A Journey of Deliverance: The Finger of God’s Judgment (Exodus 8:1-32)

In this sermon from Exodus 8, see how the plagues of frogs, gnats, and flies reveal God's just purpose for pouring out judgment on Egypt.

NOTE: Audio is unavailable for this sermon, but a transcript is below.

A Journey of Deliverance:
The Finger of God’s Judgment
Exodus 8:1-32

I.  God pours out judgment against evil
II. God demonstrates his power over false “gods”
    A. Frogs
    B. Gnats
    C. Flies
III. God demands unconditional surrender

It is my joy and privilege this morning to get to share what I have learned through the study of God’s Word, and the truths that the Holy Spirit has helped me to understand during that study. We were speaking at our Missional Community this week about how Christians believe in the supernatural, the unseen powers, and as Brice pointed out last week when discussing the cheap imitation power of the enemy, that acknowledgement of the supernatural includes both the power of God, of course, and his Holy Spirit within us, and his angels doing his work, but it also includes the power of the enemy, Satan, and his demons. Several years ago when we were discussing the armor of God in the book of Ephesians, I pointed out that sometimes we make the mistake of thinking “spiritual” is synonymous with “figurative.” But the fact that something is “spiritual” doesn’t make it any less literal. In fact, the spiritual realm could be understood as even more “real” than what we can perceive with our senses, because we know based on the authority of scripture that the supernatural battle between good and evil is older and bigger than the earth itself. We may not be able to see all that is going on, but make no mistake; it is as real as you can imagine. But for believers in Christ, understanding this should give us great comfort, because even though supernatural evil is real and present around us, the actual, literal presence of the almighty creator of the universe dwells within us, and he is real and ever-present too! We need not fear supernatural evil, for “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

It’s also important to realize this when we read the Bible. The Bible is not some ancient stagnant books of literature that nothing new can be gleaned from. It is the very words of God himself. And we not only have the God-given intellectual ability to study it and understand it, we have God himself revealing its truths to us as we read it. The Holy Spirit can open your eyes to understand more truth every time you read God’s word. It is a bottomless well of living water, and the more we drink of its cool refreshment, the more we should thirst for it.

Keep that in mind as we read from the word of God today. I’ll go ahead and let you know, we’re reading a long passage today. And you may be tempted to sort of check out during that part, maybe check your text messages, maybe zone out, or whatever, until we get to the “real” sermon and Roman numerals start coming up on the outline. You know, the reading of the scripture passage is just the appetizer, and maybe you nibble, but it’s not that important, because maybe you’re waiting on the meat. But folks, listen to me...the reading the the scripture is literally the only infallible thing I am doing up here today. I might mess up everything else, but I can’t mess that part up, because it’s only part that is completely authoritative, inerrant, and directly inspired by God himself. The scripture is the meat! I don’t mean to discount the rest of the sermon, because that is an important, God-mandated part of the proclamation of the word. But don’t miss the scripture, because it alone, as our church covenant states is “the final arbiter on all issues.”

So let’s recap what got us to where we are today, and then we’ll jump right into some nasty plagues. If you are new to Vintage or haven’t been around in a while, we are taking a journey of deliverance through the book of Exodus, as God makes a way to rescue his chosen people from slavery under the rule of the Egyptian pharaoh. Remember, when Moses first confronted Pharaoh with the command  “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go,” Pharaoh’s response was “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Well God has already shown up to Moses at the burning bush, and now he is getting ready to show out, and give Pharaoh a definitive answer. And at the end there would no question for Pharaoh about who God is.

Last week we looked at the first of ten plagues the God sent to Egypt to demonstrate his power and rescue his people. He turned the Nile river, the place the Egyptians viewed as their source of life, to blood, destroying their source of water, transportation, food (all the fish died), and security. God destroyed the Egyptians’ dependence on what they perceived to be the source of life to show that he and he alone is the source of life.

Our story picks up today at the beginning of Exodus chapter 8, after the blood-red Nile had stunk with rotting fish for a whole week.

The Reading of the Text

Exodus 8

The Second Plague: Frogs
[1]  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. [2] But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs. [3] The Nile shall swarm with frogs that shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. [4] The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your servants.”’” [5]  And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt!’” [6] So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. [7] But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

[8] Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” [9] Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” [10] And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. [11] The frogs shall go away from you and your houses and your servants and your people. They shall be left only in the Nile.” [12] So Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the LORD about the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. [13] And the LORD did according to the word of Moses. The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. [14] And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank. [15] But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

The Third Plague: Gnats
[16] Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” [17] And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. [18] The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. [19] Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

The Fourth Plague: Flies
[20] Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself to Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. [21] Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. [22] But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. [23] Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”’” [24] And the LORD did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants' houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.

