How to Recognize the Finger of God
How to Recognize the Finger of God
By Brooke Holt
"The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, 'This is the finger of God.' But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said." Exodus 8:18-19 (“The Great ‘I AM’” Study Reading: Exodus 8:16-9:7)
Today, we read about rounds three through five of “God vs. gods”. Each of the next three plagues followed roughly the same storyline as the first two: Pharaoh refused to let the people go; Moses told him exactly what would happen; God visited a plague and discredited a local god. In each case, we see a new plot twist as the Lord continued revealing himself to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
For the third plague, Aaron touched his staff to the earth and turned all of the dust in the land into gnats. In Florida, we have tiny biting insects called "no-see-ums" which, as the name implies, one feels rather than sees. These bloodsucking little ninjas invade at dawn and dusk whenever we have warm, humid weather (so a lot of the year). Locals know to seek shelter inside or in the water during those hours, and the tourists usually figure it out pretty quickly. However, the Egyptians had no refuge and no relief. As we have learned, God did not work on a small scale, and scripture tells us the gnats covered every man and beast in Egypt.
Geb, the god of the earth, did nothing to demonstrate power or relieve the people. Thus, he faced quick elimination from the competition. The sorcerers attempted to conjure or call forth gnats (an effort that again confounds me), but they could not do so. For the first time, they conceded defeat and told Pharaoh “This is the finger of God”
(verse 19). They were starting to realize they could not, in fact, do anything God could do. Pharaoh, on the other hand, remained hard-hearted.
The Lord changed things up a little bit with the fourth plague. First of all, it did not require Aaron’s staff, but instead, Moses spoke it into existence. (This also holds true for the fifth plague – apparently Moses was not such a bad orator after all - when he let God work through him.) Second, the Lord spared the land of Goshen, where his people dwelt, from the onslaught of flies. While the Egyptians’ homes were infested, their livestock harassed, and their land decimated, Goshen and the Hebrews remained unaffected.
Once again, God’ made a rather pointed choice of creature. The Egyptian god of creation, Khepri, was depicted with the head of a fly. Yet when the swarms attacked this time, specifically targeting regions filled with followers, neither he nor the magicians even tried to intervene. While they forfeited the round immediately, Pharaoh remained proud and attempted to negotiate with God. He suggested an “alternate plan”. Here’s how the conversation plays out in my head:
Pharaoh: “Fine, your people can worship, as long as they do it locally. Can we get rid of the flies now?”
Moses: “If we worship here, the Egyptians will see it as an affront to their gods and attack us.” (Bear in mind, Egypt depended on the Hebrew slaves. Keeping them in town would not help if the locals injured or killed them.)
Pharaoh: “Okay, go into the wilderness, but don’t go far. Now, where are we on getting rid of the flies? “
Of course, as soon as God removed the flies, Pharaoh again changed his mind and refused to let the people go. This time the Lord told Pharaoh precisely when he would strike and how. And, right on cue, Moses called forth a plague to kill all of the Egyptian livestock in the fields. These animals played physically and spiritually critical roles in the lives of the people. Not only did they provide milk and meat for sustenance, but they helped plow the fields and haul the harvest. The people generally considered cattle sacred. Hathor, the goddess of love and protection, was depicted with the head of a cow. She might have loved her people, but she certainly did not protect them.
Meanwhile, God again spared the Hebrew people in Goshen. Not one of their animals died - a fact Pharaoh verified before plotting his next move. Despite all of God’s awesome works, despite the devastation of his realm and the suffering of his people, Pharaoh still refused to acknowledge the Lord’s sovereignty. He almost gave in a few times when things got really bad, but as soon as the crisis passed, he reverted to his stubborn ways. He also tried to negotiate a compromise, as if he and God were equals. And it wasn’t even a good compromise! Basically, he said, “You give me exactly what I want, and I will give you half of what you want”.
It is easy to judge Pharaoh, but I have responded to God in the same way more often than I care to admit. I have fought losing battles and suggested we co-pilot my life. I have missed or ignored his amazing work in the world around me. I have run to him in pain and then wandered away once it subsided. And I sometimes have to learn the same lesson over and over…and over and over. Thankfully, our God is patient and persistent. He will never give up on us or stop working to draw us closer to him. Reflection:
Have you ever hardened your heart like Pharaoh or turned away from God after a crisis ends? How is he drawing you closer to him today? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Want to learn more about the Book of Exodus? Check out "The Great 'I AM'" study written by Charlie and Brooke Holt below.Related Resource:
Come explore the grand story of God as the one who knows and loves his people. In one of the greatest love stories ever told, The Book of Exodus reveals God as Yahweh, the Great “I AM.” He is the transcendent, all-powerful creator of all things who defeated the greatest powers of the earth. This same God would have his people know and love him in an intimate and personal way. The Great “I AM” – A Study of the Book of Exodus is a 9-week study consisting of a small group study guide combined with weekly video teachings. Come and meet The Great “I AM”.
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