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Distinctive

The Gospel According to Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  45:38
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Scholars and skeptics have done a lot of work over the years to rationally explain the plagues God visited on Egypt; the attempt is to explain-away the divine aspect of the blood and frogs, gnats and flies, livestock and boils, hail and locust, darkness and death.
In the case of the two plagues we’re looking at this morning—gnats and flies—some suggest that the gnats and flies came from the maggots brooding in the piles of the rotting frogs leftover from plague #2. As wonderfully disgusting as that is, we know that’s not the case.
Others say the gnats/flies were really mosquitoes caused by seasonal Egyptian flooding in the late autumn months.
“What’s more,” they say, “the number of mosquitoes would have been especially great because there were no frogs to keep them in check.”
True, all the frogs croaked, but that doesn’t account for the plagues of gnats and flies. These explanations for the plagues simply ignore the plain reading of the Bible. God brought the plagues upon the people of Egypt with a word, saying: “The dust will become gnats,” and “I will send swarms of flies on you and your people.”
It’s no big wonder or surprise when people ignore what the Bible has to say; nor should it shock us when people neglect to see the distinctiveness of our God.
>Our God is distinctive.
That is, our God is to be distinguished from all other gods. Who God is and what God does is characteristic of Him and Him alone.
Our God is not common.
He cannot be explained away.
He is set apart—by His deeds, His character, His power, His being.
As we look at Exodus 8 this morning, we will see several points of distinction, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear:
- Our distinctive God and His distinctive miracles
- A distinctive people and their distinctive purpose
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn to Exodus 8 and follow along as we read from God’s Holy Word.
Exodus 8:16-18
Exodus 8:16–18 NIV
16 Then 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.” 17 They did this, and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. 18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere,

