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Author:Rev. Joe Poppe
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Congregation:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:With the plague of gnats, the LORD makes clear how His finger directs world affairs
Text:Exodus 8:16-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Confession of Dependence and Divine Greeting


Ten words of the covenant


Prayer of confession and illumination


Ministry of the Word

Reading: Exo.7:25-8:32; Luk.11:14-20


Text: Exo.8:16-19

With the plague of gnats, the LORD makes clear how His finger directs world affairs.  We’ll consider how:

1.      the Egyptian magicians acknowledge God’s finger at work in this plague.

2.      Pharaoh rebels against God’s finger at work in his land.

3.      we are called to believe God’s finger is at work in our lives.





Prayer of thanksgiving and intercessions


Divine blessing

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

            How can we see and know the LORD?  Through what means does God reveal Himself to man?  Why is it that we believe in God, but many around us in society do not?  Is there any way for them to come and know God?  Our confessions summarize Scripture’s teaching on how we can know the LORD.  The Belgic Confession addresses this in Article 2.  It says that we can know God through two means: by the creation, preservation and government of this world; and by His holy and divine Word.

            The primary way to know God is through His holy Word.  But many refuse to hear the Word.  Many would never walk through the church doors on a Sunday morning.  They turn off the radio or TV when “religious programming” comes on.  They refuse to read anything from a Christian perspective.  How can they know God?  Is there any means that God can use to make them sit up and take notice of Him?

            Yes, God can and does confront people with His existence, and His power.  Through the creation, preservation and government of this world.  God has left his fingerprints behind in the creation of this world.  But we know that fingerprints are usually not visible to the naked eye, unless a child’s hand leaves a print on a glass door.  People need eyes to see.  And many who don’t want to acknowledge God in their lives, don’t open their eyes to see His handiwork.

            Yet God mighty acts of power are a reminder, a testimony to the world today.  Think of hurricane Dolly in Texas, the recent earthquake in Japan, or other events often labelled as “natural disasters.”  We call these events “natural disasters” as if some latent forces in nature are responsible.  Yet there is a better term for such events, which is still commonly used in the insurance industry.  They are called “acts of God.”  That is exactly what such events really are!

            This morning, we continue our study of the ten plagues the LORD brought upon Egypt.  How after changing the waters of Egypt into blood, and sending forth frogs throughout the land, the LORD sent a plague of gnats upon the people.  A plague in which the LORD again attacks Egypt’s gods, her people, and land.  A plague in which God reveals His mighty power, to make known the fact that He is God of all the earth.  A plague that calls forth a response, both from the Egyptians long ago and from us today.  I preach to you the Word of God under the following theme:

With the plague of gnats, the LORD makes clear how His finger directs world affairs.  We’ll consider how:

1.      the Egyptian magicians acknowledge God’s finger at work in this plague.

2.      Pharaoh rebels against God’s finger at work in his land.

3.      we are called to believe God’s finger is at work in our lives.

The ten plagues can be divided into three groups of three plagues, with the final plague standing alone as the heartbreaker that caused Pharaoh and the Egyptians to send the Israelites away.  The first three plagues produce discomfort, the next three - destruction, the final three - downright dread.  Each cycle of plagues starts with the LORD telling Moses to get up early in the morning and go to Pharaoh.  Plagues 2, 5, and 8 all begin with the LORD commanding Moses to “go to Pharaoh,” perhaps at his palace.  Plagues 3, 6, and 9 do not include any interaction with Pharaoh; Moses just does whatever the LORD commands.

Our text records the third plague.  In it, the action is short and decisive.  Pharaoh does not receive any warning.  It is as if the LORD’s patience with Pharaoh is running out, because of his hardness of heart.  Our text says, “Then the LORD 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."  They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came upon men and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats.” (Exo.8:16-17).

