8:1  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Release my people in order that they may serve me! 8:2 But if you refuse to release them, then I am going to plague all your territory with frogs. 8:3 The Nile will swarm with frogs, and they will come up and go into your house, in your bedroom, and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading troughs. 8:4 Frogs will come up against you, your people, and all your servants.” ’ ”

“Release my people in order that they may serve me!” – See also Ex 7:16; 8:20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7.  Bruckner remarks on the absolute centrality of this theme.

Alexander cites Goldberg: ‘God’s call is not the call to let his people go so that they may be “free and independent” in their “pursuit of happiness” or of whatever other ends or goals they individually happen to prefer. Instead, the call of God, issued repeatedly in Exodus and sent forth to us today as well, takes a markedly different form: “Let My people go that they may serve Me.”‘

“If you refuse to let them go” – Implying that if Pharaoh relented, the threat of plague would be removed.

“Frogs” – If the turning of the water in ‘blood’ was connected with flooding of the Nile, then a plague of frogs would be an understandable sequel. In Egypt, frogs were fertility symbols, through association with gods who were believed to assist in childbirth.

‘In the Egyptian pantheon the goddess Heqet had the form of a woman with a frogs head. From her nostrils, it was believed, came the breath of life that animated the bodies of those created by her husband, the great god Khnum, from the dust of the earth. Therefore frogs were not to be killed.’

Rev 16:13f refers to evil spirits that looked like frogs.

Fretheim remark on how grotesque and comical this scene is.  Frogs everywhere!  Leaping and creeping and croaking.  But the plague is still relatively harmless – more of a nuisance than anything else.

Enns reminds us that the plagues involve a reversal of God’s work of creation.  Humanity was intended to have dominion of the animal kingdom (Gen 1:28), not to be plagued by it.  A world ‘teeming’ with life was meant as a blessing, not (as here) a curse.

8:5 The LORD spoke to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Extend your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals, and over the ponds, and bring the frogs up over the land of Egypt.’ ” 8:6 So Aaron extended his hand over the waters of Egypt, and frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.

It is not clear why the waters that were so toxic to the fish (Ex 7:21) was able to produce such large numbers of amphibians.

8:7 The magicians did the same with their secret arts and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt too.

As with the water turned to blood, the Egyptian magicians only succeeded in making the problem worse.  ‘Twice the number of frogs! Pharaoh’s own servants make an already unpleasant situation that much worse. In an effort to make a point against Israel and its God, Pharaoh doubles the trouble.’ (Fretheim)

‘The action of the learned men of Egypt, by which still more frogs were added to the frog infestation can hardly have brought any cheer to the befrogged Pharaoh or his court. V 3 is an obvious parallel to Ex 7:11,12 and 22, and it is significant here as in Ex 7:14-25 that the Egyptian wizards make no attempt to reduce the effects of Yahweh’s acts; they can indeed only multiply them.’ (WBC)

This is the second and last plague that Pharaoh’s magicians are able to replicate.

8:8 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the LORD that he may take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will release the people that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” 8:9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “You may have the honor over me—when shall I pray for you, your servants, and your people, for the frogs to be removed from you and your houses, so that they will be left only in the Nile?” 8:10 He said, “Tomorrow.” And Moses said, “It will be as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 8:11 The frogs will depart from you, your houses, your servants, and your people; they will be left only in the Nile.”

“Pray to the Lord” – Bruckner remarks that Pharaoh should not be regarded as alternating between soft and hard; compliant and rebellious.  His heart was always hard, and would only become harder.  No: the present strategy, and his later ones, are deceitful attempts to gain the upper hand (cf. v29).

‘Pharaoh entreated Moses on a number of occasions to pray for him (cf. Ex 8:8-12, 28-30; 9:28-29, 33; 10:17-18). The portrayal of Moses as one who could mediate with God on behalf of others is a theme which reappears later in Exodus.’ (NBC)

Already, Pharaoh’s magicians are showing signs of weakness: they can bring the frogs on, but they cannot get rid of them.  Pharaoh has to ask Moses and Aaron to do that.

“I will let you go” – According to Bruckner, this should be translated, “I may let you go” (or something similar).  This is the first time Pharaoh shows some signs of a positive response. But if this is a promise, he does not keep it.

