Text– Exodus 8
…And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land. I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be…
If God were to bring judgment into your life, would you even notice?
The Bible is full of cases where God sends judgment in order to “send a message” or wake people up. It’s very common. But in our day, I’m afraid we’ve denied that this is even possible. Perhaps we’re scared of sounding like Pat Robertson or something, but we’ve adopted an almost entirely defensive posture when this question comes up, and we always denying that some incident was the judgment of God. It makes me wonder if we ever could acknowledge that something actually was.
We know this happens in the Bible. The plagues of the Exodus are a perfect example of God sending judgment in order to also send a message. They are obviously sent to teach Pharaoh a lesson. He has been worshipping idols. The God of Israel is the true God. But we also see that the plagues send another message, they separate the people of God from the world. During the swarm of flies, God says, “I will make a difference between My people and your people” (Ex. 8:23). The plagues show us who’s who.
This morning we are going to take a look at the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th plague. We will see how they continue to send a message to Egypt. They are God’s judgment. But we will also see how God’s judgment separates His people from the others, and in this way, God’s judgment is a form of deliverance. The separation, the putting of a distinction between His people and the world, is a kind of deliverance. When God sends His judgment, He sends division and separation, and, surprisingly, this is how He works out His salvation.
Frogs, Gnats, and Flies
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th plagues unfold throughout Exodus 8. You’ll notice that they continue where the first one left off. The frogs come out of the Nile (Ex. 8:3) and then all the rest of the water in the land (Ex. 8:5). Look at where the frogs go:
So the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into your house, into your bedroom, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls. And the frogs shall come up on you, on your people, and on all your servants. (vs. 3-4)
Can you imagine frogs in all of those places? Just think about it—frogs in your bed, in your oven, in your kitchen cabinets, and frogs crawling on you!
That’s what this plague was like. Frogs everywhere. Pharaoh’s magicians again try to compete. Vs. 7 says that they brought up frogs with their enchantments. But I doubt Pharaoh was very much impressed by this. How is it at all helpful to make more frogs? We’ve got too many frogs!
The text tells us that Pharaoh finally did give in, and he told Moses that the people of Israel could go. But as soon as the frogs start to go away, Pharaoh goes back on his promise.
This then leads to the 3rd plague. We aren’t actually sure what this plague is. Some translations say lice. Others say gnats. The best we can say is that they were small insects that could fly in the air, and we presume they were painful.
But look closely at how the text describes this plague. It’s pretty fascinating. Vss. 16 and 17 say that Aaron struck “the dust of the land” with his rod and that then the dust “became gnats.” The idea is that all of the dust of Egypt turned into bugs. That’s quite a scene. And these bugs then covered both man and beast. Again, imagine that this lasted many days. What would that have been like to experience?
The text tells us that the magicians of Egypt went out to try to imitate this plague too. But they could not. They were able to turn their rods into serpents, they could turn water to blood, and they could even make frogs. But they cannot make the gnats. Something has happened. Their power has run out. To their credit, they understand what this means. They turn to Pharaoh and say, “This is the finger of God” (vs. 19). But Pharaoh will not listen. His “heart grew hard” (vs. 19).
The fourth plague is the swarm of flies. The text actually only says “swarms,” and so it’s possible that they were some other kind of flying insect. It may have been a mixture of all kinds of flying bugs. We can’t be too sure. The Greek translators went ahead and supplied a theory. They said that these were dog-flies. Dog-flies are similar to horseflies. They have a nasty bite. But dog-flies also suck blood, and so they are truly harmful, especially in large numbers.
These swarms cover the whole land, settling down on people and filling the houses (vs. 21). Again, think of what this must have been like. You know how bad it is to just have one horsefly in your house. Imagine your house being full of them, and then imagine running outside to get relief, only to run right into a wall of horseflies. You look down and the ground is covered in them too. They’re everywhere. Vs. 24 says “the land was corrupted because of the swarms of flies.”
But the flies are not everywhere. The whole land of Egypt is full of them. Inside and out, on the ground and in the air, it’s nothing but flies. But look where the flies are not—Goshen.
The LORD explains this difference, saying:
In that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land. I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be (vs. 22-23)
What a powerful image! One area is covered in flies. Another area has no flies. There is a difference.
It’s not entirely clear whether the first three plagues affected Israel along with Egypt. They probably only affected them indirectly, but whatever we say about the first three, it is the fourth plague where God makes it explicit that Goshen is being exempted from the plagues. This exemption will continue for the rest of the plague cycle. And God tells us why. He wants to make a difference. Literally, vs. 22 says, “I will make a distinction” or “I will mark off a separation” between “my people and your people.” This plague separates. It shows who is over here and who is over there. More to the point, it shows who is in charge. The Egyptian magicians are no more. Pharaoh is not in control.
And it also shows who is on the Lord’s side and who is not.
Division, that’s a tricky word isn’t it? We typically use it these days only as a bad thing. You shouldn’t be divisive, we say. And it’s true, being divisive can be a sin. Romans 16:17 tells us to avoid “those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned.” Titus 3:10 says the same thing. But note the context and the key qualifiers. The problem with the divisive person there is that they are causing division within the people of God, and they are doing so by contradicting sound teaching. Now, stick with me for a minute. When such a divisive person shows up, what does the Bible say you should do about them? That’s right, it says you should divide from them!
