God's Smallest Armies

May 14, 2018 Series: Exodus Scripture: Exodus 8 by Chris Strevel

Now unfolds the wonder of God’s power in the crushing of Pharaoh, mocking of Egypt’s gods, and killing of its firstborn.  Unless our hearts are stone cold, we shall tremble before these instances of God’s power and wrath (Isa. 66:2). They warn modern nations that it is suicide to declare war on the Lord of Hosts or to neglect his word. He may allow an ungodly nation some reprieve, either because many of his people live there or to reveal his longsuffering toward his enemies. Eventually, his rights as Governor and Judge of the nations, which he has committed into the hand of his Son as the Mediatorial King, will be asserted. He will be honored and obeyed by men and nations, with kings coming to give their gifts to his enthroned Son (Ps. 72:10).

In judging the wicked and humbling the proud, he uses the smallest of armies, like frogs, gnats, and flies. God sent Moses to Egypt with only a stick in his hand. God would now fight against Pharaoh with dust and flies? The smallest speck of God’s power is stronger than all the might of men. He is the Lord not only of the angelic hosts but of the dust and fly and locust hosts. All that he has created waits upon his order, and he sometimes arms nature against his enemies. We must therefore trust that our omnipotent God is able to protect us and to keep his promises, and that he does not need things we call strong in order to do so. His weakness is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:25). This has enormous implications for our expectations as to the way the war between Christ and Satan will progress and the weapons our Captain normally uses to give victory. Our trust in the “big and strong and dramatic” is rebuked, and we are led back to the cross also, for on a wooden stake the Lord obtained our deliverance from the kingdom of Satan, spoiled principalities and power, triumphed over them, and purchased our pardon. God uses the weak and lowly to bring down the high and mighty, so that no one will boast in his presence (1 Cor. 1:28-32). Just as nothing seemed less likely than that bugs would humble Egypt, so nothing seemed less likely than that God would save the world through a brutalized, condemned, and crucified Savior. But God abominates the pomp and pride and pleasures that men so highly esteem (Luke 16:15). He will make us eternally rich through impoverishing his Son (2 Cor. 8:9). This rebukes man’s wisdom, humbles our pride in the dust, and calls for the most sincere worship of our great God.

Mocking Heqet’s Slime: The Plague of Frogs (vv. 1-15)

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. 2 And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: 3 And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneading troughs: 4 And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants. 5 And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. 6 And 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 upon the land of Egypt. 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 do sacrifice unto the LORD. 9 And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only? 10 And he said, Tomorrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God. 11 And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only. 12 And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the LORD because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. 13 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. 14 And they gathered them together upon heaps: and the land stank. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

God’s Vengeance against Egyptian Genocide (vv. 1-7)

God’s judgment is not uncontrolled, indiscriminate wrath. God is his justice, and that means that his justice is as measured, holy, and perfect as he is. He never has to repent of any instance of judgment because it was too severe or undeserved. Again God sent Moses into Pharaoh’s presence. The bloody Nile had returned to her normal state, and Pharaoh’s heart was harder than the pyramids. Moses must preach another sermon: “Let my people go.” They were not Pharaoh’s people, but God’s own possession. Pharaoh despised the Jews as lower than the animals the Egyptians worshipped; God loved them as his children and his friends. God’s people in this world are never as they seem; the world hates, mocks, persecutes, and kills the favorites of heaven. Never should we embrace the world’s definitions of truth and wisdom. All is foolish that does not come from Christ the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:3).

Among Egypt’s many deities was a frog-headed goddess, Heqet or Heqt. She was married to the Egyptian creator God, Khnum. When he made human bodies, Heqet breathed life into them. She was therefore the deity upon whom the Egyptian woman called to give them fertility and strength in childbirth. Remember that the Egyptians had thrown the Hebrew male children into the Nile; God had turned it to blood. Now, he will cause their frog-goddess to multiply without number, crawl out of the Nile, and infest everything. Even in “clean” areas such as kneading bowls and baking ovens, O Egypt, behold your goddess! God’s justice is exquisite and pointed. Your goddess to whom you sacrificed my children will now rise up and judge you at my bidding.

And think how horrible this amphibian infestation was. Everywhere the Egyptians walked, when they got into beds, crawling and hopping over their food, their goddess was crunching and oozing under their feet. Even the common people must have seen the connection. Egypt was walking upon its fertility goddess. All this was done by the rod of God stretched over the rivers and ponds of Egypt. Moses preached his sermon; Aaron performed the sign to certify the authority of God’s word. The Egyptian magicians, either by some trickery or the deceiving power of Satan, caused frogs to come up also. Of course, they could not make the frogs go away, which was the real need. Unbelieving men when they try to escape God’s judgments and solve societal problems without repentance and submission to his word, always make the problems worse. Experts at creating evil, but they can do nothing to remove it.

Modern men still worship Heqet, albeit under other names. On the one hand, unbelieving men want to fornicate without consequences, so they devise easier ways to do so. Then, when children are conceived, they sacrifice them to their gods and goddesses through abortion or raise them abused and neglected. Societally, we have killed an entire generation that might have worked, raised families, and blessed our nation with further increase. Those who did the child-sacrificing and fornicating must live with the bitter fruits of their evil deeds. Instead of repentance, we justify and turn into a virtue the very evils that have sharpened the sword of justice in God’s hand. Children are taught to worship these fertility gods – define your own gender, determine your own sexuality, worship almighty Heqet! In the midst of our troubles, we do not turn to God. Many are the sermons that have been preached on these shores calling men to turn from their idols to the living God. If we do not, like the Egyptians, our gods will rise up and slay us – sexual diseases, the chaos of transvestitism, and the evil of child-murder. It will be slime beneath our feet, a stain upon our soul, and Ichabod above our national door.  

Pharaoh’s Breaks His Promise (vv. 8-15)

Egypt was accustomed to the croaking of frogs, but this was different. Pharaoh, the god of the land, could not walk to dinner without getting slime between his toes! How ludicrous is the picture of servants walking ahead of him, sweeping his path clear of Heqet! But sin and rebellion, in addition to being wicked, are ludicrous and make us utterly ridiculous, for we were created in God’s image. When we walk obediently in God’s truth, his nobility shines in us. When we rebel, we quickly degenerate and become little better than howling animals, each looking for his own gratification. When Moses came, Pharaoh asked him to pray for the removal of the frogs – odd that when Pharoah needed a prayer, he had to beg one off Moses – too proud to admit he was humbled and needed help! O, how deceitful is sin’s web, and our deceived hearts welcome the deception, all to avoid the truth staring us in the face, that God rules over us and our only relief lies in falling into his hand of mercy, turning from our sins, and establishing our complete happiness in him (Col. 1:10).

Pharaoh agreed to let the people leave to worship, if Moses would only take away the frogs. “Glory over me” is a strange phrase. Moses did not ask for personal glory but issued something of a challenge to Pharaoh – God is going to be glorified in this, so do me the favor of telling me when you want the frogs destroyed. Why would Pharaoh not say, “NOW?” Perhaps he hoped another day would give a different explanation than the one facing him and probably being quietly suggested by some of his counselors. Perhaps he thought the task too big for Moses. Pharaoh was being judged, so we must not expect to find any wisdom in his words or decisions. Moses allowed him to set the time for the destruction of the frogs so that God would be glorified and recognized as the Lord of the entire situation.  Pharaoh asked for deliverance on the following day.

Whether or not Moses and Aaron expected Pharaoh to keep his word, they were bound to see the matter through. Had God already humbled Pharaoh’s heart? They went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried unto the Lord to remove the frogs. Moses and Aaron praying for Egypt, for Pharaoh, is a beautifully compelling scene. It reminds us of Psalm 35:13-14: “But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.” They saw the grief of Egypt and prayed for deliverance. True, they also wanted to see Pharaoh keep his word and God’s people released from bondage, but they were fully engaged in every possible means to see the realization of these goals. We know, for example, that the Lord will disciple the nations, but are we praying for God to make his church a praise in the earth? Opening our mouths to speak his word, humbly and with great boldness that it is his power unto salvation? The Lord was working out all things according to his counsel, but he used the appointed means of faithfulness, preaching, and prayer to accomplish his purposes.

