The Plagues Begin

Posted: October 18, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 7-8, “The Plagues Begin”

Parents are familiar with giving out multiple chances. Our kids disobey (or don’t listen), and we give them several opportunities to get right, with escalating potential consequences. “I’m going to count to three! 1…2…” Kids usually push their luck. It’d be so much better if they just listened the first time, but they never learn.

It’s not limited to children! That’s something many adults rarely grow past. We want to do things our own way, every time – don’t tell me different, and don’t make me obey someone else. That includes our families, our bosses, and even our God. We want to be our own self-rulers, and don’t easily obey God when He first instructs us…no matter how much easier it would be on us if we did. Praise God that He is merciful! He so often gives us multiple chance to do what’s right…although it usually means experiencing some pretty tough consequences along the way.

In a nutshell, that describes much of what we see between Moses, Pharaoh, and the Lord God as Pharaoh refuses to free the Hebrews from Egypt. Moses had been sent into Egypt by God, commissioned on Mt. Sinai as God revealed His holy name and His perfect plan for Hebrew freedom. God had heard the cries of His people, and the time had come for the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be fulfilled. Although God knew Pharaoh would not easily release the children of Israel, God still sent Moses as His representative, empowered to work miraculous signs and speak in the name of the Living God.

Because of Moses’ hesitancy, God allowed his brother Aaron to help, and together they went to the Hebrews, performed the signs God originally gave Moses, and the nation was excited to see what would come next. Sadly, they were sorely disappointed. Although God had been clear to Moses about Pharaoh’s resistance, the Hebrew people expected immediate results. What they received was immediate hardship. Moses and Aaron met with Pharaoh, the first time bringing only the word of God, and Pharaoh did not listen (just as God foretold). Not only was Pharaoh unwilling to hear the command of YHWH for His people to be released, Pharaoh became indignant at having to answer a God he refused to recognize. In response, he punished the Hebrews, demanding that they continue to maintain their quota of brick-making, but denying them the materials needed to make the bricks. The Hebrews were greatly upset, and Moses had to be reassured by God that this was indeed part of His plan (and it was!).

At this point, the plagues begin – a series of nine total supernatural judgments that eventually leads to the night of Passover and Pharaoh’s final defeat. Chapters 7-8 start with hard, but relatively minor judgments, and things only continue to escalate as Pharaoh continues to harden his heart. God would give many chances, but Pharaoh would refuse them all.

Before we begin, all of this begs the question: Why did God send so many plagues upon Egypt? Surely God could have freed the Hebrews with one mighty blow. It’s not as if God had to work His way to a gradual defeat of Pharaoh; He could have done it in an instant. Especially considering that God had always known of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, why give Pharaoh so many opportunities to resist God?

Three suggested answers (among other possibilities):

  1. God was merciful to Pharaoh. Though God knew the man’s stubbornness, God still gave him the opportunity to humble himself and repent. By the time it was all over, there was no way that Pharaoh could claim that God hadn’t been fair with him. Pharaoh had just as much opportunity as anyone to humble himself in faith; he tragically chose not to do it.
  2. God was merciful to the Egyptians. The more God acted, the more Egyptians there were who came to know & fear YHWH as God. So many in fact, that a great multitude left Egypt along with the Hebrews, following them all the way to Mt. Sinai and the Promised Land. The many judgments of God on Egypt were also many merciful outreaches to (Just like God acts towards many people today!)
  3. God was merciful to the Hebrews. Although the children of Israel believed in the Lord God (mostly!), they were fickle. This was already demonstrated in their initial response to Moses. When Moses first arrived, they thanked God & worshipped; after Pharaoh punished them, they cursed Moses and demanded God’s judgment upon him. All the various plagues went a long way to establish them in their faith. God gave them repeated opportunities to see Him in action, and for them to be grounded in their faith. And it wasn’t only the general population – it was Moses, too! The more Moses saw God work, the more Moses himself grew in his faith and maturity. Not that any of them were perfectly mature in their faith, but they certainly weren’t the same leaving Egypt as when Moses first arrived.

The bottom line: God had His own reasons for the many plagues, and they all led to His glory!

Our God is all-powerful, and ever-merciful. There’s nothing He cannot do, and He is great in His compassions and outreach toward us. See the Lord for who He is! Worship and obey Him the first time, as soon as you get the opportunity!