Just as the LORD had once made man out of the dust of the earth, so now He makes gnats in the same way.  Normally, gnats laid their eggs in the pools of water left behind when the Nile River flooded.  But in our text, the LORD brings them forth from dry earth, from dust.  What were these gnats?  They have been compared to lice, ticks, or mosquitoes.  The Hebrew word that is used means “to cover, nip, or pinch.”  There was a family of stinging gnats in Egypt.  They were a swarming type of insect.  They were small, they had a very painful sting, and crawled into the ears and nose.  And their sting caused unbearable itching.

This truly was a plague, beloved.  Just think of how at times the mosquitoes can drive us indoors.  Imagine an insect with a sting that hurts like a horsefly, but small enough to crawl under your clothes and up your ears and nose.  These stinging gnats were everywhere.  All the dust of the land of Egypt became gnats, and they covered the people and animals.  Bite, bite, bite; slap, slap, slap; itch, itch, itch!  This plague was enough to drive the people crazy, to make them very miserable.

The former two plagues had been terrible enough.  All the water in the land had been changed to blood, the fish had died, and frogs had polluted and smelled up the land.  Yet this plague affected the people in their own bodies.  Now they themselves were under attack.  For they were being severely bitten, and they itched continuously.  Thus we see an increase in the intensity and severity of the plagues.

Yet this attack was not just on the people themselves.  It was an attack on the Egyptian gods.  The Egyptians worshipped Geb, whom they considered the great god of the earth.  They gave offerings to Geb for the bounty of the soil.  But now the earth itself, the soil had turned into gnats.  Instead of producing food, the soil brought forth these pesky gnats that were making the people’s lives miserable.  This was enough to make the god of the ground, Geb, repulsive to anyone living in the land.

This plague also attacked the Egyptian gods in another way.  It was an attack on the priests of Egypt.  In order for them to offer sacrifices to their gods, they had to be ceremonially clean.  It was normal for them to shave off all their body hair every few days, and to bathe in water four times each day.  All that became difficult with the biting of the gnats, and the sores and itch they left behind.  It made the priests unable to purify themselves and present their sacrifices to the gods.

Yet it was not only Egypt’s priests that were obstructed from their tasks.  One of the specific things Scripture shows us in the third plague is God’s almighty power over the Egyptian magicians.  They had been able to make water into blood, and to make frogs come upon the land of Egypt by their secret arts.  Till now there had been a great power struggle going on between them and their gods, and Moses and Aaron and the LORD.  Till now, they and Pharaoh had been full of arrogant pride, because they had been able to match God’s miraculous signs.

But in the plague of gnats, they could not copy what Moses and Aaron had done.  The Original Hebrew makes it plain that they tried.  In verse 16 the LORD commands Moses to tell Aaron , stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the ground.  Verse 17 notes that Aaron did so.  Literally, verse 18 begins by stating, “and they did so, the magicians with their secret arts to bring forth the gnats, but they were not able.”  Just picture these mighty men of Egypt, Pharaoh’s power brokers, striking their staffs on the ground again and again, chanting magic incantations.  Yet despite their best efforts, Egypt’s magicians could not bring forth gnats by their secret arts.

These magicians were forced to admit their powerlessness.  They were forced to point to the source of this miracle, of having the dust turned to gnats.  They said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”  How it must have pained them to admit this.  Egyptian civilization was highly advanced.  Egypt’s wise men were able to perform mighty acts through their secret arts.  But suddenly, they were confronted with a power greater than them.  And they are forced to admit to Pharaoh that in this plague the “finger of God” was at work.

Scripture uses the expression “the finger of God” only rarely in the Old Testament.  It is used on a number of occasions to refer to how God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone (Exo.31:18; Deu.9:10).  The fact that they were written by the finger of God, shows they were of divine authorship.  Similarly, the fact that the Egyptian magicians attribute this miracle of the dust being turned into gnats to the finger of God, shows that they saw God as the power behind this miraculous sign.  Here we see these proud men vanquished.  The LORD has shown Himself to be much more powerful than the mightiest men in Egypt.  He is Lord and King of all the earth.  The Creator, and the Ruler over the living and the dead.