Distinctive Miracle, Distinctive God

It’s pretty incredible. Aaron takes the staff of God and strikes the ground with it, and boom: all the dust in the desert turns to gnats.
Can you even imagine?
In modern Hebrew, the word for this insect means “lice,” which is the way the KJV translates it. Some think, based on the behavior of these insects—that they came on the people and animals—that these must be mosquitoes or lice, rather than gnats.
An early writer name Philo of Alexandria described these insects as creeping up people’s noses and into the ears. Whatever they were, they were nagging, annoying pests that swarmed all over Egypt, bothering every living, breathing Egyptian person and animal.
Like the other 9 plagues/disasters that befell the Egyptians, the plague of gnats (bugs) was a gen-u-ine, bon-a-fide miracle.
A miracle is a direct act of divine intervention in which God overrules His creation to display His glory. A miracle is, by nature, supernatural—above nature, outside the natural order.
Each plague with which the Lord strikes Egypt is a gen-u-ine miracle.
Unlike the previous two miracles, the magicians couldn’t produce gnats by their secret arts.
Pharaoh’s magicians were, by whatever power or trickery, able to reproduce the water turning to blood and bringing frogs on the land (i.e. making things worse on themselves). They had no power or mastery over the water or the frogs; they couldn’t make the blood turn back into water or make the frogs go away. They were counterfeiters, that’s all.
But here, they were unable to recreate or mimic any part of this miracle.
The all-powerful Lord is, on the other hand, demonstrating His power over all creation: over water, earth, and sky.
He is the Lord of all creation. And He will, here in the plagues and elsewhere, disrupt the natural order.
It’s almost as if God is un-creating the world He made…at least in Egypt.
Dr. John Currid writes about the parallels between these plagues and the days of creation:
“When God created the world, He separated light from the darkness (Day 1; Gen. 1:1–5); but in the ninth plague light was blotted out (Exod. 10:21–29).
When God created the world, He gathered the water into one place (Day 2; Gen. 1:6–8); but in the first plague the water was turned to blood (Exod. 7:15–25).
When God created the world, He made vegetation grow on the land (Day 3; Gen. 1:9–13); but in the seventh and eighth plagues he destroyed Egypt’s crops (Exod. 9:18–10:20).
When God created the world, He put two great lights in the heavens (Day 4; Gen. 1:14–19); but with the ninth plague, the sun ceased to shine (Exod. 10:21–29).
When God created the world, He made the waters swarm with creatures of the sea (Day 5; Gen. 1:20–23); but the first and second plagues ended with the death of fish and frogs (Exod. 7:15–8:15).
When God created the world, He made land animals and people (Day 6; Gen. 1:24–31); but the third through sixth plagues afflicted both man and beast with pestilence and disease (Exod. 8:16–9:17), until God finally killed every first-born son in Egypt (Exod. 11–12).”
God is “de-creating Egypt.” He is bringing chaos out of order. And by doing this, God is making a direct assault on the Egyptians and their gods.
The Egyptian people believed that Pharaoh had the power to maintain cosmic order. They called this cosmic order: ma’at. This was the universal equilibrium, the “cosmic force of harmony, order, stability, security.”
And it was Pharaoh’s responsibility to maintain ma’at by controlling the climate, regulating the seasons, preserving order in the world.
By striking them with plagues, God was confronting the Egyptians’ basic beliefs about order and balance in the universe.
“Dust just turned into gnats, you guys?!?!?”
Pharaoh could not be the true God because he was unable to maintain ma’at (balance and equilibrium) in the world.
Only the God of Israel has the power to control chaos in the cosmos.
God turns the tables on Pharaoh and his followers. They’re in the upside down. Everything they once knew is turned on its head.
Beg’s the question: What’s your foundation?
What’s the source of your equilibrium? Where do you find your security?
Some people base their sense of security on their jobs or their financial well-being. Others depend on their intelligence or likability.
But, in the day of disaster, when chaos reigns, none of these things will be able to hold our world together.
What happens when the markets crash? I was working in the financial industry in 2008 when everything came crashing down. I had meeting after meeting with once-wealthy people who lost 60, 70, 80% of their assets. What had steadied them was ripped out from under their feet.
What happens then? What happens when downsizing takes your job? What happens when she files for divorce or when you end up in the hospital and are given a terminal diagnosis?
When our world gets turned upside down, we discover pretty quickly that our abilities and possessions and gods cannot save us.
It’s no fun when this happens, but it’s an absolutely crucial moment in the journey of faith. I love that Pharaoh’s magicians realize they can’t replicate this miracle; that they come to the realization that Pharaoh isn’t the one who holds everything together.
The upside down is the best thing for us; it helps us to look to the One who controls all this.
It reminds us to build our house on the rock so that when the rain comes down and the streams rise and the winds blow and beat against our house, it will not fall because it has its foundation on the rock.
Exodus 8:18-19
Exodus 8:18–19 NIV
18 But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. Since the gnats were on people and animals everywhere, 19 the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hard and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

Distinctive Miracle, Distinctive God

The magicians who could mimic and duplicate what the Lord had done in the first two plagues (either by demonic force or clever trickery) are now unable to do what the Lord has done. No gnats appear at their bidding.
Imagine them trying, though! Just smacking the ground with their staffs, over and over, all the while covered with bugs, head to toe.
To their credit, Pharaoh’s magicians realize they are dealing with a higher power—"This is the finger of God,” they say.
“This is the finger of God.”
This is an admission that what’s going on here is divine; it’s above them. It’s nothing they could even fake.
But this isn’t a declaration of faith in the Lord. All these magicians are saying is that this is the doing of some supreme being.
They don’t say “Lord” (Yahweh); they say “God” (Elohim).
They use a general name for God, not the personal name of the Lord Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews.
They miss His distinctiveness.
You see, it’s not enough to say you believe in God. What matters is what you say about Jesus.
Many people believe in “God”. In fact, if the surveys are correct, most people believe in “God.” Many people would argue that we all—whether Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish—all believe in the same “God”. Wrong. What matters is what one says about Jesus.
Many acknowledge the existence of a Creator. They confess their need for a “Higher Power” in AA meetings and Boy Scouts. They speak about “the Man Upstairs” or the “Big Guy in the sky”. When there is a natural disaster, they refer to it as “an act of God”. They often use God’s name when they curse.
But they miss out on His distinctiveness. They can never quite bring themselves to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
A general belief in whatever conception of “God” you might have is not sufficient; it is personal faith in Jesus Christ as the true God and only Savior.
Romans 10:9–10 NIV
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Pharaoh’s magicians fall short of saving faith. They haven’t put their faith in the Lord; they’ve merely identified that some God caused this to happen.
They’ve missed what makes the Lord Yahweh truly distinctive.
And Pharaoh, well, Pharaoh does just as the Lord said he would. He, hard-hearted as he is, refuses to listen to the Lord or pay attention to His distinctiveness. He would and will pay the Lord the attention He deserves once he realizes who He is, how distinct He is.
Exodus 8:20-24
Exodus 8:20–24 NIV
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them. 22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ” 24 And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.

