Swarms of Flies

Exodus 8:20-32

By Exodus 8:20, Egypt has experienced 3 plagues. First, the Nile was turned into blood. Then, the land was plagued with frogs, and next, the sand became lice or gnats. In each case, we are told that Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he refused to listen.

Exodus 8:20 tells us:
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.”’” (Exodus 8:20 ESV)

We see in this verse that Pharaoh is still carrying on with his tradition of going to the river for renewal and strength. Although God has demonstrated His control over the Nile and all the aspects of nature that the Egyptians worshiped, Pharaoh continues to look to his gods and traditions.

God warns Pharaoh. He says, “Or else, if you will not let my people go...”

In giving Pharaoh a warning, God is showing kindness and patience. He is trying to reason with Pharaoh. Throughout history, God has made efforts to reason with people. Before He judged Israel, He tried to reason with them. He said:
"Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 1:18-20 ESV)

In His reasoning with Israel, God explains the blessings that come with obedience and the curses that come with disobedience.

To this point in Exodus, God has not asked for the freedom of His people. He has demanded that they be permitted to go three days journey into the wilderness to worship. And with the first two plagues, God attached a reason. With the first plague, He said, “By this, you will know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7:17) With the second plague, He said, “...that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.” (Exodus 8:10) Now, with the fourth plague, God gives another reason. He says, “...that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.” However, at this point, God is demonstrating this truth by doing something different than He has done so far. This time He is saving His people from the plague. He says:
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. (Exodus 8:22 ESV)

God was showing kindness in trying to reason with Pharaoh. Pharaoh mistook God’s kindness for weakness. In part, this explains how God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” By giving him a choice, God allowed Pharaoh to go his own way, which was the way of destruction.

When Pharaoh refused, God sent the plague as promised.

As in the plague of the lice or gnats, it is unclear to us what exactly the fourth plague was. In the original Hebrew, the plague is called the plague of the “‘arob.” The closest translation of the word is “swarm,” but a swarm of what is not stated. The Septuagint translates “ha arob” as “the dog-fly” (ή κυνόμυιά). However, Jewish commentators from around the same time connect the word with a root word meaning “mixture” and suppose it to designate either a mixed multitude of all kinds of wild beasts (Josephus and Jonathan), or a mixture of all sorts of insects (Aquila & others). Modern scholars generally agree with the Septuagint that a particular species of animal—probably an insect—is meant, but question if it was the dog-fly. The dog-fly, (Musca canina), is not a pest in houses, as the “swarm” was (Exodus 8:21; Exodus 8:24), nor does the dog-fly do any damage to the land (Exodus 8:24). Therefore many suggest that the plague was the scarab beetle. This beetle damages people, furniture, houses, and crops. Another fact in favor of the scarab beetle is that, like all beetles, it was sacred, and was not to be destroyed, being a symbol of the sun-god, Ra, especially in his form of Khepra, or “the creator.” Egyptians were obligated to suffer through this plague without attempting to diminish it. They would also suffer unbelievable pain because the scarab beetle “inflicts very painful bites with its jaws” (Kalisch); and they would for the first time experience property damage. The frogs and mosquitoes would have been annoying and troublesome, but, according to Exodus 8:24, the land was ruined by this plague. (Ellicott’s)[1]

A dung beetle in action.[2]

An ancient scarab amulet from Egypt.[3]

The scarab beetle, or dung beetle, made balls of dung and pushed them across the ground and into their boroughs. Then the female laid eggs, and the dung became food for the young. To the Egyptians, it appeared that the beetles sprang from the ground out of nothing. Thus, the beetles were connected with renewal and creation. Also, the god Khepra was pictured as pushing the sun across the sky, up from the ground in the east and back down into the ground in the west. An amulet of precious stone in the shape of a scarab was placed on the chest of a mummy in hopes that it would declare them innocent before the gods.[4]

Psalms 78:45 says of this plague:
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, (Psalms 78:45 ESV)

Here, as in Exodus, the Hebrew just says “swarms.” The “of flies” is assumed or added to make the meaning clear. It was probably swarms of beetles, especially since it says these swarms “devoured them.” God demonstrated He was God in the midst of the land by taking control, once again, of one of their chief deities, and, once again, defiling them and making them unacceptable to their gods by one of the symbols of their gods.

Exodus 8:25 tells us:
Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, "Go, sacrifice to your God within the land." (Exodus 8:25 ESV)

Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and now he is willing to bargain. He suggests they go and sacrifice to the Lord in the land.

