|The Prince of Egypt|
"Did you see the Prince of Egypt," my son David asked a friend who called during Christmas vacation.
"No, and I don't plan to," Ron answered.
"Because it's biased and religious, and I don't want to be influenced by it."
"But you saw Pocahontas and Seven Days in Tibet. They are biased toward Native American and Buddhist religions. What's the difference?"
"This is from the Bible. It's so blatant. I think it's wrong for parents to let their children see it before they have a chance to make up their own mind about religions."
Ron calls himself a Christian, but he resents biblical absolutes such as God's unchanging moral standards and the Ten Commandments. He "respects" David's right to his own view of truth, but as a fourth-year Education major, Ron has embraced the values of the education establishment. Its multicultural focus demands that children be protected from the biblical absolutes that hinder conformity to the new global beliefs and values.
If Ron had actually seen the Prince of Egypt, he might not have found it all that offensive. While the movie reminds us to see life "through heaven's eyes", the biblical bias has been tempered with a more universal focus which should be acceptable to most viewers. In light of the variety of spiritual advisers to DreamWorks listed below, that's not surprising.
Christian parents who take their children to this movie would do well to read the first 20 chapters of Exodus first and to alert their children to all the changes made. Use their desire to see the movie to stir interest in God's actual Word. They would surely enjoy the movie, especially the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea, which highlights the excellent quality of DreamWorks production. You will appreciate the fact that Moses does trust God and obey his command, difficult as that choice may be.
But you will also see Aaron portrayed as a doubting fool, not as Moses' spokesman , which could sway a child's perception of God's chosen high priest. And, unless your children know God's character and purpose from the biblical account, they may not understand how the God who leads Moses differs from all the "other gods" the biblical Moses warns us to shun.
Keep in mind, today's most dangerous deception is the distortion of the nature and purpose of God. Even if everything else lined up with Scripture, an unbalanced view of God would change the meaning of the rest. In His eyes, perhaps we depreciate His awesome holiness when we so readily condone tampering with His holy and unchangeable Word. For He told us in Proverbs 30:5-6 that --
"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
"Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar."
While I sincerely appreciate DreamWork's willingness to invest millions in a movie based on a biblical story, I have three concerns about teaching God's truths to children by way of Hollywood. It
1. undermines the absolute, unchanging quality of His Word
2. adapts God's eternal truths to fit our times
3. puts God's Word into a multicultural context giving new meaning to important truths
4. encourages group dialogue based on questionable study guides available through its website
You may not share my concerns, but let me try to explain how this well-done animated film fits into today's quest for unity in diversity -- a unifying global spirituality that allows each person to define their own god(s) but bans the "exclusive" and "intolerant" absolutes that could offend the masses.
1. Undermines the absolute, unchanging quality of God's Word.
Following in the wake of mythical Hollywood films such as Hercules, the Prince of Egypt may appear to many children as merely another story based on ancient myths or legends. The movie doesn't tell its general audience the biblical facts about God that children need to differentiate between the God of Moses and the Great Spirit of Pocahontas, the mighty Zeus of Hercules, and the ancestral gods of the Lion King all of which were given power to perform miracles. In fact, within this genre of entertainment, the line between truth and myth has been virtually erased.
DreamWork's story of Moses from birth to age 80 ends with a glimpse of the former prince descending Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. But the actual commandments were never read, spoken, or even mentioned. Unlike the Ten Commandments in Hollywood's original version of Moses, they were merely suggested by fleeting pictures to those who already know the biblical account.
This is an important omission, because the Ten Commandments represent God's absolute truth. Since biblical absolutes tend to be offensive to today's world where "the only constant is change," it's not surprising that there were few such absolutes left in the film to offend those who, like Ron, reject the Bible. God's unchanging truth simply doesn't fit today's emphasis on interfaith unity, good feelings, continual change, group consensus, and tolerance toward everything but biblical standards.
On the other hand, compromised Christianity, which leaves out God's absolute standards and our need for the cross, is acceptable. So is the story of Moses, as long as God's unique character and eternal truths are left out. No wonder, since "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19), who hates our God, His truth, and His followers. Turning biblical truth into entertaining stories suits him well, as does our human tendency to laugh along with the masses at man's clever and unholy interpretations of God's holy Word.
