Last week we saw into the heart of Pharaoh and saw that it was hard. Even though Pharaoh had seen the power of God he dismissed it for whatever reasons he felt that he could justify. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to turn their staffs into snakes even though Aaron’s rod was superior as his snake swallowed up the other snakes.
Likewise, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to make it appear that they could turn water into blood despite the fact that they did not show such a widespread display of this power as Moses and Aaron turn all of the water in Egypt into blood.
Pharaoh saw these things and decided to reject God, instead hardening his heart. As we continue in Exodus God will continue to show His power to Pharaoh and Pharaoh will continue to reject God’s power.
The battle between God and Pharaoh is not the only thing that is taking place however. Because we’re not very aware of Egyptian mythology the plagues that strike Egypt may seem to be an odd distribution of power. Why not earthquakes or famines?
The ten plagues that strike Egypt are direct attacks on the false beliefs of the Egyptians. The first plague that struck the Nile cut to one of the most worshipped objects in the land, the river itself. Without the Nile there would be virtually no life in Egypt. Thousands of years later, little has changed as the nation is still very dependent on the river.
The next plague that strikes Egypt is a strange one until we understand the context.
1 [a]Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country. 3 The Nile will teem with frogs. They will come up into your palace and your bedroom and onto your bed, into the houses of your officials and on your people, and into your ovens and kneading troughs. 4 The frogs will come up on you and your people and all your officials.’”
5 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the streams and canals and ponds, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’”
6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. 7 But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.
Personally, I wouldn’t be too bothered by frogs. I wouldn’t like them everywhere but I can think of worse things to have all over the place. The irony of this plague is that frogs were a sacred animal in Egypt. The goddess Hekt was depicted with a head of a frog and often with the body of a frog as well. The Egyptians worshipped a frog so God gives them so many frogs that they become sick of them.
Because the frogs are considered a sacred animal, the Egyptians couldn’t do anything about them. They couldn’t kill them or otherwise get rid of them. Even though the magicians could make more frogs come up onto the land, they couldn’t do anything about the frogs all around them. Pharaoh has no option but the plead with Moses.
8 Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the LORD to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.”
9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.”
10 “Tomorrow,” Pharaoh said. Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the LORD our God.11 The frogs will leave you and your houses, your officials and your people; they will remain only in the Nile.
Pharaoh must go to Moses and ask that he would send the frogs away. There is nothing that he can do to end the plague on his own. Of course the only way that Moses would send the frogs away would be to let the Israelites go to worship the Lord.
In asking Pharaoh to set a time for the frogs to go away, he’s not asking Pharaoh when he wants the frogs gone. Obviously Pharaoh would want the frogs gone immediately. Instead Moses is asking Pharaoh when the Israelites will be allowed to leave and worship the Lord. The Israelites would be allowed to leave the next day so Moses will pray and ask to be rid of the frogs the following day.
12 After Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh, Moses cried out to the LORD about the frogs he had brought on Pharaoh. 13 And the LORD did what Moses asked. The frogs died in the houses, in the courtyards and in the fields. 14 They were piled into heaps, and the land reeked of them. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.
To no one’s surprise, Pharaoh doesn’t keep his word. If this was a real negotiation going on Moses would obviously not send the frogs away until the Israelites were free from Pharaoh and were on their way to worship. But God is using Pharaoh’s stubbornness to continue to show the worthlessness of the Egyptian Gods.
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.” 17 They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats.
Gnats sound like more of a nuisance than a plague. First we need to remember that this is not just a swarm of gnats like we might encounter on a hot summer day, this is millions upon millions of gnats everywhere. Secondly, this is not a gnat like we think of them. This is sand fly or flea. These gnats dug beneath the skin and caused itching and irritation.
There are two things happen with this plague. Even though the pests are in the air, this is actually an attack against the earth god Geb because the gnats are formed from the dust of Egypt. Egypt was wealthy because it had fertile soil. All of the fertile soil is gone in an instant and instead it has become an irritant for the Egyptians.
