Moses – From Prince of Egypt to Servant of God
by Greg Albrecht
First published in the January/February 1999 Plain Truth magazine.
Strangers passing by barely noticed an old man tending his sheep in the desert. Forty years earlier, the unknown shepherd had been a prince-big man in a big place. But that was then. Now, the most recent entry on his resume read: “40 years, shepherd in the desert.”
At 80 years of age, he was forgotten, a has-been, leading sheep around a forsaken desert. Once a young and handsome prince, now an old and forgotten shepherd.
One day the shepherd passed a bush that began to burn, and continued to burn, without burning up. Moses was not so set in his ways that he was beyond learning something new. “I will go over and see this strange sight-why the bush does not burn up” (Exodus 3:3).
The invisible, self-perpetuating and self-reliant God spoke to Moses out of the fiery bush and identified himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God had plans for the next 40 years of Moses’ life.
Moses’ life fascinates and intrigues Christians and Jews, as well as those who do not believe in the God of the Bible. Even 20th century Hollywood has been unable to resist the magic, mystery and majesty of Moses.
Dreamworks Pictures’ The Prince of Egypt was released in late December 1998. Over 40 years earlier, in 1956, audiences were thrilled by Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s epic, The Ten Commandments (a remake of DeMille’s 1923 silent film of the same title).
Speaking of 40 years, Moses’ life can be studied in three distinct sections of 40 years. Moses spent his first 40 years as a prince of Egypt. During the second 40-year period, Moses was a fugitive and a shepherd in the desert. And, the final third period of 40 years was a time when God transformed Moses into one of the great personalities of all history.
Moses was brought from disgrace and ignominy to lead a group of slaves to freedom. Under unbelievably difficult conditions, Moses was used by God to give former slaves the leadership needed for them to become a nation of people who have altered the entire course of history.
Years 1-40: From Slave to Prince
Born the son of a Hebrew slave, Moses survived because he was rescued, saved and eventually adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10). He was given the best education, training and preparation that Egypt could offer (Acts 7:22). In keeping with education given to Egyptian royalty, he was probably tutored by retired military and political leaders. It must have seemed to all who knew him that Moses’ first 40 years prepared him for leadership and fame.
One day, Moses, now a grown man, was watching his own Hebrew people work in bondage to the Egyptians (Exodus 2:11-14). He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and something stirred within him. We don’t know how and when Moses first became aware that he was a Hebrew rather than an Egyptian. But at some point as he matured and grew, Moses was conscious that it was his people who were suffering as slaves.
Moses sided with the Hebrew who was being beaten, rushed to his defense and killed the Egyptian. When Moses buried the Egyptian’s body in the sands of Egypt, he also buried his own promising future as a prince. Moses’ deed became known, and he fled Egypt in disgrace. The Prince of Egypt became a fugitive and a pauper.
Some speculate that Moses might have been acquitted, on the grounds that the murder of the Egyptian was “justifiable homicide.” After all, Moses did come to the aid of the Hebrew slave whose life was threatened. The Bible does not comment. But the Bible does tell us about the fork in the road to which Moses came and the role that faith played in his life.
Moses’ life was characterized by faith from his birth. He was saved by the faith of his parents, who at great personal risk, disobeyed Pharaoh by not having their son put to death (Exodus 1:22). Later in life, Moses refused and ran from what the vast majority of people spend their lives trying to attain — riches and fame. In the Bible’s words, he gave up pleasures and treasures because of his faith.
“By faith 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. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11: 24-26).
Years 41-80: From Prince to Pauper
Moses fled to the desert and met seven daughters of the priest of Midian who were watering their father’s flock (Exodus 2:15-22). Moses married one of the seven daughters and went to work for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Forty years passed, and Moses’ life in Egypt became a distant memory. The last thing on Moses’ mind would have been the task of returning to the scene of his crime in order to be used as a mighty man of God, delivering his people from slavery.
Moses met God that day at the burning bush, and his life changed forever. God had a plan for Moses. Moses felt that the job description God had in mind for him — miracle worker, deliverer and savior of his people — was beyond his capabilities. He began to make excuses. In spite of Moses’ arguments, God did not let him off the hook.
Moses did not want to go back to a place where his wanted poster hung on every bulletin board. Moses had no desire to be a mighty man of God. He just wanted to be left alone. But God did not leave Moses alone.
One Jewish tradition speculates that God observed how Moses carefully and lovingly tended sheep for 40 years. God, according to this tradition, decided that Moses the shepherd was exactly the kind of servant he needed to take Israel out of slavery.