However, God gave us His Word as His standard for living, as a moral compass, as a plumb line or reference point, and as a mental filter that separates right from wrong. This truth doesn't change with time any more than God Himself changes. When we rewrite His eternal Word into pleasing sentiments or politically correct stories, the words cease to be His Word. And if we become accustomed to adding, deleting, trivializing, or changing parts of His word according to our will and imagination, we will have traded God's clear, moral standard for the world's moral relativism. No longer would we hold truth as the mental filter needed to discern between right and wrong. We, like the world around us, would tend to drift, like ships without rudders, with every social trend and popular wave of thought.
That's one reason why the God who led Moses doesn't smile at our efforts to adapt His Word to our times. While people have always tried to soften or popularize truth, the following Scriptures show the seriousness of altering His immutable Word:
"You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. " (Deuteronomy 4:2)
"I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life...." (Revelation 22:18-19)
"... if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.... Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Gal. 1:8-10)
2. Adapts God's truth to our times.
To conform the film to contemporary trends and a global marketplace, its makers used the basic framework of the biblical account, retold it in a multicultural context, and replaced many of its lessons with nice sentiments and suggestions that match the social climate of our times.
In other words, the Prince of Egypt is storytelling at its best. It weaves in historical facts, but it makes subtle suggestions that change biblical truth. It introduces children to Moses but adjusts his biography to create a different personality. It wisely shuns token violence and sex, but it imprints lasting images on our minds that can confuse or reshape the actual message in the biblical account. As Dean Gotcher - says, "The eyes are stronger than the ears." It demonstrates animation at its best, but good entertainment doesn't excuse taking liberties with God's eternal, unchanging Word.
Unlike the Old Testament prayers, the prayers in the movie don't usually clarify which god is the object of the prayer. For example, Moses' mother rightly places the basket with her baby in the flowing Nile, but then she sings the following prayer: "River, 0 river....Such precious cargo you bear. Do you know somewhere he can live free?
River, deliver him there...."
In the movie, the mother is not asked to take her child and nurse him. Yet Exodus 2:8-10 tells us that "the child grew" in her care, where he probably received a sense of his true identity, until "she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter."
In the movie, Pharaoh' wife, not his daughter, finds the basket and cares for the baby. Moses and Ramses (Rameses), the heir to the throne, grow up together as reckless and irresponsible brothers. However Acts 7:22 suggests that Moses was trained in the kind of princely disciplines that would prepare him for future leadership.
"Some of the changes in the movie have parallels in the Jewish or Islamic tradition," explains Rev. Bert F. Breiner, Co-Director for Interfaith Relations of the National Council of Churches, whose "Guide for the Effective Religious Use of the Film" is available at DreamWork's web site, <http://princeofegypt.com>. "In the Islamic tradition, Moses is found by the wife of Pharaoh, Asiyuah."
At age forty (but still looking like a youth), Moses finally learns about his Hebrew roots through a chance encounter with his sister Miriam. Confused and upset, he runs back to the palace and confronts Pharaoh Seti , his wise and caring adoptive "father". The Pharaoh, together with the hieroglyphics on the wall, tell the story of his deliverance from death and his arrival at the palace.
"Why did you choose me?" asks Moses.
"The gods did," answered Seti.
This comment may seem innocent enough, but it sends a subtle suggestion that could mislead children who are bombarded with pagan stimuli. Since the storytellers make no moral judgment concerning faith in "other gods", a child would tend to see idolatry from a multicultural or approving perspective rather than from God's point of view. The unspoken fact is that God, not Egyptian gods, chose Pharaoh's court as a training ground for Moses. But since the contrary message came from a supposedly wise and respected ruler, it brings a strong and deceptive suggestion.
Hebrews 11:24-29 tells us that "Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time." Yet, Hollywood's Moses sings a song tuned to the new story:
This is my home with my father, mother, brother
Oh so noble, oh so strong.
Now I am home, here among my trappings
and belongings I belong
And if anybody doubts it
They couldn't be more wrong
I am a sovereign prince of Egypt....
Surely this is all I ever wanted
In response, the Queen-mother lovingly sings:
This is your home, my son
Here the river brought you...
When the gods send you a blessing
You don't ask why it was sent...
The film shows Moses escaping through the desert as in the Exodus account, but he is saved through a miracle not mentioned in the Bible. He joins the family of Jethro, high priest of Midian, as told in Exodus, but the rebellious and assertive Zipporah whom he marries was first introduced in the film as a captive slave brought to Pharaoh's palace.