Exodus 7

  • God prepares His people (7:1-7)

1 So the LORD said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.

  1. Recall the end of Exodus 6 – the final few verses (28-30) lead directly into Chapter 7. God had been reassuring Moses of His plan for deliverance, when there was a brief break to give some family background to Moses and Aaron. Verses 28-30 picked up where things left off, even repeating some of the information that had come before. Although God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh as God’s own spokesman, Moses wondered why Pharaoh (or anyone) would listen to him, seeing as he had “uncircumcised lips.” Moses believed he had failed in his initial encounter, and even his own people were rejecting him at this point. On what authority would Moses be able to speak with the king of Egypt? The answer? Upon God’s authority! God had commissioned Moses for this task, and God was about to tell Moses exactly how he was to do it.
  2. Unlike Moses, God saw the 1st visit as a success! Moses had done everything God commanded him, and Pharaoh had responded exactly the way God knew that he would. God didn’t blame Moses for Pharaoh’s outburst – why would He? Pharaoh’s sin belonged to Pharaoh; not Moses. Moses had been faithful, and that’s all God asked of him.
    1. It’s no different with us. We cannot control the words or actions of anyone else; we can only control our own. If we are in Christ, belonging to Him by faith, as long as we’re faithful to God, we can trust God is not angry nor disappointed with us.
  3. There was another difference between the way Moses and God viewed that first meeting. Moses believed it to be the end; God knew it was just the beginning. God sent Moses and Aaron to speak once, and that was what He continued to send them to do. The brothers were to return to Pharaoh and speak the things God commanded. No matter what Pharaoh did in response, they were to be conduits of the commands and words of God. Moses and Aaron were messengers, and God wanted them to continue to give the message.
    1. That is evangelism! We are messengers, and we are not to become weary with the message. The world needs to hear of the good news of Jesus, in order that they can repent and place their faith in Him. Thus we don’t shy away. We continue to speak all that God has commanded us.

3 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

  1. God hardens. Although it’s sometimes difficult for us to conceive of God sovereignly hardening the heart of someone, that is exactly what the Scripture declares God did with Pharaoh. That’s not an act for us to judge; it is simply one to hear and believe. As Almighty God, God has the right to do what He wants with His creation. This is the point Paul makes to the Romans. [ROMANS 9:14-21] If God wants to show mercy to someone, it is His right to do so. After all, none of us deserve any mercy whatsoever…any act of mercy is a wonderful gift. Yet if we can affirm that, then surely the opposite is true as well: God has the right to harden whomever He wishes, without any accusation against Him. We are His creation (His clay) and as the Potter, God can do what He wants. If He does it, it is just, because the very definition of justice is God Himself.
    1. That said, we cannot use God’s hardening of Pharaoh as an example of the lack of freewill, simply because that is not what the Bible demonstrates. Although God clearly claims to harden Pharaoh’s heart, during the first several plagues the Bible specifically shows Pharaoh’s heart being hardened by itself or by Pharaoh personally. Pharaoh chose to have a stubborn, hardened heart towards God. God chose to confirm what had already been done.
    2. The key is not to become obsessed over whom God might harden, or worry if God has hardened our hearts beyond hope. (If He had, you wouldn’t be worried about it!) The key is to concentrate on God’s mercy! God chose to extend mercy to people who didn’t deserve it…even to Pharaoh! Pharaoh’s heart may have been hard (either through Pharaoh or the Lord God), but Pharaoh’s words were never forced. At any point, Pharaoh could have submitted himself into the hands of God; he simply didn’t. At any point, God could have smote Pharaoh to death (and would have been justified in doing so!); God didn’t. Instead, God chose to extend chance after merciful chance. Pharaoh’s downfall was entirely his own fault. 
  2. God works. Not only would God harden the heart of Pharaoh, but God would “multiply” His miracles all around the land of Egypt. Moses would instruct Aaron, Aaron would speak the words and raise the staff, but it was God who would do the work. The success of the mission did not depend on Moses nor Aaron; it depended upon God…which guaranteed success!
    1. Again, this is so important to remember in terms of evangelism. We share the word, but God brings conversion. We plant the seed, but God causes the growth. Beware that you don’t take responsibility for that which belongs to God. We neither need the pressure, nor should we ever receive the glory.
  3. God judges. All of the signs and wonders were ultimately judgments upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. For 400 years, the Hebrews had been oppressed and enslaved, and God had not been blind. There was judgment due to sin, and Moses and Aaron would declare the judgment to come. But again, they would only declare it; God would bring it.
    1. Judgment of sin is a necessary part of the message of the gospel. It needs to be declared, but it ought to be declared with love and compassion. After all, apart from Jesus we are just as much deserving of God’s judgment as anyone else!
  4. God frees. He promised (stated as a matter of fact, without question of whether it would happen) to bring out His people. Note: the Hebrews were God’s army. God did not need an army to fight Pharaoh, but the Hebrews were an army nevertheless. They just needed to learn how to walk in obedience and faithfulness (go through basic training!) – something that they would learn during their time in the wilderness.
  5. Again, don’t miss the main point: Moses & Aaron were responsible to speak; God did everything else. God did all the work…He always does!