‘Although the eleven episodes which comprise Ex 7:8-11:10 follow the same basic pattern, by comparing them it is possible to observe certain interesting developments within the plot. For example, the magicians are portrayed as becoming increasingly powerless before Moses and Aaron. In a similar way, the attitude of Pharaoh’s officials gradually changes. A similar change can be observed by noting Pharaoh’s reaction. Initially, he agreed to let the people go on the condition that Moses prayed for the removal of the frogs (8:8). Next, while he would have preferred the Israelites to stay within Egypt, he was persuaded to let them go a little way into the desert (8:25-28). Although he actually stated, after the hail, that the people might go (9:28), this never happened. When Moses threatened an invasion of locusts, Pharaoh was prepared to allow the Israelite men, but not the women and children, to go and worship the LORD (10:8-11). Finally, he conceded that men, women and children might go, but not their flocks and herds (10:24). In spite of his apparent willingness to give way to Moses and Aaron in the face of further divine signs and wonders, Pharaoh continued to refuse to let the people go.’ (NBC)

Moses said to Pharaoh – Moses’ role increases, and Aaron’s diminishes.

“I leave you the honour of setting the time for me to pray for you” – Commentators have puzzled over this offer, and why Pharaoh chose ‘tomorrow’ (v10).  It may be that Moses wanted to show him that the Lord is in control of the very timing of the events, and the Pharaoh wanted him to prove it.

“Tomorrow” – The cessation of the plague is as much a demonstration of God’s power as its instigation. (Enns)

“So that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God” – ‘Note, The great design both of judgments and mercies is to convince us that there is none like the Lord our God, none so wise, so mighty, so good, no enemy so formidable, no friend so desirable, so valuable.’ (MHC)

8:12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the LORD because of the frogs that he had brought on Pharaoh. 8:13 The LORD did as Moses asked—the frogs died out of the houses, the villages, and the fields. 8:14 The Egyptians piled them in countless heaps, and the land stank. 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, just as the LORD had predicted.

More irony here: even the ending of this plague leaves a stinking mess.

Ryken quotes Boice: ‘If we are to understand the full significance of this plague, we must recognize that a goddess of Egypt was involved in the judgment—the goddess Hekt [also Heqet], who was always pictured with the head and often the head and body of a frog. Since Hekt was embodied in the frog, the frog was sacred in Egypt. It could not be killed, and consequently there was nothing the Egyptians could do about this horrible and ironic proliferation of the goddess. They were forced to loathe the symbols of their depraved worship. But they could not kill them. And when the frogs died, their decaying bodies must have turned the towns and countryside into a stinking horror.’

One of Heqet’s responsibilities was to assist women in childbirth.  Recalling that a previous Pharaoh attempted infanticide by commanding the Hebrew midwives to kill the baby boys, and then by having the newborn sons thrown into the Nile, it is significant that the first two plagues have to do with the gods of the Nile and the god of the Egyptian midwives. (Ryken)

When Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart – ‘This shows what was wrong with Pharaoh’s prayer in the first place. Like a lot of people, he only wanted God to take away the consequences of his sin; he never had any intention of getting rid of the sin itself. ‘ (Ryken)

‘Note, 1. Till the heart is renewed by the grace of God, the impressions made by the force of affliction do not abide; the convictions wear off, and the promises that were extorted are forgotten. Till the disposition of the air is changed, what thaws in the sun will freeze again in the shade. 2. God’s patience is shamefully abused by impenitent sinners. The respite he gives them, to lead them to repentance, they are hardened by; and while he graciously allows them a truce, in order to the making of their peace, they take that opportunity to rally again the baffled forces of an obstinate infidelity. See Ec 8:11; Ps 78:34, etc.’ (MHC)