The story of Exodus makes it clear that the people of God also suffered under this third plague.  They too would have had to suffer the misery of being repeatedly bitten by these stinging gnats.  It is not until the next plague that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and His people living in Goshen.  Yet despite the fact that they suffered under this plague, God’s people must at the same time have been encouraged by it.  For their God was at work.  The LORD, the God of their fathers.  The one who had promised to deliver them from slavery.  And in this plague He showed Himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian magicians and the Egyptian gods.

In our first point we’ve considered how the Egyptian magicians acknowledge God’s finger at work in this plague.  In our second point we’ll see how Pharaoh rebels against God’s finger at work in his land.  Despite the mighty works of God, and the fact that his own magicians admitted they could not copy this miracle, Pharaoh continues to harden His heart.  Our text says, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the LORD had said.”

What does it mean that Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and that he would not listen?  Hard against whom?  Not willing to listen to what?  The plague stories make the answers to these questions quite clear.  There is one main word used repeatedly in the Ten Plagues.  A Hebrew word that means “to let go, or to send away.”  It is used thirty-four times in the plague narratives.  Again and again the LORD demands the same thing from Pharaoh: “Let my people go.”

But Pharaoh refused.  He hardened his heart against the God of the Hebrews, and was unwilling to heed this command.  These Hebrew slaves were valuable to him.  They did many of the menial tasks for the people of Egypt – digging canals, harvesting crops, baking bricks and building cities.  Many times in the midst of a plague, Pharaoh promised to let the people go as soon as the plague that had come upon the Egyptians and their land was removed.  But as soon as God took away the plague, Pharaoh hardened his heart.  He would not let the people go!

What is interesting is that Scripture portrays Pharaoh’s hardness of heart in a number of different ways.  After the Egyptian magicians were able to change their staffs into snakes, and water into blood, Scripture says that “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.” (Exo.7:13,22).  This is just a description of what happened without indicating the source of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart.  Yet in the later plagues, the source of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart is also revealed.  In the plagues of frogs and flies Scripture says that “Pharaoh hardened his heart,” (Exo.8:15,30).  In subsequent plagues, Scripture tells us that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” (Exo.9:12; 10:20; 10:27).

We can accept the fact that someone hardens his or her own heart and rebels against God and then incurs God’s righteous judgment for that.  But at times we struggle with the idea that God hardens a person’s heart.  Is it fair that God hardens someone’s heart and then condemns him or her for that hardness of heart?  Is that something that a loving and righteous God would do?  How are we to understand the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart?

Some say that God hardens those who have already hardened their own hearts.  There is some truth in that.  In the first five plagues it is stated that Pharaoh’s heart was hard, or that he hardened his own heart.  It is not until the sixth plague that Scripture states that the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  But this is not a complete answer.  For already in Exodus 4:21 the LORD told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart.

Others suggest that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is just a Hebrew expression meant to convey the fact that God is the ultimate cause of everything.  They say that God does not override the will of Pharaoh, but permits him to harden his own heart.  They say that God allows individuals to resist his will by withdrawing any restraining influences from them, or by introducing the circumstances that he knows that will lead to defiant actions on their part.  This explanation is helpful in that it recognises that God is in control.  But it runs the risk of making God the cause of man’s sin and rebellion.  So it too does not fully satisfy.

What we need to understand beloved, is that God is 100% sovereign and that at the same time man is 100% responsible.  This is a paradox.  We cannot fully understand it.  Yet it is the truth.  God did not need to introduce evil or rebellion into the heart of Pharaoh.  It was already there.  Pharaoh, just like every other man and woman, was born with a will.  A will defiled by sin.  A will that did not joyfully submit to the commands of the Sovereign LORD.  His hard heart was spiritually insensitive, and unable to function properly.  Pharaoh would not listen; he would not obey; he stubbornly went his own way.

