20The Lord said to Moses:
Early tomorrow morning, while the king is on his way to the river, go and say to him, “The Lord commands you to let his people go, so they can worship him. 21If you don't, he will send swarms of flies to attack you, your officials, and every citizen of your country. Your houses will be full of flies, and the ground will crawl with them.
22-23“The Lord's people in Goshen won't be bothered by flies, but your people in the rest of the country will be tormented by them. That's how you will know that the Lord is here in Egypt. This miracle will happen tomorrow.”
24The Lord kept his promise—the palace and the homes of the royal officials swarmed with flies, and the rest of the country was infested with them as well. 25Then the king sent for Moses and Aaron and told them, “Go ahead and sacrifice to your God, but stay here in Egypt.”
26“That's impossible!” Moses replied. “Any sacrifices we offer to the Lord our God would disgust the Egyptians, and they would stone us to death. 27No indeed! The Lord has ordered us to walk three days into the desert before offering sacrifices to him, and that's what we have to do.”
28Then the king told him, “I'll let you go into the desert to offer sacrifices, if you don't go very far. But in the meantime, pray for me.”
29“Your Majesty,” Moses replied, “I'll pray for you as soon as I leave, and by tomorrow the flies will stop bothering you, your officials, and the citizens of your country. Only make sure that you're telling the truth this time and that you really intend to let our people offer sacrifices to the Lord.”
30After leaving the palace, Moses prayed, 31and the Lord answered his prayer. Not a fly was left to pester the king, his officials, or anyone else in Egypt. 32But the king turned stubborn again and would not let the people go.
A pattern emerges as the fourth plague is released by God. We see a symmetrical, unfolding scheme. The first nine plagues are a series of three plagues each. The first is announced by Moses at the Nile, the second by Moses at the palace and the third without warning. The final one is the climax of all that came before, “I am the Lord, and I will punish the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12b). As the swarms of flies are released into Egypt, God makes a distinction between his people and the Egyptians. He does this with other plagues as well (9:4,6; 9:26; 10:23; 11:7) but this is our first encounter with the distinct preservation of his people. They are not treated like those who are not serving him.
Doesn’t the rain fall on the good and the evil? Don’t good people suffer while evildoers thrive? These are not the issues posed in the preservation of God’s people from the Egyptian plagues. He is dealing directly with Pharaoh and his people who do not recognize him as the unique sovereign God of the universe. He undoes creation before their eyes so they will recognize him as the Creator. He unravels their allegiances specifically and authoritatively. Some Egyptians do perhaps acknowledge the God of Israel through this display of power when they left Egypt with the Hebrews (Exodus 12:38).
God’s preservation of his people is a vivid reminder that he is a covenant-keeper. In spite of their subjugation, many Hebrews may have become comfortably complacent in Goshen. God’s judgment was reminder to them of God’s calling for their lives. Their exemption from the calamities in Egypt affirmed their status as being set apart for God’s purposes and an emphatic display of his character. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we are children of Israel’s God.
Faithful Father, you are the God who patiently protects us. You never change and you never lie. Thank you for setting us apart to serve you. Help us to be obedient children so that others may see your love and follow you. In the name of our Saviour Jesus, Amen.