DIG: Why do you think God now begins doing things the magicians of Egypt could not do? What does the finger of God imply (see Luke 11:20)?
REFLECT: Is the finger of God pointing out any sin that needs changing in your life? What swarm of insects in your life is preventing you from drawing closer to God?
The third plague arrived without warning to the Egyptians. There was no audience before Amenhotep II as there had been for the previous two plagues. There was no need for it. Pharaoh was deserving of the disaster because he had just lied to God and also hardened his heart. This plague receives the shortest account. It is brief and direct.
Then ADONAI said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground,’ and throughout the land of Egypt the dust will become gnats” (8:16). This plague would affect both Egyptians and Jews alike. Some translations use the word lice, while others use vermin, or maggots, or fleas, or sand flies, or mosquitoes, or gnats. But the Hebrew word kinnim simply means mixture, and refers to a swarm of insects. Not any one particular insect, but swarms of many kinds of insects so small as to be hardly visible to the eye but with a very irritating and painful sting. They would even creep into the eyes and nose.130
But why the dust of the ground? This is a common Hebrew expression that reflects a very large number. For example, when God promised Abraham that his offspring would be so numerous that they could not be counted, He said that they would be like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16). That same promise was made to Jacob (Genesis 28:14). The point is that the swarm of insects that descend upon Egypt was so large they could not be counted.
They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, a swarm of insects came upon men and animals. The third plague was so great that neither men nor animals were spared. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became a mixture of insects (8:17-18). Small insects have always been a problem in Egypt. Fleas, aphids, lice, mosquitoes and gnats abound in great numbers in certain areas. The ancient Egyptians constructed many devices in an attempt to get relief from them such as ostrich plumes on the end of a stick that would be waved by servants to keep insects away from the faces of the king and lords. Floors and walls were often washed with a solution of soda. In one medical papyrus, cat grease was said to be effective in combating rats, and fish spawn against fleas.131
But when the magicians tried to produce a mixture of insects by their secret arts, they could not. By slight of hand, the magicians were somehow able to make it seem that they could turn their staffs to snakes, to make water turn to blood, and to produce frogs. But the third plague was beyond their capacity of deception. Hardly visible to the eye, they were too delicate to be caught and impossible to counterfeit. Their utter failure led to a very startling confession.
The magicians were put to shame and said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” In other words, they were saying that only God could make a swarm of insects out of dust; therefore, admitting that there was a power that was greater than their slight of hand. They referred to Him as God. The magicians knew they were in over their heads. From that point forward there would be no opposition from these magicians because they had been defeated (8:19a). Although they appear again in 9:11, they never again attempt to duplicate one of the LORD’s miracles. ADONAI used the smallest of things to bring them to their knees.
The phrase, the finger of God, is an excellent description of a miracle. In the book of Daniel, the finger of God wrote a message of doom for King Belshazzar on the wall of his temple (Daniel 5:1-31).Later, we are told that the hand of ADONAI would bring a terrible plague on the livestock of Egypt (9:3). Also, when ADONAI finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave him the two tablets of the Testimony, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God (31:18). The LORD uses His fingers when He creates (Psalm 8:3), reminding us of The Creation of Man, Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. And on one occasion, Jesus drove out demons by the finger of God, that is, with God’s help (Luke 11:20).132
But there is another striking similarity between this third plague and what is recorded in John 8:11. There we find a similar contest between God and His enemies. The Scribes and the Pharisees, using the woman caught in adultery as their bait, tried to trick Yeshua. His only response was to bend down and write on the ground with His finger. After saying to them: If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her, we read that again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. The effect was startling: Those who heard began to go away one at a time until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. What was this but the enemy of ADONAI acknowledging that this was the finger of God, as He wrote in the dust!133
There is an interesting introversion here with the eighth plague. In the third plague, the magicians were forced to exclaim: This is the finger of God; while in the eighth plague Pharaoh said: I have sinned against ADONAI your God (10:16).
The Egyptians worshiped the earth-god Geb. But all the dust throughout the land of Egypt became a mixture of insects. That which was sacred to Geb was then despised. Pharaoh did not ask that the plague be taken away, and the Egyptian magicians could not reproduce the mixture of insects. They seemed to acknowledge that the One who brought this plague was supreme over the gods of Egypt.134 In addition to Geb, Set was the god of the desert, storms and chaos. He was regarded as a fierce warrior, and thus became the patron god of soldiers who often wore Set amulets, hoping to acquire his destructive force, or Set’s infinite protection. But when God turned all the dust of Egypt into a swarm of insects, even the god of the desert could not protect them.
The swarm of insects not only humiliated the gods of Egypt, it also humiliated the priesthood. The priests of Egypt were noted for their physical purity. Daily rites were performed by a group of priests known as the Uab or the pure ones. But their purity was basically physical rather than spiritual. They were circumcised, shaved the hair from their heads and bodies every three days (even their eyebrows), washed frequently, and were dressed in beautiful linen robes. In the light of this, it would seem rather doubtful that the priesthood of Egypt could function very effectively having been polluted by the presence of these insects.135 Furthermore, this plague extended to the animals, preventing any of them from being sacrificed to their gods because they were unclean. Thus, the entire Egyptian religious system began to buckle under the weight of the plagues.
Although the magicians were convinced that they were losing the spiritual battle, Pharaoh continued to respond in the same way he did to the earlier plagues. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as God had said (8:19b).
We look at Amenhotep II, and we almost have to express a sense of amazement that after seeing all that the LORD had done, he could be that stubborn. Then later, the children of Israel, even after the miracle of the Exodus, would rebel against God in their wilderness wanderings. So we are startled by Pharaoh’s stubbornness on the one hand, and the Israelites subsequent unbelief, on the other. Yet as we do that, I wonder how many of us are in an even more embarrassing predicament than they were. We are stubborn and rebel against ADONAI when we have the Bible to teach us and the Holy Spirit to guide us! How headstrong can we sometimes be, when He is trying to speak to each one of us?
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017