Notice that Pharaoh is calling the Lord “your God.” Although God has demonstrated His sovereignty over the land of Egypt and over Egypt’s gods, Pharaoh does not recognize Him as Lord but only as “your God.”

Also, when Moses argues that the sacrifices the Hebrews would make would be an abomination to the Egyptians, Pharaoh does not deny or argue the point. He concedes and then says, “Plead for me.”

All Pharaoh needed to do was to say “Okay” to God. However, Pharaoh did not want to deal directly with God. He wanted Moses to deal with God for him. This was probably because, in his heart, he knew that he was not being honest. He had no intention of letting the people go. He was not ready or willing to acknowledge God as his God, but only as God over the Hebrews.

Now, I want to apply this to us.

Many of us want someone else to plead with God for us. And we, like Pharaoh, want to bargain with God.

Two separate issues come up out of this. First, wanting to bargain with God shows that He has us over a barrel, or, at least, we feel trapped with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. So, we will offer God a compromise. This is something like, “God, if you will bless me and remove this plague, I will go to church.” (Never mind that I get to choose the church and the conditions.) These bargains that we try to make with God do not address the problem of the hardened heart that God is trying to address and thus avoid the real problem.

So, we come to the second problem, we want someone else to plead with God for us.

The Bible says:
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Joel 2:32 ESV)

What prevents anyone from calling on the Lord?

People tend to consider the Lord to be somebody else’s God, but not their God. Or, possibly, like Pharaoh, they are not ready to surrender to God. Pharaoh lied, and we can lie too. Pharaoh said he would let the people go, but he lied. He wanted to get God off his back, so he lied to God. It is much easier to lie to God by asking someone else to plead with God for you. Pharaoh could have pled with God for himself, but he would not, even though his own gods had proven worthless.

Another truth that was brought to mind by the word flies is that the devil is known as the lord of the flies.

Our world is being devoured by swarms of demons. The devil has convinced modern man that he does not exists.

The devil is a deceiver. He operates by lying. Demons have no authority over the life of a believer, but they have convinced many people that they have no choice but to behave in one way or another. Behind every addiction, every psychological problem and every case of oppression is a lie or many lies. Do we deal with the lies, or do we deal with the demons?

Please hear me!

We have to be balanced. Medicine has much to say, and we have learned a great deal about how the body works. Our minds affect how our bodies function, and our bodies and minds are connected. Chemical imbalances must be dealt with chemically. For example, if you believe your life is threatened for a prolonged period of time, your heightened anxiety and fear will cause a number of medical problems, whether it is high blood pressure, stress-related heart problems or other. I am not giving medical advice, other than to say, it is foolish to ignore physical symptoms or the advice of medical professionals who know how the body works. Modern antidepressant medicines can be and are very helpful, and they are prescribed and controlled by professionals trained in their use.

However, it is also foolish to ignore the cause of the problem. Is your life threatened? Then you need to deal with the problem. Get help!

Is it a lie and your life is not really threatened? Again, it is important to deal with the problem and get help.

In an article in “Medical News Today,” Dr. Catherine Paddock speculates:
We spend a lot of time listening to ourselves talk inside of our heads. We listen to our inner voice each time we read a book, decide what to have for lunch, or imagine how we are going to get our view across in a meeting.
In fact, estimates suggest that we spend at least a quarter of our waking hours attending to our inner voice.
But how is the brain able to tell the difference between the inner voice and the external voice that makes the sounds that other people hear?
Tools exploring this area of brain processing could be very useful to improving our understanding of disorders that involve "hearing voices," such as schizophrenia.[5]

What I believe the Bible teaches is that we must learn to distinguish between the truth and the lie when we listen to our inner voice, because we cannot always tell when that inner voice is not our own. What tools did Satan use when he incited David to number Israel? (1 Chronicles 21:1) I suggest it was David’s own thoughts, or at least what David perceived to be his own thoughts.

Besides being able to cause a person to hear things, the evil one can cause a person to see things. For example, consider Ezekiel 13:6-7.
They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, 'Declares the Lord,' when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, 'Declares the Lord,' although I have not spoken? (Ezekiel 13:6-7 ESV)

To be free, truly free, of the swarm that is plaguing our world, we must do two things.
1.       Each person must call on the Lord, acknowledging Him as God and asking Him for salvation.
2.       Each person must give up bargaining with God. It is called surrender.

Church and discipleship are about learning how to walk free and stay free of the swarm because we live in “fly” infested territory.


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