Exodus 8:17-19 (English Standard Version)
(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The LORD instructed Moses and Aaron to go into the royal presence of Pharaoh with this demand, “The LORD God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, ‘Let My people go that they may serve Me in the wilderness….” (Exodus 7:16). “Let My people go…,” for they had been in slavery to the Egyptians for hundreds of years! Now God was going to free them, delivering them from Egypt and leading the Israelites to the Promised Land! But Pharaoh’s heart became more and more hard, resulting in ten plagues sent by God to crush the rebellious king of Egypt and his people! Our featured Scripture is Exodus 8:17 through 19 (English Standard Version), describing the third plague – gnats upon man and beast!
...Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magi- cians 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.
The first two plagues, water turned to blood, and frogs overrunning the land, were amazing, but pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate them by their incantations. Starting with this plague, they no longer could! They had to admit, “This is the finger of God…”!
What I am about to share in the next two Gems is from a booklet entitled The Finger of God, written by Stan Key, president of the Francis Asbury Society, and used with the author’s permission. (See http://www.francisasburysociety.com/the-finger-of-god/).
I grew up in South Georgia and know something about the torment caused by gnats. Oh, my! It’s terrible when those nasty little vermin get in your ears, eyes,
mouth, hair, food and bed. They keep buzzing and you keep swatting — but it’s
useless. There is no escape, no place to hide from their annoying presence.
The book of Exodus tells us that the third plague that the Lord God sent on Egypt was an invasion of Gnats. Not just thousands of them, as in Georgia, but gazillions! Thick as pea soup and scattered all across the land, it must have been horrific. The Spanish Inquisition could not have devised a more terrible form of torture. Day and night, indoors and outdoors, walking and sleeping, the gnats were everywhere. The pagan magicians in Pharaoh’s palace realized that this calamity was evidence of a deity that was bigger and more powerful than any spiritual presence they had yet encountered. “This is the finger of God,” they concluded.
The gnats bore witness to what His “finger” could do. Imagine what would happen if He used His whole hand! Or His entire arm! These unbelievers had never even noticed when God displayed His presence through the beauties of creation or the blessings of life. But when He sent the gnats; well, it certainly got their attention.
A plague of gnats is perhaps not the best analogy for trying to understand what God may be up to in the current global pandemic. However, it is a good way to be reminded of the spiritual opportunity contained in the international crisis our world is facing. Like the Egyptians three millennia ago, we find ourselves confronted by a situation that is not only painful but inexplicable. Never in my lifetime have more people been asking more profoundly spiritual questions: How did this happen? What is the meaning of all this? When will it end? Where is God? And perhaps most importantly: Who is behind this? Who is responsible? Who is to blame? Ironically, the pagan magicians in Pharaoh’s palace had no doubt at all about how to answer these questions: This is the finger of God!
I’m weary of hearing pastors and church leaders go to great lengths to offer theological explanations why the coronavirus plague is not caused by God. Their point, of course, is to reassure people that the God of the Christians is not hateful and vindictive, but rather good and loving. I can appreciate that. But often as I listen, it sounds like they are trying to protect God’s reputation, almost as if they are apologizing for the way He is running the world. They give the impression that the God we worship is not really in charge of things on Planet Earth, as if this whole pandemic caught Him by surprise and He too is trying to figure out how to respond to the crisis. They create an image in my mind of the throne-room of heaven, where God is wringing His hands lamenting, “Dear me! What are we going to do?”
I, for one, am holding God fully responsible for what is happening in our world today. But please hear me: I’m not blaming Him; I’m holding Him responsible. The distinction is important. The God of the Bible is not the author of evil, but He is sovereign. Nothing happens on this planet without first passing through the filters of His permissive will. He is not the cause of evil, but He does permit its presence in our world.
Before Satan could torment Job with affliction, pain, and loss, he had to first get God’s permission (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). Satan was the cause of the evil things that happened to Job, but the Lord God is the One who consented that it would be so. Satan was to blame; God was responsible.
I know that in a culture where political correctness tends to dominate the conver-sation, this kind of talk makes people nervous. We feel the need to protect God’s reputation and say only those things that preserve His identity as a doting parent whose only concern is that we have a nice day. It is time for us to get over our neurotic obsession of trying to make God appear more palatable and get back to the vocabulary of the Bible:
- “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? ” (Amos 3:6).
- “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? ” (Lamentations 3:38).
- “Come, behold the works of the Lord, how He has brought desolations on the earth.” (Psalm 46:8).
- “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7).
God is the ultimate cause of the evil and suffering that is in the world. He is sovereign over all, and nothing happens without His permission. But He is not the direct cause. Evil is the work of Satan and his minions.
Perhaps an illustration will help. Suppose I told you that I have a new theory about who is responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001. Suppose I told you that Osama Ben Laden and the group of terrorists who flew those planes are not the real culprits. Rather, the ones truly responsible are Orville and Wilbur Wright! Yes, just think about it. If the Wright Brothers hadn’t invented the airplane and thus created the possibility of flight, the tragedy of 9/11 never would have happened. I like this illustration because we can easily see that the Wright Brothers are, in one sense, responsible, but none of us would blame them for the deed.
When it comes to dealing with the crisis provoked by COVID-19, we need to think clearly. We must be very careful how we use language in describing a tragic event lest we create confusion in the minds of our listeners. The stakes are too high for us to be fuzzy in our thinking or unclear in our vocabulary. When it comes to the current crisis, I simply want to join the Egyptian magicians in affirming the obvious: This is the finger of God. I am not blaming Him for the suffering; but I am holding Him squarely responsible!
…to be continued in the next Gem.