‘Though the course of sin may be repelled for a season by the dispensation of the law, yet the spring and fountain of it is not dried up thereby. Though it withdraws and hides itself for season, it is but to shift out of a storm, and then to return again. As a traveller in his way meeting with a violent storm of thunder and rain, immediately turns out of his way to some house or tree for his shelter, but yet this causes him not to give over his journey, as soon as the storm is over he returns to his way and progress again; so it is with men in bondage unto sin. They are in a course of pursuing their lusts; the law meets with them in a storm of thunder and lightning from heaven, terrifies and hinders them in their way. This turns them for a season out of their course; they will run to prayer or amendment of life, for some shelter from the storm of wrath which is feared coming upon their consciences. But is their course stopped? are their principles altered? Not at all; so soon as the storm is over, so that they begin to wear out that sense and the terror that was upon them, they return to their former course in the service of sin again. This was the state with Pharaoh once and again. In such seasons sin is not conquered, but diverted. When it seems to fall under the power of the law, indeed it is only turned into new channel; it is not dried up. If you go and set a dam against the streams of a river, so that you suffer no water to pass in the old course and channel, but it breaks out another way, and turns all its streams in a new course, you will not say you have dried up that river, though some that come and look into the old channel may think, perhaps, that the waters are utterly gone. So is it in this case. The streams of sin, it may be, run in open sensuality and profaneness, in drunkenness and viciousness; the preaching of the law sets a dam against these causes; conscience is terrified, and the man dares not walk in the ways wherein he has been formerly engaged. His companions in sin, not finding him in his old ways, begin to laugh at him, as one that is converted and growing precise; professors themselves begin to be persuaded that the work of God is upon his heart, because they see his old streams dried up; but if there has been only a work of the law upon him, there in a dam put to his course, but the spring of sin is not dried up, only the streams of it are turned another way. It may be the man is fallen upon other more secret or more spiritual sins; or if he be beat from them also, the whole strength of lust and sin will take up its residence in self-righteousness, and pour out thereby as filthy streams as in any other way whatever. So that, notwithstanding the whole work of the law upon the souls of men, indwelling sin will keep alive in them still.’ (John Owen)

‘Pharaoh’s professions of repentance and promises of amendment were like those of the child under the rod of chastisement, they were designed to mitigate the infliction, and when the punishment was over they went for nothing. Now, this is always the case when fear alone predominates over the soul. Ah! how much of our penitence is like this of Pharaoh; how many are saints on a sick-bed, but as wicked as ever when they recover! During an epidemic of cholera in the village where I first laboured as a minister, the churches were filled to overflowing by suppliants who had never before entered them; but when it had passed, they relapsed into worse carelessness than ever: and there may be some here tonight who, when they were dangerously ill, or when they were laying a dear little ones body in the grave, vowed to God that they would yield themselves to him; while now they are as far from his service as ever. Let me beseech such hardened ones to beware.’ (William Taylor)

The Third Blow: Gnats

8:16  The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Extend your staff and strike the dust of the ground, and it will become gnats throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ” 8:17 They did so; Aaron extended his hand with his staff, he struck the dust of the ground, and it became gnats on people and on animals. All the dust of the ground became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt. 8:18 When the magicians attempted to bring forth gnats by their secret arts, they could not. So there were gnats on people and on animals. 8:19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, “It is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had predicted.

Gnats – or ‘lice’, or ‘mosquitoes’.  This plague does not find a place in the lists in Psa 78 and Psa 105.  According to source critics the account of this plague derives from ‘P’, and there is no ‘P’ account of the plague of flies which follows.  Therefore, ‘is safe to conclude that the plague of gnats arose as a variant of the plague of flies.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

All the dust…became gnats – ‘This phraseology seems purely to be a reference to the numbers of the mosquitoes, not to their origin. If it is late autumn in Egypt, the fields are still flooded. Mosquitoes will breed in unbelievable numbers; when disturbed they rise in a black cloud, and the air is full of their shrill buzz.’ (Cole)

But…they could not – For the first time, the magicians fail. They are powerful, but not all-powerful.  They quit the contest, and finally in Ex 9:11 the plague of boils strikes them too.