So, not all kinds of division are bad. Some obviously are. But other divisions are good and necessary. Jesus Himself brought division. He said, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). And here in Exodus, God is causing division. He is “placing a division” between His people and the Egyptians.
Interesting, the word for division or distinction in Ex. 8:23 is a word that means “redemption.” You could actually translate it as saying, “I will put a redemption between my people and your people.” The Greek translator used a word which meant “to glorify.” The LXX says, “I will place a glorification between my people yours.” I will put a distinction, a redemption, a glorification, between the people. That’s kind of an odd way to say it. What’s going on there?
This expression teaches us a message about how God carries out His deliverance. As we have said on many occasions, God’s judgment and His salvation are often one and the same thing. The Scriptures are full of verses which celebrate the coming of the judgment of the Lord, and they are not sadistic passages. Instead, they say that when God comes to judge the world, God’s people will be saved. That’s what’s going on with the plagues of the Exodus. They are judgment on the Egyptians, and they are salvation for Israel. And so this “division” between Egypt and Israel is itself a deliverance. It highlights the difference between the judged and the saved.
Division then can be a glorious thing. After all, this is what holiness is all about. “Holy” really just means “separated” for a certain purpose. Israel is a holy nation precisely because they have been distinguished form the rest of the nations. God even divides His people, causing them to see the internal war between the spirit and the flesh—and this helps to make them more holy.
And this often happens as God brings judgment. When He judges the bad guys, He naturally separates the good guys from them. It makes it clear who is who. When God brings judgment on His church, He also creates a division which separates. 1 Cor. 11:19 explains this by saying, “There must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized.” That means that divisions within the church also show us who’s who—the approved are the ones who remain faithful.
So when God brings judgment on a group of people, that’s an occasion to see who is faithful and who is not. We need to be careful here. We shouldn’t assume that this means we can tell who is being punished based on their external appearance. We aren’t always in a plague situation. Sometimes chastisement falls upon God’s people as well. So I wouldn’t want you to take from this message that whenever it looks like something bad is happening to someone, they must not be true believers. That would be wrong. The entire book of Job was written to contradict that assumption. Instead, what I’m saying is that when God brings His judgment on people, the believers will make it through that judgment with a certain deliverance and safety. This will certainly be spiritual. They will be internally solid. They will have a miraculous peace and contentment that baffles you. While the faithless run from God or curse His name, God’s own children will remain faithful, no matter the difficulties of His providence.
And I do think that this carries over to a sort of outward blessing over time. It doesn’t mean money. It doesn’t mean that God’s people will be rich. But I do think they will manifest certain external blessings. They will be at peace. Their families will be largely harmonious. Their communities will be joyful and vibrant. There will be a certain quality that testifies to their faith, hope, and love. They will be a glorious community. And God will make this clear over time, as He purifies His people through judgment and deliverance.
At the beginning of the sermon, I asked if you would notice if God brought judgment. Would you see that it was happening and connect the dots? Now you have to be careful with how you do this. You can’t assume you know exactly why God is doing what He is doing, and you should never presume that God is judging all those other people and never you. With the judgment you judge others, you will be judged (Matt. 7:2).
Some might say that this is all different now that Jesus has come. God poured out judgment on Christ, and so we don’t see people receiving God’s special judgment in history any more. But was that true in the New Testament, in, say, the book of Acts? No, I think not. Ananias and Saphira received God’s special judgment, as did Herod Agrippa. Even Paul himself is struck by a special judgment which eventually serves to convert him. So we know that this is still possible. We have to be careful, but it can happen.
Given what we’ve learned from Exodus, we should ask ourselves how we would react if we were in a similar situation. If we looked at our community or our own life and saw a really dramatic contrast—over here there’s chaos, perversion, brokenness, and death, and over there there’s peace, righteousness, rehabilitation, and life—would we come to any conclusions?
I think we should. We shouldn’t waste those times of judgment in life. We shouldn’t miss it when God sets a distinction.
If we are those on “the wrong side of the distinction,” then we should repent. We should take an inventory of the sins in our lives, and we should consider what God has been commanding us to do. Repent, believe, and be faithful. This is appropriate during times of dramatic external disaster, during breakups in close relationships, and during times of personal grieve, doubt, and depression.
You should always be attentive to the way that the Lord is convicting us. We should see the obvious. And we should move! Leave the “wrong side” and move towards God’s people.
If we are the side of God’s people, we should be comforted. We should see how He defends us and pulls us out of the world. We should call others to join us. We should model our blessing humbly and gratefully, knowing that it was all of grace. We should know that one important purpose of our blessing is to convict and persuade others to come join us.
And if we see division falling within us—within our families, within our churches, or within our own spirit—then we should again repent, cry out to the Lord for deliverance, and show ourselves to be approved through faithful confession, holy living, and endless charity. Be an example of what others ought to be, so that the judgment can be salvation.
Most of all, let God’s judgment remind us of who He is. He is the God who creates; He is the God who destroys. He is almighty. He is the Lord. Let us worship Him.
Let us pray.