The Plague of Flies:
As with the Gnats, it is unclear as to the exact nature of the insects God sent. A number of commentators see this as a fly, or some kind of stinging creature. Dr. McGee identifies them as beetles or scarabs, another of the gods of Egypt.
“These scarabs, many of gold, are found in the tombs in Egypt. They were sacred to the sun god Ra.” 1 The god attacked here then was either
“Ra, a sun god; or Uatchit, possibly represented by the fly." 2
Whatever the case, they were a major discomfort to the people.
So the Lord again directed Moses to appear before Pharaoh. Why he was to get up and go early in the morning, is anybody’s guess. This may be the time Pharaoh went to carry out some sort of religious ritual. Moses confronted him with the one true God.
Anyway, it doesn’t sound like a great way to start the day. And so, back to the river. The message was unchanged. Moses still wasn’t asking Pharaoh to free Israel, just let them go to worship God.
But there is a major difference in this plague. God made it quite clear that what was to occur was His doing. In addition, He wanted it known He was not only the God of the Hebrews, but also God over the land of Egypt. This plague was to fall only on the part of the nation occupied by the Egyptians. The land of Goshen, which was occupied by the Hebrews, was to be free of this latest plague. This is for the express purpose of showing the Egyptians that the Lord is God over all.
This is an exception to the way the Lord often works. Many times, it is the unbeliever who is blessed by the presence of the righteous. Sodom and Gomorrah got twenty-four hours extra, until Lot and his family escaped. (See Genesis 18-19.)
Potiphar’s household was blessed because of the presence of Joseph.
“The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field” (Genesis 39:2–5 ESV).
The whole nation of Egypt was saved because of the work of Joseph (see Genesis 41). Here, instead, the presence of God’s people leads to the suffering of the unrighteous. This is a totally unique situation, where God exempts His own people from a general type of judgment. Picture it; here is a huge swarm of flies filling the entire land of Egypt. We are told they would fill not only the land, but the houses of the people and specifically the officials of the court. They will cover the ground.
But at the border of the land of Goshen, they stop. On one side of the line are flies, on the other, nothing. From the Goshen side, it would look like a curtain of insects. I bet a lot of people were ready to move to Goshen. It was probably great for the tourist trade. We must understand this does not set a precedence for the exemption of God’s people from His general judgments. The only reason He protected them here, was because it reinforced the truth of His message. This was the same reason the time of the plague was foretold.
While the discussion between Moses and the King isn’t recounted here, the result is obvious. Pharaoh rejected God’s word. The flies arrived, and the King was really “bugged.” The reason he was upset may not be because of the damage done to the land, as much as the fact the screen doors aren’t keeping the palace pest-free; after all, they didn’t even keep Moses and Aaron out.
The conversation recorded here occurred when Pharaoh called the two to come to the palace, to discuss the problem. His first words were “You win, go and worship your God.” The problem was that he wanted them to worship in the land, but he didn’t want them running off. This is known as negotiation.
Moses’ response to this was that the Hebrews do not dare sacrifice in the land, for fear of the Egyptians’ reaction. The cow was sacred to Isis and the goat to Mendesians. In that the Egyptians were idolaters, the sacrifice of these animals could lead to a major problem between the two peoples, up to and including the death of the Hebrews.
Now I am not sure exactly how to take Moses’ comments here. Was he truly afraid? After all, the point he made was certainly true? I think a better understanding may be that this is an example of why Moses was God’s choice for the job. Pharaoh was trying to pull a fast one, but Moses knew the people of Egypt. He came up with a point that could not be argued. Because of the fact the sacrifice of the Hebrews would be “detestable” to the Egyptians, they must go three days into the wilderness, in order to sacrifice.
Pharaoh was now on the horns of a dilemma. He wanted to get rid of the flies, but he didn’t want to lose his slaves. He told Moses, “Ok you can go, just don’t go too far, and by the way, pray for me (to get rid of the flies).” He modified his position just enough, he thought, to have Moses get God off his back.
Moses agreed to pray for the King, but he warned Pharaoh he had better not plan of reneging on his promise to let the people go worship God. Moses demonstrated great courage, in his willingness to warn the King not to lie to him again. It is hard to tell if Moses figured that this time they would be freed, but remember, God did tell him that before the King freed them, there would be the death of the first born.
“And the LORD said to Moses, 'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me.' If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son." (Exodus 4:21–23 ESV).
As might be expected as soon as the flies were gone, the King hardened his heart and would not allow the people to go.
How often do we act as the Lord demands, and yet things do not go as we think they should?
Where have you struggled with this? Moses knew better. But I wouldn’t be surprised, if he was disappointed at the turn of events. I know I would be. We’re called to wait on the Lord and His timing, for He knows where we should be, even if we don’t.
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalms 27:13–14 ESV)
Patience is one of the very hardest things we will ever have to learn in the Christian walk, and often, we don’t want to.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 ESV).
- McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Volume 1, “Genesis - Deuteronomy,” Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN 1981, p. 227
- Hannah, John D., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Volume 1, “Exodus,” Victor Books, Wheaton, IL., 1986, p. 120.