Yet at the same time the LORD God had a purpose for Pharaoh’s hard heart.  It was to reveal Himself.  To make known His mighty works.  To display His power over Pharaoh and Egypt’s gods.  To make known His glory to His covenant people Israel, and His power to the surrounding nations.  Paul speaks about this in Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  Pharaoh’s repeated hardness of heart functioned as a means for the LORD to continue to reveal His mighty works in the plagues He brought on Egypt.

The basic point that our text makes is that Pharaoh rebelled against the finger of God at work in his land.  He was not willing to acknowledge the LORD and His mighty works.  Even though his own magicians pointed to the finger of God, Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen.  This was not just stubbornness.  It was stupidity.  The evidence was right there in front of his eyes.  But Pharaoh didn’t want to see it.  For acknowledging God meant that he had to change his mind.  And Pharaoh didn’t want to do that.

Pharaoh’s stance is just like that of many who refuse to acknowledge God today.  They say that they don’t believe in God.  They are unwilling to recognize His handiwork in creation, even though more and more secular scientists acknowledge that the formation of this world involved “intelligent design.”  People are faced with the mighty hand of God at work in creation and preservation of this world.  His hand is displayed in the regular course of days and nights, of springtime and harvest.  It is evident in the beauty and intricacy of the plants and animals he made.  Is stares us in the face when earthquakes, hurricanes, twisters and floods occur.  Yet many do not have eyes to see.  Acknowledging God means submitting to Him.  And many around us would much rather do their own thing, and live life as they please.

This brings us to our final point.  In it we’ll consider how we are called to believe God’s finger is at work in our lives.  In the New Testament, there is also one occasion where the expression “the finger of God” is used.  It is in that passage from Luke 11 which we read together.  The context is similar to the Exodus story in that a mighty miracle is performed.  The Lord Jesus drove out a demon that made a man mute – unable to speak.  Some attributed this mighty sign to Satan.  They said that Jesus performed this miracle by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.  In response Jesus points out how silly it would be for Satan to cast out his own evil spirits.  He says to the crowds, “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luk.11:20).

But the people were not willing to acknowledge that Jesus was performing His miracles by the power of God.  Many among the Jewish people had hard hearts.  Jesus made that clear in Luke 11:29 when He said to the crowds, “This is a wicked generation.  It asks for a miraculous sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  Given the miraculous evidence of the healing of a mute man, why didn’t the people believe?  Because their eyes were blinded; because their hearts were hard!

Now beloved, how about us?  We see the finger of God at work in the time of the exodus, bringing plagues upon Egypt so that God’s people could be freed from slavery.  We see the finger of God at work in the miracles Jesus performed, which provided deliverance from sin and death to the people of His day.  That same finger of God is at work in our lives.  Defending and preserving us in the salvation Christ has worked for us.  Leading and guiding us in our daily lives.  Do we see that?  Do we acknowledge it?  Do we believe it?

The finger of God represents power.  Power to bring judgment on those who oppose Him.  And power to save; to deliver His people.  But to share in that wondrous salvation, we need to believe that God is Sovereign King and that He is at work in this world and in our lives.  In John 1 the apostle writes about Jesus coming as the true light of the world.  He says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Joh.1:10-12).  Are we Pharaohs who harden our hearts to the work of God in our lives?  Or do we joyfully respond to the gospel as God’s children and heirs?

Beloved, many of you know the joys of parenthood.  Many have experienced your baby curling his or her hand around your finger.  In that moment we sense our child’s dependency on us.  It seems like that grasp states all the trust of our little one in us.  In much the same way we need to grasp the finger of God.  To trust Him to deliver us; to save us from sin and Satan and death.  To acknowledge that it is only by His grace in Christ that we can be redeemed.  May we see the finger of God in this world and in our lives, and come to Him in humble faith.  Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Joe Poppe, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. Joe Poppe

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