In ancient Egypt, Hebrew slaves are hard at work making bricks and setting up giant statues and other monuments. Through song, it is implied that they call on their God regularly, seeking deliverance from their slavery, under which they have labored for hundreds of years. On this particular day, while the men are toiling on one side of the Nile River, on the other side their homes are raided by soldiers in the Egyptian army. They take infant boys from their mothers by force and kill them. However, a Hebrew woman, Yocheved, steals away to the river with her baby and her two older children, where she sets the baby adrift in a reed basket--hoping and praying this will save her son. The reed basket makes a tumultuous journey down the river among both dangerous animals and large boats--with several close calls. Eventually it makes its way to the Pharaoh's palace, where his wife and young son, Rameses, play with a lotus flower. The Queen finds and opens the basket. She looks at the baby with love and compassion, chooses to keep him, and names him Moses. Moses' sister, Miriam, having followed the basket, sees this and prays that someday Moses will come back to deliver them from slavery.
Many years later (about twenty years, give or take), Moses and Rameses have become rather reckless young men, much to the disdain of their father, Pharaoh Seti. Moses in particular has a tendency for trouble-making; Rameses in turn often finds himself entangled in his brothers tomfoolery, though he is generally more serious. After damaging a temple that was under renovation via an especially foolhardy chariot race, Pharaoh reprimands his sons--especially Rameses since he is next in line for the throne. When Rameses angrily says that one ruined temple won't undo centuries of tradition, Seti retorts, "But one weak link can break the chain of a mighty dynasty!" After he's dismissed, Rameses leaves in indignation and shame. Moses asks Pharaoh why he is so hard on Rameses, especially since he knows Moses is the most responsible for the damage. He replies that since Rameses is the next Pharaoh, he needs to be trained to never turn away from his responsibilities and traditions, even if Moses is the one trying to lead him astray. Moses declares his confidence in Rameses' seriousness and devotion, and tells Seti that he just needs an opportunity to prove himself.
Moses finds Rameses sulking over his father's words. He tries to comfort him by sarcastically pointing out how it would be impossible for one man, even a Pharaoh, to ruin the Egyptian empire. Rameses resists his efforts at first, but eventually gives in. Moses points out in jest that Rameses' problem is that he cares too much. Without missing a beat, Rameses says Moses' problem is that he doesn't care at all. Moses replies, "Oh, so I suppose you care more than I do that we're... late for the banquet for example?" Panicking, Rameses runs to the banquet hall with Moses right behind. Moses assures him that no one will notice them enter... until everyone notices them enter. The large hall is filled with people. Fortunately their timing is perfect, because (as their mother, the Queen, whispers to them) Pharaoh Seti had just named Rameses as Prince Regent. Pharaoh had taken Moses advice to heart.
Moses proposes to Seti that the high priests, Hotep and Huy (who dislike the two brothers), should offer tribute to their new regent. He agrees, and the two priests decide to offer a beautiful young woman named Tzipporah [the T is silent], a Midianite slave girl who had been captured recently. Though they refer to her as a "delicate, desert flower," she proves to be anything but gentle. Afraid (at first) and angry, she nearly bites Rameses' hand when he gets far too close--so he offers her to Moses instead. Though he tries to decline (as Rameses pushes him towards her), she defies him too and insults him. Rameses laughs and asks, "Are you going to let her talk to you like that?" Moses responds by telling her to show proper respect for a prince of Egypt. She replies, "But I am showing you all the respect you deserve... NONE!" She yanks the rope tied to her wrists from Hotep's hands, but Moses grabs the rope before she can try to escape. She pulls as hard as she can and demands to be set free. Noticing an indoor pond behind her, Moses says "As you wish" and lets go abruptly--causing her to trip and fall into it. The whole room erupts into laughter, except for the Queen who turns her face away in shame. Moses sees this and stops laughing, ashamed that he disappointed his mother.
After telling a nearby servant to send Tzipporah to Moses' chambers, Rameses declares, "If it pleases you father, my first act as Regent is to appoint Moses as Royal Chief Architect!" As he says this, he takes a blue scarab ring from his hand and gives it to Moses. The hall congratulates him with cheers and applause, but as he inspects the ring with gratitude, he notices Tzipporah on her way out--glaring at him intensely. It is clear from his facial expression that Moses is not looking forward to that night with her.