5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

  1. The result of all of this work? Even the Egyptians will know YHWH! There would be many who came to faith, and many who did not…but none among them could deny the fact that YHWH existed and that He is the Living God! The plagues, as terrible as they were, were God’s merciful outreach to a pagan nation so that they might be saved. They dare not waste their opportunity!
    1. As a nonbeliever, did you ever consider the possibility when you were in the midst of trials and tragedies, that it was your opportunity to know the mercies of God? For all the people who get angry at God and turn away from Him in the hospital, there are others who reach out in faith. Sometimes the harshest events in our lives are exactly what is required to drive us to our knees. If that’s what causes you to look to Jesus, then praise God for the trial! 
    2. It isn’t just the nonbeliever. Believers, too, have our faith strengthened in trial. Paul could affirm in his own life that it was when he was at his weakest that he knew the strength of Christ (2 Cor 12:10). That’s when he knew that Jesus’ grace was sufficient for him. 

6 Then Moses and Aaron did so; just as the LORD commanded them, so they did. 7 And Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.

  1. Brief update/summary. Brothers were 80/83 years old. At that age, many of us are well-past retirement. For Moses & Aaron, they were just getting started! (Don’t let retirement mean the end of productivity; let it be a new start to productive ministry unto God!)
  • God’s initial warning (7:8-13)

8 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 9 “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the LORD commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.

  1. God knew Pharaoh would want proof. (Even if Pharaoh would ignore the proof for which he asked!) Moses was hesitant because of his “uncircumcised lips,” but God wasn’t sending him in without help. God was with Moses, and would empower Moses to say & do what needed to be done. (God is with us, too!)
  2. God started with a place of familiarity. This was the first sign He gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, originally intended for the children of Israel. (Exo 4:3) Moses had already performed the sign in front of the Hebrews, and they believed (Exo 4:31), at least initially. God shows great mercy and compassion upon Moses in how Moses was introduced to this role. 
  3. One minor difference: Aaron performed the sign; not Moses. Interestingly, the word translated “serpent” is different here, than it was on Mt. Sinai. It may have been a different type of serpent, or it may have just been a different word used for variety. Either way, the overall miracle was the same: a wooden stick supernaturally transformed into a snake. No doubt, that got Pharaoh’s attention!

11 But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12 For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.

  1. Did Pharaoh’s men actually work magic? Scholars differ. Some believe this to be a form of trickery or illusion (perhaps a distraction behind some flash-flames produced by the sorcerers), which is certainly possible…it’s just not the clear implication of the text. The natural reading is that the Egyptians wise men and sorcerers performed some kind of supernatural act. And this would indeed be possible, if they were demonically empowered. Jesus spoke about deceptive signs & wonders being done in the end-times (Mt 24:24), and Paul wrote of signs and lying wonders (2 Ths 2:9). It’s quite possible Egypt’s sorcerers did the same thing, empowered by the same demons that hate God and His people.
  2. Whatever it was they did, it was no match for God. Pharaoh’s sorcerers were defeated when “Aaron’s rod swallowed up” the rods of the sorcerers. We can imagine how their smugness turned to queasiness when they saw what they believed was their answer get eaten up by Aaron’s rod. And it wasn’t just one; it was many – all the rods were devoured. (That’s one hungry staff-snake!)
  3. Even so, the sign fell on deaf ears/blinded eyes.

13 And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

  1. Hard hearts don’t heed God. Again, Pharaoh still had a choice, but it became far more difficult. His stubbornness had already begun to set, and it would lead to his downfall.

From this point, the plagues begin – each following a general pattern. There is a warning (on the 1st & 2nd of each series), the supernatural plague, sometimes an acknowledgement of defeat, the relief of the plague, and the continued hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Some scholars see parallels between each of the plagues and the various false gods/goddesses of Egypt. Although it can be difficult to see a one-to-one pattern, there can be little doubt that at least some of the false gods are shown as powerless in light of the true God. The major downfall of a false god is that of Pharaoh himself! The deified Pharaoh is demonstrated as totally impotent compared with YHWH. There simply is no contest.

