Exodus: Journey to Freedom – The Lord of the Flies (Exo. 8:20-32)
Lord of the Flies
A hunter raised his rifle and took aim at a large bear. He was about to pull the trigger when the bear spoke in a soft, soothing voice. “Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let us negotiate the matter.”
Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, “I want a fur coat.” “Good,” the bear said. “That’s a negotiable question. I only want a full stomach. Let’s negotiate a compromise.”
They sat down to negotiate, and after a time the bear walked away - alone. The negotiations had been “successful” - the bear had a full stomach and the hunter had a fur coat.
Compromises don’t always satisfy both sides and compromise with Satan is never good.
King Saul’s son Jonathan made a comment one time that Jehovah God is “not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). God is also not restrained to destroy by many or by few. Before God takes the life of Pharaoh’s first born, God will judge Egypt with lots of small things - like frogs, gnats, and now flies. God uses tiny insects to reveal His nature and His power to Pharaoh, in order to execute judgment against Pharaoh’s gods…
We are studying the Ten Plagues God brought against Egypt and we are studying Plague #4 today. In this plague, Pharaoh makes his first effort at compromise with God’s servant.
Shoo, Fly, Shoo!
At some point, we do not know how much time God allowed to pass before He began the next plague, God launched plague #4. As I pointed out last week, in some (most) plagues, God warned Pharaoh; in some, God struck without warning. Exodus 8:20-21.
Moses goes out to meet Pharaoh. He is still, no doubt, worshipping his own idols just as he had done for decades. The verb “present yourself” has military connotations. It denotes the idea of taking a confrontational stance in front of someone. His message was the same as the very first time Moses confronted Pharaoh (5:1).
Notice the expression “My people” (ver. 20). It is used 20 times in Exodus. Israel was not Pharaohs’ people. Israel was not Pharaoh’s people to serve him as slaves. They were God’s people. God required Pharaoh to let them go, unconditionally. Israel needed to worship God. That is the highest purpose for which man was created: to worship God.
That’s the reason Jesus came to free us from sin: to purify us by His blood so that we and our worship could be holy in the eyes of God. God demands that Satan release us from the power of our own slavery: anger, lust, pride, impure sexual desires. Once we leave those sins behind, and we are washed in the blood of the crucified one, we are free to worship God in the beauty of holiness. That’s the way we were made to worship Him. Even today, God tells Satan, “Let My people go so they may worship Me.”
But, in accordance with his method of operation, Pharaoh refused. It seems that this is the 6th time that Moses has told Pharaoh to let Israel go. And, for the 6th time, Pharaoh has refused to obey God. So, God did what He told him he was going to do: 8:21. The English translation obscures this fact, but in verse 21, God actually says, “If you do not send My people away, behold I will send swarms of insects…” Now look at verse 24: “Then the Lord did so.” God does not make idle threats.
Now, as with the gnats / lice, scholars are not sure what type of insect this is. The word does not necessarily refer to house flies. It may in fact refer to several different kinds of flying insects. When the Hebrew was translated into Greek, the Greek scholars indicated they were “dog flies” which had painful bites and were quite annoying. In verse 24, Moses writes that this “swarm” was “great.” The Hebrew word is “heavy.” They were so numerous, they were a burden on the Egyptians. Flies are ugly. They are disgusting. They are unhealthy. They are a nuisance. Notice in verse 24 that this swarm “laid waste” the land of Egypt.
God can use one of the smallest of all His creatures to wreck awesome and tremendous damage on God’s enemies.
Now, which god of the Egyptians is this plague judging? Here, scholars are much more divided… The Nile was an attack against the god of the Nile, Hapi. The second plague was an attack against the goddess of fertility, Heqet. The third plague was likely an attack against the Egyptian god of the earth, Geb.
What about the flies? One scholar thinks they were emblematic of the Egyptian god Uatchit. Some think these were actually flying beetles, known as the scarab. Scarabs have been found frequently on Egyptian monuments, tombs, amulets, and other items. The scarab was sacred. It was an emblem of the sun and represented eternity. The god of the afterlife, the god of the resurrection, called Khepri - was depicted as a beetle.
There is also the suggestion that the “lord of the flies” - known as Beelzebub - is the one judged. His role was to protect the land from flies and other natural disasters.
