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Frogs, Lice, Flies, and Pharaoh
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me…And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go. (Exodus 8:1-32)
Seven days after the Lord God turned the water into blood in Egypt he sent Moses back to Pharaoh. In this 8th chapter of Exodus we see three more plagues poured out upon the land of Egypt. Frogs, lice, and flies are sent upon the land. By the command of God, Moses brought these three successive plagues upon the land of Egypt. What is their significance? Why are these things recorded in the Book of God? Are they written here as mere records of history? I am sure they are not. Are they recorded merely to demonstrate God’s omnipotence? No. These things were brought to pass, and Moses was inspired of God to perform them and to record them for our benefit, for our learning, to teach us patience, give us comfort, and encourage us to believe God, that we “might with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4, 6).
The Book of Revelation makes it crystal clear that the plagues God wrought upon the Egyptians were typical of the judgments God brings upon the world today. As we read the description of those trumpet judgments described in the Book of Revelation, we cannot avoid seeing the similarity between them and the judgments of God upon the Egyptians in the book of Exodus. As then, the plagues were all poured out upon Egypt, and Israel was unharmed; even so, the judgments of God that fall upon the wicked today never harm God’s elect, but only assist in the accomplishment of their salvation! — “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Proverbs 12:21). May God the Holy Spirit be our Teacher as we observe that which he has recorded in these 32 verses about frogs, lice, flies, and Pharaoh.
In verse 1 the Lord God issues his command to Pharaoh a third time. — “And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.”
The command is the same as Pharaoh had heard before. He will hear it eight times. Though he harden his heart again and again, God’s command will not be altered. He is determined to deliver his people out of Egypt. He is determined to prevail over Pharaoh. Israel must be saved. It is God’s purpose to save his people; and save them he will (Romans 8:28-30). According to his eternal purpose, by the efficacy of his blood, by the work of his all-wise and good providence, and by the omnipotent power of his grace, “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26).
Let us ever pray for grace to make us obedient to our God, to keep us from hardening our hearts like Pharaoh (Psalm 119:4-6). “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart!” Four times in the Book of God we are urged, “harden not your heart,” because we are constantly tempted to do so. Harden not your heart against the gospel of Christ, the doctrine of God our Savior, the providence of God. — Harden not your heart against the revelation of God. — “Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments.” All who harden their hearts against the revelation of God, either in obstinate rebellion or in attempts to compromise that which God has revealed, prove themselves reprobate and court the judgment of God. — “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs” (v. 2; Psalms 107:40; 7:12-13; 78:45).
“And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants. And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 8:3-6)
This second plague, like the first, was directed against the idolatry of the Egyptians. The Nile River was revered by them as the source of life. Frogs were worshipped by them as gods representing fertility. So the Lord God multiplied their ugly, croaking, smelly gods until he made their gods obnoxious to them. The frogs not only “covered the land of Egypt,” but invaded their homes, entered their bed-chambers, crawled into their ovens, and even filled their kneading troughs!
The only time these dirty creatures are mentioned in the New Testament is in Revelation 16. There the Holy Spirit shows us the significance of this plague. Frogs represent the corrupting influence of false religion, specifically as it opposes Christ, his gospel, and his people. They are “the spirits of devils, working miracles.”
“And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” (Revelation 16:13-14)
In the seventh verse, the Lord God gives Pharaoh’s magicians power to imitate his servants. — “And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.” — “The deceived and the deceiver are his” (Job 12:16). And he uses them as he will (2 Timothy 3:8 and 2 Thessalonians 2:7-11). He who is our God is “the God of this world” who blinds the hearts and minds of those who will not bow to his Word (John 12:40; Romans 11:7, 25; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:3-5).
Read verses 9-15 and learn this. — Judgment never brings repentance. Many, like Pharaoh, tremble because they are terrified by God’s judgments; but judgment never brings repentance.
“And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only? And he said, To morrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the LORD our God. And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only. And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the LORD because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. And they gathered them together upon heaps: and the land stank. But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.”
“The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4). — “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). I do not say that God does not use acts of providential judgment to arouse, impress, subdue, and humble his elect and bring them to repentance. He does graciously use these things (Psalm 107:1-31; Luke 15:11-20). But divine judgment, in and of itself, will never produce repentance in the heart. The heart of man is so obstinate, proud, and hard that even in the torments of hell the damned will never repent (Revelation 16:9).
Until God the Holy Ghost comes into the heart by the mighty, saving operations of his grace, no affliction, judgment, or terrifying alarms, though they be ever so great, ever so heavy, and ever so multiplied, will reach the soul (Psalm 78:31-37). Not only is it true that judgment never produces repentance; even when favor is shown to the wicked, they will not repent, except God grant them repentance by the saving revelation of Christ in them (Exodus 8:15; Isaiah 26:10; Zechariah 12:10).
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 8:16-19)
“He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts.” (Psalms 105:31)
There are several things here that demand attention. First, notice that Aaron smote the dust of the land “and it became lice in man and beast” (v.17). In the judgment God pronounced upon fallen Adam we read that he said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” (Genesis 3:17) and again, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). When Aaron smote the “ground,” and its “dust” became lice, and the lice came upon the Egyptians, what a graphic picture that was of the fact fallen man is under the curse of the holy Lord God.