  • Plague #1: Blood (7:14-25)

14 So the LORD said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water, and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness”; but indeed, until now you would not hear!

  1. God knew what was in Pharaoh’s heart – it was still hard & stubborn. Pharaoh still refused to relent, but it didn’t slow God in the slightest. He still had a plan. Moses & the others would have to trust God as He led them though the time.
  2. God’s identification was full: He is “YHWH God of the Hebrews.” There would be no mistaking who was acting.
  3. God’s command was clear. His people were to be free to worship. Nothing is said about the length of time and extent of freedom, but nothing more needed to be said at this point. If Pharaoh was refusing to do this much, he would refuse anything else.

17 Thus says the LORD: “By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. 18 And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river.” ’ ”

  1. God first struck the most important item within Egypt: the river. This was the life of the nation, the means by which their crops flourished or wilted. The Nile was represented by several gods in the Egyptian pantheon, sometimes worshipped itself. The fact that Pharaoh went down to the river in the morning may even indicate a religious ritual that Moses interrupted. But this river would turn from blessing to blood. The very heart of Egypt would be struck by Almighty God.
  2. Even this was a warning! Until Aaron raised his rod, Pharaoh could have repented. 

19 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their streams, over their rivers, over their ponds, and over all their pools of water, that they may become blood. And there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in buckets of wood and pitchers of stone.’ ” 20 And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded. So he lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. 21 The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. All water everywhere was affected. Even water outside of the river stored up in wood and stone was turned to blood. Question: Was this natural or supernatural? Was it real blood or (as some suggest) red algae that made it appear as blood? Technically, as long as it was recognized to have supernaturally come by the command of God, either are possible interpretations of the text. However, there’s little reason to imagine naturalistic explanations for this & the other following miracles. The whole of Christianity is based on a miracle (the resurrection), so supernatural explanations ought not to be discarded. Besides, if the water in the buckets and pitchers also turned red, that’s difficult to explain from algae or red clay flowing in the Nile. More importantly, there’s no reason to read the text any other way than literal. Water will turn to blood during the Great Tribulation (Rev 8:8,16:3-4), so there’s no reason to assume that it did not do so in Egypt.
  2. Whatever it was (real blood!), the water became toxic. It wasn’t just in one place, but all “throughout the land of Egypt.” This was something the whole nation saw. Remember that God was testifying of Himself to the entire land of Egypt, and this began from the first plague onward.
  3. Note verse 20: “And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded.” This is something that will be seen throughout the account of the plagues, just as it was seen in verse 10 with the rod turning to a serpent. Moses and Aaron were consistently faithful to God’s commands. Although Moses’ walk with the Lord started off on a shaky footing, hesitant to obey and be used by the Lord (and having been unfaithful to the covenant sign of circumcision), all that changed. Moses & his older brother developed a pattern of habitual obedience unto the Lord. 

22 Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. 23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.

  1. More duplication, although the text doesn’t describe exactly what the magicians did. Whatever it was, it was unhelpful. They may have imitated the act of turning water to blood, but they couldn’t reverse what it was Aaron had done by the Lord, nor bring any relief to the people. The magicians of Egypt were totally ineffective.
  2. Amazingly, Pharaoh didn’t care! (Beware apathy, especially towards the things of God!)

24 So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river. 25 And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river.

  1. Although no one was initially injured by the plague, this was still awful upon the land. 7 days without their normal drinking water is a long time! They had to dig wells and find natural springs for drinking water. No doubt the people were fatigued, thirsty, and ready to admit defeat. Too bad their king was not.

Exodus 8

  • Plague #2: Frogs (8:1-15)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 2 But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all your territory with frogs. 3 So the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into your house, into your bedroom, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls. 4 And the frogs shall come up on you, on your people, and on all your servants.” ’ ”

  1. The command is repeated, and the cycle of the plagues continue. This time, it was to be frogs, and those frogs were to be everywhere. With the river turning to blood, the effects couldn’t be avoided, but at least people could stop looking at the river or in their buckets. This time, the plague would follow them into their houses, disturbing everything they did. No moment of peace would come while the frogs were present.
  2. Note the progression: in the first plague, the river was attacked; in the second plague, the attack was from the river. God is chipping away at all the security of Egypt, showing His almighty power through these gradual steps. 

