Elon, North Carolina
Today, we will be looking at the fourth plague in Exodus 8. I entitled this section “Let’s Make a Deal”. I didn’t steal this title from last week’s sermon in church. It actually comes right out of the text, as we will see. There are some great lessons for us from the fourth plague that I want to share with you. First, I want to do a little review.
We have been studying the Ten Plagues. These plagues began with God calling Moses with a special mission. His job was to deliver a message TO Pharaoh ABOUT the Jews. They were slaves in his country and had been slaves for a long time.
Contrary to all of the movies about Moses, he did not ask Pharaoh to instantaneously free all of his Hebrew slaves. That is a common myth that many people have. He only asked him to let them leave the country for three days and then they would come back.
They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Now let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God” (5:3 NIV). We usually picture Moses as a great liberator or a freedom fighter. Most believe that Moses asked Pharaoh to instantly liberate all of the Jews. All he really asked Pharaoh to do was to let them leave the country for three days to worship their God. This was a dispute about worship. It was about religious freedom.
Did God Deceive Pharaoh?
This raises a very interesting question worth thinking about. Some people say that God deceived Pharaoh here. Moses tells Pharaoh a completely lie. He tells Pharaoh that they want to leave Egypt for three days when they really have no intention of ever coming back. How do you answer that objection?
The answer is that there was no deception here at all. It was a real request to worship for three days. God knew the future. He knew that Pharaoh would say “No”. He knew that he would eventually kick them out of the country. God predicted that even before Moses spoke to Pharaoh. God never hid what the ultimate plan was. It was not a surprise. He announced it to Moses in advance.
God told Moses before he went to Egypt, “I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey’ (3:16-17). He said it again to Moses after he got to Egypt.
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.
Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord’” (6:6-8).
The request to leave for three days was real. God just knew that Pharaoh would reject it and he did repeatedly.
Every time Pharaoh rejected the message, God sent a plague on Egypt. Some of the plagues came with warning and some of them came without any warning. The first two, the Egyptians could duplicate but the third one was out of their league. Even the magicians said “This is the finger of God”. It’s a God thing. It is clearly supernatural. They couldn’t compete with it.
The first plague was a plague of blood. The Nile was turned to blood. Other water in the land was turned to blood as well. The second plague was a plague of frogs. The land was covered with frogs.
The third plague was a plague of gnats or mosquitoes. We do not know exactly what this plague was. I did not say this last week but the Hebrew word for “gnats” (kinnim) is ambiguous. Many Jews believe this was a plague of lice. That was the way Josephus took this in the first century. It was a plague of gnats or lice. One pastor preached a sermon on this plague entitled “Of Lice and Men” (a play on the title of a famous book written by John Steinbeck).
Today, we will be looking at the fourth plague, as well as Pharaoh’s reaction to this plague, which is interesting. This was another plague of insects. This time, it will not be an invasion of gnats or mosquitoes but an invasion of flies. We do not know what kind of fly. There are many different kinds.
Pharaoh did not let the Jews go, so the land was filled with flies. This was not one or two but swarms of flies. “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; even the ground will be covered with them” (8:21). We get upset when we are eating and there is a fly in the room. It drives us crazy.
Flies are not just annoying. They are also a health hazard. They carry bacteria and transmit all kinds of diseases. The Egyptians were big on cleanliness, as we saw last week. We would not eat at a restaurant if we saw a cockroach crawling across the table. Flies actually contain “potentially twice as many pathogens as a cockroach”.
This plague came early in the morning. Pharaoh must have been a morning person. Moses meets Pharaoh early in the morning (8:20). It also came with warning. He warned Pharaoh about the frogs and now he warns him about the flies. He even said when it will take place. In Exodus 8:23 he says it will happen “tomorrow”. He gave Pharaoh twenty-four hours to make a decision.
This plague was SUPERNATURAL. God says, “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; even the ground will be covered with them” (8:21). This will be divine judgment on Pharaoh. It will be an act of God.
