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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 10/17/1993
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'Thus says the Lord, Let my people go that they may serve me. 2 But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite your whole territory with frogs. 3 And the Nile will swarm with frogs, which will come up and go into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and into your kneading bowls. 4 So the frogs will come up on you and your people and all your servants.'" 5 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the streams, and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.'" 6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 And the magicians did the same with their secret arts, making frogs come up on the land of Egypt. 8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron and said, "Entreat the Lord that He remove the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go that they may sacrifice to the Lord." 9 and Moses said to Pharaoh, "The honor is yours to tell me: when shall I entreat for you and your servants and your people, that the frogs may be destroyed from you and your houses, that they may be left only in the Nile?" 10 Then he said, "Tomorrow." So he said, "May it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God. 11 And the frogs will depart from you and your houses and your servants and your people; they will be left only in the Nile." 12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord concerning the frogs which He had inflicted upon Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did according to the word of Moses, and the frogs died out of the houses, the courts, and the fields. 14 So they piled them in heaps and the land became foul. 15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 16 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.'" 17 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. 18 And the magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth 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 did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
When we looked at chapter seven last week we saw four principles dealing with God's judgments, whether the Ten Plagues on Egypt we have here or others throughout history. First, God works to glorify Himself, that is, to make Himself known as God in the world. Second, judgment is not just punitive, but it is also revelatory of the righteousness and grace of God. Third, judgment often takes the form of an attack on the false gods of those being judged. And fourth, it often increases in severity until it issues either in repentance or destruction. Let's watch and see how these principles are illustrated as we continue our journey through the Ten Plagues. Today we come to the second and third plagues: frogs and gnats.
A number of the principles we have been studying are manifested by these two plagues. First is the REVELATORY CHARACTER of the plagues. In v. 9, Moses gives Pharaoh the opportunity to pick the time for the plague's end in order to make it clear that what is happening is from God, who will respond in grace to Pharaoh's apparent repentance. Probably Pharaoh thought that "tomorrow" would be too soon to get rid of so many frogs. But when he got up the next day, they were all dead. The plague itself ended, but the Egyptians still had to deal with the aftermath, the consequences of their mistreatment of the Israelites and their stubbornness when confronted with it, in the massive clean-up effort that followed. So it often is in life.
The Egyptian wizards are almost comical. They cannot do anything useful--they are powerless to stop or reverse or undo the plagues--but they rather pitifully use their secret arts to duplicate them, trying to show that the Egyptian gods can at least match the feats of the God of Israel, even if they cannot prevent them. But when we get to the gnats, they cannot even do that. Why do they fail here? The reason is quite profound.
The frogs had come from places where frogs actually breed: the Nile and its tributaries. But Egyptian gnats do not breed in dust, but rather in rice fields and standing water. Also, the diction is interesting. The frogs came "from" the Nile. But the dust "became" the gnats. In other words, the miracle of multiplying the frogs may have simply been an augmentation or intensification of natural processes already going on. But the gnats were apparently an act of direct, special Creation. Only God can create ex nihilo; only God can bring life from non-life. That is why their failure to reproduce this miracle revealed the "finger of God" in no uncertain terms to the magicians. Now, even his own religious advisers are convinced; surely now Pharaoh is without excuse. But even against the advice of his own people, he continues to harden his heart.
Like all the Plagues, these two are ATTACKS ON THE FALSE GODS of Egypt. The goddess Heqt, who is associated with childbirth, was pictured with the head of a frog. Frogs then were also associated with fertility, which was the heart of the Egyptian religion. But the frogs are shown to be subject to the will of Jahweh. He calls them forth, he dismisses them, he accelerates their fertility, he destroys them, at will. And the dust--well, after the Nile the earth itself was the main source of fertility. As with the blood, what should have been a blessing for Egypt is turned into a curse by the power of God.
We also see that the SEVERITY of the judgments continues to escalate. Nobody was hurt by the staff becoming a snake. The Nile being turned to blood was a real hardship. The frogs were everywhere--in bed, in your kneading bowl. They were a serious nuisance. With the gnats we have something more than a nuisance. They had a very painful sting. They were almost invisible. They would crawl into your eyes and nose. While they are around, Egypt is in a world of serious pain. And it is becoming inescapable, even to many of the Egyptians, that the hardness of Pharaoh's heart is the chief cause of this escalation.
One of the most interesting lessons from this passage is found is v. 15. Pharaoh seems to have learned his lesson. He promises to repent and change his ways if only the Lord will take away the frogs. But what happen the second they die? "But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them." And lest you think he was just incredibly stupid, that is, more so than we are, consider how often we have had exactly the same reaction.
