Meditations in Exodus: 31. Fourth Plague – Flies
Ex 8:20,21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.
In the previous meditation we said that each plague brings something different (apart from the nature of the plague itself). This one brings something else new (which actually raises a question about the previous ones). Now first of all, one of the things we aren’t told mostly is how much time passes between each plague, although at the end of chapter 7 we were told a week passed between the Nile turning to blood and the Lord starting on bringing the plague of frogs. Some have suggested months occur between them, but I am not sure if that is so, because Moses and Aaron want to avoid the possibility of ongoing plagues being seen as ‘natural’ things rather than supernatural things.
I believe the Lord often does use the natural, or does do things in a natural order, so I have no problem thinking that with the death of the frogs their natural tendency to keep down the fly population was removed. Even more, piles of rotting frogs would also attract more and more flies. All of that may be true but there are two things that mitigate against this being a ‘natural phenomena’. First, the Lord specifically spoke what He was going to do and the swarms of flies only appear after He has spoken. Second, and this is the big difference for this plague, the flies were limited to the area of the Egyptians and NOT in Goshen, the area of the Israelites.
Again this takes place as Pharaoh goes down to the Nile: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, `This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” (v.20) There he brings the challenge yet again to let His people go. Pharaoh obviously seeks to maintain his composure and his routines in the face of these catastrophes. Then comes the specific warning: “If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.” (v.21) There is no guesswork or chance about these plagues. They are clearly laid out by the Lord BEFORE they actually happen.
If that wasn’t powerful enough, then comes the distinction between Egypt and God’s people: “But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.” (v.22,23) This will be truly miraculous, even more than the very acts of the plagues generally.
God’s word is fulfilled and we are told there were, “Dense swarms of flies” so that “the land was ruined by the flies.” (v.24) Pharaoh appears to capitulate but limits it: “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” (v.25) Moses rejects this (v.26) and insists, “We must take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God, as he commands us.” (v.27) Pharaoh half relents: “Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the LORD your God in the desert, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” (v.28)
Moses is learning to be a negotiator: “Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the LORD, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only be sure that Pharaoh does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the LORD.” (v.29) Pharaoh appears not to answer but Moses leaves and prays (v.30) and we read, “The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.” (v.31,32) Well we knew Pharaoh would do it but he heaps guilt upon himself. He is a liar as well as a despot. There really is no mistaking that this is a work of God.
A question: how had Israel coped with the previous plagues because this was the first one that had avoided them? The water into blood had been unpleasant and the arrival of frogs even more so. The arrival of gnats yet even more so, and it is only now that Israel are spared the present one. Perhaps it was that the Lord wanted the Israelites, as they would become, to be fully aware of all that He is doing on their behalf. Now the next plague arrives but without touching them, there may be a rising of hope and a clarifying that there is no mistaking that this is a miracle which is being worked for their benefit.
How about the superstitious element of this plague? Well Egyptian mythology suggests that the fly gave protection against disease or misfortune and stone amulets in the form of flies have been found from before this time. Flies were also depicted on various artefacts in religious rituals used, it is thought, to protect the owner from harm. The fact that flies now appear in such horrible swarms must turn any superstitious belief to revulsion. Having a few flies buzzing around a house is bad enough, having swarm is terrible but having hundreds of thousands of them is both revolting and horrifying and such number almost certainly would have brought any outside work to a halt.
This again reminds us that these plagues are not only revolting and not only undermining the superstitious beliefs of the nation, but they also undermined the economy of the nation. Thus emotionally, spiritually and economically these plagues undermined the nation. Don’t just think of them as merely unpleasant; they have much greater and more long lasting effects than that. This is God at work bringing major changes to this people. By the end of all of this their thinking about their gods will have been revolutionized and their pride will have been brought down and they will be a humbled people.
When God’s wisdom is applied to bring discipline to a people or a person, it will have long lasting effect and is always designed to halt a person’s or a people’s downward moral spiral and cultural downward spiral and bring them back to a recognition that this world belongs to its Creator who knows how everything – including humans – works best. A final question: I wonder how often the Lord seeks to correct us in His love for us and we stubbornly fail to realize what is happening? Do we need the Lord to come again and again to help straighten us out?