God has the devil on a chain

‘Note, 1. God has the devil in a chain, and limits him both as a deceiver and as a destroyer; hitherto he shall come, but no further. The devil’s agents when God permitted them, could do great things; but when he laid an embargo upon them, though but with his finger, they could do nothing. The magicians’ inability, in this less instance, showed whence they had their ability in the former instances which seemed greater, and that they had no power against Moses but what was given them from above. 2. Sooner or later God will extort, even from his enemies, an acknowledgment of his own sovereignty and over-ruling power. It is certain they must all (as we say) knock under at last, as Julian the apostate did, when his dying lips confessed, thou hast overcome me, O thou Galilean! God will not only be too hard for all opposers, but will force them to own it.’ (MHC)

Satan is powerful, but not all-powerful

We are told that his work is “displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9). By some means or other, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate the first two plagues (but not reverse them!).  Satan has the power:-

  • to rebel (Isa. 14:12–14)
  • to tempt (Matt. 4:1)
  • to deceive (Rev. 20:10)
  • to accuse (Zech. 3:1)
  • to hold sinners captive in their iniquity (2 Tim. 2:26)
  • and even to torment the elect with various afflictions (2 Cor. 12:7)
  • Satan is the one “who holds the power of death” (Heb. 2:14)
  • He was even given power to betray his one and only Son (Luke 22:3–5)

But Satan is not all-powerful

  • He cannot create; he can only destroy.
  • He cannot redeem; he can only be damned.
  • He cannot love; he can only hate.
  • He cannot be humble; he can only be proud.
  • He could not keep God’s Son in the grave.

‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 Jn 3:8b), and the way Jesus destroyed it was through his crucifixion and resurrection. In the end, Satan will be utterly vanquished. All his evil plans will come to nothing, and he himself will be “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur,” where he “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

But we worship and serve an all-powerful God.  He will hear our prayer for deliverance, Mt 6:13.  He will equip us for our battle against the evil on, Eph 6:11.  If we resist him, he will flee from us, James 4:7.

(Ryken, abridged)

The finger of God” – A figure of speech (synecdoche, in which a portion of the divine person is used to denote some larger aspect of his person or characteristics). See Lk 11:20. The magicians may well have meant, ‘This is the finger of a god,’ rather than ‘This is the finger of Yahweh’ (the word Elohim is used).  Either way, it is a movement towards the acknowledgement of the Lord, a theme which figures prominently in Exodus.

‘Sooner or later God will extort, even from his enemies, an acknowledgment of his own sovereignty and over-ruling power.’ (MHC)

But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen – ‘Those that are not made better by God’s word and providences are commonly made worse by them.’ (MHC)

Taking God seriously

Moses had had his arguments with the Lord.  But he has learned to take God seriously.  He’d come to accept that God’s purposes cannot be thwarted, his power cannot finally be resisted, his promises cannot be broken.  In the end, ‘he did just as the Lord commanded him’, Ex 7:6.

Now it’s Pharaoh’s turn.  He has already made his position clear, Ex 5:2.  And he’s up for a fight.  Pharaoh challenges Moses and Aaron to a duel, Ex 7:9.  The pattern is repeated: the Lord speaks to Moses and Aaron.  They warn Pharaoh of what is about the happen.  They perform an amazing miracle before Pharaoh.  Pharaoh stall, splays for time, makes a half-hearted promises, tries to strike a bargain.  But his heart becomes ever harder.  He had any number of opportunities to take God seriously, but he failed to do so.

He thought he could oppose God with his magic.  He had plenty of gods to call on, and plenty of magicians to harness the power of those gods.  But their attempts were pathetic.  Even they are compelled to admit: ‘This is the finger of God’, Ex 8:19.

He though he could out-wit God with mere good intentions.  Pharaoh pleased, he bargains, he makes promises, Ex 8:8ff.  But as soon as the pressure is off, he’s back to his old ways, Ex 8:15.  He though that God either hadn’t heard him make those promises, or had forgotten.  How true to human nature!  ‘You thought I was altogether like you,’ Psa 50:21.

He thought he could resist God with mere stubbornness.  These plagues are so many warning shots across Pharaoh’s bows.  They are repeated alarm calls.  We are apt to think that when things go wrong, it is because it’s beyond God’s control.  But God always has a purpose in allowing evil.  ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’ (C.S. Lewis)

Result: Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.  But note that it is not only God’s enemies whose hearts may be hardened, but also his friends.  A heart may be gospel-hardened, as well as sin-hardened.

The Fourth Blow: Flies

8:20  The LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and position yourself before Pharaoh as he goes out to the water, and tell him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Release my people that they may serve me! 8:21 If you do not release my people, then I am going to send swarms of flies on you and on your servants and on your people and in your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground they stand on. 8:22 But on that day I will mark off the land of Goshen, where my people are staying, so that no swarms of flies will be there, that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of this land. 8:23 I will put a division between my people and your people. This sign will take place tomorrow.” ’ ” 8:24 The LORD did so; a thick swarm of flies came into Pharaoh’s house and into the houses of his servants, and throughout the whole land of Egypt the land was ruined because of the swarms of flies.

