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.
Many have tried to pinpoint exactly what type of insect the Bible speaks of here. The Hebrew word here is KINNIM which literally means lice. We have the translation gnats in the ESV. Others have translated it as maggots because they were on the Egyptians and the language is more describing maggots. Others mosquitoes or fleas.
The extent of the infestation was so severe that these bugs/insects were so thick that they were getting in the ears and noses and being breathed in by the Egyptians. They were everywhere as thick as the sand and dust in Egypt.
So many today try to explain these plagues by natural means. They say, well the maggots came from all the rotting frogs. But that’s not what the Bible tells us. It says they came from the dust. All the plagues are divine miracles designed by God for a specific purpose. They were direct acts of divine intervention that superseded the causes of normal explanations.
Also, we should realize that there have been times in Egypt when some of these things happened before. The real issue is never had they happened with such intensity which went beyond the normal occurrence. Never were they accurately predicted and timed and never were there going away timed such as we saw the frog plague ending at a predetermined and announced time. Never were they discriminating such as we will see affecting only the Egyptians and not the Israelites. Never was there an orderliness to these occurrences such as the intensification until the last plague. Never before had there been moral purposes behind these catastrophes. Gods of the Nile, frog goddess and sun god all shown to be false gods with no power to overcome these plagues. Never had a disaster shown Pharoah that he is no god at all. Through these plagues God will reveal Himself as Judge and Savior.
In this plague there is no prior warning. In this plague, Moses and Aaron simply are told to carry it out unannounced. That may well be a sign of God’s divine reprisal against Pharaoh. Pharaoh lied to Him at the end of the second plague. Now God visits him with a third plague without evening warning him. Pharaoh changed his mind and broke his promise and now God visits him with another plague without announcement. We are told by two phrases in verse 17 that the scale of this plague is vast. Notice that it is going to affect every man and beast. Notice that it is described as the source of this plague being the dust of the earth.
Egyptians worship a false god named Geb. Geb was the god of the ground/soil. Geb was the Egyptian god of the earth. He could also be considered a father of snakes. It was believed in ancient Egypt that Geb’s laughter created earthquakes and that he allowed crops to grow.
Theologically, God was uncreating in Egypt. Or we could say in judgement God was creating a new order at least in Egypt.
Genesis 2:7–9 (ESV)
7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Out of the dust of the ground, God created man and gave him life. Out of the ground God brought every tree. All these things were good. Man had dominion over all creation.
Now, God brought forth gnats out of the dust of the ground and they are in charge. They are devastating to the Egyptians. Man does not have dominion over the gnats, they have dominion over him. God is creating chaos from order not order from chaos.
Another parallel is found in the Psalms…
Psalm 105:31 (ESV)
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies,
and gnats throughout their country.
Just like God speaking in creation so now He speaks and brings forth destruction and chaos.
Not only was this a direct attack on another false god of Egypt but it was also a direct attack on Pharoah himself. They viewed Pharoah as one who could maintain perfect order and harmony. They taught that when Pharoah begins to reign and sits on his throne that order will come to its place, and chaos will be driven out—Prophecy of Neferti
They trusted in Pharoah and their multiple false gods to bring about order and structure. They were learning the hard way that it is God alone who brings order.
Do you think something we could conclude from these many plagues is that a form of God’s judgement is to erase order and bring about chaos? It’s like God is telling Pharoah and the Egyptians, you think your false gods bring order to the universe? I’ll show you where order and chaos really come from.
Are there places we are tempted to look for order and structure other than in God alone? Does God ever turn our world upside down to draw us back to reality?
The Bible teaches us that true order comes from God alone…
Colossians 1:16–17 (ESV)
16 For by him 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.
Jesus is the cohesion that holds all things together and creates order from chaos. The only stable consistent reality in all the universe is Jesus Christ. He alone is the truth and the order of all things.
Satan’s Realm is limited…
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.