Distinctive People, Distinctive Purpose

P.G. Ryken writes: “In the end, Pharaoh was defeated by mighty forces like darkness and death. But long before the sky turned black over Egypt and the angel of death snatched his firstborn son, it was the little things that got to Pharaoh.”
Gnats and flies would be a nuisance, to be sure. We had just a handful of flies in our house this summer, and it seems like they were there all summer; they just moved in. I even named a few of them. Couldn’t seem to get rid of them or get them with my flyswatter, so I just leaned-into it.
A handful of flies is annoying. I can’t imagine the house being filled with flies—flies everywhere to the point you couldn’t eat without getting a mouthful of flies; you couldn’t sleep or work or be. I can’t imagine...
And yet, this is the work of the Lord.
C.H. Spurgeon: “When it pleases God by His judgments to humble men, He is never at a loss for means: He can use lions or lice, famines or flies. In the armory of God, there are weapons of every kind, from the stars in their courses down to caterpillars in their hosts.”
God is visiting Egypt with these plagues for a few purposes. We could list several. But let’s just list the big two: He is doing this for His glory and for the good of His people.
He will have His people set free from slavery so that they will be free to worship Him.
Exodus 8:20 NIV
20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
Notice how often the Lord says, through Moses to Pharaoh, the words “MY PEOPLE”—verse 20 and 21 and 22 and 23—
“Let my people go…if you do not let my people go…where my people live…I will make a distinction between my people and your people...”
My people.
It’s not right for Pharaoh to keep the Israelites in cruel bondage, forcing them to make heavy bricks under the hot, dry sun. They were not Pharaoh’s people—they were God’s people, and what God demanded was nothing less than their unconditional release.
The grand purpose of the Exodus is God saving His people for His glory.