Here begins the account of the 4th plague. The first three have caused no actual harm: they have caused inconvenience and humiliation only. But the next group does cause real damage.

Pharaoh is given more warnings and opportunities to relent. ‘So far is the Scripture from regarding Pharaoh as propelled by destiny, as by a machine, down iron grooves to ruin.’ (Expositor’s Bible)

“I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live” – This is another indication of the miraculous nature of the plagues.

‘Divine sovereignty over these plagues is reinforced after the fourth plague with the introduction of a distinction for God’s people (Ex 8:22-23; 9:4, 26; 10:23; 12:12-13). The Israelites had experienced the first plagues alongside the Egyptians, for often living in a world under God’s judgment means God’s people suffer alongside those who are rejecting him. But God protects his people from the hail, the darkness and the death. We are left in no doubt. The Lord is the Creator of all the earth and all creation is in his power.’ (Chester)

“So that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land” – Cf. Ex 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29.  Bruckner says that a better translation would be: “so that you will know that I am Yahweh, in the midst of the earth”.  The Lord is Creator and sovereign over all the earth.

‘Note, The Lord knows those that are his, and will make it appear, perhaps in this world, certainly in the other, that he has set them apart for himself. A day will come when you shall return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, (Mal 3:18) the sheep and the goats, (Mt 25:32; Eze 34:17) though now intermixed.’ (MHC)

8:25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 8:26 But Moses said, “That would not be the right thing to do, for the sacrifices we make to the LORD our God would be an abomination to the Egyptians. If we make sacrifices that are an abomination to the Egyptians right before their eyes, will they not stone us? 8:27 We must go on a three-day journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God, just as he is telling us.”

Stuart insists that Moses and Aaron had all along been ‘asking for nothing else than to leave Egypt permanently, and the language used thus far by Moses and Aaron in demanding the right to leave permanently, modified by such phrases as “into the wilderness” and “to offer sacrifices to our God” and “three days,” simply reflects ancient/modern Eastern bargaining style; so the modifying phrases were never meant to be taken literally and never were.’

“If we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us?” – It is as if Moses is saying, “Don’t be foolish, Pharaoh.  You know that wouldn’t work.”

Bruckner suggests that ‘perhaps the sacrifice of cattle would be offensive because of local Egyptian gods (the sacred bull, Apis, or the the cow or love goddess, Hathor). It could also have had to do with a general detestation of Hebrew culture or the specific abomination of sheep (Gen. 43:32; 46:34).’  Accordingly, Pharaoh’s strategy would cause a riot.

‘The term “a three-day journey” is not to be taken literally; it is an idiom for “an official, formal, foreign visit.”’ (Stuart, citing Jon 3;3 as a parallel in this regard).

8:28 Pharaoh said, “I will release you so that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the desert. Only you must not go very far. Do pray for me.”
8:29 Moses said, “I am going to go out from you and pray to the LORD, and the swarms of flies will go away from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people tomorrow. Only do not let Pharaoh deal falsely again by not releasing the people to sacrifice to the LORD.” 8:30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, 8:31 and the LORD did as Moses asked—he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained! 8:32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also and did not release the people.

The flies left – As Ryken says, although these chapters record ten plagues, they record more than ten miracles; for the end of the plague was as much a miracle as its beginning.

As Andrew Reid notes, various intensifications are apparent from this plague onwards:-

  • ‘God himself acting more directly rather than at the behest of Aaron’s staff (verse 24)
  • ‘God’s people being protected from the impact of the plague (verses 22–23), a clear demonstration that what was happening was no mere random series of events but something under the oversight of YHWH (verse 22)
  • ‘the land being described as ‘ruined’, that is, its wholesale destruction, thereby marking a clear escalation in the level of judgement from God that has been talked about so far within the plague narrative
  • ‘Pharaoh granting concessions for the first time that were not based on prayer and removal of the plague, even though they would require negotiation and he would later withdraw them (verses 25–28, 32).’