Let My People Go Series: “Separation From Judgment”

When Christians suffer greatly, they often ask, why Lord? When doubts assail, they may wonder is God allowing this to happen to me because He doesn’t have the power to change it; is it that He doesn’t love me unconditionally; or is He punishing me for something?

Many such thoughts might have crossed the minds of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. After all, 400 years of slavery were their lot in this world. As a deliver, Moses, came along, instead of deliverance he only brought more trouble on their heads as Pharaoh made their service in bondage even more severe. Then the plagues began and the first three affected not just the Egyptians, but the Hebrews as well. Their water was also turned to blood; they suffered with the plague of frogs as well as the pesky lice just as the Egyptians were suffering. So the questions about God’s care over them no doubt multiplied. Moreover, the Egyptians, and Pharaoh in particular, would themselves have cause to question things. If this God of the Hebrews was so good, why was He causing His own people to suffer? And an even bigger question, how does anyone know that these plagues are not just happenstance; events occurring very conveniently for Moses’ pronouncements of judgment, but nothing miraculous at all. After all if this God of the Hebrews was so powerful and these miraculous plagues were the work of His hands, then couldn’t He control the extent and impact of the plagues?

These are question by the way which we also have today. One man wrote a book “Why do bad things happen to good people”? The problem with that question is that the Bible says in Romans (Romans 3:12) “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” The proper question is why do good things happen to bad people? We find the answers regarding God’s power, and regarding His care and compassion on His people in the fourth plague which descended upon Egypt.

Turn to Exodus 8:20 as we continue in our study Let My People Go.
The Fourth Plague, Beetles Everywhere —Exodus 8:20-24
“And the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. {21} “Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand. {22} “And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the land. {23} “I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be.”‘ ” {24} And the LORD did so. Thick swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh, into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt. The land was corrupted because of the swarms of flies.”

So this fourth plague consisted of massive swarms of another insect variety, the last plague being lice – the translation here reads flies but … the better translation is beetle, the Hebrew word arob. We know from the text itself that this cannot be what we think of as a common house fly because they wouldn’t just afflict men or do damage to houses as well as the fruit in the field, as described here such that the land is corrupted and destroyed.

Historians tell us of a type of beetle in the Nile river valley which could appear suddenly in great numbers and that it inflicted very painful bites upon their victims, gnaw on and destroy clothing, furniture, leather articles of any kind as well as consume food stuffs or render those food stuffs inedible. They devastate the fields and actually are such a pestilence that they drive people out of their houses altogether. In other recorded histories we know of minor versions of this very plague – the plague of the beetle.

Now what is so ironically sarcastic is that the Egyptians worshipped the Beetle Idol – the scarab. Now who would worship a bug! Can you imagine choosing such an idol? The elders of the tribe sat around in deep contemplation some dark night, and they asked what should the idol be for our tribe to worship? Can you picture it? One elder suggests, “I propose the cockroach,” another suggests, “I proposes the lowly beetle.” I don’t get it, I guess you had to be there, either drinking whatever they were drinking that night, or inhaling whatever they were smoking. It is amazing to read what they believed regarding this beetle.

The Scarab is famous for collecting cow dung and rolling it into a large dung ball many times the size of the beetle itself. The bulletin masthead has a picture representing this act. I guess you could consider that as a notable feat, and preposterously they believed that this action of the beetle symbolized creation. The beetle collected dung and shaped it into the universe and little dung balls into human beings. A pretty stinky view of the human family I’d say.

One of those dung balls made was the sun and it is rolled out every dawn to travel across the sky, and it set in the evening. They wondered what happened between sunset and the next sunrise. So they invented a myth – rather than read God’s revelation – the Bible. Their explanation was that just as Scarab’s metamorphosis, transforming from below ground as a pupa and then springing forth as a fully formed beetle, so they believed every day the sun went through a similar transformation from pupa to fully formed sun springing as it appeared to them out of the ground each day at the rising of the sun. Quite a fantastical story.

The truth of God’s Word is far more appealing, yet many more adhere to the myths of our own day than the truth of God’s Word. The sun, they believed, had a death and resurrection every day, and so they placed their hope in a life after death, which would feature a similar resurrection of the dead every day. Interestingly that is why they began to mummify the remains of the dead.

The mummy was a human pupa like that of the Scarab. They mummified in the hopes that like the scarab it would metamorphose after burial and be resurrected to eternal life. Reading this is stranger than science fiction, but understanding this fits the pattern we have seen so far in these plagues. Each plague was designed by God to teach Pharaoh and the Egyptians that the idols they were worshiping were not gods at all, simply vain and foolish inventions of the minds of men; men who need to have a good dose of reality. That is exactly what each plague afforded them, a good dose of reality aimed to teach them that the God of the Hebrews was the one and only true God.