Second, when Pharaoh’s magicians tried to imitate God’s servants by their enchantments, this time “they could not” do so. God restrained them. Therefore, they were helpless. He permitted them to make it appear that they could produce snakes like Aaron. He permitted them to make it appear that they could turn water into blood, and bring forth frogs, just like Moses and Aaron. But, when God withheld their magical powers, they were helpless to deceive. So it is with Satan himself. Satan’s power is prescribed, limited, and controlled by the Almighty. He cannot wiggle without God’s decree. God may permit him to bring forth uncleanness and deception, just as he permitted Pharaoh’s magician prophets to deceive him; but the curse of God he and his messengers cannot remove. That can be done only according to the gospel: only by God’s law (represented in Moses) being satisfied by God’s Priest (represented in Aaron).
Third, in verse 19 we read, “Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God.” That is the last thing recorded in the Scriptures that they said. With their final word, they were forced to acknowledge the hand of God. So it shall be in the last day. Satan, the beast, the false prophet, and all who follow their deception shall bow before and publicly confess that Jesus is the Christ, confessing him as God and Lord alone (Philippians 2:9-11).
Fourth, there is a striking correspondence between this third plague and what is recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel. There we see a similar contest between the Lord Jesus and false religion. The Scribes and the Pharisees, using the woman taken in adultery as their bait, sought to ensnare the Savior. His only response was to stoop down and write on the ground. After saying to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” we read that “Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.” Do you remember what happened next? — “They which heard, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one...and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” As the Lord Jesus wrote in the dirt, by their action, they acknowledged “this is the finger of God.”
Fifth, I find it strikingly delightful that God was pleased to use something as small, weak, insignificant, and dirty as lice to subdue these false prophets who withstood Moses. He might just as well have turned the dust into lions or scorpions; but he chose to use lice. He still uses such instruments, choosing weak things to confound the mighty (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Psalm 64:5-10).
“They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them? They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep. But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away. And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing. The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory” (Psalms 64:5-10).
“And the LORD said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh forth to the water; and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground whereon they are. And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the LORD in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: to morrow shall this sign be. And the LORD did so; and there came a grievous swarm of flies into the house of Pharaoh, and into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt: the land was corrupted by reason of the swarm of flies.” (Exodus 8:20-24)
“He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.” (Psalms 78:45)
“He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts.” (Psalms 105:31)
The plague of flies was a striking display of divine sovereignty. The Egyptians worshipped Beelzebub as the god of flies. What could be more admirably suited to show God’s contempt for their idol than the use of flies, the very objects of their idolatry, to punish them? That which they worshipped devoured them. — “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1)
God used flies again to punish those who despised and reject his darling Son (Isaiah 7:14, 17-18). Flies are most abundant where manure is thickest. That is exactly how God would have us look upon all free will, works religion. Like Paul, we are to count it but dung.
Let us ever give thanks to our God for that great mercy by which he has set us free from all the dunghill deities of false religion. Notice, there were no flies in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt (v. 22). The Lord God said, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (v. 23). Thank God for distinguishing, free grace! Thank God for the difference he makes by election, redemption, and effectual calling! — “Thanks be unto God, for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). He who is our God is God indeed. — “For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth” (Psalms 74:12).
Pharaoh is set before us again in verses 25-32.
“And Pharaoh called for Moses and for Aaron, and said, Go ye, sacrifice to your God in the land. And Moses said, It is not meet so to do; for we shall sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God: lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us? We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, as he shall command us. And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me. And Moses said, Behold, I go out from thee, and I will entreat the LORD that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow: but let not Pharaoh deal deceitfully any more in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD. And Moses went out from Pharaoh, and entreated the LORD. And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; and he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; there remained not one. And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go” (Exodus 8:25-32).
Pharaoh pretended to repent, but his pretense only demonstrated the greater hardening of his heart. He tried to get Moses and Aaron to compromise with him. Let me call your attention to just four things in these verses.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, demands absolute surrender. Multitudes, like Pharaoh, vainly imagine that God will accept them on their terms. He will not. He demands complete surrender (Luke 14:25-33).
2. That Sacrifice by which we worship and serve our God, the crucified Lamb of God, is now, always has been, and ever shall be an abomination to this world. — “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
3. We cannot worship and serve our God by compromise. Any compromise of the gospel, any compromise with God’s enemies is damning, both to the compromiser and to those who follow him.
4. Hardened hearts will only continue to be hardened, until God, by his great mercy and grace, breaks them. From hardness of heart and contempt of his Word, may God ever deliver us!
But let us remember, all these things were done, not merely as acts of judgment upon the Egyptians, but also as acts of grace toward Israel. God sent the frogs, and the lice, and the flies, and hardened Pharaoh’s heart, for the salvation of his chosen people. When we see that all things are ordained of God and work the salvation of our souls by his sovereign hand, such a view of heavenly mercy ought to endear our faithful, gracious, covenant God to our hearts. Oh, how we ought to rejoice in and give thanks for our heavenly Father’s love, our great Redeemer’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s unrelenting mercy!
How blessed we are to have the God of heaven and earth as our Savior and Friend at all times! Such insignificant things as frogs, lice, and flies, and even such mighty things as the king of Egypt are employed by our God for the saving of our souls. How joyful we ought to be, knowing that we live always under the smile of divine favor. How peaceful, how confident, we ought to be of whom the God of heaven says, “I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”