So we do not know for sure which god or goddess is attacked through this plague. We simply know that God was showing His truth against the errors of Egyptian theology. God is showing the Egyptians themselves, the common people as well as anyone, that He is the one in control, not Pharaoh and not their false gods. Beelzebub could not control the flies. Khepri could not raise the dead. While the Egyptians were trying to “shoo away” the flies, they should have realized that their gods were powerless against the God of Israel, who is the true God.
The only God who has the power to save is the true God revealed in the Bible and especially in His Son, Jesus Christ. In the words of Peter from John 6:68, only Jesus has the “words of eternal life.”
My People, Your People - 8:22-23:
Sometimes while you are driving down the road, you can see where the rain stops at a certain point. Almost as if there is an invisible barrier there. I wonder if that was what it was like in the land of Goshen, where the nation of Israel lived: 8:22-23.
Not only was the plague a miracle in its existence, but it was a miracle in its limitations. It stopped at the border of Goshen. Notice in verse 22 that God says He wants Egypt to know “that I, the Lord (Jehovah), am in the midst of the land. The word “land” here is translated “earth” in 9:29. It’s the same word that is used in Genesis 1:1: “God made the heavens and the earth.”
This land of Goshen was in the north eastern corner of the Delta region of the Nile River. It was very fertile land that Joseph had given to his brothers and their families back in Genesis 45:10. When God made a distinction between Egypt and Israel, God is letting Egypt know for sure that this is no ordinary phenomenon. Notice in verse 23 that God says this is a “sign.”
Through several subsequently plagues, God makes a distinction between His people and Satan’s people. The plagues are as much about the judgment of Egypt as they are about the salvation of Israel. They are two sides of the same coin, just as the goodness of God is the opposite side of the same coin as the severity of God (Rom. 11:22).
God made the distinction between Israel and Egypt, not because Israel was holy and righteous and good. But because God made a promise to Abraham, to bring the Savior into the world through his family.
It was that covenant God made with Abraham that was the guarantee of Israel’s salvation. God had promised that He would be Israel’s God and they would be His people. In the original promise in Genesis 12:1-3, God promised that He would curse those who cursed Abraham’s family. Now, we see God fulfilling that promise.
I direct your attention back to verse 23: “I will put a division between My people and your people.” That word “division” is used 4 times in the OT and the other three times, it is translated either “ransom” or “redemption.” That is salvation language. It’s the cost of freedom, a ransom for a slave. Living in Egypt was death and misery. Living in Goshen was life and peace. That’s God’s ransom, His division.
Of course, that language of “ransom” or “redemption” is used in the NT too, of Christians. Christ redeemed Jews from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13; 4:5). Christ redeemed all of us from every sinful act (Titus 2:14). We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). “Redemption” is found in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). It is through His blood (Eph. 1:7). “Redemption” is defined in Colossians 1:14 as the forgiveness of sins.
When we were not Christians, we were slaves to sin. We were servants of Satan. But Jesus died on the cross and made possible the greatest ‘exodus’ of all: the exodus from the tyranny of sin. We were helpless and hopeless, just as much as the Israelites were in Egypt. But by the blood of Christ, we are freed from sin and are now slaves of righteousness. The only discrimination that goes on today in the mind of God is the distinction between those outside of Christ and those inside of Christ. Those who have obeyed the gospel and those who have not obeyed the gospel of His Son.
Our mission, of course, is to preach that freedom found in the gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).
Without Compromise - 8:25-27:
The Egyptian magicians do not show up during this plague. We do not see them again until a next plague (#6) when God causes the plague to personally strike the magicians. Perhaps Pharaoh realized it was pointless to call his magicians. What he did not think was pointless was to try to negotiate with Moses and Aaron: 8:25. This is compromise effort #1.
Notice the deceptive nuance of the compromise: “sacrifice within the land.” Pharaoh did not want them to leave, but they could sacrifice in Egypt. Well, what did God want? Didn’t He really just want the worship? So, stay here and worship. But that’s not what God said!
Compromise is the name of the game in modern society and in modern religious circles. Satan knows that if he can get God’s people to weaken on one point, it will start a domino effect and one’s spiritual “house of cards” will come crashing down. As we study next month the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, we’ll see that God’s foremost message to His people is: Do not compromise!