5 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to 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 of Egypt. 7 And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.

  1. Aaron obeyed, and the frogs came. Again the magicians duplicated the sign (in some form of imitation), but they were unable to bring relief. What good was their miracle (or illusion) if it only brought more frogs? For that matter, who’s to say that the magicians did not simply redirect the frogs that were already brought by God? The Egyptian magicians were losing their credibility by the day.
    1. Whatever Satan does, it’s (at best) a pale imitation of God. The devil is powerful, but he isn’t all The devil is a limited created being; only God is limitless and the Creator!

8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” 9 And Moses said to Pharaoh, “Accept the honor of saying when I shall intercede for you, for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, that they may remain in the river only.”

  1. Although Pharaoh was apathetic with the water turning to blood, and basically ignored the sign of the staff, the plague of the frogs was something he could not avoid. This became Pharaoh’s 1st request for mercy (there would be others to follow). Initially, he promised freedom. No limits are mentioned, and judging from his later actions it might indicate he had no intent on following through with his promise in the first place.
  2. Whatever were Pharaoh’s intentions, God knew what they were – and Moses knew that God knew. Moses agreed to intercede. He tried to Pharaoh not to take it for granted. It was a great honor to have the request of a pagan rebellious king taken to the Almighty God.
    1. It is an honor to have an intercessor & mediator! The Spirit intercedes for us in prayer (Rom 8:27) – Jesus intercedes for us (Heb 7:25) – Jesus is our one Mediator (1 Tim 2:4). We don’t have just any intercessor; we have God as our intercessor! 

10 So he said, “Tomorrow.” And he said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 And the frogs shall depart from you, from your houses, from your servants, and from your people. They shall remain in the river only.”

  1. Pharaoh’s response is so interesting: “” Why wait?! Even if it was late in the day, why not plead for the frogs to be removed immediately? Why suffer one more night in bed with the wretched things crawling all over you? It’s impossible to know what motivated Pharaoh to say what he did, but it’s sadly indicative of what too many people do with God. They feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they understand the truth of the gospel, they know their need to repent…they just aren’t quite ready. So it becomes “tomorrow,” “next time,” “later,” and it rarely comes. When is the best time to respond to Jesus? At the moment you understand He needs a response! Not tomorrow; immediately!
    1. Again, this is just as much for the believer as the unbeliever. The unbeliever needs to immediately respond to the gospel; the believer needs to immediately respond in obedience. Has Jesus called you to pray? Then pray! Are you led to share His gospel? Share it! Has He convicted you of a sin? Then repent! Don’t wait on these things – don’t push it off for a “better” time. There is no better time. Take the time He has given you, and respond in the moment!
  2. BTW: Both the arrival of the frogs and their removal were testimonies unto God. The frogs came in at a specific command, and they were removed at a specific command. It was plain that this was no natural phenomenon; the frogs were the amphibious army of God!

12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh. And Moses cried out to the LORD concerning the frogs which He had brought against Pharaoh. 13 So the LORD did according to the word of Moses. And the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courtyards, and out of the fields. 14 They gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.

  1. Moses prayed, and God answered. Everything went according to how God said it would go. Moses was speaking according to God’s word & will, and God was working according to His word & will.
  2. The frogs were removed, but there was still a massive reminder left behind! (We can experience mercy and still endure consequences!)

15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

  1. Once again, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Notice that this was specifically Pharaoh’s doing: “he hardened his heart.” Was it God’s will? Yes, but it did not override Pharaoh’s freewill.
  • Plague #3: Lice (8:16-19)

16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your rod, and strike the dust of the land, so that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so. For Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast. All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. Notice this time Moses is not told by God to go to Pharaoh, but rather directly to Aaron for the third plague. Of the nine plagues leading up to Passover, the cycle is always: two with warnings, one without. All were judgments of God upon Egypt, but the third in each cycle is a direct judgment for Pharaoh’s continued disobedience.
  2. This time it was lice/gnats, as if the dust of the Sahara came to life. As with the frogs, the lice/gnats would have followed the Egyptians everywhere they went, with no escape. 