This plague was also SELECTIVE. “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 sign will occur tomorrow.” (8:22-23 NIV)
Moses gave Pharaoh a prophecy. It was not general, like the Oracle of Delphi. Herodotus was advised: “If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed”. This prophecy was not vague. It was very specific. It said WHAT would happen (a plague of flies). He said WHEN it would happen (tomorrow). He said WHERE it would happen (Egypt). He said where it would NOT happen (Goshen). He said WHY it would happen (because Pharaoh would not let the Jews go)
This plague is different from the first three plagues. He said that it would not affect them at all. God says this time the plague will only fall on the Egyptians, not the Jews. The plagues fell on idol worshippers. They did not fall on the worshippers of the true God and they only fell in one place. Flies are hard to control.
They seem to fly at random but God was able to control them. Satan is called “lord of the flies” (what Beelzebub means) but here we see that God is Lord of the Flies.
God put a division between the Jews and the Egyptians (8:23). A division or separation is made in the fourth plague. The first three plagues affected all of the people in Egypt. The fourth plague is limited to the Egyptians. This actually raises a profound question.
Did God Practice Discrimination?
Discrimination is treating one group of people different from another group of people. He treated the Hebrews one way and the Egyptians another way. This is not really a case of discrimination. It is a case of divine judgment. God was judging the Egyptians for their idolatry. If a man commits a crime and receives a life sentence, the judge did not discriminate against that person.
He would give the same sentence to any person who commits the same crime. God does not always judge pagans. Sometime, he judges believers who sin. This is not really discrimination but judgment. When God sends some to heaven and some to hell on the final judgment day, he is not practicing discrimination. In fact, the gospel message is a message of salvation for everyone. Anyone can repent and be saved.
The Bible says that “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). He is no respecter of persons. Acts 10:34 says “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (ESV). What does it mean that God does not show favoritism?
He does not treat people differently because he likes some better than others. He does not treat people differently because of race or color. God is not a racist. God is color blind. He does not treat black people different from white or brown people.
The Bible does not teach one race is superior to another race. The Jews were the chosen race and Paul makes perfectly clear in Romans 3 that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God. They both stand before him condemned. Jews need the gospel message just as much as Gentiles.
God does not treat people differently based on gender or income. He doesn’t not judge people based on outward appearances. He looks at people’ heart. Man judges people based on outward appearances. We treat a man dressed in riches differently than a man dressed in rags. We think a rich person is more important than a poor person.
Pharaoh’s Four Compromises
The end of the chapter gives us Pharaoh’s responses to this plague. Pharaoh calls for Moses and Aaron has four proposals for them. Pharaoh tries a new strategy. He tries to negotiate with them. He thinks this is “Let’s Make a Deal’. He tries to come up with a compromise. Moses and Aaron want the Jews to leave Egypt. He wanted them to stay in Egypt, so he wanted to come up with some type of a compromise.
What exactly is a compromise? It is when two people have a disagreement and they settle it by making concessions. Both sides give in a little. Compromise gets a bad rap, especially in church. Preachers talk about compromisers as evil people. Are compromises always wrong? No. Marriage is all about compromise. Our constitution was a result of compromise and it has lasted over two hundred years.
When might it be wrong to compromise? It is wrong if you compromise your values. It is wrong if you compromise your faith. It is wrong if compromising involves sin. It is wrong if you try to compromise with God. That is what Pharaoh did. God’s Word was clear. He didn’t like what it said. He did not want to do what it said, so he wanted to come up with a compromise. God doesn’t want partial obedience. He wants complete obedience.
Pharaoh’s compromises are actually temptations. Satan was one behind the throne in Egypt. These compromises came right from the pit of hell. Moses and Aaron rejected each one. We are faced with these same temptations today in a different form. Believers today do not always reject them. I want to look at Pharaoh’s four compromises. There are four of them.
The First Compromise
Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”(8:25)
Pharaoh says. “Let’s compromise. Let’s meet in the middle.” Pharaoh says they can worship but they must do it in the land. It is a compromise. They would get what they wanted (to worship Yahweh) and Pharaoh would get what he wanted (to keep them in Egypt).
In essence, Pharaoh was saying “Go but don’t go”. It even sounds reasonable. They get what they want. They get to worship their God. Pharaoh did not insist they worship his gods. They get to worship Yahweh. They get to do it for three days. Any place of worship is okay. They should just be happy that you get to worship at all, in Pharaoh’s mind. Egypt is a big enough place for all religions. It is multicultural.