The other thing that happens with this plague is the disruption of religious activities in Egypt. The gnats would cause the priests to be ceremonially unclean, either through their actual presence or by the scratches left by the people seeking relief from the itching.
18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not.
Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.
Unlike the previous signs that Pharaoh has witnessed, the magicians are unable to reproduce what has taken place. They recognize that this is a power greater than their own.
When the magicians declare that “This is the finger of God” it could mean one of two things. They may be declaring this the infestation of gnats could only be done with the power of their god of insects Seb. If they believe that this is something that Seb has caused they would have reason to hate this god for what was occurring.
If the magicians recognize that this is the power of God, big G, then they are informing Pharaoh that this power is beyond them. Pharaoh would be wise not to cross a power that is above them and their gods. Once again however, Pharaoh’s heart is hard and he does not listen to Moses, nor his own magicians.
20 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them.
22 “‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction[b] between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’”
24 And the LORD did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.
The gnats are not gone before the land of Egypt is covered in flies as well. God does something different with this additional plague however. God spares the land of Goshen where the Israelites live. They will not be harmed by this plague. It will be the same in the book of Revelation where tribulation believers are spared of some of the perils that fall on humanity.
Once again, this is a direct attack on an Egyptian goddess, Hatkok. He was worshipped as lord of the flies and he is shown to be powerless to help the Egyptians from what had befallen them. If they considered him to still be in power, then he would be the cause of the troubles and would be hated. He is either not the cause of the flies and powerless or he has brought calamity on the Egyptians and thus worthy of hatred.
Sometime in the ancient world flies became associated with demons. In Matthew 12 Jesus is accused of performing miracles with the help of Beelzebub, the lord of the flies or also known as the prince of demons. Matthew 12:24
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
It is probably no surprise that flies are also associated with demonic things in Egypt as well. The lord of the flies, Hatkok is also the wife of Osirus, god of the underworld. By keeping the flies away from the Israelites in Goshen, God demonstrates that He is able to protect His people from evil.
25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.”
26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.”
28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”
29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the LORD, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.”
Pharaoh offers a compromise but it is not accepted. At first he is willing to allow the Israelites to sacrifice in the land of Egypt but the offer is rejected. It is God’s way or no way at all. Pharaoh really has nothing to bargain with. If he wants the flies and gnats gone from his land he must agree to any terms that are given to him. It is unconditional surrender that God wants.
I probably don’t even need to read the next few verses however. You can guess what happens next.
30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, 31 and the LORD did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.
Surprise, surprise, Pharaoh hardened his heart once again. Aside from a history lesson, what should we learn from the passage today? For starters, we see that God is superior to anything that is thought of as a god or is worshipped as one. God can easily show how worthless objects of stone or precious metals are.
In a more real sense though, we need to recognize God’s importance in our lives. We are not tempted to bow down to images of gold or silver today. But we worship our own idols in different ways. God is capable of destroying our faith in such idols just as quickly and easily as He dealt with the gods of Egypt.
When the Great Depression struck and the stock market collapsed in 1929, what did some of those stock brokers do? They jumped out of windows because their entire world was wrapped up in their wealth. They had nothing to live for.
We do it with other things as well. When our security is threatened we lose hope. That threat might come in a terrorist act or in the loss of a job. Either way we thought we were in control and in an instant we realize that we are not.
When a person goes to the doctor and realizes that they have heart disease or a tumor, some people fall apart. Their health was an idol to them. Suddenly they discovered that they could not count on their health any longer.
The Egyptians saw their gods shown as worthless plague after plague. Imagine how devastating that must have been for them. The truth is though that we can easily be put in the same place if God is not number one in our lives.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen to you. Even if God is first in your life, it is not a guarantee against an accident or losing your job. If God is first in your life though, then you have something that is never going to fail you and will never be proven false. If you are relying on anything else in life, it can go just as quickly as these idols were shown to be false.