This Plague made the life of every Egyptian unbearably miserable. They could not kill the scarab because they were sacred. So they had to not only let them live, but avoid stepping on them as they covered the ground, or harming them as they sought to remove them from their clothing or from their hair. The scarabs infested everything – they ruined clothing, furniture, food, houses, everything. They no doubt drove the people and even Pharaoh to the point of distraction.

Cherelyn and I lived three years in central Florida where I was pastoring. Never having lived in such a mild climate there were somethings which caught my attention. Driving down the street one day I noticed a neighbor’s house that was covered in a gigantic balloon. You could not see the house inside. I asked someone about it – oh yeah they are fumigating by tenting the house. I know that people seal up their homes and set off chemical bombs inside to kill all the insects, but this was at a new level altogether.

The infestations would become so overwhelming that not just the interior need to be totally saturated, but even the exterior of the home itself had to be completely saturated in the insecticide. We also learned first hand about the flying cockroaches that they give the lovely name of palmetto bugs. No matter how clean your home, those critters will find their way inside.

I recall my first encounter with a palmetto bug while I was sitting reading the newspaper when one of those monsters flew right across the room and ran smack into the other side of the paper. I nearly jumped to the ceiling. So as you can understand, an infestation of bugs can be a horrifying nightmare. That’s what this fourth plague brought to every home and square inch of Egypt, except we see that here for the first time God ordained a separation, of His covenanted people. Although they had suffered along with the Egyptians in the first plague, the remaining seven plagues would not fall upon them.

In verse 23, the term used here is literally ‘redemption’ of His Covenanted people. The other four occurrences of this term in the Old Testament are all translated redemption. What a beautiful truth is conveyed herein. God has begun the redemption of His people. They did suffer in the first three but now the remaining plagues will not touch them, but moreover they will each prepare the Egyptians and Pharaoh to set forth the liberation and redemption of the children of Israel. So this plague answers the lingering question, which both the Hebrews and the Egyptians had. The distinction made between Israel and Egypt revealed that the source of the plagues, from which Israel was delivered, was the God of Israel. We see this principle reiterated again in the plague of hail which is yet to come. (Exodus 9:4) “And the LORD will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.”‘

We see Scripture teaching that God is all powerful. He can certainly bring judgment upon one group of people and at the same time in the same country protect those whom He chooses to protect. God did care for Israel if anyone was in doubt about that fact. God did have a covenant relationship which He made with Israel and would fulfill all that He promised. In a few moments we will look at just how that applies to us today, but before we do we need to examine Pharaoh’s response to this plague from the Lord.

The Offer of A Compromise—Exodus 8:25-32
Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.” {26} And Moses said, “It is not right to do so, for we would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God. If we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, then will they not stone us? {27} “We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He will command us.” {28} And Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Intercede for me.” {29} Then Moses said, “Indeed I am going out from you, and I will entreat the LORD, that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. But let Pharaoh not deal deceitfully anymore in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.” {30} So Moses went out from Pharaoh and entreated the LORD. {31} And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained. {32} But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.”

Trying to bargain with God is a fool’s errand. He commands complete surrender without any terms offered. Pharaoh’s offer might have been tempting to Moses. After all the art of diplomacy is compromise. Isn’t that the way to resolve difficult differences of position? Neither side should get everything that it wants. Let both sides yield some aspect of their position to the other side. Let the prudent and the moderate on each side seek a intermediate course between the two opposing positions and the result will be peace and contentment we are told are we not?

Certainly there are places and times for compromise but never when it comes to obeying the clear commands of the Lord God. Notice the reason for Moses’ uncompromising stance; 27} “We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He will command us.” And those commands were clear both to Moses and Pharaoh. Pharaoh hoped he could tempt Moses to yield on some lesser points in order to keep the Hebrews close at hand. We can see his deepest concern here is that he could lose his slave population if they were to travel too far away. If however they were within his empire, then he could easily capture them and return them to bondage.

When it comes to obedience and worship of the one True God compromise is not an option. When we compromise on foundational principles we only reveal that those so called principles were not our principles after all. This happens so often to those running for political office that it is almost a maxim. Someone who stands on supposed unshakable principles, eg. Prolife, when they are lured to run for higher offices, they soon compromise for they are told, “Your principles are very admirable, but if you really want to win the race you must come to the center, be a middle of the roader.” That’s odd don’t you think? For the only thing that I see regularly in the middle of the street is road kill.

Is there any temptation to compromise in your life today? If not, be prepared for it is one of Satan’s most effective tools against the saints. He knows that outright calls to wholesale rebellion against God will be quickly rejected, so he goes subtly, quietly, softly, just suggesting a small compromise here and there couldn’t possible do much harm. After all, we need to be reasonable, and we need to go along to get along. With subtle and smooth words he deceives many.