Moses says, “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? (8:26).
He says that Pharaoh’s idea will not work. If they try to sacrifice some animals in Egypt that the Egyptians worship, they will try to kill them. The Egyptians considered animals sacred. They took animals to an extreme. They did not just adore them as pets. They worshipped animals. They considered them gods. Sheep sacrifices were an abomination to Egyptians.
This is a deal offered to every Christian. What type of temptation is this today? First, it is a temptation to serve two masters (God and Pharaoh). It is a temptation to have one hand in the church and one hand in the world. It leads to lukewarm Christians. The Hebrews were given the option to serve their God but they had to do it the way Pharaoh told them to do it and where he told them to do it.
Second, it is a temptation to partial obedience. God already told them to leave Egypt to worship. It was a COMMAND. “We MUST go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God AS HE TELLS US” (8:27 ESV). God does not want partial obedience. Partial obedience is disobedience.
Partial obedience means we hear what God says and we obey the things we want to obey. God wants obedience. To obey is better than to sacrifice (I Samuel 15:22). If Moses would have worshiped in Egypt, he would have disobeyed what God told him to do. God wants all or nothing.
Three, it is a temptation to pluralism. Yahweh would be put on a level with the gods of Egypt. He would just be one of many in Egypt’s pantheon of gods. The temptation is not to be against religion but to insist that all religions are equal. There is more than one way to worship God. This is a temptation to pluralism.
The Second Compromise
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.” (8:28 ESV)
What was the second compromise? The first one was “Go but don’t go”. The second one was “Go but don’t go far.” If he could not keep them IN the land, he wanted to keep them NEAR the land. He did not want them to go far, so he could bring them back, if he needed to. This deal is offered to Christians today.
What is this temptation? This is one of the devil’s most successful temptations today. It is a temptation to worship but not to be too religious. A little religion is fine but don’t go off the deep end. Don’t take your worship to an extreme and become a fanatic or a Jesus Freak. Don’t go too far. You can be a Christian but do not make any radical changes to your life.
The Third Compromise
So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. And he said to them, “Go, serve the Lord your God. But which ones are to go?” Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old. We will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, for we must hold a feast to the Lord.” But he said to them, “The Lord be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go! Look, you have some evil purpose in mind. No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence (10:8-11).
The third compromise is this: “Go but leave your family here.” Only the men go. That would make sure they came back. Pharaoh says, “Leave the wives and kids back in Egypt. They do not need to worship.” Pharaoh first sought to keep them in the land. Then he tried to keep them near the land. Now, he tries to keep some of them in the land.
The problem is that God wants everyone to worship. The church is not to be a club for old people. Some churches are like that. There is nothing but old people in the church. God wants everybody to worship Him. The devil hates family religion.
This is a temptation to divide families. It is a temptation to split up the family. The men go to the wilderness, while the women and kids stay in Egypt. It is also a temptation for the entire family not to worship God. You can serve God but leave your children in the world. Egypt is a type of the world.
Bible says “train up a child in the way he should go.” It says to bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The world says, “Don’t force religion on your kids. They will just resent it when they are older. Let them make up their own mind”. We force our kids to do all kinds of things. We force them to go to school or to take a bath but we are not supposed to force them to know about God. It is the devil’s temptation.
Pharaoh knew that if he retained control over Israel’s families, it didn’t matter what the men did. Satan knows that if has our family, he wins. That is why the family is so important.
The Fourth Compromise
Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.” (10:24 ESV). This was Pharaoh’s last compromise. Go but leave the animals. That would guarantee they came back, if their possessions were left behind.
What is the fourth temptation? Give yourselves to God but do not consecrate your possessions to His service. The Jews needed to take their animals with them in the wilderness to worship. It was part of their worship, so they could not leave them behind. As C.H. Macintosh put it, “If he could not induce them to sacrifice in the land, he would send them out of the land without sacrifices.”
Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must take of them to serve the Lord our God, and we do not know with what we must serve the Lord until we arrive there.” (10:25-26)