[25] Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” [26] But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us? [27] We must go three days' journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as he tells us.” [28] So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.” [29] Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” [30] So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD. [31] And the LORD did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. [32] But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. (ESV)

Today we will look at the second through fourth plagues God sent upon Egypt, which Pharaoh’s magicians referred to in 8:19 as “The Finger of God’s Judgment.” I’d say as the plagues increase in intensity and severity, what begins as the finger of God eventually becomes the fist of God, which in the end will be more like the roundhouse kick to the face from God.

I want to spend most of our time this morning discussing each of these three plagues individually and how each one reveals a specific intentional purpose of God’s judgment against Egypt. But before we do that, I want to point out a fairly obvious but important underlying point to the plagues, which is simply that...

I. God pours out judgment against evil

You get a healthy dose of this message at Vintage, but the idea that God judges evil is not a popular message today. People don’t want to hear about the old testament God who sends plagues, who destroys his enemies; who Psalm 9 says sits on the throne giving righteous judgment, who rebukes the nations, makes the wicked perish, brings the enemy to everlasting ruins, who judges the world with righteousness, who avenges blood, who executes judgment, but who also is a stronghold for the oppressed in times of trouble, who does not forsake those who seek him, and who does not forget the cry of the afflicted. “Wrath” has a become a dirty word. People don’t like what they perceive to be a meanie God. Instead they want a genie God, who says “your wish is my command.” But the God of the Bible is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)

The only difference is that in the New testament, God pours his judgment out on his son. The God who judges by pouring out wrath on his enemies in the old testament pours that same judgement out on his son at the cross, as a substitute wrath-bearer in our place. This is the beauty of the Gospel. At the cross, the judgment of God who is holy and the mercy of God who is gracious collide, making a way for God to deliver his people from judgment.

See, God is not arbitrary in pouring out his judgment on evil. He isn’t judging Pharaoh and Egypt without just cause. First of all, Pharaoh had taken what belonged to God. The Israelites were God’s people. His covenant children. His chosen possession. And God is jealous for his children. He will not be moved. He won’t budge on this. As Sally Lloyd-Jones says so beautifully about God’s children in the Jesus Storybook Bible, “However far they ran, however well they hid, however lost they were--it would not matter. Because God’s children could never run too far, or be too lost, for God to find them.” God loves his children, and he will do whatever it takes to rescue, protect, and defend them. We see this in the instinct we have to defend our own children. You can mess with me, disrespect me, cheat me, hurt me, and I’ll probably give you the benefit of the doubt, turn the other cheek, and give you another chance. But you mess with my kids, and you’ve messed up. I will destroy you. Ily, Asher, and Linden are MY kids. You don’t hurt my kids. If you do, I can guarantee you will face some serious wrath. This is how God sees Pharaoh’s oppression of his kids.

Secondly, do you remember what Pharaoh commands the midwives to do at the beginning of Exodus? To murder the Hebrew baby boys by throwing them into the Nile. This is holocaust-level evil. God will not tolerate it, especially since it was his chosen people Pharaoh is attempting genocide on.

Thirdly, God gives ample warning of the coming judgment. Most of the plagues come with an announced warning before they happen, and each time Pharaoh has an opportunity to repent and obey God’s command to let his people go, but each time Pharaoh’s heart gets harder and he becomes more resolute in his wicked oppression of God’s children.

The God of the bible judges the wicked, even if we don’t like it. As author H. Richard Niebuhr wrote in 1934, people would rather have “A God without wrath [who] brought man without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” But this is not the biblical God. So let’s take a look at how God executes this judgment of evil be examining how...