18 Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

  1. Finally, the magicians encountered a sign they could not imitate. From this point forward, the sorcerers acknowledge their own weakness. Yet even though the magicians recognized the work of God, Pharaoh did not. Stubbornness of heart made him refuse to admit defeat. It would take the harshest of blows to his personal family before he saw the obvious, and by then it was too late. 
  • Plague #4: Swarms of flies (8:20-32)

20 And the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand.

  1. Repeated command, as the warnings begin again.
  2. Literally, the term is just “swarms” – the flies are implied. These were noxious, biting insects of some sort. Where as the gnats/lice were a terrible nuisance, the swarms of flies were painful. Imagine swarms of mosquitoes or deerflies – insects that won’t leave you alone, but constantly attack. Again, there is a progression in the plagues. What was once dramatic and terrifying but only annoying, is now personally harmful. People felt the effects of this plague. (And no doubt, Pharaoh heard about it from his subjects!)

22 And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the land. 23 I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be.” ’ ” 24 And the LORD did so. Thick swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh, into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt. The land was corrupted because of the swarms of flies.

  1. For the first time, there was to be a difference between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. Guess what? There had always been a difference between the Hebrews & Egyptians! Even while the Hebrews had to deal with the blood, the frogs, and the gnats, they were still His covenant people. God was still acting on their behalf. God had a special relationship with them that the Egyptians did not enjoy, because they were not in covenant with God. Now that covenant difference was demonstrated as the Hebrews witnessed the plague of swarms, but did not personally experience it.
    1. Is there a difference between us and the world? Yes! Although we endure the trials that come with living in this world, we still have a special relationship with God through Jesus Christ!
  2. How many flies were there? There was no escaping the swarms! Imagine not being able to walk through your home without staring through a cloud of insects. Imagine trying to sleep at night with these biting insects gnawing at you the whole time. The Egyptians had no mosquito netting, nor any protection from the swarms. It would have been utterly miserable. Once again, Pharaoh asked Moses for help.

25 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.” 26 And Moses said, “It is not right to do so, for we would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God. If we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, then will they not stone us? 27 We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He will command us.”

  1. Pharaoh granted limited permission to leave. The Hebrews could sacrifice to the Lord, but they had to do so within the confines of Egypt. It didn’t necessarily have to be Goshen, but it did need to be in the realm of Pharaoh.
  2. It sounds like progress, but Moses refused. Why? It “would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians.” Other translations say “abominable to the Egyptians” (ESV, NASB). Apparently the blood sacrifices of bulls and goats were considered taboo among the Egyptians (perhaps because they considered sheep and shepherds unclean), and Moses refused on the basis that the Egyptians themselves would reject this compromise. 
  3. Ultimately Pharaoh’s compromise was wrong because it wasn’t according to God’s command. Originally, God had commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, “that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.” (Exo 5:1). God was not negotiating with Pharaoh & this was not an item up for discussion. God wanted His people in the wilderness for worship, so that’s where they were to go.
    1. We don’t have the right to invent how we want to worship. The Bible gives us much freedom in how we worship, but we approach God on His terms; not ours. That means we approach Him through Jesus (the one Mediator, the Way the Truth and the Life), we worship Him in spirit and truth, and we always use the Scripture as our standard in order to maintain decency and order.

28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Intercede for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “Indeed I am going out from you, and I will entreat the LORD, that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. But let Pharaoh not deal deceitfully anymore in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.”

  1. Pharaoh granted a bit more freedom, but not much. It was still limited. They could to go the wilderness, but they needed to stay within reach.
  2. This time, Moses agreed, but warned Pharaoh against further lying.

30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and entreated the LORD. 31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

  1. Another intercession
  2. Another act of mercy
  3. Another hardening of the heart.

Conclusion:

The cycle of plagues had begun, and it would only continue and escalate. Moses would warn, the judgment would come, the judgment would be removed, and Pharaoh’s heart would not change. No matter how many times he had the opportunity to humble himself before the Holy God, he refused.

Don’t blind yourself to the mercies of God! Don’t harden your heart against Him. Heart-hardening is just as much a danger for the nonbeliever as it is the Christian. After all, it was to the Jews that the Psalmist appealed that they would come worship & bow down, not hardening their hearts as did their ancestors in the day of rebellion (Ps 95:8). It was to the Hebrew Christians that the author of Hebrews quoted the same passage, pleading with them to hold fast to the gospel (Heb 3:6-7). We too, can harden ourselves to the merciful outreach of God – we can plug our ears to the calling of the Spirit – we can shut ourselves off from the truth of His word. Don’t do it! The more you harden your heart, the easier it becomes.

What’s the answer to hardening? Humbling. You can either humble yourself, or you can have God do it through His judgment and discipline. Far better the former than the latter! God gives us multiple opportunities to respond in repentance and humility, but at some point, He will act.

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