Exodus: Journey to Freedom – Plague #3 (Exo. 8:16-19)
The Finger of God
The first camping trip our family had when we moved to Michigan in 2014 was to Algonac State Park on the St. Lawrence River. I think that was the state park that destroyed Ana’s desire to go camping. We took our dog Dusty with us and Friday afternoon, we all went for a walk through a trail, through the woods. In about the middle of the trail, there was a swarm of gnats, flies, mosquitoes or something flying insect that covered us. They covered Dusty and all of us. We took off running, thinking we could out run the swarm, but we could not. They finally left us alone when we got out of the woods and back to the campsite. I’m not very fond of insects flying around my head - even if they don’t bite.
We have studying the Ten Plagues God brought on Egypt to get Pharaoh to let Israel leave slavery and worship Jehovah God. We studied Plague #1 on January 1st and Plague #2 on January 8th. Each of those lessons are available to watch on our website or through podcasts. Today, we look at Plague #3…
What would it take to persuade Pharaoh to let God’s people go? Turning the whole Nile River and all Egypt’s water into blood did not persuade him. Sending frogs into every nook and cranny of every house and every bedroom and every kitchen did not do it either. Cody pointed out two weeks ago after my lesson that God never told Pharaoh that He was only going to send ten plagues. He did tell Moses in 4:21-23 - before Moses ever went to Pharaoh the first time - that God was going to kill Pharaoh’s first born. As far as we know, Moses never told that point to Pharaoh until God was ready to send the final plague.
So God struck Egypt with another plague; this plague - in contrast to the first two - came without any warning: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.’ ” They did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt” (Exod. 8:16, 17).
What Was Bugging Ol’ Pharaoh?
Hebrew scholars do not know exactly what type of insect this was. The late Charles M. Schulz wrote a humorous book called What Was Bugging Ol’ Pharaoh? In the case of the third plague, that is precisely the question: What kind of insect did God use to bug the Egyptians? There are a number of possibilities. Gnats, fleas, lice, maggots, midges, sand flies, and mosquitoes. Take your pick!
In modern Hebrew the word kinnim means “lice,” which is the way it is translated in the KJV/NKJV and ETR. The NIV and NASV calls them gnats because this is the interpretation favored by the first Greek versions of the Old Testament. However, the Bible says that these insects “came upon men and animals” (v. 17). Since gnats tend to swarm more while lice gets on people, the insect might very well have been lice or even fleas! It would be easy to imagine these insects annoying the Egyptians, pestering them. Notice, in hyperbolic fashion, Moses writes that these gnats were “through all the land of Egypt,” which he states twice.
I commented that God did not warn Pharaoh in this plague before God struck! When God struck the Nile, God sent Moses to Pharaoh first: 7:15. Before God brought all those frogs (8:1), He sent Moses to Pharaoh first. Before plague #4 (which we’ll study next week), God will send Moses to Pharaoh first. Before plague #5, God will again send Moses to Pharaoh first. Again before plague #6, God will send the boils without warning Pharaoh first.
Before the plague of hail (which is #7: 9:13-35) God will warn Pharaoh and all Egypt that the hail will be destructive and He gives them a chance to bring their livestock in from the danger. Some Egyptians listened to God; some did not. Before plague #8 (locusts), God warned Pharaoh first. Before the plague of darkness (#9), God did not warn Pharaoh and before #10 - the death of the firstborn, God warned Pharaoh first: 11:4-8). This shows us perhaps at least two things: 1.) God was interested in Pharaoh changing his mind and He gave him warning so he could change his mind and spare Egypt from the disaster of the plagues. But also, 2.) when God struck without warning, it showed that God could strike without warning! God is not obligated to follow any time of time scale at all; He is only obligated to behave according to His own nature. God was in complete control and He could have killed Pharaoh’s first born at any moment He wanted. But, through the first nine plagues, Pharaoh hardened his heart to such an extent that neither God’s grace nor His wrath would affect Pharaoh.
Skeptics and well-meaning but misguided believers in the Bible actually try to explain God’s miracles in a scientific way. For example, with all the frogs now dead, some say that this allowed the gnats to multiply and create this plague. The problem with that explanation is that it is not what the Bible actually says. Notice in verse 16 that the Bible says that the dust of the earth became gnats. They did not come from the Nile River nor from frogs. Aaron struck the ground, the dust of the earth, and the dust became gnats. There is no way Aaron could have hit all the dust of the earth so we should understand this as hyperbole. But the point is that the land of Egypt was covered with gnats.