All the frogs died the next day, and the land of Egypt was filled with a loathsome stench. The heaps of frogs must have been unbelievable in their size and disgusting putrefaction. This was surely a new set of pyramids in Egypt – monuments of stench to Heqet and her husband Khnum, who would not protect her from such mockery. The frogs gone – in a sickening way – Pharaoh hardened his heart. It is possible and common for the strongest convictions to lose their hold if we do not immediately yield to God’s hand upon us, forsake our sins, and turn fully to the Lord Jesus for cleansing and renewal. Moses remains a monument to the impotence of convictions born out of external fear rather than true inner humbling of soul and spirit before God. Many will quake and make promises of reformation when their circumstances receive a dreadful blow, or disease threatens, or sudden death strikes a loved one. Time will tell. We must bring forth fruits of repentance. Rather than trusting in fleeting fear or feelings, let us follow the Spirit: “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments” (Ps. 119:59-60). Let us not wait until we hear the stroke of doom or a plague from heaven falls upon us. Let us hear God’s word, remember the frogs, smell the stench of sin and judgment, and flee to the Lord for refuge from the wrath to come. He will receive us, for he is good and ready to forgive (Ps. 86:5).

The Finger of God: The Plague of Lice (vv. 16-19)

16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, 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 smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 18 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. 19 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

Not a Natural Phenomenon (vv. 16-17)

Critics and world-accommodating friends of Scripture endeavor to find natural explanations for these plagues. After the Nile turned red from excessive silting, of course the frogs would leave. When they all died, it stands to reason that swarms of gnats and flies, for which the region is already proverbial, should increase. However, there is nothing about Moses’ record of these plagues that shows causal connection between them. The plague of lice or more likely gnats, moreover, was an instantaneous creation. God told Aaron to stretch out his rod and strike the dust, which then became a plague of gnats. Man and beast, the whole land was inundated. These were the small variety of biting gnats, hardly visible to the eye but capable of a very painful sting. Notice that the very dust suddenly rose up against the Egyptians. It was as if the land had turned against them and was driving them out. This plague therefore had no connection to the dying heaps of frogs, although it would certainly have added to the grossness of life and the spread of disease. Gnats are bad enough two or three at a time, but constant swarms getting in your mouth, eyes, and food would make life unbearable. 

Satan No Creator (vv. 18-19)

Satan has a real power. He can deceive and afflict with disease. He can cause disasters and stir men to evil deeds of murder and war. His power is limited, and his blinding stranglehold has been definitively broken by the coming of Jesus Christ into the world (John 12:29-31; 1 John 3:8). Even before he was cast out of heaven and held a more universal sway over the world of men, he was no creator. He might mimic some aspect of God’s work, as with the red water, but he could not create gnats from dust. Pharaoh’s magicians’ inability to duplicate this plague, joined with what had already transpired, led his wise men to declare that this is “the finger of God.” They did not necessarily mean the true God, but they felt they were confronted with divine power. This was no sham power or manipulating nature. This was from God. They began to tremble, likely to whisper that Pharaoh was going to get them all killed. Those who had his ear likely began to encourage a little compromise with Moses. That they did not kill Moses is evidence of God’s protection upon his life, and they undoubtedly tried to do so.

When we are doing the will of God, we can speak and live boldly in this world, without thinking that we need to be fearful separatists on the one hand or accommodationists on the other. The former will make us irrelevant and prevent us from being light and salt as we should be. The latter will lose the distinctiveness of our gospel message and witness in the world. If the gospel is nothing other than a different way of looking at what the world already believes, or simply brings out the latent good in men, then why the cross? If men are capable of discovering truth without “in your light we see light,” then why did Jesus not come proclaiming a religion of inner light and studying the stars and philosophers? He was the Son of God, and he came in our flesh studying, reading, and obeying the Scriptures as the only light, and commanding his disciples to do the same (John 8:31-32; 15:1-8).

This declaration had little effect upon Pharaoh. He would not listen to them. His land was stinking and his counselors trembling, but Pharaoh would not bend. God had determined to kill him, and Pharaoh had determined to die rather than submit. This was his own will operating, for he chose this course for himself without any external coercion. Never should we think of God’s sovereignty as reducing men to puppets, for God’s sovereignty is not static causality, as if men are forced to do God’s will against their own wills. Far from it, God is so majestic in his sovereignty that the same event can be fully determined by him and fully free in terms of man’s choices and wills. God’s sovereignty, in fact, established man’s freedom, as both work together to accomplish his purposes. Thus, Pharaoh hardened his heart, just as God said he would. At the same time, Pharaoh wanted to harden his heart, and the choice to soften it he could have made, had he wanted to do so.

