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Moses plague of gnats on Egyptians - Artist Unknown

After Pharaoh went back on his word and refused to release the Israelites from slavery, God 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.”

Moses plague of gnats on Egyptians - Artist UnknownThey did this and when Aaron stretched out his hand with the staff and struck the dust of the ground, gnats came on all the people and animals. All the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats. When the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. The gnats were on people and animals everywhere. The magicians said to Pharaoh,

“This is truly the finger of God.”

But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he would not listen, just as the Lord had said.

What the story means to us today

An unannounced plague – Pharaoh has no choice in the matter – God will have the final word

Unlike the prior plagues, the plague of gnats is unannounced. Pharaoh is not given an opportunity to concede nor is he offered reprieve afterward. This is only the fourth plague of ten and already Pharaoh’s magicians cannot duplicate Moses’ feat. God is in control here.

The plagues are becoming harsher and their complexity makes it clear that they are works of God and not random chance. Pharaoh’s stubbornness is stunning but given his status as a “god” to the Egyptian people, it is understandable how difficult it would be for him to relent. Still, God’s will is to release the Israelites from slavery and his will is the final word.

Additional thoughts and considerations

All dust in Egypt turned into gnats

The verses tell us that “all the dust throughout the land of Egypt became gnats”. Certainly not every speck of dust was turned into gnats. This is likely hyperbole, an exaggeration intended to stress the size of the event. It would be similar to an exaggeration like “I must have told him a million times to…”

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Why didn’t God announce this plague to Pharaoh?

Moses plague of gnats on Egyptians - Artist UnknownPharaoh was given no warning, no offer of recourse before being struck by the plague of gnats. This may be because of the previous plague where Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites then reneged on his promise when God provided relief from the plague of frogs. This plague is as much about punishment is it is about pressure to comply.

Notes on Biblical translation

The dust will become “gnats”

The type of insect God plagued Egypt with is not clear. The original Hebrew word for “gnats” could also be translated as lice, ticks, flies, fleas, or mosquitoes – any type of small, annoying, biting insect.

Bible Text

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, 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.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

8:16  The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Extend your staff and strike the dust of the ground, and it will become gnats throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ” 8:17 They did so; Aaron extended his hand with his staff, he struck the dust of the ground, and it became gnats on people and on animals. All the dust of the ground became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt. 8:18 When the magicians attempted to bring forth gnats by their secret arts, they could not. So there were gnats on people and on animals. 8:19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, “It is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had predicted.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

Moses plague of gnats on Egyptians - Artist UnknownNew King James Version

16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your rod, and strike the dust of the land, so that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so. For Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast. All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

18 Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

16 GOD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and strike the dust. The dust will turn into gnats all over Egypt.’ ”

17 He did it. Aaron grabbed his staff and struck the dust of the Earth; it turned into gnats, gnats all over people and animals. All the dust of the Earth turned into gnats, gnats everywhere in Egypt.

18 The magicians tried to produce gnats with their incantations but this time they couldn’t do it. There were gnats everywhere, all over people and animals.

19 The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is God’s doing.” But Pharaoh was stubborn and wouldn’t listen. Just as GOD had said.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 17 And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 18 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. 19 Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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