Years 81-120: Servant of God
Upon Moses’ return to Egypt, the Hebrews quickly accepted him as their leader and spokesperson. After all, no other candidate had applied for the job of deliverer and savior. But Moses and his brother Aaron didn’t meet with such instant success when they told the Pharaoh of Egypt to “Let my people go” to worship the Lord, the God of Israel (Exodus 5:1). Pharaoh laughed off Moses and Aaron and told them that he had never heard of the God of Moses.
In fact, Egyptian kings considered themselves to be gods, so this demand to release the Hebrews from slavery so that they could worship their God may have been a slap in Pharaoh’s face. In response, Pharaoh increased the workload of the Hebrew slaves.
God worked through Moses to bring 10 plagues upon Egypt, the last of which finally persuaded Pharaoh to let the children of Israel go. We can more deeply appreciate Pharaoh’s reluctance to let the Israelites go when we read that 600,000 Hebrew men left Egypt in the Exodus. Such an exodus was not only a blow to the pride of the Egyptians, but had long-range implications for their economy. 600,000 men worked as slave labor supporting Egyptian industry. Together with women and children, the total number of Hebrews leaving Egypt would have been over two million people.
The tenth and last plague has become a central event in the Jewish religion — the Passover. God caused all the firstborn of Egypt to die, but spared all Hebrew families who killed a lamb and smeared the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Christians look back on this event of salvation and redemption through the blood of a lamb as the prototype of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world by the shedding of his blood (John 1:29).
The Exodus is the central event of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. It marks the birth of a nation and is still seen by the Jewish people as the great act of God’s redemption on the part of his people.
Parallels for Christians
For Christians, there are many parallels in the story of the Exodus with the saving acts of Jesus as Savior, Messiah, Lord and Master. For Christians, the cross of Christ is the great watershed event that changes everything. It is the event by which a new people of God — the spiritual nation of the church, composed of all races and cultures — is washed, cleansed and born again.
The Exodus was only the beginning of the third period of 40 years in Moses’ life. The dramatic, miraculous and monumental intervention of God at the Red Sea is high drama. Having let the Israelites go, Pharaoh had second thoughts and dispatched his army to once again enslave the Hebrews.
The children of Israel had camped by the Red Sea, hemmed in by mountains on two sides, with the Egyptian army in back of them. God instructed Moses to raise his staff over the waters, and God parted the waters of the Red Sea, giving the Hebrews safe passage. Once all Israel was safely on the other side of the Red Sea, God caused those same waters to drown the Egyptian warriors who followed in hot pursuit of the Hebrews.
Two months after they had crossed the Red Sea, God used Moses to give the children of Israel a covenant, (including the ten commandments), all of which Christians now know as the old covenant. God was leading the new nation to their new land, the promised land. But God determined, because of the lack of faith and constant rebellion of Israel, that the children of Israel would have to journey though the wilderness for 40 years. It was a time of wandering and backtracking, of lessons learned, of frustration, of testing and trial.
Moses’ authority was constantly challenged during the 40 years in the wilderness. He was confronted by many “Back-to-Egypt” committees who told him how good slavery was, compared to his leadership. There must have been times when Moses yearned for his life as a shepherd, leading animals, instead of being a deliverer, leading people.
These 40 years in the wilderness were a struggle for survival, with problems of food and water, internal division and strife, murmurings and rebellion against Moses’ leadership, and battles with enemies. Moses did not escape unscathed, and an act of frustration on his part resulted in God denying him the opportunity to enter the promised land. At the end of the 40 years in the wilderness, just before the children of Israel crossed over the river Jordan into the promised land, Moses died (Deuteronomy 34:5-8). “No one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:12).
A Role Model
Moses was raised a child of two races and struggled with his identity. The Bible says Moses had problems speaking — he may have stuttered. Moses contended with physical handicaps, character flaws and the limitations imposed on him by old age. He is no super-hero, simply an imperfect human who went from riches to rags, and was redeemed by God to liberate and rescue Israel.
Larger than life, Moses was a political and religious leader, lawmaker, judge, prophet, priest, poet, prince, shepherd, miracle worker — and the founder of a nation.
Moses was the prophet without peer in the Old Testament, living and experiencing the covenant between God and his people. Perhaps faith is the best one word descriptor of Moses.
Moses forever stands as a beacon of hope, faith, courage and commitment. He refused to compromise, he stood firm in the face of adversity and suffering, he led his people against impossible odds and ultimately gave his life that others might enter the promised land.
Moses was the great forerunner and type of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 3:22-26) who delivered all mankind from the sins of Egypt and died that we all might live.
A stained-glass window in a cathedral in Ulm, Germany, depicts Israeli scenes.
At the top of the window are scenes of palm trees in Egypt, the burning bush and the tablets of the law. The middle scenes in the window show scales of righteousness, Moses, and a dove with an olive branch. At the bottom of the window, the burning ovens of Hitler’s concentration camps are depicted, with Jews marching toward death.
