The Plagues Upon Egypt, pt. 2,
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
19The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs—and they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars.’” (Ex. 7:19)
6So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. 7But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt. (Ex. 8:6–7)
16Then 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.’” 17They 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. (Ex. 8:16–17)
24And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials, and throughout Egypt the land was ruined with flies. (Ex. 8:24)
6And the next day, the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one animal belonging to the Israelites died. (Ex. 9:6)
In our last article we made a number of general observations upon the judgments which the Lord God sent upon Pharaoh and his people. The subject is admittedly a difficult one, and little light seems to have been given on it. This should make us seek more fervently for help from above, that our eyes may be opened to behold wondrous things in this portion of the Word. We shall now offer a few remarks upon each plague separately according to our present understanding of them.
1. The first plague is described in Exodus 7:14-25 — let the reader turn to the passage and ponder it carefully. This initial judgment from the Lord consisted of the turning of the waters into blood. Blood, of course, speaks of death, and death is the wages of sin. It was, therefore, a most solemn warning from God to Egypt, a warning which intimated plainly the doom that awaited those who defied the Almighty. Similarly will God give warning at the beginning of the Great Tribulation, for then shall the moon “become as blood” (Revelation 6:12). The symbolic significance of this first plague is easily discerned. water is the emblem of the Word (John 15:3; Ephesians 5:26), and the water turned to blood reminds us that the Word is “a savor of death unto death” (2 Corinthians 2:16) as well as “of life unto life”.
The striking contrast between this first plague and the first miracle wrought by the Lord Jesus has been pointed out by others before us. The contrast strikingly illustrates the great difference there is between the two dispensations; “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). All that the Law can do to its guilty transgressor is to sentence him to death, and this is what the Water turned into blood symbolized. But by the incarnate Word the believing sinner is made to rejoice, and this is what the turning of the water into wine speaks of.
Before passing on to the next plague we would offer a word of explanation upon a point which may have troubled some of our readers. The Lord’s command to Moses was: “Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood” (Exodus 7:19). And yet after this we are told, “And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments” (v. 22). Where then did they obtain their water? The answer is evidently supplied in verse 24: “And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink.”
2. The second plague is described in Exodus 8:1-7. An interval of “seven days” (7:25) separated this second plague from the first. Full opportunity was thus given to Pharaoh to repent, before God acted in judgment again. In view of the fact that the Flood commenced on the seventh day (see Gen. 7:10 margin), that is, the holy Sabbath, the conclusion is highly probable that each of these first two plagues were sent upon Egypt on the Sabbath day, as a Divine judgment for the Egyptians’ desecration of it.
This second plague, like the former, was Divinely directed against the idolatry of the Egyptians. The river Nile was sacred in their eyes, therefore did Jehovah turn its waters into blood. The frog was an object of worship among them, so God now caused Egypt to be plagued with frogs. Their ugly shape, their croaking noise, and their disagreeable smell, would make these frogs peculiarly obnoxious. Their abounding numbers marked the severity of this judgment. Escape from this scourge was impossible, for the frogs not only “covered the land of Egypt” but they invaded the homes of the Egyptians, entered their bed-chambers, and defiled their cooking utensils. The moral significance of these “frogs” is explained for us in Revelation 16:13 — the only mention of these creatures in the New Testament. There we read, “And I saw three unclean small spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the Dragon, and out of the mouth of the Beast, and out of the mouth of the False Prophet.” Frogs are used to symbolize the powers of evil and stand for uncleanness. The turning of the waters into blood was a solemn reminder of the “wages of sin”. The issuing forth of the frogs made manifest the character of the devil’s works — uncleanness.
Concerning this second plague we read, “And the magicians did so with their enchantments and brought forth frogs upon the land of Egypt” (8:7). This is most suggestive. The magicians were unable to remove the frogs, nor could they erect any barriers against their encroachments. All they could do was to bring forth more frogs. Thus it is with the Prince of this world. He is unable to exterminate the evil which he has brought into God’s fair creation, and he cannot check its progress. All he can do is to multiply wickedness.
