to Egypt in one sense, but not in another. Go back in the Exodus story to when the infant Moses was hidden in the bulrushes. Why was he there? Because the Pharaoh at that time had decreed that all the boy children of the Israelite slaves were to be killed and so Moses’ mother had hidden him in order to save his life. Now, years later, the tables were turned. The Egyptian sons were targeted for death. That was too much for Pharaoh. The contest was over. Pharaoh relented and let God’s people go. There’s a touching moment in Scripture when Pharaoh decrees that the people are now free and he adds a special word to Moses. I suspect that the words were spoken with deep emotion, brother to brother. Pharaoh said to Moses: “I will not see your face again.”
The Bible says that some 600,000 men plus women and children headed out under the leadership of Moses. Some argue that that number is absurdly high. But is it? The population of Egypt at that time was more than 5 million. Is it absurd to think that 1/5 of them were slaves? I think not. But regardless, it was an enormous multitude of people. Of course, freedom never comes easily or cheaply—and it didn’t for the Israelites either. Their march carried them to the northern extremities of what has become now the Suez Canal. Suddenly their flight to freedom was halted. Picture the situation. They could not turn south because of a heavy range of mountains. They could not turn north because there was a huge garrison of Egyptian soldiers stationed near a place called Migdol. They could not continue eastward, obviously, because of the water. It was at that point that they realized that coming towards them from the west was none other than Pharaoh reneging on his pledge and leading a mighty army bent on destroying the fleeing Israelites. The people were trapped. There was no way out and they knew it. They looked north, east, south and west, but they failed to look up. Despair took hold of them and they cried out to Moses: “Moses, why did you take us out of Egypt? Life was hard there, but at least we were alive. Now we are going to die here in this desert. Let’s go back and try to put things right. The good old days weren’t all that good, but they were better than this!” Moses himself then panicked. He cried: “Lord, what do you want me to do? The fear of the people is becoming my own. Help me!” The Lord’s response was startling. He said: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” Forward? How can we? Nothing but water there!
Do you see what was happening here? Remember that Moses had seen God’s power at the burning bush and it had turned his life around. Now the people of God had to be galvanized around a similar experience, so God was going to demonstrate His power in a way they could never forget. When the people began to move forward, God told Moses to raise his shepherd’s staff. With that the waters parted and the people stepped onto dry ground. I love the way Elie Wiesel describes the scene:
“One could see people running, running breathlessly without a glance backward; they were running toward the sea. There they came to an abrupt halt. This was the end; death was there waiting. The leaders of the people, urged on by Moses, pushed forward: Don’t be afraid, go into the water, into the water. Then according to the old Jewish rabbis, Moses suddenly ordered everyone to a halt. Wait a moment. Think. Take a moment to realize what you are doing. Enter the sea not as frightened fugitives, but as free men and women!”
It was true. They stepped into the water in slavery, but they emerged on the other side in freedom. Don’t let your familiarity with the story blunt its astonishing impact. God, the great God, the all-powerful creator of all, had done what He told Moses He would do. He brought His people out of slavery in Egypt and He used Moses, the Prince of Egypt to accomplish the task. (By the way, I can’t wait for you to see how they do the Red Sea in the movie!)
Now, here’s what the story means to me …
The God who did the impossible in parting the sea is the same God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, setting us free from slavery to sin on Calvary’s cross and parting the waters of death so that we can pass through into eternal life. No one has ever said it better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was, above all others, the theologian of the heart. He believed that Christianity is founded, not upon a proposition, but upon a person. His theology was never meant to be stone-cold words upon a printed page, but rather, it was to be the dynamic, driving passion of his daily life. His faith was never meant to be a fortress of protection against the harsh realities of the world, but rather, it was to be a compelling force moving him forward into that world to change it for good and for Christ. And that’s why he said: “We must come to grips with Jesus Christ in our lives. For in our coming to grips with Jesus Christ depend life and death, salvation and damnation and there is salvation in no one else.”
And that is why in this church we present Jesus Christ as the declared Lord and Savior of your life and mine. Without apology or any sense of shame or reserve, we speak of conversion, of new birth, or making a decision for Christ in life, of surrendering to Him the best that we are and the best that we have, of offering to the people of this city and this world the freedom from sin and the hope for the future which only Christ can bring. Let there be no mistake: Jesus Christ is not just a lord, He is The Lord.
And that’s why here we shall never stop proclaiming the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ because a new tomorrow demands a new you. If you have never made a deep-down personal commitment to Jesus Christ in your life, if you’ve never consciously, deliberately offered Him the best you are and the best you have, if you’ve never made Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your daily experience, then I would suggest to you that now is the time. For when tomorrow comes, there will be a new you to live it. For then you will be changed and then you will begin to change others; and then the day will come when the whole world will be changed, and the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, the great deliverer, Jesus Christ, says to us today what the great deliverer, Moses, said to the people of Israel: Forward march!