God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as the “dust of the earth” (Gen. 13:16; 28:14), God intended to say that Abraham’s family would be numerous. In the same way, God exaggerates here to simply say that Egypt was covered with gnats. They were everywhere.
If miracles could be explained through human means, through science, then it would not be a miracle. The reason the Bible refers to miracles as “signs,” which it does with the plagues four times, is because the miracle directs mankind to God. Miracles are signs to point to God and to His messenger. Miracles in the Bible are never disassociated from God’s messengers. In other words, God never works a miracle in the Bible - aside from the creation - directly from heaven. God always involved His messenger in the act of the sign or the sign was specifically for God’s messenger himself.
Joseph Free in his book Archaeology and Bible History points out the miraculous nature of the plagues (pg 84):
(1) Intensification—Many of the plagues were naturally known in Egypt, but God exacerbated their presence under His own control.
(2) Prediction—As we have pointed out, God decided when the plagues would occur and when they would stop. He even warned Pharaoh several times that they were going to happen
(3) Discrimination—Israel lived in an area of Egypt known as Goshen and with the next plague, God started distinguishing between the Egyptians and Israel. This was to show Pharaoh that the plagues were not, in fact, indiscriminate, but were intended to show that Israel was God’s special people.
(4) Orderliness—the plagues proceeded from the Nile River until God struck the first born. God sent the hail which beat down the crops outside, and then He sent the locusts which ate pretty much everything that was left.
(5) Spiritual purpose:
(a) Jehovah God was judging the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12);
(b) God introduced Himself to Pharaoh who had earlier said he did not know Jehovah God.
(c) God revealed Himself as Savior to Israel who had been in Egypt for several generations.
De-Creation and Disorder:
As we read in 12:12, God was not just punishing Pharaoh, but He was also judging Pharaoh’s gods. He was judging their theology. I have pointed out that the first plague was directed against the gods of the Nile River, notably Hapi, Khnum, and also Osiris. Remember that Pharaoh had the baby Israelite boys thrown into the Nile River. The plague of the frogs was directed against Egypt’s goddess of fertility and childbirth, Heqet, who was portrayed with a head of a frog.
This third plague may have been intended to judge the god of the earth, Geb. The emphasis in the text is on the “dust of the earth.” Notice in the next plague that God says He wants Israel to know that He is in the midst of the land (8:22). God does not rule over this piece of land or that piece of land. He rules over every scrap of every land in every nation. Since Egypt’s god Web has authority over the land, then Jehovah God shows that He has power over Geb. Egypt had something like 80 major gods and goddess. By His grace, God chose not to send 80 different plagues. But He is showing that He has power over every aspect of Egypt’s life and their theology.
Also, when God manipulates nature in order to punish Pharaoh, it is also as if He is undoing the creation of the world which He performed back in Genesis 1-2. Another Protestant scholar, John Currie, offered these contrasts between the creation of the world and the plagues on Egypt (113-117):
When God created the world, he separated light from the darkness (Day 1; Gen. 1:1–5); but in the ninth plague light was blotted out (Exod. 10:21–29).
When God created the world, he gathered the water into one place (Day 2; Gen. 1:6–8); but in the first plague the water was turned to blood (Exod. 7:15–25).
When God created the world, he made vegetation grow on the land (Day 3; Gen. 1:9–13); but in the seventh and eighth plagues he destroyed Egypt’s crops (Exod. 9:18–10:20).
When God created the world, he put two great lights in the heavens (Day 4; Gen. 1:14–19); but with the ninth plague, the sun ceased to shine (Exod. 10:21–29).
When God created the world, he made the waters swarm with creatures of the sea (Day 5; Gen. 1:20–23); but the first and second plagues ended with the death of fish and frogs (Exod. 7:15–8:15).
When God created the world, he made land animals and people (Day 6; Gen. 1:24–31); but the third through sixth plagues afflicted both man and beast with pestilence and disease (Exod. 8:16–9:17), until God finally killed every first-born son in Egypt (Exod. 11–12).
Currie comments that it is almost as if God is “un-creating” Egypt!