After the banquet ends, Moses nervously enters his room. Seeing someone seated on his bed behind a curtain, he composes himself and pulls it back. It turns out to be a servant; Tzipporah had tied him up thoroughly (and Moses' dogs too) and had escaped out the open balcony by using several bed-sheets tied together. He sees her sneaking out quietly with a camel and supplies. As he climbs down the sheet-rope, he notices a couple of guards about to cross paths with her. He calls to them, getting their attention, while Tzipporah stops in her tracks. However, instead of having the guards recapture her (he can see her standing behind them by this point), he tells them about the man tied up in his room and orders them to investigate. This surprises Tzipporah, but she runs while Moses watches the guards leave. He follows her as she leaves the palace and travels through the Hebrew settlements. She asks and is given water by a man and a woman at a well near the outer edge of the settlements. She thanks them and escapes into the desert on the camel.
When Moses goes to watch Tzipporah leave (clearly captivated by her), the Hebrew woman recognizes him. She says that she is his sister, Miriam, and that the man (named Aaron) is his brother. She assumes that he knows they are his older siblings, and that he has come to see them at last. Aaron tries to prevent Miriam from speaking to Moses, because he can see that Moses has no idea who they are and would end up punishing them for these assertions. He does this by claiming that Miriam is delusional, first because of fatigue from their daily labors (not that it was too much; they quite enjoyed it), and then later because she is mentally ill. Miriam angrily denies these claims and insists that Moses is their brother. Moses is incensed at her words, but Miriam relates how their mother, Yocheved, set him adrift in a basket on the Nile to save his life. Confused, he asks from whom. She answers, "Ask the man that you call 'Father'!" Truly angered by this, he approaches her as she claims that God chose him to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery. He grabs her arm and throws her to the ground, saying, "You will regret this night."
Despairing, Miriam starts to sing Yocheved's lullaby to Moses that she sang as she set him in the basket. Walking away, Moses stops because he begins to recognize the song (he had been whistling the tune the previous day). As he turns back around to look at Miriam, he realizes that she was telling the truth. Shocked, Moses runs back to the palace in denial. As he tries to convince himself that this is his true home, and it's all he ever wanted, he falls asleep. He has a nightmare (or possibly a vision) showing what happened the day of which Miriam spoke, including the deaths of the Hebrew infants--thrown into the Nile to drown and be eaten by crocodiles.
When Moses wakes in horror, he searches the palace for evidence of this terrible event. It is still night. Eventually he finds a large relief mural with hieroglyphics showing and declaring the death of the Hebrew baby boys--by the command of the man he called "Father." Presumably having been awakened by the torchlight passing through the halls, Pharaoh Seti approaches him and explains that this was a reluctant precaution on his part to keep the slaves from over-multiplying and uprising. He says, "Moses, sometimes... for the greater good... sacrifices must be made." Because Moses is clearly saddened and disturbed, Seti tries to comfort him and justify himself, saying, "They were only slaves." However, due to his new-found knowledge of his Hebrew origins, this drives Moses away from him for good. He leaves Seti's embrace and runs out into the night.
Early that morning, Moses' adopted mother finds him sitting by the river where she found him in the basket all those years ago. Confronting her about his origins, he says sadly, "So everything I thought... everything I am... is a lie." She responds, "No! You are our son, and we love you." Asking why she took him in, she says she didn't. She expresses her belief that he was truly sent by the gods, saying, "Here the river brought you, and it's here the river meant to be your home." She embraces him, hoping to comfort and reassure him of their love for him.
However, as Rameses presents his new renovation plan to the high priests for the temple he and Moses ruined the previous day, Moses is still deeply unsettled. He is only paying attention to the Hebrews, as if noticing them and their sufferings for the first time. He is especially racked with guilt because they are cleaning up the destruction he caused. As he sadly watches them, he soon observes one of them being whipped violently and repeatedly. It is an old man who is having difficulty with his heavy burdens. He notices Miriam and Aaron working near the man, with Aaron holding her back from trying to interfere. Here Moses fully accepts who he is, and being moved with anger and pain, he runs to stop the cruel overseer from beating the man. But in the process, he ends up knocking the overseer off a high scaffold to his death. Horrified by what he has done, and being witnessed by many (including Rameses and the high priests), Moses starts to run. The Hebrews stand back in fear, except for Miriam who calls his name and takes his arm to calm him down--but he pulls it away and keeps running.
He is intercepted by Rameses, who grabs him and asks him whats going on. However, he pushes him aside and continues to run. He nearly makes it out of the city before Rameses catches up to him on his chariot. Moses exclaims, "You saw what happened--I just killed a man!" Rameses claims he will "make it so it never happened." However, Moses refuses to accept any more lies about his life. Because of his disgust at both his killing of the overseer and his past indifference towards the slaves, and because he knew he has neither power nor moral authority to free the slaves, he ignores Rameses' pleas. He tells Rameses he can no longer stay in Egypt. When Rameses tries to stop him, Moses grabs his shoulders and yells, "No! Everything I've ever known to be true is a lie!...I'm not who you think I am." Asking what he means by that, Moses simply answers, "Go ask the man I once called 'Father'." Turning to leave, Moses stops when his brother pleads with him to stay. But Moses only says "Goodbye Brother," and runs--with Rameses calling his name.