God has given to the human mind a natural tendency to recover from pain by forgetting how bad it really was. Someone has said that pain is doubled in anticipation and halved in memory. I won't vouch for the statistics, but the general idea is sound. While you are in the midst of an illness, it seem to last forever. You think, "I'll NEVER get well!" But as soon as you are back on your feet the week or so you were in bed doesn't seem so long any more. I ran track in high school and was a middle distance runner--one of my many claims to insanity. The first half of an 880 yard run (a half mile) didn't seem so bad. But by about the 600 yard mark I was thinking, "Why did I ever go out for track? If I can just survive this race I will NEVER do this again!" But by the next afternoon I'd be back at the starting line, all fired up and ready to go.
Now, this natural tendency that we all have is a good thing. It is a gift from God built into us to keep us going. When something happens to someone that is so traumatic that this recovery mechanism gets short circuited, you get a debilitating depression or suicide. But like all good things, this good and healthy trait of the human mind can be abused. It can be used by Satan to destroy us.
In every high school athletic locker room I've ever seen there is a sign that says, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." There is truth in that saying. But there is another question that needs also to be asked. What do you do when the going eases up again? The question that often separates the saved penitent from the lost sinner, and the victorious Christian from the spiritual failure, is "What do you do when you get a breathing space?" (That would be a literal translation of the word "relief" in v. 15). When God tries to get your attention with a trial or a tribulation, most of us can make promises of amendment that we mean at the moment. But what happens when the pressure comes off will make or break your Christian life.
You see, it is true that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Many are not even capable of this. But it is also true that WHEN THE GOING EASES UP, THE MATURE KEEP GOING. Most of us let down our guard and relax. Most of us react just the same way Pharaoh did. You don't think so? Have you ever heard of "foxhole faith?" Men in great danger will promise God anything. But when the danger is gone, they quickly forget. But you don't have to be in a foxhole to experience this phenomenon. Your clothes are feeling tight and you say, "I've GOT to go on a diet." But the next day you happen to put on something that fits a little better, and you think, "Well, I'm not really THAT much over weight after all." After a particularly painful coughing fit you say, "I really must stop smoking." But as soon as you feel better you buy another pack. After all, one more cigarette won't matter that much. Your resistance is down and you come down with the flu or even a round of angina, and you think, "I've got to slow down and stop trying to be the hero--my company can survive without 80 hours a week from me, and besides, I need to spend more time with my family." Then as soon as you're feeling a little better you find yourself accepting one more responsibility. "I can handle it!" Yeah, right.
God wants you to grow, to reach maturity. He wants you to be tough, but he also wants you to be mature. When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but when the going eases up, it is the mature who keep going. When you stray he will put pressure on you somehow. Actually, he has designed life to do that pretty efficiently all by itself. But then after he gets your attention, he may take the pressure off to see if you will stay the course, if you can stand without it. If you do, we can say that you have truly grown and matured. If not, you have just responded to the pressure while it was there. Any idiot will do that. Even Pharaoh knew that much! If you respond like Pharaoh, the pressure may come back, only more severely--it certainly did for him. And this pattern may continue until either you have taken the message seriously or been destroyed. The problem is that we form a habit of rationalizing when the pressure is off. But we need to understand what is happening and realize the opportunity it presents for growth. How we respond when the going eases up often determines whether we will go forwards or backwards in our spiritual life.
Which choice you make will largely be determined by the quality of your relationship with God. Is it based on love or fear? His glory or self interest? For Pharaoh, God was only a life preserver, a way to get rid of frogs. So once the frogs were gone, he didn't need him any more. Or so he thought. Joy Davidman has a wonderful description of how we relate to life preservers: "You will be willing to pay very high for that life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts, and greeds, and vanities, and hates." But the problem is that "You cannot drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start living again. You reach the shore, splutter the water out of your lungs--and then what? You throw the life preserver away."
How much is God merely a life preserver for you? I would suggest that you can tell by looking back through your life and honestly answering the question, "How do I act when I reach the shore? How do I respond when the pressure is taken off? How do I react when I get some breathing room?" If you are like me, you will see some real love for God, but also too many times when you catch yourself tossing away the life preserver. Well, when going gets tough, the tough get going; but when the going eases up, the mature keep going. And maturity consists of and depends on a deepening love for and trust in God as your heavenly Father, and Christ as your Savior and Lord. May it increase in us day by day.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams