Director Cecil B. DeMille’s ultimate masterpiece and final film The Ten Commandments, which received a beautiful new 4K UHD Blu-ray release this week, has long been considered an Easter favorite. Since the 1970s, the film has been a television staple for the season. That tradition continues to this day, as the film airs tonight on ABC (check local listings).
This has sometimes proven a head-scratcher for viewers puzzled by why this particular movie gets that honor. After all, Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and there are a number of excellent films which more directly ruminate on the Passion of Jesus. One need look no further than 1959’s wonderful Ben-Hur, which also stars Charlton Heston and is very similar in style and tone to The Ten Commandments, while more directly reflecting on Christ’s ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. Not to mention its staggering 11 Academy Awards remains tied for the all-time record.
So what gives?
Perhaps most obviously, the celebration of The Passover, which serves as the setting for Jesus’ final days, speaks to the entire Judeo-Christian sphere, a much larger audience than exclusively Christians. Moses and his writings (The Torah, or Pentateuch, which comprise the first five books of the Bible) are also highly revered in Islam, where he is one of the most important figures of the Qur’ān.
Appeasing ecumenicalism might seem a cynical or unsatisfying answer for Christians whose entire worldview hinges on the meaning of Easter, but we’d be remiss to fail to acknowledge the theological importance of both the Passover (the first of which is strikingly depicted in The Ten Commandments), and the story of Moses, as a direct reflection and representation of the Gospel.
Among the most critical tenets of the Christian faith is man’s fallen nature and need for salvation, summed up biblically in the statement, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and answered in simplicity a few chapters later, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:9)
If we understand the Bible as a work of both history and prophecy, then in the plight of the Israelites we can see both: a parallel for the human condition. Enslaved by Egypt and in need of a Deliverer, just as humankind is in bondage to sin, and in need of a Savior.
This thematic cycle also plays out in the form of the Passover itself, as depicted in one of the film’s key sequences. As the final Plague sweeps throughout the land threatening death, those believers who followed the instruction to post lamb’s blood on their doorway are saved from God’s wrath. Even the threat to firstborn sons, a theme which plays out twice in Moses’ history as seen in the film, serves as a direct reference to God’s “only begotten”.
Central to the Passover is the concept of a blood sacrifice. Later scriptures will return to the analogy of a lamb as representative of Christ, most notably in the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53.
The Ten Commandments takes some careful liberties with the story of Moses by adding extrabiblical content in areas where the matter-of-fact scriptures don’t provide much detail (particularly in Moses’ youth and personal life), a fact which DeMille himself acknowledges in the film’s introduction. But it does a pretty terrific job of keeping the scriptural themes intact. And as the history of Moses and the first Passover hold up a mirror to Christ, so too does the film.
The film culminates (more or less) with the depiction of its title: God gives Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai.
Through Moses, we were provided with both prophecy and the Law. Through Christ, the fulfillment of that prophecy and redemption from the condemnation of that Law.
Is The Ten Commandments an Easter film?
The Ten Commandments is now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray. You can read this author’s review of the new edition here, courtesy of our friends at Cinapse. You can purchase it here – the author may receive a commission for sales made using this referral link.