But as they walk, their feet are treading the waves of the Red Sea, the symbol of imperishable hope. At the very bottom of the window, from left to right, are the words, “Treblinka,” “Auschwitz” and “Bergen-Belsen.”
Jesus, the new Moses, came to us in our suffering and pain, so he might become one of us. He suffered and died, so we might have life.
For that very reason, churches and cathedrals always exalt the cross to the place of prominence. It is a symbol that God himself has suffered for his people. He has given meaning and hope to our lives when human hopes are dashed.
Someone greater than Moses has come. He has died on the cross. He is risen, and he lives today that we might have hope and meaning in our lives. He’s not simply the Prince of Egypt — he is Prince of peace, King of kings and Lord of lords.
— Greg Albrecht
Making Moses Move
One evening in Hollywood three accomplished men pondered the unrealized potential of animation. Jeffrey Katzenberg had already successfully headed Disney Studios for ten years, producing such hits as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Still, it seemed there was something yet to be accomplished with animated feature film.
With Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, Katzenberg began to speak of going beyond fairy tales — doing something more real with animation. Spielberg had just completed Schindler’s List, and so the talk turned to deliverers — men who had been instrumental in releasing people from bondage. They were looking for a bigger-than-life story with a bigger-than-life hero.
“Like Moses!” Geffen exclaimed. And so The Prince of Egypt was born. A short time later, the three men formed a partnership — DreamWorks SKG — and Katzenberg was recruiting the cream of the crop in animation with hooks like, “I have a little job for you — I just want you to do a few of God’s miracles.”
The result is an artistically sophisticated and stunning retelling of Moses’ life up to God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt.
“From the beginning,” Katzenberg says, “our mandate was to take this Bible story and be as faithful and accurate to the telling of it as we could. We wanted to present it as fact.” To this end, Katzenberg (who attends synagogue himself), invited many members of “the faith community” to view and comment on the work in progress. A total of 558 clergy, Biblical scholars, religious leaders and biblical archaeologists were consulted.
Katzenberg insists The Prince of Egypt is not a film aimed solely at religious audiences. It is, however, the first full-length Hollywood animation feature based on the Bible. The respect for details makes this film a true gem.
For example: The movie originally referred to the Lord passing over doors with the “mark” on the first Passover. While nonbelievers might not understand the significance of the blood — and squeamishly avoid it — believers who viewed the film insisted on its importance. And so the biblically accurate word “blood” replaced “mark.” In another, more costly instance, the lyrics to one song were changed from, “You can work miracles when you believe,” to “Miracles happen when you believe.”
“The criticism, because it was encouraging and generous, actually helped make the movie better. You would have thought it would be stifling and oppressive. It wasn’t.”
Katzenberg continues, “I don’t think there’s anything you will see in this movie that’s an accident.”
As a member of the Christian press invited to attend a special screening, I agree. Whether the collaborators of this project realize it or not, like Moses they have been standing on holy ground. Though most were not believers, those interviewed consistently expressed awe at the enormity, the scale, the intensity of the material. “When I realized how big the story was, I was scared,” one artist said.
It reminded me of how Moses felt the first time he heard God’s voice. The scene of Moses and the burning bush cannot fail to impress anyone who has encountered — even in a less dramatic way — the personal presence of God.
In keeping with the integrity of the movie, DreamWorks decided to forego the usual spinoffs, such as fast-food toys. Yet another indication of the respect shown for Scripture and for the sensibilities of those who hold it dear — and another reason to support The Prince of Egypt. After all, by responding positively to such an effort, we encourage more of the same.
Christians have long railed at the darkness of Hollywood. Here is a moment to praise the light.
— Barbara Curtis
Moses and Jesus
- Moses was given the Ten Commandments for the nation of Israel on Mt. Sinai. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount for the spiritual people of God.
- Pharaoh was alarmed that the children of Israel would one day outnumber the Egyptians. He gave orders that all boy babies born to the Hebrews be drowned in the Nile. King Herod issued an edict to kill all male babies in Bethlehem under two years of age, hoping to kill the prophesied new-born Jewish king.
- Moses led slaves out of Egypt, giving them freedom and a new nation. Jesus delivered all humanity from sin and death, giving us freedom and founding the church — the body of Christ.
- Moses was in the wilderness for 40 years, working as a shepherd, before God called him back to Egypt to deliver his people. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd of our souls, fasted 40 days and 40 nights before beginning his ministry.
- The Gospel of John compares the manna God used to feed the Israelites to Jesus as the “bread of life” (John 6:30-35).
- A comparison of Moses with Christ is an important emphasis of the New Testament book of Hebrews, and the New Testament book of Galatians contrasts the old law with the new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).