The fourth plague starts the second cycle of three. Again Moses is directed to go down to Pharaoh at the Nile (where Pharaoh is probably back worshiping his own already-defeated gods); again Moses rises up early in the morning. However, there is a textual difference starting in this plague: the Lord makes a difference between the Egyptians and the Israelites (Enns). Literally, the text of verse 23 says that the Lord will set a redemption between my people and your people. This has to do with election. Just as God set a distinction between Egypt and Israel, so also He now sets a distinction between those who are in Christ and those who are not. The distinction now is based on Jesus Christ’s redemptive work, in which we now have the fulness of spiritual redemption, whereas the OT redemption referred to here is a physical redemption that points to the more important spiritual redemption in Christ (proleptically enjoyed by OT believers).
There are two possibilities for Egyptian gods against whom this plague might be directed (and the plague could actually be directed at more than one god). The first is Kheprer, whose emblem is pictured at the beginning of this blog. This interpretation sees the insect as a scarab (a flying, biting beetle), which was Kheprer’s symbol. Kheprer was the god of resurrection in ancient Egypt. Ryken explains (quoting Barnhouse in the process) that scarabs cleaned up dung from various places in temples, etc. They would form the dung into round balls, which would then be rolled back into their holes. From this, the Egyptians inferred that a giant beetle rolled the sun back into its hole. Thus the scarab became an emblem of the sun, and of the resurrection that the sun enjoyed every day. Kheprer was this god, depicted as a beetle. The other possibility is more simple. The Egyptians also worshiped the god who took care of the fly population: Beelzebub. Enns thinks that this is less likely. However, Ryken notes that the Egyptians did actually worship this god. The territory of these two gods probably overlapped somewhat. Therefore, it is possible that God is attacking and defeating both these gods.
Pharaoh now knows that his magicians are defeated: he does not even call for them! Instead, he starts to rely on his own cunning (Currid). He wants to soften the Lord’s (the law’s) demands, making a bargain with Moses and with the Lord. The fine print of this deal vitiates the whole purpose of what the Lord had given to Moses. Sacrificing within the land was a compromise that could not be, since the Israelites would be sacrificing animals which were sacred to the Egyptians. As Ryken puts it, “sacrificing bulls among the
Egyptians would be like holding a pig roast at a synagogue or cooking burgers in front of a Hindu temple” (pg. 255). In other words, there would be riots and lynching of the Israelites, if they were to accept this compromise. Moses, in effect, is saying that the riots would then be Pharaoh’s fault.
The last part of verse 28 is rich: Pharaoh has been wanting compromise, such that he is still in control of the situation, and then has the audacity to try to “cover all his bases” by asking Moses to pray for him! After doing everything in his power to humiliate the God of Israel, he then asks Moses to pray for him!
Notice that the ending of this plague is just as miraculous as the instigation of it: at the beginning of the plague, not only were there a supernatural number of flies (or perhaps scarabs; we are not quite sure what kind of flying insect it was), but there was a separation: none were in Goshen. Then, at the end of the plague, the Lord simply removed them. Period. “Not one remained” (vs. 31).