When God created Adam, He created him from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). Here, God creates gnats from the dust of the ground. But now the gnats have “control” over man! Creation has been undone! Now, the Egyptians also believed that Pharaoh was in control of keeping everything balanced, which Egyptians called “ma’at.” But Pharaoh is losing control, isn’t he? He can’t keep control! Pharaoh, in fact, has never been in control.
Now, let me ask you this: Where is your source of balance? What keeps you in equilibrium? Is it your job? Your investments? Your intelligence? Your charm? Your appearance? Your physical fitness?
But when disaster strikes, what is going to hold our world together? When Satan turns our world upside down, we find out quickly that man’s wisdom is foolishness before God.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:16-17 that Jesus holds all things together. He has to be the center of our world.
Satan Has His Limitations
When God turned the Nile to blood, the Egyptian magicians did something weird - they also turned water to blood (7:22). When God brought the frogs on the land of Egypt, the Egyptian magicians also brought forth frogs (8:7). It’s weird that these men did not undo what God had done. They actually made things worse! That’s what happens when we allow Satan to control our thinking. He makes things worse!
In this plague, the Egyptian magicians make one last effort to show their power is equal if not superior to the God of Israel. But, they could not do it! Notice 8:18.
The last phrase—“the gnats were on men and animals” just after the comment about the magicians—shows how miserably Pharaoh’s magicians failed. Satan’s power is limited. God does allow the devil to have some power. The Bible says that his work is “with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).
Satan is very powerful, but his powers are limited. Consider all the things he is unable to do or to be: He cannot create. He cannot redeem. He cannot love with purity. He cannot be humble except in a false way. Most crushingly of all, he was unable to keep God’s Son in the grave. God broke the devil’s power by raising Jesus from the dead. The Bible says, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b), and the way Jesus destroyed it was through his crucifixion and resurrection.
In the end, Satan will be cast into hell, into outer darkness where he himself will gnash his teeth. He “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).
To avoid the power of Satan, we need to pray “deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). We need to put on “the full armor of God,” so we can “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). We need to “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Satan cannot overwhelm a Christian who standing with God and trusting God’s message of hope and salvation.
Pharaoh’s magicians had enough common sense to realize that they could not duplicate what God had done this time. They were also smart enough to confess that this was the “finger of God” ((Exod. 8:19a).
Don’t think God made believers out of these magicians. We don’t see any change in their behavior plus, they use the general word for God - “elohim” - rather than Israel’s name for God: Jehovah. It is also possible that up until this point, the magicians thought that Moses and Aaron were simply magicians and what had been done before was done by them and not by Jehovah God. But now they acknowledge that this work was, in fact, done by God.
But as with today, it takes more than just realizing there is a God. If the surveys are correct, most people believe in God. They acknowledge the existence of a Creator. They confess their need for “a Higher Power.” They speak of “the Man Upstairs.” When there is a natural disaster, they refer to it as “an act of God.” They often use one of God’s names when they curse. But the one thing too often they do not do is obey the gospel of Christ. Yet that is exactly what God requires for salvation—not simply a general belief in God, but an obedient faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s briefly consider the other few times where the “finger of God” is mentioned… In Psalm 8:3, David considered the heavens the work of God’s fingers. Moses tells us that God inscribed the Law - at least the Ten Commandments - on stone with His finger: Exo. 31:18. The best place to see the “finger” of God is in the work and ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, when Jesus cast out evil spirits, He told His Jewish audience that He did so by the “finger of God” and this showed that the kingdom prophesied by Daniel (7:13-14) was about to be established: Luke 11:20.
Just as Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, so Jesus leads us out of the slavery of sin. He’s more than just a “new Moses.” The Hebrew writer says Moses as a servant in the house while Jesus is the Son over the house of God (3:5-6). In that text, the writer says that Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses.
Jesus has defeated the power of Satan and He has opened up heaven to us. When we look at the life of Jesus we can only confess: “This is the finger of God!” Only God could have resolved the power of sin; only He could have raised Jesus from the dead.
What we cannot afford to do is follow Pharaoh’s pattern. He hardened his heart - notice he changed his heart before he refused to listen. Even when the finger of God was evident, he refused to humble his heart. He refused to give glory to God. Let’s not follow his pattern.
Take home message: Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses. He defeated the power of Satan and has opened heaven to us. “This is the finger of God!” Soften your heart and listen to Him.