II. God demonstrates his power over false “gods”

Of course we know there is only one real God, so to even dignify the gods the Egyptians worshiped by declaring that they needed to be proved powerless seems almost silly. But this is precisely what we can see God doing through the plagues; each of the plagues show the futility of the Egyptians faith in one of their false gods. As we have discussed before, even Pharaoh himself was seen as a deity to the Egyptians. But starting with Pharaoh, God systematically destroys the Egyptians’ pagan religion. Theologian Philip Ryken said:

“By bringing chaos out of order, God was making another direct assault on the Egyptians and their gods. The Egyptians believed that Pharaoh had the power to maintain cosmic order, , which they called ma'at. Ma'at was universal equilibrium, the “cosmic force of harmony, order, stability, and security.” It was Pharaoh’s responsibility to maintain ma’at by controlling the climate, regulating the seasons, and generally preserving order in the world.” “The plagues attacked this faith at its very foundations. By striking the Egyptians with plague after plague, and thereby throwing their land into confusion, God was confronting their basic beliefs about order and balance in the universe. Pharaoh could not be the true God because he was unable to maintain ma’at in the world. Only the God of Israel had the power to control chaos in the cosmos.”

God is making the Egyptians question, What is your foundation? What is your source of equilibrium? He asks us the same questions. Is it your job, your money, your family? Your intelligence, charm, or beauty? Your abilities or possessions? The Bible clearly teaches that none of these will do, for only Christ is the true foundation.

Colossians 1:16–17
[16] For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (ESV)

God uses the second plague of frogs to demonstrate this truth.

A. Frogs

God’s judgment by way of amphibian infestation is not arbitrary. Just as he was striking the heart of the Egyptians’ life source in turning the Nile to blood, frogs were a symbol of fertility for thy Egyptians because their goddess Hequet, the goddess of fertility, was usually pictured with the head and body of a frog. This frog goddess was the spouse of their creator god Khnum. Philip Ryken says that this frog goddess had two major responsibilities: one, to protect crocodiles, which would control the frog population; and two, assisting women in childbirth. This plague proved Hequet to be powerless to resist the strength of the one true God.

James Boice notes that this made the frog sacred in Egypt, meaning they were not allowed to kill frogs, so during the infestation they were “forced to loathe the symbols of their depraved worship.” It is certainly ironic that the creature the Egyptians worshipped became a horrifying nuisance they could not get away from. The verses are pretty graphic in their description of this infestation, and kind of hilarious unless you have ranidaphobia, the fear of frogs. It says the frogs came into their houses, into their bedrooms, even into their beds. Frogs everywhere. Perhaps millions of hopping croaking reminders of God’s judgment, making a mockery of the Egyptians’ foolish belief in their frog fertility goddess

This reminds me of Brewster’s Millions. If you haven’t seen it, it is an 80s movie about a broke minor league baseball player who has the chance to inherit 300 million dollars, but in order to get it he has to has to spend thirty million dollars in thirty days, but he can’t have any assets at the end of that month. All he thinks he wants is money, but when he is overrun with a ton of money that he has to spend, he discovers that it is really a burden to try have so much of what you think you want.

Similarly, the Egyptians are overrun with reminders of their foolish gods everywhere they look, and they are forced to reckon with the vain pursuit of what they think they want.

This plague also seems to be a specific response to Pharaoh’s attempted infanticide of the Hebrew babies at the beginning of Exodus. Remember, Pharaoh commanded that the Hebrew baby boys to be thrown into the Nile. The first plague was turning the Nile to blood, symbolizing the horror of Pharaoh’s murderous plot. The second plague of frogs made a mockery of the fertility god, showing that God will not sit idly by while innocent infants are murdered.

After the plague abates, the dead frogs are piled up everywhere, and we can only imagine the stench of piles of dead frogs in the Egyptian sun, not long after the stench of scores of dead fish in the Nile. Pharaoh only thought the Israelites were a stench in his kingdom, but now he is experiencing an ungodly stink like he had never known.

This plague seems to get Pharaoh’s attention. In fact, he asks Moses to plead with the Lord, who he refers to by name this time, to take the frogs away, and he says he will let God’s people go sacrifice. But of course, he doesn’t keep his word, and his heart was hardened. Pharaoh wanted God to take away the consequence of his sin, but he did not want to turn away from his sin.

So God afflicts Egypt with another act of judgment:

B. Gnats

The plague of gnats were, perhaps, to humiliate the Egyptians’ faith in their earth god, Geb, the god who supposedly allowed crops to grow.

Philip Ryken said:
“By turning the dust into bugs, God was claiming authority of the very soil of Egypt and thus over the god of the ground. God’s strategy for gaining glory over the gods of Egypt was to defeat them one at a time by demonstrating his control over the creatures that the Egyptians worshiped.”

We don’t know for sure what type of insect God used in this plague. The modern Hebrew word is often translated as lice, while other translations favor gnats. However, we know that the insects “came upon men and animals,” meaning they seem to have actually done more than just swarm around, but actually landed on people. So other possibilities include lice, fleas, or even mosquitoes. Regardless, they were some sort of annoying pest that affected everyone.