Moses wanders far into the desert. After several days, famished from lack of food and water, he stubs his toe and breaks his sandal. He angrily discards them and the rest of his royal ornaments, except for the ring given to him by Rameses. A sandstorm soon overtakes him, and he surrenders himself to it. However, he survives; a camel pulls his head out of the sand (thinking his hair was grass). He notices the camel is saddled and holds a water pouch. He digs himself out hastily and tries to take some of the water, but he only has enough energy to loop his arm around the pouch before passing out. Fortunately the camel drags him to a large well with some troughs, where he gorges himself on the liquid goodness within--much to the surprise of a nearby sheep. Soon after he arrives, Moses observes some bandits attempting to steal water from three young girls. Moses manages to drive the bandits away by sending their camels on the run, but in his exhaustion he accidentally falls down the well. The three girls turn out to be Tzipporah's younger sisters, who are unable to get Moses out of the well until she comes along. Thinking they're only playing around (after the youngest says they're "trying to get the funny man out of the well"), she's surprised to hear him struggling as they try to pull him up. She hurriedly tells him they'll get him out soon and pulls him up in a few seconds. However, once she realizes it's Moses, she drops him back down the well as retaliation for embarrassing her at the banquet several nights previous. (This is done in relatively good nature, though, as she is aware of his help in her escape; it is assumed that she pulls him back out shortly afterward.) As she swaggers away, her two youngest sisters look to the third one for an explanation; she answers, "This is why Papa says she'll never get married..."
That evening, Tzipporah's father, Jethro the High Priest of Midian, holds a celebration in thanks for what Moses has done. Moses claims that his past actions (and inaction) make him unworthy of any honor (Tzipporah is surprised by his great change in attitude since they first met). However, Jethro refuses to believe his claim, referring to how Moses helped get all his daughters out of perilous situations. He tells Moses that if he wants to see what his life is worth, he needs to view his life "through heaven's eyes," which he eventually does. Moses grows to become a member of Jethro's tribe, working with Tzipporah and her sisters as a shepherd. Over time, he and Tzipporah become friends, fall in love, and get married.
One day (probably about ten years, give or take, after Moses left Egypt), while chasing a stray lamb, Moses discovers a cavern with a bush that "burned" in a way he has never seen before, with an unusual fire that didn't scorch. The bush then speaks, revealing that it is the voice and presence of God, who has heard the cries of the Israelites. When Moses nervously asks what is wanted of him, the voice says that He has chosen Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery (just as his sister, Miriam, had declared), by speaking to Pharoah the words which he will be taught to say. Moses is at first apprehensive, given that he was the son of Pharoah, the man who murdered the children of the slaves. However, the voice commands Moses to go forth, promising to smite Egypt with His "wonders" when Pharaoh will not listen. He promises to be with Moses. Afterwards, God's presence departs, leaving the bush no longer alight. During this conversation, Moses' attitude and feelings go from shame and fear, to peace, confidence, and joy.
Moses returns to Tzipporah and excitedly tells her of what transpired in the cave, and what he has been asked to do. Since she is overcome at first by the immensity of the task given him, he tells of his desire to see his people free, like her family is free. She lays aside her fears for him and decides to accompany him back to his former home. Upon reaching the palace, Moses finds that his father (and mother, presumably) is dead, and Rameses has become the new Pharoah, married with a son of his own. The two brothers greet each other jovially, with Rameses eager to welcome Moses back, forgiving the events that drove him away (and seemingly ignoring his Hebrew origins). Moses hesitantly explains that things cannot return to how they once were, and requests that Rameses let the slaves go free, as requested by God. Moses then demonstrates God's power, as his wooden staff becomes a snake. Rameses smirks at this "trick," but is confused, thinking that Moses has something else he wants to talk about. However, he "plays along," and has Hotep and Huy conjure their own magic, which is consists of convincing showmanship. This impresses the rest of Rameses' court, but not Moses or Tzipporah.