Pharaoh Asks for Prayer: The Plague of Flies (vv. 20-32)

20 And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. 21 Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. 22 And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. 23 And I will put a division between my people and thy people: tomorrow shall this sign be. 24 And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants' houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies. 25 And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land. 26 And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? 27 We will go three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us. 28 And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me. 29 And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD. 30 And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the LORD. 31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. 32 And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

Warning, Separation, and Swarms (vv. 20-24)

The Septuagint identifies this little army of God as “dog-flies” – aggressive, biting flies. Before God unleashed these, he sent Moses to Pharaoh with another short sermon: “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” We find the Pharaoh again down at the water – had he already resumed his morning libations to Hapis? If so, he is one of the most infamous testimonies to the stubborn blindness of man’s heart and that if we will not believe God’s word, we shall believe anything and be dupes of everything. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, but God gave him another warning, telling Pharaoh exactly what he is going to do. Among the Egyptians, there will be no distinction as to the severity of the plague: servants, animals, men, houses, ground – the swarms will be everywhere. Some people are driven crazy by one fly in a room; imagine a room in which if you happen to open your mouth, it will be filled with flies. How can you eat with so many flies biting? 

God for the first time announced a distinction between Goshen and Egypt proper. His people will be exempt from this plague. Most assume that they were exempt from the first three, but Moses does not say so. Perhaps he made the separation explicit at this point in order to drive home the point that the Jews were his people, and he was protecting them – in case Pharaoh had any doubt of the outcome of this conflict. Such an announcement would have been a definite “in your face.” Pharaoh may have thought he was lord of the Jews, but he is about to be lord of the flies – or will the flies be lord of him? It is difficult to say, for man becomes like what he worships, and the Egyptians did believe that their god Uatchit manifested himself in the egg-laying fly. Well, they were about to get a disease-laden, disgusting belly full of him! But not his people: Pharaoh was not their lord, and this separation apparently continued through the remainder of the battle between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt.

We cannot always expect the Lord to make such a distinction. Daniel and his three friends were taken as captives into Babylon. Jeremiah was forcibly removed to Egypt with some of the rebellious exiles and died there, possibly by being stoned. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus warned the believers in Jerusalem to flee the city when it was surrounded by the Roman armies (Luke 21:20-21). Not one Christian is known to have perished in Titus’ three and one-half year siege of the city. The prophet Ezekiel was told that God sent his angel to set a distinguishing mark in the foreheads of those who wept over the sins of the city – so they would be spared (Ezek. 9:4). In times of judgment, God may or may not choose to make an external or circumstantial distinction between his people and the world. But when “he makes inquisition for blood, he does not forget the cry of the humble” (Ps. 9:12). His eye is always upon his people, and he will make a way of escape for them, pledges to hear their cries, and will powerfully turn their sorrows into joys and their tribulations into blessings. This he does not do for the wicked but only for his people whom he has chosen in Christ and who “have the faith of Jesus and keep the commandments of God” (Rev. 14:12).

Pharaoh’s Plea Bargain Rejected (vv. 25-29)

Pharaoh did not respond to Moses’ renewed warning. His refusal was a challenge to God to “do your worst, but I will not bend my knee to you.” The swarm of flies that then descended upon Egypt was dreadful. The land was “corrupted;” shachath means “rotted, ruined, or destroyed.” The idea seems to be that the land became virtually uninhabitable, likely darkened, business at a standstill, no one doing anything but trying to get away from the flies, the bites, the buzzing, and the misery. Pharaoh began to crack. He called for Moses and told him, “Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.” Pharaoh knew God’s command, but he was willing to give only a lesser obedience. Had Moses been one of those souls who is always looking for a way for the world to accept God’s truth on its own terms or to make God’s truth acceptable to the tastes and autonomy of the world, he might have accepted this bargain. As it was, he rejected it. The Egyptians would not appreciate our sacrifices, as we would be sacrificing some of their “gods.” The whole arrangement would be distasteful to both peoples. Beyond this, Moses made it clear that they would obey God and leave Egypt to worship him (v. 27). Pharaoh agreed, only that they not go far – within easy chariot range! Whether or not Moses believed his acquiescence sincere, he agreed to pray for the removal of the flies. He warned Pharaoh not to deal deceitfully but to let God’s people go.

