Again Moses repeated the command of the Lord, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” Along with this demand from the Lord Moses issued the warning, “But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite your whole territory with frogs.” Pharaoh was warned by Moses and still he refused to let the Israelite people go.
Egypt is a nation whose major territory is confined to the narrow floodplain of the Nile River. It is expected then that Egypt would have a problem with frogs. Egypt had a goddess (Hekht) whose responsibility was to protect the land from frogs. This plague, like the first, was aimed at one of the Egyptian pantheon. (All the deities of a people or religion considered collectively.) When the God of Israel sent the frogs there was nothing Hekht could do.
The first plague started by Aaron striking the Nile River with the rod of God and this plague started by Aaron holding out the Rod of God. The Egyptian magicians were able to do the same by their secret arts. Again from this miracle is seen from the viewpoint of timing. The frogs came when Moses said they would at God’s command. If there was something supernatural about their coming, this does not give us too much difficulty in understanding the acts of the Egyptian magicians. Any good sleight of hand artist could produce frogs in seemingly surprising ways.
This time Pharaoh was moved by the nuisance of the frogs and he begged Moses and Aaron, “Entreat the LORD.” These are strange words to come from the Egyptian leader. Pharaoh was requesting the prayers of Moses and Aaron. We must note that all Pharaoh wanted was relief from the plague of the frogs. Pharaoh did promise that if Moses would respond, then he would “let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” Pharaoh was not sincere in his promise but was desperate enough to make it in order to rid the plague of the frogs.
Moses’ response to Pharaoh is significant in that he asked Pharaoh when the deliverance of the Israelite people should come. This may affirm the importance of not so much what had happened but when it happened. It is not a denial of God’s miraculous power but focuses on the fact that God is not only powerful but free to act when He pleases.
From Moses’ viewpoint is was important that Pharaoh should “know” that there was no one like the God of Israel. When Pharaoh’s own goddess Hekht could not deliver Egypt the God of Israel could. An interesting side point of this plague is the problem of the dead frogs, the “land became foul.” Here was see the knowledge of the author in knowing the stench of the frogs decaying in the blazing sun. The days following the end of the plague were probably as bad as the plague itself.
The days passed and the frogs were gone along with the stench they had left behind. The Pharaoh forgot his promises, as we are told that, “he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” As God continued to pressure Pharaoh he became more and more stubborn, but this was just as God had warned Moses.
We should note here that even though the Egyptian magicians could duplicate the coming of the frogs they were not able to rid the land of them. Magicians can seen to make things appear and can also make things seem to disappear but there was no way they could get rid of the stench of the dead frogs.
Before we discuss the next plague we must identify the insects involved. The Hebrew word has been variously translated as “lice” (KJV), “gnats” (RSV), “maggots” (The New English Bible), “sand flies” or “fleas” (American Standard Version), and “mosquitoes” (Broadman Bible Commentary). We do not know what the word precisely means; but it appears to refer to some sort of small, flying, stinging insect. “Mosquitoes” is probably the best translation.
There are significant differences in this plague from the first two. There was no warning given to Pharaoh. This plague was brought; however, as were the others, by Aaron’s stretching out the rod of God and striking the “dust of the earth.” “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.” This plague is also the first one that the Egyptian magicians were unable to duplicate. “The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast.” The verb form translation of “tried” indicates that they tried over and over again. The failure of the Egyptian magicians demonstrated that Moses and Aaron were doing more than performing magic tricks.
The attitude of the magicians began to change at this point. When unable to duplicate the acts of Moses and Aaron the magicians reported to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” We must not misunderstand that the Egyptians were converting their faith to the God of the Israelites. They were however certainly becoming aware that the power behind Moses and Aaron was far greater than the power behind them. This is an important development in that supposedly the power behind the magicians came from their gods. This was not just a major victory for the God of Israel over the gods of Egypt but there was also an open admission on the part of the members of Pharaoh’s court that this was true.
Pharaoh still unimpressed remains in his stubborn thought patterns. Before he refused to heed Moses and Aaron and now he even refused to listen to his own advisers. Pharaoh should have taken his own council seriously. What Pharaoh could not understand he would not even consider. Still Pharaoh refused to admit that the God of his slaves could have any power at all.
As in the last plague the actual insect is lost in the translation but most likely flies would be correct here. It is even possible that they were the sacred scarab beetle. To the ancient Egyptians, this common beetle symbolized hope and the restoration of life. They used the design of a scarab beetle in many ways. Seals were created in the shape of a scarab and used to stamp documents. Artisans made scarab jewelry using precious gems and painted clay. The same design was used to make good luck charms and amulets to ward off evil. In ancient Egypt, scarab jewelry, good luck charms, and amulets were often given as gifts. An inscription was often added with the name of the owner and perhaps a motto or a message, like, “good luck in your new job”. Scarabs came in many designs including winged scarabs. The colors were rich and beautiful. Blue symbolized the Nile River. Red symbolized Ra. There were touches of yellow for the desert and sun. Green was used to emphasis growth. Over time, the scarab became a sacred symbol. Egypt was always overrun by insects and their religion provided protection for this problem. In this plague once again the God of Israel was demonstrating His superiority over the Egyptian pantheon.
Once again Pharaoh was warned of the coming plague. This time there was a difference from the previous plagues. The Hebrew’s were exempt from the effects of the plague. “I will put a division between My people and your people.” Not only now was God showing His power in bringing the plague when He said it would come; He was also showing His sovereignty in being able to control the locality of where it would come. Pharaoh again calls for Moses and Aaron and offers a compromise. “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” Pharaoh was beginning to feel the pressure of all these plagues and now was looking for a way out. At the same time he did not want to lose the economic advantage of the slaves.
The offer was not even worth considering from Moses’ point of view. Anything less than what God had commanded Moses to do would be too little. Moses knew that what he had been called to do on God’s behalf would be offensive to the Egyptians. To follow God the Israelites would have to leave Egypt behind. Moses responded in the end, “We must go.”
Pharaoh responded by grasping for straws with another compromise. Pharaoh offered to grant part of the demand but still not all of it. “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.” Putting this in a modern perspective it was as saying if you must seek God go to church, but not very often. Also do not get involved in any Bible study or serious service. Go ahead to your church but do not make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Pharaoh followed this second compromise with a pious plea again: “Make supplication for me.”
Moses knew that if he ever got his people to the wilderness that there was no way that Pharaoh could control how far they were to go. Moses agreed to pray for Pharaoh but he also recognized the possibility of Pharaoh’s treachery and warned him against dealing falsely. Moses prayed and God removed the plague and as before Pharaoh continued in his stubborn refusal to let the Israelites go.
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