30. Third Plague – Gnats

Meditations in Exodus: 30. Third Plague – Gnats

Ex 8:16   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, `Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats.”

Each plague brings something different (apart from the nature of the plague itself). Perhaps to tabulate it would help even though this is only the third plague:

  Blood Frogs Gnats
a) Prefixed by call to let people go No  Yes No
b) Specific warning of nature of plague Yes Yes No
c) Magicians copy Yes Yes No
d) Pharaoh appears to relent No Yes No

Put in that form we see that what takes place now is quite different from what has gone before. With the blood warning there was a reference back to having called for Israel to be released and with the frogs warning there is a specific call to let them go. However, this plague comes without such a call. The previous two plagues also came with a specific warning with a specific explanation of what would happen. With this plague there is no such warning or explanation; the Lord just tells Moses and Aaron to do it. With the two previous plagues the magicians appeared to be able to copy the plague in some measure at least, but now they appear powerless. Indeed, they acknowledge, This is the finger of God.” (v.19) Whereas the frogs had so impacted Pharaoh that he had temporarily relented, with this plague he simply digs his heels in and would not listen to them.

So why this particular plague in this particular form? And why were the magicians unable to duplicate it? Perhaps the clue is in Pharaoh’s previous response. Is it the Lord’s way of giving him a slap across the wrist, as if to say if you say you’ll do something, don’t break your word? With no warning and no explanation, it comes as a short sharp shock, an unpleasant continuation of the plagues but with no reference to Pharaoh. The fact that the magicians cannot imitate this plague also suggests this is the Lord’s way of shutting Pharaoh and his magicians out of the negotiating process. There is a sense here of the Lord excluding Pharaoh from the process.

But what was it like? Well some suggest that tick is a better word than gnats and ticks do convey the picture of tiny insect, almost like dust. When the LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, `Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats,” (v.16) it does almost seem as if the Lord is turning dust into these ticks and this is confirmed in the next verse: “They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came upon men and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats.” (v.17) Again it was the enormous number of ticks appearing all over Egypt that would so unpleasant, causing irritation and unpleasantness.

Historians are uncertain as to what god or gods this plague was directed against but some suggest it was against Geb, the great god of the earth. The Egyptians gave offerings to Geb for the bounty of the soil—yet it was from “the dust of the soil” that this plague originated which certainly raises questions and doubts as to whether their god is angry with them or whether he is being controlled or overrun by one greater then him.

Another suggestion has been that the priests in Egypt were noted for their physical purity, performing daily physical cleansing rites and so in the presence of these ever pervading insects it was almost impossible for the now-polluted priesthood to operate and similarly ‘worshipers’ would equally find it difficult to perform worshipful rituals directed towards their gods while having to constantly fight off these armies of ticks.  So, not only was this a short sharp shock for Pharaoh, it also added to the general chaos in the land that would effectively bring to a grinding halt all religious processes being carried out. Neat!

Having pondered these things over the years, I have observed that when the Lord wants or sees we need discipline then He allows or even specifically brings things into our lives that bring a halt to some facet of our lives. Whether it be by adverse circumstances or illness, the same outcome follows – we are pulled up in life and come to a standstill, either in one specific aspect of our lives or in our lives as a whole. The object of the disciplinary process is to cause a halt to actions that are leading towards harm and which, therefore, need to be stopped if we are to be saved. God’s discipline is a sign of His love and goodness. Never forget that.

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