Distinctive People, Distinctive Purpose

So the Lord says to Pharaoh:
Exodus 8:23 NIV
23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ”
God’s people will be saved because God has the power to save—to save His people in Egypt from the plague of flies (and every other plague), and to save His people in every age from sin and death.
In Egypt, God worked miraculously, showing His power over even flying insects—dense swarms of dense flies do the bidding of their Creator who says to them: “Go this far, and no further.”
Flies and other insects don’t have the mental capacity to discriminate. They don’t think about who they are going to bite or bug; they certainly can’t tell one nationality from another or one boundary from the next.
So when the flies/gnats/mosquitoes/lice/whatever bother only the Egyptians where the Egyptians live without bothering the Israelites where they live (in Goshen), the Egyptians and the Israelites would be able to recognize that something crazy, something crazy-miraculous is happening here.
God is making a distinction between those who are His people and those who are not: “I will make a distinction between my people and thy people.”
As in Egypt, God works miraculously in Christ Jesus, showing His power over sin and death; His power to save His people from sin and sickness and death.
Jesus is the dividing line. He is the line in the sand, so to speak. Those who belong to Jesus are safe and secure from all alarms. People are separated based on their relationship with Jesus—sheep and goats, saved and lost, the redeemed washed by His blood and those who will perish while attempting to save themselves.
When the Lord said in Egypt that He was going to make a distinction between His people and Pharaoh’s people, this was not a one-time thing. This is an all-the-time move on God’s part.
The Lord always has a people for Himself. A distinctive people. He tells Pharaoh: “I’ll make a sharp distinction between your people and mine.”
So it was then. And so it is today.
God will protect His people
He does so in Egypt, protecting them from the devastating plagues. He will bring them through, under the blood of a lamb; they will pass through on dry land to the other side, watching the Lord vanquish their foe.
As in Egypt, God will protect His people under the blood of Jesus; the Lamb of God who takes away sin and absorbs wrath will lead us through, safely to the other side as we watch the Lord our God vanquish our foe.
Jared Wilson, one of my favorite authors and preachers, says this: “If you are eternally united to Christ, you are as secure as Christ is. How secure do you think Christ is?
In Christ, we are a distinctive people. We belong to Him. He says, “They are MY people! Got it?”
When God says, “Mine!”, He means it. He will not let what is His be taken from Him or used for any reason other than His intended purpose.
What is it about the Israelites that secures their salvation?
This is a difficult question because the Israelites are a bunch of scumbags; they’re no better than the Egyptians.
They were slow to believe God’s plan for their release.
At the first sign of difficulty, they blame Moses for all their troubles.
As we continue through the book, we will see that the Israelites are a divisive, rebellious, idolatrous, stupid people who deserved to be judged every bit as much as the Egyptians.
So why does God save them?
Exodus 2:24–25 NIV
24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
They were not someone else’s property, but God’s very own people. The covenant He made with this people He chose out of all the peoples on the face of the earth is the guarantee of salvation.
God is saving His people because He promised them He would.
The Church—those who belong to Jesus—make up the new Israel. Those who belong to Jesus are saved; redemption is found in Jesus Christ and nowhere else.
When Jesus died on the cross, it was the greatest exodus of all.
God took a people who were in such bondage and slavery to sin that they were completely unable to deliver themselves. They were as hopeless and as helpless as the Israelites.
But God did for them what He did for Israel: He made a distinction and redeemed them. He sent a Redeemer to rescue them from their slavery by paying their ransom with His very own blood.
The cross of Jesus Christ draws a distinction between those who are God’s people and those who are not.
God’s people are those who put heir trust in Christ and in His cross.
Anyone—anyone—who does not believe in Jesus Christ remains outside the people of God.

Distinctive People, Distinctive Purpose

Exodus 8:25-32
Exodus 8:25–32 NIV
25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” 26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.” 28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.” 29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.” 30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

Distinctive People, Distinctive Purpose

This people whom God has set apart for Himself, this distinctive people has a distinctive purpose: worship of the one true and living God.
Even Pharaoh knows what Moses and his people are meant to do: worship the Lord, offer sacrifices to God.
Six times in these few verses, we read the word sacrifice.
Pharaoh attempts to bargain with Moses. Pharaoh knows that worship and offering sacrifices is the reason the Lord is demanding His peoples’ release.
Over and over, the Lord has said through Moses and Aaron: “Let my people go so that they may worship me.”
So Pharaoh negotiates. He puts out there what seems to be a reasonable compromise: the Israelites will be allowed to offer their sacrifices right there in Egypt.
Most people would have taken the offer. “That might be the best we get.”
But Moses knew that the Lord demanded complete obedience, not obedience with a little compromise.
Moses stands his ground, telling Pharaoh that it would not be right for them to stay in Egypt.
Pharaoh has no intention of letting the Israelites go. Even when he is finally compelled to let them go after all 10 plagues, still he sends his army after them.
Pharaoh isn’t playing ball with Moses; he just wants rid of the flies. “Pray for me.”
Of course, Pharaoh is dealing deceptively. Moses prays. The flies leaveanother miracle: not a fly remained.
And, once again, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let the people go to do what they are meant to do: worship the Lord.
This is their (and our) distinct purpose: worship, sacrifice, obedience.
1 Peter 2:9 NIV
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
We are His people—a distinctive people belonging to a distinctive God who works in distinctive ways.
And we are to worship distinctively; that is, to worship Him and Him alone; to worship Him with heart, soul, mind, and strength—and this, for all our days.
>Our God draws a careful distinction between His people and those who are not His people: the dividing line is His Son, Jesus Christ.
There is faith and then there is unbelief.
There is born-again and then there is hard-hearted.
There is the redeemed and then there is the damned.
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