It is also possible that this plague was a result of the preceding one. For instance, the larvae of the insects may have multiplied exponentially in the piles of dead rotting frogs, and since frogs eat insects and all the frogs were now dead, after the insects took over there were no frogs to eat them to stop the infestation.

Either way, we know that they were everywhere. In fact, God said the dust would become gnats, indicating just how pervasive this plague was. Just as God promised to Abraham that his descendants would be “like the dust of the earth,” there were simply too many bugs to count.

This plague was bad enough the Pharaoh’s magicians simply gave up. Up until now, either through clever tricks or demonic power (or both), they had been able to imitate the plages. They seemingly turned a staff into a snake (but Moses snake ate theirs); they turned water to blood (though there was only one Nile River and it was already turned to blood); they somehow made frogs appear (which seems to be a convenient magic trick when there are literally frogs everywhere). But when the gnats took over, “The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not...Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”” They’re coming around! This is what God said back in chapter 7 “by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And at least for the magicians, there is some realization that Moses and Aaron aren’t really good illusionists; a great and powerful God is at work.

C. Flies

The plague of flies was yet another assault on the false gods of Egypt. There are several possibilities here. One is the god Uatchit or Beelzebub, the goddess and god of flies who was supposed to be a protector from swarms of flies and other natural disasters. There was also a god called Khepri, sometimes depicted as a beetle or a flying insect, who was their god of rebirth. Regardless of the direct connection, God is demonstrating that he is the only God who can protect from disaster, and the only God who can give true rebirth.

Though they were flies, they were without a doubt a serious problem for the Egyptians. Philip Ryken said “It was not the great things that overwhelmed Pharaoh, but little things in very large quantities.” It is a great wonder that God uses such little things to execute his judgment.

Charles Spurgeon:
“When it pleases God by his judgments to humble men, he is never at a loss for means; he can use lions or lice, famines or flies. In the armory of God there are weapons of every kind, from the stars in their courses down to caterpillars in their hosts.”

Again, with this plague we don’t know exactly what sort of flying insect this was, but we do know they came in swarms, and filled their houses, and covered the ground, the land was ruined by them, implying that they were more than a simple nuisance, but a major problem. Some sources even indicate they were blood-sucking flies. Either way, we see they were enough for Pharaoh to call Moses in for a compromise. But lastly we see that….

III. God demands unconditional surrender

Pharaoh is unwilling to fully submit to God’s demands. He wants to compromise, letting the Israelites do their sacrifice to God without leaving. But Moses, following God’s command, demands that he let them God into the wilderness. And in the end, when the flies leave, Pharaoh even backtracked on that compromise, once again hardening his heart.

Don’t we all have a tendency to make promises to God in the midst of suffering, then forget them when the suffering abates? Have you ever been there? “Oh God, if you’ll only take away (fill in the blank), then I’ll do whatever you want.” But then he delivers us, and we suddenly aren't so zealous to obey.

Ryken says:
“Then Pharaoh wants to say, “Can we kind of meet halfway? I know you want to go out and worship. Could you just stay close by? You can go worship, but where I can see you. Could you check in? Could I give you a pager or something?” Moses says, “Halfway? No way.” That happens over and over, doesn’t it? The devil will say to you, “Couldn’t you just worship God halfway? Worship God, but keep it to Sunday. Worship God, but give me your kids. Worship God, but you can be in charge of your health. Worship God, but you get to be in charge of all of your possessions. Just halfway.” Halfway is no way for Moses and for us.”

Respite from suffering results in a hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. This is why Paul exhorts us in Romans 5 to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (ESV)” It is not the removal of the suffering that gives us hope, but endurance through suffering in the power of the Holy Spirit.

See, Pharaoh wanted to compromise on God’s demands to relieve his suffering. He was acting purely out of self-interest. But God demands unconditional submission to his demands. He demands the same of us. We cannot come to God on our own terms, as if we are negotiating the terms of our surrender. True surrender is a complete giving up of ourselves, throwing ourselves wholly into the just, gracious arms of God. And if we come to God in this way, recognizing we are powerless to save ourselves, but God is all-powerful to deliver us from the plague of self, the slavery of sin, and his righteous wrath against evil, he can, and he will not only deliver us, but give us abundant life through his son, who took all of that on himself in his death that we might walk in new life with him.