Satan is powerful but his power is limited. His magicians could produce a snake from a staff, they could turn water into blood, they could produce frogs. Here, Satan’s power is finished. He cannot create by a word like God. Satan is out to be like God but the truth is, he’s nothing like God at all.
Only God can create.
Satan can lie but the truth is not in him.
Satan can hate but there is no love in him.
Satan can be proud but he cannot be humble.
Satan can only condemn he cannot save.
He’s nothing like God at all.
At the cross and at the resurrection Satan was utterly beaten.
1 John 3:8 (ESV)
8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
The way Jesus destroyed the works of Satan was to die on the cross and be raised on the third day. All of Satan’s evil plans concerning God’s children will accomplish nothing. He will be cast into the Lake of Fire…
Revelation 20:10 (ESV)
10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
It’s very important to note that the magicians acknowledge that this is God at work.
When the magicians met and report that this is God’s doing, that they themselves are beginning to acknowledge God, just like the Lord had told Moses that He would make the Egyptians to do. They will know that I am the Lord. Isn’t it interesting that in the plague account, the first people who are said to admit publicly that the plagues are the work of the God of Moses are the Egyptian sorcerers. God will cause the wrath of man to praise Him. This is the first public testimony in the plague cycle that these plagues are the work of God, and not man or magic, it’s the work of God.
finally, with the third plague, we see this. At the end of verse 19, Pharaoh’s hard-hardness and obstinance is displayed again. You know a blind man can’t see by the light of the noonday sun. And Pharaoh is such a blind man. The magician’s alarm and report does phase him. It only prompts him to harden his already stubborn heart. He is the poster child for the apostle Paul in Romans 9 of someone who rejects clear revelation. Pharaoh’s problem is not that he doesn’t have enough evidence. Pharaoh’s problem is not that he doesn’t have enough knowledge. Pharaoh’s problem is a corrupt heart.
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.
Scholars go back and forth with what exactly the Egyptian magicians meant by their statement. They use the generic Elohim word for God but they make it plural. Perhaps as some say, they were simply acknowledging one of their many gods as the cause of the gnats.
Then others say they were attributing the third plague to the God of the Hebrews even though they did not know Him. This would be in line with what God had said earlier…
Exodus 7:5 (ESV)
5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
This is probably the case. They were beginning to sense that they were in the presence of the real God. This is early on in the plagues and they will know that God is at work especially by the end.
God promised to stretch out His hand against them and rescue His people. Here they acknowledge the finger of God at work. In other words, this was God’s doing.
Simply acknowledging God does in no way mean these magicians believed in or trusted in God. This is not a personal coming to faith but simply a general acknowledgement of God.
There are many people who acknowledge God without ever coming to Him by faith. They may understand that there is a higher power, they may acknowledge God as Creator etc but these things are not salvation.
There is a difference between simply affirming God and worshipping Him…
Psalm 8:3–9 (ESV)
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Jesus used this same phrase, finger of God, when He was casting out demons. Remember the Pharisees were saying that Jesus did these things by the power of Satan. Jesus then explained that if Satan casts out Satan then his house is divided and it will nit stand. Then He tells them where His power comes from to do the miracles He was doing.
Luke 11:18–20 (ESV)
18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
And I want to point one other thing here. Notice for the last time in the plague story, you’ll see this phrase, as the Lord had said. Four times that phrase is used. In the first part of Moses’ accounts of the plagues, as the Lord had said, and every time it accompanies something very interesting. It accompanies an affirmation of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In other words, when it is reported that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened or was hardened, was hardened by the Lord, hardened by himself or just generically hardened, four times it is said, ‘as the Lord had said.’ Because you remember the Lord had told Moses ahead of time that Pharoah would harden his heart. So Moses is confirming in Exodus 7:13, in Exodus 7:22, in Exodus 8:15 and in Exodus 8:19 that just what the Lord had said happened.
Pharoah still refused to let the Israelites go even though those around him were saying that these things were done by the finger of God.