Moses reminded himself of what God had actually said. God has said: “Let My people go so they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness” (5:1). Moses, therefore, refused to compromise even on one point because it fell short of full and complete obedience to Jehovah God. You and I need to understand that partial obedience does not cut it with God. Here’s the thing… If God tells us to do 5 things - let’s just imagine - but we really don’t want to do 2 of those. We just do three things. Then ultimately we have not honored Jehovah God because the only reason why we did the three things we did was because we agreed with them! So who were we honoring when we did those three things? We were honoring only ourselves! Obedience to the gospel of Christ is full obedience or it is not obedience at all.
Pharaoh tried to compromise with Moses but Moses responded: 8:26-27.
Egyptians honored cattle and rams as emblems of their various gods. Bulls were associated with Apis, for example; cows with Isis; calves with Hathor and rams with Amon. That’s why Aaron made the golden calf once they left Egypt, in Exodus 32 - that was what he was familiar with. If Israel had dared to start sacrificing these bulls or rams in front of the Egyptians, there would have been riots and the worship would have been stopped. Maybe that’s what Pharaoh was thinking.
But again, the real issue is that staying in Egypt was not an option with God. So, Moses responded: 8:27. The final standard for what is truth and what is error is the word of God. Moses was committed to do exactly what God told him. Twenty-six times Exodus says Israel and Moses did “as the Lord commanded.” That needs to be said of the SC c of Christ! The difference between Christians and those who profess to be Christians is that Christians do what Jesus commanded; those who profess to be Christians make up their own version of Christianity and then follow it. They have compromised with the world.
Even for us Christians, we have a tendency to want to compromise with Satan. We decide we can hold a grudge because Christ’s teachings on forgiveness do not apply to us. We decide we can lose our temper because Christ’s teachings on self-control do not apply to us. We decide we can engage in sexual immorality because Christ’s teachings on sexual purity do not apply to us. But Moses and Pharaoh illustrate to us that God does not condone compromises when it comes to His word. His word is what is powerful and able to lead us to heaven and when we make that perfect message imperfect, we destroy its power. We have to follow Jesus without compromise.
Say a Little Prayer for Me - 8:28-32:
Pharaoh wanted to flies gone. So he is the one who had to give in. As he gave in, he asked Moses to pray for him! This (8:28) is the second time Pharaoh will ask for prayers. In the plague of frogs (8:8), Pharaoh had asked Moses to pray to Jehovah God for him. This is significant because in 5:2, Pharaoh had said that he did not know Jehovah God. Now, he is asking for prayers from Moses to Jehovah God.
So, Moses, being the faithful servant of God that he was, decided to pray for the pagan unbeliever: 8:29-31. Four times Pharaoh asks for prayers and four times Moses prays to God on behalf of Pharaoh and God responds.
God performed yet another miracle; He took the flies away. Beelzebub, known as the “Lord of the Flies,” became an epithet for Satan. But the truth is that the flies were not under the control of Satan. Or Beelzebub or any other god of Egypt. They were under God’s control. Jesus Christ is Lord of everything - whatever flies, creeps, crawls, swims, or walks!
Now, once the flies were gone, you might think - if you were reading for the first time - that Pharaoh would keep up his end of the bargain. But he did not: 8:32.
We criticize Pharaoh for having a hard heart, but aren’t we sometimes guilty of the same thing? Don’t we negotiate with God sometimes? “God, if you’ll do this for me, I’ll do that for you.” More prayers are offered to God when someone needs help than probably any other time ini one’s life. But like Pharaoh, as soon as God responds to our prayers, we forget all that we promised God.
But God will not be mocked, not by Pharaoh and not by me or you. There is a careful distinction between those who honor and obey Jehovah God and those who do not. The gospel is the dividing line. The gospel is God’s message of redemption and it’s what separates belief from unbelief, obedience from disobedience, the hard-hearted from those who are forgiven, the redeemed from the condemned. It is a far better choice to leave Egypt with God’s people and walk with God through a wilderness than to enjoy the pleasures of sin and reap condemnation.
Take home message: Many times we try to offer God some kind of compromise. We make God offers; we try to manipulate God through ultimatums. The dividing line between the saved and the lost is Jesus Christ and our faithful obedience to His every word.