Years ago when Ralph Houk was manager of the New York Yankees, baseball schedules were even more demanding then they are today, with double headers nearly every week. Occasionally a player would get sick of the grind and approach Houk asking for permission to sit out a game. “I know how you feel,” the manager would say genially, “sure take the day off, but do me a favor. You’re in the starting lineup. Just play one inning, that’s all. Then skip the rest of the game.” The player would honor Houk’s request – and almost invariably get caught up in the spirit of the game and play it out to the end. Satan knows that usually he’s got us if he can entice us to take that first step; to make that one seemingly small compromise.

Moses rightly refused to compromise, and so he explained the problem with the offered compromise is that it won’t work. Pharaoh tried an offer of conducting their worship in Egypt, but Israelite worship was offensive to the Egyptians who worshipped the bull-god Apis and the cow-goddess Hathor and so on it would not work.

Furthermore, Moses had to leave the land in order to be obedient to Yahweh’s command. He knew that the Egyptian animal rights group would have a cow – if the Hebrews sacrificed animals which is what the True God required of them. Those same types of people inhabit our land today. I know I’ve heard rejection of the Bible by them because they couldn’t imagine that the god they invented in their own futile minds would ever command the killing of any animal.

Moses knew that the ensuing riots would result in the murder of the Hebrews – and it would be murder. You see the death penalty in Egypt was never by stoning, so this would mean a mob action would arise to conduct an extra judicial killing, in other words murder. And Moses was not exaggerating at all. So many animals were held sacred in Egypt that if they held the great worship feast that God was calling for anywhere in Egypt they could not avoid deeply offending the people in the extreme. A number of years later one historian, Diodorus Sicula i.83, records that a Roman ambassador to Egypt was murdered by a mob because he accidentally killed a cat – one of those sacred animals. There was no trial. The people in mass simply dragged him out and murdered him in a wild frenzy. These folks have one up on the animal rights activists of our day.

Now lets’ step back to see how this work of God to separate and redeem His covenanted people applies to us. When we consider the judgment that is poised to fall upon America – will true Christians be spared the suffering involved? Well God could separate us entirely from that suffering or He might have us share in a portion of it. If so we can be sure of one thing. What Israel learned, Job already knew—Job 1:10-12 Satan speaking to God regarding Job said, “Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. {11} “But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” {12} And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Satan is whining, he sees that Job is protected by a hedge from any harm that could befall him. God protects and blesses His covenanted saints, and we see here that God always limits Satan. In this trial the Lord does not try to destroy Job’s faith but rather to prove that his faith is real and sufficient. This is no cruel experiment. God planned that the sufferings of Job would:
(1) develop Job’s faith (cf. 42:1-6);
(2) lead to increased blessing for Job (cf. 42:10-16); and
(3) benefit countless other sufferers through the centuries who would read the book of Job. Thus, in any situation, Satan may be seeking to work his evil designs, while God is at work bringing about good for those who love Him (1 Chr. 21:1, note; Rom. 8:28).

The judgment which fell on the land of Egypt was deserved for their oppression and murder of the people of God. The lessons we learn in our own suffering is that trouble can only come upon us by God’s express permission – nothing can or will come into your life today, tomorrow or the rest of your days on earth without God determining beforehand that is ultimately for your best.

We must live separate from the world—Romans 12:2 we can only do that by having a transformed mind. (Romans 12:2) “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Not by removal from the world such as in retreating to a monastery. No Jesus prayed in John 17: (John 17:15-18) “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. {16} “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. {17} “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. {18} “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

As disciples we are in this world, but we do not belong to the world. For this reason we are prey to persecution. The “evil one” is a reference to Satan. Verse 17 links sanctification with truth, i.e., with the word of God. Jesus prays that His disciples be “sanctified” (“set apart,” “consecrated”) through the agency of the Word of God. So it is clear that the only way we can be set apart from the world, that is be in the world but not of the world is to be immersed in the Word of God to such an extent that our thinking, our world view is conformed to God’s Word in every way.

We must learn to think God’s thoughts after Him. We are warned against this evil world system which is called Babylon in Revelation. Come out from her—Revelation 18:4 (Revelation 18:4) And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” I like how Vance Havner put it, “We are not to be isolated but insulated, moving in the midst of evil but untouched by it.” The separation we see Scripture calling us to is perfectly illustrated in the life of our Lord and Savior. Separation does not mean no contact with the contaminated. No it is not a medical quarantine. Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners in that He never sinned in word, thought or deed as Hebrews 7:26 tells us. Yet in His separation he was called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34)

O to be like our savior, able to reach down to the uttermost sinner with the saving grace of salvation yet remain untainted, unchanged by all such contact. That is possible or our Lord would never call us to that standard. It is only feasible when we are immersed in the Word of God and filled by the Holy Spirit such that we walk day by day and moment by moment in the Spirit.