Pharaoh searched for a way around God’s word even while the hammer of judgment was falling upon his land. Hardened men sometimes tremble before God’s judgments or when their conscience is disturbed, but they do not humble themselves before God. Repentance is far from their minds. They are fearful not of offending him but that they might have to give up their sins. This was Pharaoh. It is like all men until regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is like the citizens of hell, now and forever. They say like the men in Jesus’ parable about his reign: “We will not have this man to rule over us.” But then if there is something they desire for accommodation, the church is too quick to accept the peace terms offered by the world. Teach evolution along with creation; do not talk about love unless you are willing to affirm the legitimacy of perversion; have a place at the political table, but speak only in terms of consensus and general morality, not Deuteronomy 4:4-6. When speaking with enemies of God who are hardened against his truth, we must not look for partial agreement or accommodation but insist upon a complete surrendering of the mind and heart to God’s will as the only way of righteousness and peace. Anything less is self-deception and fighting against God.

Answered Prayer but Hardened Heart (vv. 30-32)

Pharaoh might at this point have asked Moses for a little more information about his God. The symbolic killing of Hapis was bad enough, but the frogs, gnats, and biting flies surely gave Pharaoh pause. In Moses, he was not dealing with a conjurer. Here was a man not looking for riches or power but who preached simply in the name of his God and had powerful signs to certify the authority of the words he said. Pharaoh remained unmoved by all this. Whether he was really this arrogant, which is likely, or convinced that his gods would somehow prevail, he refused to bend or even to inquire about the God of the Jews. He did not want more information. He wanted to have his way and keep his slaves. He is thus a shocking picture of the human heart: blind and dead in its sins, stubbornly persistent in its deceiving and blinding commitments, and unwilling to bend to God.

Seeing this, each one of us must run to Jesus, for I dare say that we do not give ourselves to God’s word as we should, that there are areas of our lives in which we try to weather his storms of chastening and hardship without really yielding to him or dealing honestly with our sins. Moses did pray for Pharaoh, as requested, and the flies departed. Pharaoh hardened his heart again. It was becoming nothing but a spiritual callous. The same will be true of our hearts unless we ask the Lord to keep them soft under the operations of his Spirit, for whose enlightening and strengthening we are commanded to pray constantly. And then when God does touch us a little with discipline, let us not look for ways to keep what we want while giving only lip service to God. This is what Isaiah described as lip-service with a cold heart. God wants our hearts. When he gives a sermon or convicts us of an area of sin, we must turn to him with all our hearts, forsaking our sins, and desiring only for him to be our guide, our Savior, our life.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. Why does God often use very small armies and very weak means?

2. How was the plague of frogs a gross mockery of one of Egypt’s gods?

3. How are men still worshipping Heqet?

4. What are some ways in which sin makes men ridiculous – like Pharaoh walking with the slime of Heqet between his toes?

5. Why is the force of conviction often lost before we are improved by it?

6. How is Moses and Aaron praying for Egypt like Psalm 35:14-15?

7. How does the plague of gnats teach us that these plagues were not simply natural phenomenon or what we would call “natural disasters?”

8. What are we to think of Satan’s power and work in the world today, especially in light of Jesus’ victory at the cross and reign at the Father’s right hand? What are the two extremes we need to avoid?

9. Why did Pharaoh not have Moses and Aaron killed? What does this teach us about the connection between doing God’s will, boldness, and our personal safety?

10. How does God’s making a distinction between Goshen and Egypt encourage us? What would be a wrong use of this distinction? How can a child of God be preserved and yet troubled by an instance of God’s judgment? A biblical example?

11. Do you have any area in your life in which you are asking God to help you or to take away some trouble, but you are at the same time wanting him to do so without your having to give up your sins?

12. How is Pharaoh’s hardness a shocking picture of the human heart?

 

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