20 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. 21 Or else, if you will not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants and your people, and into your houses. And the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. 22 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. 23 Thus I will put a division between my people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall happen.”’” 24 And the Lord did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies.
25 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 26 But Moses said, “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? 27 We must go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he tells us.” 28 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.” 29 Then Moses said, “Behold, I am going out from you and I will plead with the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people, tomorrow. Only let not Pharaoh cheat again by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” 30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked, and removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and did not let the people go. – Exodus 8:20-32 ESV
As a result of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, the Egyptians have already had to endure rivers of blood, the stink of dead and rotting fish, an infestation of frogs, and the frustration of billions of irritating gnats. With each judgment, God increased the intensity of the suffering and pain, but Pharaoh remained unwaveringly committed to resisting the demands of Moses and the will of his God. He was not going to give in. Even when his magicians confessed to him that this latest affliction was “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19 ESV), Pharaoh continued to dig in his heels like a spoiled toddler.
But Pharaoh’s heart remained hard. He wouldn’t listen to them, just as the Lord had predicted. – Exodus 8:19 NLT
Everything was going according to God’s preordained plan. Each of these devastating displays of God’s power was intended to demonstrate His status as Lord and the one true God. And it should not be overlooked that these signs were all direct attacks on the false gods of the Egyptians.
The Egyptians had a plethora of deities, most of whom were tied directly to the natural world. Many of their gods were displayed with animal features used to illustrate their particular power or area of domain. Egyptian deities, even those that featured human heads, often had animal-like characteristics. It was not uncommon for these hybrid images to appear on statues and in the hieroglyphics that adorned the walls of their palaces and burial places. Virtually every animal indigenous to Egypt was linked to one or more of their gods. And their deification of the animal and insect kingdom is in keeping with the assessment of fallen humanity that Paul gives in his letter to the Romans.
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:25 NLT
Even the lowly fly was afforded god-like status in Egypt.
Even the humble fly (called aff in Egyptian) was worn as a homopoeic amulet. Fly amulets were distinctly v-shaped, emphasizing the head and wings of the insect. They varied in size but most were 2cm or smaller and could be strung on a single necklace or bracelet, often interspaced by beads. Small fly amulets have been found in Egypt made from gold, silver, bone, lapis lazuli, faience, carnelian, and amethyst. Wearing a fly amulet was probably believed to protect the wearer from insect bites or ward off pesky flying creatures through apotropaic magic. – http://www.nilescribes.org
The Hebrew word translated as “flies” is ʿārōḇ, and it literally means “swarm.” It could refer to any of a number of swarming insects, including flies and mosquitos. But whatever it was, it was larger in size that a gnat and far more vicious in its attacks. The book of Psalms contains a description of these flying insects that reveals that they were far more than just a nuisance.
He sent swarms of biting insects against them, as well as frogs that overran their land. – Psalm 78:45 NET
From stinging gnats to biting flies, the Egyptians were getting no rest from God’s judgment. And no amulet with the image of an insect was going to immunize the Egyptians against the wrath of God. Their magic was no match for Jehovah. But that didn’t phase the recalcitrant king of Egypt.
So, God ordered Moses to deliver a “stinging” message of His own to Pharaoh.
“Let my people go, so they can worship me. If you refuse, then I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, your people, and all the houses. The Egyptian homes will be filled with flies, and the ground will be covered with them.” – Exodus 8:21 NLT
But this time, God added a rather novel addendum to His warning of pending judgment. When the flies came, they would somehow avoid the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel lived. In other words, God was going to supernaturally protect His own people. No amulets or good luck charms would be necessary.
“…this time I will spare the region of Goshen, where my people live. No flies will be found there. Then you will know that I am the Lord and that I am present even in the heart of your land.” – Exodus 8:22 NLT
God Almighty was going to put a hedge of protection around His children so that the flies would only affect the people of Egypt. Even the flocks and herds of the Israelites would be supernaturally spared when this judgment came upon the land of Egypt. And God lets Pharaoh know that this seemingly impossible dome of protection around Goshen will prove that He is not some regional deity relegated to the land of Canaan. No, He insists, “you will know that I am the Lord and that I am present even in the heart of your land” (Exodus 8:22 NLT). In a sense, God is stating that He will be the protector of His people. His presence will provide all the immunization they need from the coming judgment. And this miraculous display of divine differentiation between one group and another was meant to be a powerful reminder to the people of Israel that they belonged to God, and He was more than capable of caring for them.
And God delivered on His word.
“A thick swarm of flies filled Pharaoh’s palace and the houses of his officials. The whole land of Egypt was thrown into chaos by the flies.” – Exodus 8:24 NLT
Notice that God did this. There is no indication that either Aaron or Moses did anything to bring about this plague. No staff was raised. No words were spoken. Moses simply states, “And the Lord did so” (Exodus 8:24 ESV). This was all the handiwork of God. No help or assistance was necessary. Moses and Aaron simply stood back and watched as God did His thing.
And God’s actions brought about apparent results. Pharaoh finally gave in and gave his permission for the Israelites to offer sacrifices to their God, but with one caveat. They had to do so within the land of Egypt. He forbade them to cross the border.
But Moses rejected Pharaoh’s last-minute revision to the plan.
“That wouldn’t be right. The Egyptians detest the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God. Look, if we offer our sacrifices here where the Egyptians can see us, they will stone us. We must take a three-day trip into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, just as he has commanded us.” – Exodus 8:26-27 NLT
Under great duress, Pharaoh finally caved into Moses’ demands, allowing them to make the 3-day journey into the wilderness to worship their God. But he insisted that they hurry and that they offer up a prayer for him before they go. Moses agreed to the terms and promised to bring the plight of Pharaoh and his Egyptians to the attention of God. Yet he warned him not to renege on his agreement.
“As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the swarms of flies will disappear from you and your officials and all your people. But I am warning you, Pharaoh, don’t lie to us again and refuse to let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” – Exodus 8:29 NLT
And Moses kept his end of the bargain. Immediately after leaving the palace, he prayed and, within minutes, God removed every last fly from the land. It was yet another supernatural display of God’s power and authority. Yet while the people of Egypt must have breathed a sigh of relief when the flies finally disappeared, Pharaoh sank back into his dark and defiant black hole of arrogant intransigence.
But Pharaoh again became stubborn and refused to let the people go. – Exodus 8:32 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.