3. The third plague is described in Exodus 8:16-19. This judgment descended without any warning. The dust of the ground suddenly sprang into life, assuming the most disgusting and annoying form. This blow was aimed more directly at the persons of the Egyptians. Their bodies covered with lice, was a sore rebuke to their pride. Herodotus (2:37) refers to the cleanliness of the Egyptians: “So scrupulous were the priests on this point that they used to shave their heads and bodies every third day, for fear of harboring vermin while occupied in their sacred duties”. As another has said, “This stroke would therefore humble their pride and stain their glory, rendering themselves objects of dislike and disgust”. The key to the moral significance of this third plague lies in the source from which the lice proceeded. Aaron smote the dust of the land “and it became lice in man and beast” (8:16). In the judgment which God pronounced upon disobedient Adam we read that He said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Genesis 3:17), and again, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). When Aaron smote the “ground”, and its “dust” became lice, and the lice came upon the Egyptians, it was a graphic showing-forth of the awful fact that man by nature is under the curse of a holy God.
Concerning this plague we read, “and the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not” (8:18). How small a matter the Lord used to bring confusion upon these magicians! As soon as God restrained them, they were helpless. Turn water into blood, and bring forth frogs, they might, by God’s permission; but when He withheld permission they were impotent. Thus it is with Satan himself. His bounds are definitely prescribed by the Almighty, and beyond them he cannot go. Death he can inflict (by God’s permission), and uncleanness he can bring forth freely — as the “magicians” illustrated in the first two plagues; but with the Curse (which the “dust” becoming lice so plainly speaks of) he is not allowed to tamper with.
The admission of the magicians on this occasion is noteworthy: “Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God” (8:19). These are their last recorded words. In the end they were obliged to acknowledge the hand of God. So will it be in the last Great Day with the Devil himself, and with all his hosts and victims. They, too, will have to bow before the Lord, and publicly confess the supremacy of the Almighty.
There is a striking correspondency between this third plague and what is recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel. There we find a similar contest — between the Lord and His enemies. The Scribes and the Pharisees, using the woman taken in adultery as their bait, sought to ensnare the Savior. His only response was to stoop down and write on the ground. After saying to them, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), we read that “Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:8). The effect was startling: “They which heard, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one....and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9). What was this but the enemy of the Lord acknowledging that it was “the finger of God” as He wrote in the dust!
4. The next plague is described in Exodus 8:20-32. This plague marked the beginning of a new series. In the first three, the magicians had opposed, but their defeat had been openly manifested. No longer do they appear upon the stage of action. Another thing which evidences that this fourth plague begins a new series is the fact that God now made “a division” between His own people and the Egyptians. The Israelites too had suffered from the first three judgments, for they also merited the wages of sin, were subject to the debasing influences of Satan, and were under the curse. But now that the Lord was about to destroy the property of the Egyptians, He spared the Israelites.
It will be noted by the student that the words “of flies” are in italics, supplied by the translators, the word “swarms” being given for the original term. The Hebrew word signifies, literally, “mixture”, being akin to the term “mixed multitude” in Exodus 12:38. Apparently these “swarms” were made up of not only flies, but a variety of insects. As we are told in Psalm 78:45, “He sent divers sorts of flies”. Moreover, this verse in the Psalms informs us of their devastating effects — they “devoured them”; the Hebrew signifying “ate up”. This was, therefore, worse than the plague of lice. The lice annoyed, but the “divers sorts of flies” preyed upon their flesh.
The deeper meaning of this plague may be gathered from the nature of its effects, and also from the fact that the Israelites were exempted from it. This judgment had to do with the tormenting of the bodies of the Egyptians, thus looking forward to the eternal judgment of the lost, when their bodies shall be tormented forever and ever in the Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. In this the people of God will have no part.
5. The next plague is described in Exodus 9:1-7. This judgment was directed against the possessions of the Egyptians. A grievous disease smote their herds so that “all the cattle of Egypt died”. But once more Jehovah exempted His own people — “of the cattle of the children of Israel died not one” (9:6). This afforded a striking demonstration of the absolute rulership of God. He completely controls every creature He has made. Disease strikes only when and where He has decreed. The herds of the Egyptians might be dying all around them, but the cattle of Israel were as secure as though there had been no epidemic at all.
The spiritual meaning and application of this judgment is not difficult to perceive. The cattle are man’s servants. He harnesses them to do the hardest portion of his work. The destruction of all the “horses, asses, camels, oxen and sheep” of the Egyptians tells us that God will not accept the labors of the unregenerate — “the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Proverbs 21:4). This world and all its works will yet be burned up — destroyed as completely as were the beasts of Egypt. The sparing of the cattle of the Israelites intimates that the works of the new nature in the believer will “abide” (1 Corinthians 3:14).
(This study will continue in the next issue, D.V.)
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