DreamWorks admits that it took liberties with Scriptures and suggests we read the Exodus account. That's good advice, but it may not be enough to correct the mental framework and faulty images left by a memorable movie that has altered the truth. Its subtle suggestions would prompt a person to conform future Bible study to the images in his mind - especially if using some of the study guides I saw at the Prince of Egypt web site. That the main story line sounds biblical doesn't help. A good counterfeit is usually the biggest rival to God's best.
3. Puts Truth into a multicultural context which changes its meaning..
That DreamWorks would compromise God's Word comes as no surprise. Unless film-makers know God, how can they understand His ways or appreciate the integrity of His truth?
They can't, which brings up the third concern: the politically correct message inserted into the framework of a biblical story. The story of Moses seems to be lifted out of its biblical context which shows that paganism is intolerable to God, then placed into the contemporary context which commends all religions as long as they renounce divisive absolutes that could hinder the quest for interfaith unity.
For example, when Jethro's family sits down to eat, the priest offers a prayer that reflects Christian traditions, not the pagan Midianite culture. His words, "Let's give thanks for this bountiful food," sound like those of a devout church-going father, but they send the message that there is little difference between God's people and those who follow other gods and spiritual practices.
In today's multicultural context, children are taught to avoid moral judgments that could sound "intolerant". They must never offend those who choose contrary beliefs or lifestyles. So it's not surprising that DreamWorks presents Egyptian occultism as fun, exciting and empowering rather than as serious evil. In the movie, the entertaining Egyptian priests or shamans soften the evil of their ritual with their funny performance. Fun times are good for us, but the song inviting children to learn the names of pagan gods and sing along is no laughing matter:
"By the power of Ra, Mut, Nut, Khnum, Ptah....
So you think you've got friends in high places
With the power to put us on the run
Well, forgive us these smiles on our faces
You'll know what power is when we are done
You're playing with the big boys now...
Ev'ry spell and gesture
Tells you who's the best....
By the might of Horus
You will kneel before us
Kneel to our splendorous power..."
From the multicultural point of view, pagan empowerment may well seem "splendorous." The movie-makers are careful to present all perspectives in as good a light as possible. But God calls both occult practices and those who participate in them "an abomination" and warns us to shun them. "Walk as children of light," writes the apostle Paul, "finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." (Ephesians 5:8-11)
The movie doesn't mention that the first and second commandment warn us to shun polytheism: "You shall have no other gods before Me.... For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...." (Exodus 20:3-5) Nor does it remind us that the time of oppression in Egypt served to separate God's people from the gods and practices of Egypt and to prepare them to follow God as a nation into the promised land.
Centuries earlier, God had told Abraham what would happen. In Genesis 15:13-16, He said:
"Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. .... But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete."
From God's heavenly perspective, the Amorites and other pagan nations in ancient Canaan were not yet wicked enough to warrant His judgment. But by the time God leads His people into the land, that final level of "iniquity" would have been reached. The key to Israel's victory would be their obedience to God and refusal to compromise.
Children watching the movie without the benefit of biblical discernment are likely to hear a distorted message. They may think that --
- there are many gods
- all gods can perform miracles
- miracles can happen when you believe in one or more gods and have learned the spiritual formulas
- the gods of Egypt are more fun and willing to do what their "priests" command, but
- the God who spoke to Moses is more powerful.
- God delivered the Hebrews because they were poor slaves oppressed by the dominant class.
When Jethro sings an uplifting song to build Moses self-esteem, his message includes a seductive blend of biblical truth and globalist promotion of oneness across religious lines. As the people dance around the fire, the words ring out:
"You can never see through the eyes of man
You must... look at your life through heaven's eyes....
And though you never know all the steps
You must learn to join the dance
You must learn to join the dance."
To "join the dance," you can form a group, follow a study guides, and discuss the issues. The Prince of Egypt website lists the following spiritual experts and their study questions - one for each of the religious persuasions. Each guide would give you a slightly different perspective on what it means "to look at your life through heaven's eyes."
- Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, President, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta
- Bishop Emil A. Wcela, Roman Catholic Diocese, Rockefeller Centre, NY
- Rev. Dr. Bert F. Breiner, Co-Director for Interfaith Relations National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
- Ravi Zacharias, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
- Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Professor of Philosophy, University of Judaism
- Kent Brown, Ph.D., Brigham Young University
- Ms. Samer Hathout and Dr. Maher Hathout, Islamic Center of Southern California
4. Encourages group dialogue based on questionable study guides.
Dr. Robert M. Franklin's study guide seems to focus on contemporary social issues. He uses the story of Moses as a tool to explain the evils of slavery in America and to build sympathy with the oppressed classes exploited by the dominant classes. Those are valid concerns, but not the main theme of Exodus.
In the context of the whole Bible, Exodus is actually a crucial moment in God's overall plan to establish a unique people that would trust Him, demonstrate His glory, understand the power of sin, and receive His promised redemption. When Israel compromised truth and added pagan practices to His teachings, God withdrew His protection and allowed drought, famine, wars, and slavery to oppress them. He didn't deliver them from oppression until they again cried out to Him in faith, humility, and repentance.
Rev. Breiner, the NCC leader of Interfaith Relations, suggests that we "check out" the "other study guides" at the Prince of Egypt web site. He tells us that these "reflect the perspectives of other religious traditions" and would teach us about "other understandings of the Moses story." Then he asks some telling questions,
"How important are the details or exact words of the biblical text? Can we learn anything about the Bible message by hearing the stories in new ways, with new emphases, and with slightly different twists in the plot? Can we learn new insights when the characters are portrayed differently? ... Ask yourself how you feel the movie relates to the inspiration that Christians believe is to be found in the Bible."
His questions are typical of the kind used to facilitate the "consensus process" now used in schools, government, and workplace to bring unity and establish the new global values. This process requires each group member to seek common ground, be willing to compromise to please the group, and be open to conform his views and values to those of the group. Naturally, biblical absolutes and contrary facts don't fit. These must be sacrificed at the altar of oneness and tolerance. Opinions and feelings, which can be easily modified or manipulated, are welcomed.
In contrast to the world's unity which joins all religions into an acceptable mix for a global village, God's unity flows from an uncompromising commitment to know and follow His Word. Because His standards are so high, His mercy and provisions for our failures seemed all the more wonderful.
Long ago, God warned His people to delight in truth and shun the gods of their pagan neighbors. From the world's point of view, He made a very "intolerant" statement:
"...you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. "There shall not be found among you anyone who...practices witchcraft... or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. "For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD...." (Deut. 18:9-12)
God tells us to know and meditate on the same absolute truths that the world despises and that compromising churches want to forget or modify. Accepting the whole unmitigated Bible with its unpopular heavenly bias remains the only way to genuine unity, peace, and victory in Him now and forever.
"Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper....
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)
1. Moses tells God that he is "slow of speech" which some have interpreted as a speech impediment. But Acts 7:22 tells us that Moses was "mighty in words and deeds." By this time, Moses was 80 years old and had lived in a foreign country, Midian, about 40 years. As an immigrant from Norway, I can identify with his probable concern over a heavy accent.
2. The concept of continual change lies at the heart of Total Quality Management (TQM), the management system being established in schools, business, government, etc. To guide the change and prepare people to open to all future plans, TQM demands total participation. All will have to participate in the consensus process.
3. Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:15-16; Deut. 4:5-14.
4. See also Deuteronomy 4:5-14; 2 Peter 1:19-21, 3:15-17; 2 Cor. 2:17; 2 Tim. 2:15-16, 4:2-5; Psalm 50:16-17.
5. Dean Gotcher, President of Institute for Authority Research, is the foremost Christian researcher in the area of psycho-social change and the Hegelian dialectic process.
6. The film's reigning Pharaoh is introduced as Seti and his son as Ramses, but the actual Pharaohs of Moses' days were Thutmose I, II, and III and Amenhotep II. With Hollywood's power to influence culture and contribute to the UNESCO program of "Lifelong Learning" in nations around the world, these factual changes are not insignificant.
7. There is reason to believe that the Midianites had blended their roots in Abrahamic faith with that of the pagan cultures around them over the past four centuries. Jethro became a believer in the true God after seeing his miracles at the hand of Moses (Exodus 18:1-9), but his new faith did not keep the Midianites true to God after he left to join Moses. Numbers 22:7 show us that the Midianites were practicing divination, which was part of a string of occult practices common to that area. See God's warning in Deuteronomy 18: 9-12.
8. This is a major focus in the website study guide by Dr. Robert Michael Franklin, President, Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
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