Rameses and Moses then meet in private, where they discuss the slaves, the duties of Pharaoh, and the actions of Seti. Frustrated by Rameses refusal to acknowledge the humanity of the slaves, Moses' relation to them, and the sins of Seti, Moses declares that he can no longer hide in the desert while his people suffer. He returns the royal ring that Rameses had given him so long ago. Rameses is saddened, then angered, that Moses came back for the Hebrews and not for him. He declares that he does not acknowledge his brother's God, and refuses to allow the Hebrews to leave. Moses pleads for his brother to reconsider, but Rameses claims he will not be the 'weak link' in his family's dynasty, showing that Seti was successful in setting Rameses on an unalterable path. He then orders the workload doubled for the slaves out of spite.
Several of the slaves--including his brother Aaron--shun Moses because of the extra workload, and they doubt that God called Moses to deliver them (or even cares for them). Miriam however, harbors no ill will towards her brother, claiming that God saved Moses from all his trials and adversity for a purpose. This encourages Moses to not give up.
On the Nile river near them, Moses sees Rameses, his son, Hotep, and Huy on a royal barge. Moses approaches them, and yells for Rameses to let his people go. Rameses scoffs at this, and sends his guards after him--until Moses places his staff in the water, turning the Nile to blood. Unsure how this is achieved, Rameses demands that Hotep and Huy duplicate or explain this. Using some red powder, they claim that the power of their gods can do the same, and Rameses just dismisses Moses' "trick" once again. Aaron claims that nothing will help them, but Moses promises that God will see to it that they are made free.
A series of plagues then begin to befall Egypt. Locusts destroy crops, the Egyptians come down with terrible sores on their skin, and fire rains down from the sky. Even with all these events and several more, Rameses still refuses to give in to Moses' request. They are both frustrated with each other. Many monuments, statues, and structures become damaged or destroyed.
Soon after, the land is covered in darkness (except for where the Hebrews live), and Moses goes to see his brother once again to convince him to let the Hebrews go. As they talk, Rameses eventually opens up, they reminisce on their past, and a flicker of mutual brotherly love seems almost rekindled, until Rameses' son comes in and demands to know if Moses is the reason for what has befallen Egypt. With his son close by, Rameses once again sheds his friendlier side and acts as Pharaoh. Moses explains that the plagues would end if Rameses would just fulfill his request, and says something even more terrifying will happen if he doesn't, pleading for Rameses to think of his son. Rameses says he does, and proposes that he will "finish the job" that his father was not able to do, promising a greater massacre among the slaves than ever before.
Moses leaves sadly, and instructs the slaves to put lamb's blood above their doors for protection. He informs them that the firstborn of every household will die, unless the blood is upon the door. In the night, the angel of death comes, and passes over the protected doors. In the homes where there is no protective sign, the angel takes the lives of the firstborn children, including Rameses' son. Moses goes to his brother after this, amidst the mourning of the Egyptians, and is at last given permission to take the slaves. He tries to comfort Rameses, but he orders him to leave.
Moses is at first distraught, because of all who have died (among many other things), but Miriam encourages him, saying (or singing, rather) how at long last, the Hebrews (and any who will go with them) are finally having their prayers answered, and their faith affirmed. Tzipporah also tells how her own faith has grown, and the three of them, with Aaron, lead the exodus of the slaves. Most of the people are still somewhat in shock, but as they make their way out of Egypt, their spirits lift. After they finally reach the Red Sea, the watchman's horn is sounded behind them, and they see that Rameses has gathered his army of chariots to kill the slaves out of revenge; there appears to be no place for them to run. Suddenly, a pillar of fire descends from the heavens, separating the Hebrews and Rameses' army. Moses then walks a short distance into the Red Sea, and with his staff, parts the waters. At first the people are afraid to pass through (and probably afraid of Moses also), but Aaron, having overcome all his previous doubts, goes forward--encouraging the others to do likewise.
The slaves make their way through, but eventually the pillar of fire disappears, and Rameses and his men decide to ride through the parted sea, rather than turn back and acknowledge defeat. Moses is able to get everyone across just as the water descends, drowning Rameses army. Rameses, meanwhile, is washed back ashore on the other side. The people are shocked by what happened for several moments, but eventually they realize that they are finally free, and they begin to celebrate. Moses begins to celebrate with his family, but then turns back to look across the sea, and thinks of his brother Rameses. Knowing that they will never see each other again, he quietly says goodbye one last time. Rameses, meanwhile, is conscious, and crying out Moses' name in rage, despair, and regret.
As the Hebrews continue on their way, Tzipporah declares to Moses that they are free, thus reminding him that he accomplished the seemingly impossible task that God had given him. He acknowledges this with joy. The final scene shows Moses descending from Mount Horeb (Sinai) holding two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments which God has given them to live by.