Thursday, March 14, 2013

The 3rd Plague: Changing Dust to Gnats -- Exodus 8:16-19

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.’”  And they did so; and 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 through all the land of Egypt.  And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast.  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”  But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

As we consider the 3rd plague, we notice that God changes His tactics just a bit here.  There is no “talking to Pharaoh” by Moses required this time.  Instead God tells Moses to speak directly to Aaron ordering him to “stretch out (his) staff and strike the dust of the earth”.  And Moses as well as Aaron did exactly as they were told.  Pharaoh did not even get a chance to say, “Wait, I give up.”  Like a father who has given his child every chance to comply with his request, there comes a time when God’s patience with us wears a little thin and the staff of life may well strike the dust of our earth to our dislike.  And there is no point in us saying, “Hey, that’s not fair.  I didn’t know you were serious or that you wouldn’t give me another warning.”  The commentator Chuck Smith on this passage says, “God (was) just really rubbing (the Egyptians’) noses in their gods, really. Just saying, ‘You want to serve these gods? You don't know who I am? Then here you are.’”
As soon as Aaron had struck the ground with the staff, gnats showed up on “man and beast”.  These little guys are most interesting.  According to the website “”, these little fellows are “one of a family of insects that includes flies and mosquitoes. Gnats are actually tiny flies, and can go by different names (like blackflies, or midges).  Gnats are found anyplace in the world where there is a river or stream because they lay their eggs in watery places. They need the blood of warm-blooded animals to survive. Unlike mosquitoes, gnats usually don't bite through clothing. But they can crawl into hair or under clothing to get at places such as ankles and belt lines.”

Here is the interesting part about these insects according to the same source: “A person who gets bitten by a gnat may not even know it at the time. But soon after, the area around the bite will start to swell up. There may be a little bit of blood coming from the bite. The bite will be very itchy and can be painful.”  With water being scarce in Egypt those days and anti-itch cream having not yet been invented, you can imagine the discomfort.  And just pray you are not allergic to a gnat bite for if you are, you will feel sick, have difficulty breathing, or even get hives.  If you were an Egyptian and knew they were around, you could have used DEET, but hey, that was not invented yet either.  And long sleeves and pants were not in fashion those days.

Just how many gnats are we talking about?  Well, that’s a tough mathematical problem.  The text says, “All the dust of the earth became gnats throughout the land of the Egypt.”  Let me know when you get close to counting them.

So, the handy magicians of Pharaoh’s court tried to repeat the plague with any dust that had been left for them and this time (unlike their ability to repeat the first two plagues) they were unable to do so.  Now why was that?  Chuck Smith believes there was a difference between the first two plagues and this one.  This 3rd plague involved some sort of “creation of life” and that, I might add, from “the dust of the earth”.  I am sure you see the point.  Only God could do that.  There is a parallel here to when He created “man out of the dust of the earth”.  While the Egyptian magicians could pull frogs out of water or change water to blood, they had no ability to create life.  One could disagree somewhat with Smith however, as a closer look at what they had done did include a form of life-creation as they were able earlier to turn their own rods or staffs into serpents just as Moses and Aaron had done.  I suppose the purists might argue in support of Smith saying, “Ah, but it’s not life from the ‘dust of the earth’!”  No, it is not.  Suffice it to say, however, that there is a point at which Satan’s powers are limited.

Now, here is the interesting thing.  The magicians actually recognized and reported to Pharaoh that the plague (because they could not repeat it) was indeed “the finger of God.”  This is a most interesting verse and its lesson is often overlooked.  It depicts a general attitude of carnal man.  It is only when we are unable to explain something or reproduce it ourselves, that we consider giving God some credit for it.  At least that is the way mankind used to be.   Nowadays even the fact that we cannot reproduce or create something does not compel us to consider the Creator.  Most of us these days would rather credit “the yet undiscovered principles or laws of science” with the phenomenon rather than God Himself.

In Pharaoh’s case it did not make any difference how his magicians reacted to the gnats God had brought about, or to whom they gave credit for them, for he did not listen to them.   And that too is indicative of many a heart today – even when those we count on for advice, or those we trust, or those who love us, point us to God, we are still hell-bent on denying His existence.  Our hearts are hardened (often by our own attitude due to our desire to be independent of anyone’s help) and once again we reject giving in, just as Pharaoh rejected giving in, to the instructions of the Almighty.

Finally, our passage ends once more with the reminder to Moses and Aaron, and thus to us, that all this unfolded just “as the Lord had said.”  God is fully aware of the conditions of our hearts.  He knows how they will feel at any given time.  He knows what they will drive us to do or not do.   We need to be careful that we do not however confuse His knowledge or even foreknowledge with the role our ‘free will’ plays in our feelings and in our actions.  We have no justification in blaming Him for any of that, or trying to justify our rejection of Him.

How’s your heart today?  How’s your heart with respect to God?  How’s your heart with respect to your loved ones?   How’s your heart with respect to those that God has put in your path at work or school or as you go about living your life today?   I pray it is not hardened.

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