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and Why the Stinging Flies did not Reach Goshen

Tissot_The_Plague_of_Flies Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaohs heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.  Exodus viii. 19.

IT has been justly considered to be one of the most striking of the circumstances connected with Israels deliverance from Egypt, that, after three miracles had been performed, and the magicians had been able to imitate first one and then another of them, there should come a plague, apparently of a less important and weighty character than the others, and that then the power of the magicians should entirely fail.

If the magicians could produce serpents, why could they not produce lice? May we not regard it as a manifestation of the Divine Omnipotence saying, Thus far shall you go and no farther. It intimated that it was by divine permission and mercy alone, and for gracious ends of highest good, that anything could be done by these magicians.

Providence ordains what is good, and permits what is evil when evil can be made subservient to good. When the magicians produced serpents, turned water into blood, and brought frogs, they were permitted for wise ends; when they were not permitted, they could not produce the meanest insect.

It is a fact no doubt, affecting all things, that no evils can be permitted at any time, except by the Divine Mercy, and that whenever Omnipotence chooses to interfere, whenever Divine Wisdom sees that no good would come out of even the slightest evils, then they are not suffered to exist at all, however minute or poor they may be, even like these wretched and troublesome insects. Evil men do not think so; when their schemes are prospering, they are elated and insolent. They imagine that God does not observe them, or, that they are defeating His gracious laws. Like Nebuchadnezzar, one day they defy the God of heaven; like him, in the morning they awake when the divine action comes, to find their schemes shattered, their helpers prostrate, dispersed, or dead. Even the wicked are made at length to confess that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men.

But there are reasons, still deeper and broader, why the Divine Omnipotence should single out this especial miracle as one that could only be done by Himself. We shall perceive the divine wisdom in this circumstance, if we notice, first, that the dust of Egypt was representative, as well as every thing else in relation to that land, and to the divine drama then being enacted in the world. For dust is the symbol in the Word of God of things of the most worldly and material character. Objects which are of value in the sight of the Lord are represented in the Sacred Scriptures by things most valuable in themselves. Precious truths are signified by precious stones; high excellencies of celestial love are represented by gold. But things of a merely external character on which the evil set their hearts so thoroughly that they cannot do without them are represented in the Divine Word as mere DUST. In the 14th verse of the 3rd chapter of Genesis, it is said concerning the serpent, the symbol of mere sensual life, Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. There is no animal, either of the serpent kind or any other, which outwardly does really live on dust but because this creature is the symbol of that selfishness which evil men deify, which evil men exalt to be the rulers of their hearts and minds, and are ever craving to feed with more wealth, more power, larger houses greater possessions, therefore dust was to be the serpents meat.1 How truly the craving of the wicked is represented by this eating of dust. Every one will see, if he reflect for a moment, that the hankerings of a selfish man after more material power and wealth are just as unsatisfactory to him spiritually, as dust for food would be to the yearning stomach, ever eating, but never satisfied, ever hankering after fresh enjoyments, but never filled. Animals fed on dust would vainly try to fill themselves where there could be no satisfaction, no nourishment, no comfort derived. So is it with a wicked person, who longs for the mere groveling things of earth, as the objects worthiest of his attention. Dust shall be the serpents meat, and dust is the serpents curse.

Well then, this dust of the land of Egypt is representative in this grand symbolic history, of a system of outward pomp and power, of busy activity and extensive knowledge, realized in innumerable productions.

All appears fair and comely, until the Word of God, the rod of Aaron, waves over it. Then all its dust, all its outward life, is seen to be one great mass of little evils, signified by the dust becoming lice in the land of Egypt.

Animals are representative in the Sacred Volume of thoughts or affections of some kind or other; hence, good principles are represented by Good animals with beautiful forms. On this account, we find in the second chapter of Hosea and the 18th verse, that the Lord says, And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; end I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. But every one will see that the Lord does not make any covenant with external animals,--with beasts, and birds, and creeping things. He covenants with those who can covenant with Him, and, hence, these representations are the symbols of principles of the human mind, all full of life, when they receive life from the Lord, and are blessed by Him. They have entered into a covenant with Him. On the other hand, animals of a noxious character, large or small, are representative of principles of a noxious or dangerous class. Now, these creatures alluded to in the text, literally being insects that prey upon the skin, which deform and torture, and abuse the skin, correspond to those evils in a bad mane life which degrade him and make him despicable in the sight of others.

There are sins which are eminently injurious and oppressive, but they are not mean nor disgusting; these are lions or tigers among evils. There are others despicable, sickening, revolting in their very appearance, beggarly and filthy sins, disgusting in relation to the outward life of a man in the world, and these are represented here. Hence, when the rod of Aaron smote the dust of Egypt, and exhibited that throughout all the dust were these disgusting and loathsome creatures, it is representative of the disclosures of divine truth when they strike a system evil in itself, but of outward decency and propriety. Such a system because it is in internal opposition to the God of heaven, may seem fair, but on close inspection, and when tried by the Word of God, it is seen to be covered with loathsomeness and with sins of the meanest kind. Take for instance, the condition of things either in our own country or any other, called Christian. Hold the rod of divine truth over it, and it is notorious, that life is defiled, so as to make the true Christian blush and lament for millions who expect to be saved by their belief, but are neither so upright nor so pure as many of the so-called heathen.

Peculation, fraud, and meanest evils are to be found on every hand. Here, in this land, in a land where the Bible is spread and read, it may be thought it cannot be so, but the unhappy fact is, that the statistics of crime of every kind are as sad to contemplate in Protestant lands as in lands where the Bible is little known. There are as many crimes and petty frauds, there are as many outward evils in these lands as in those. Why do we not see it? Because there is a Pharaoh-like system of making the commands of God of none effect. Because it takes the Word of God in its hand, makes use of all the science and knowledge, which illustrates the letter of the Bible, and then perverts it to its own ends. Those who pervert and juggle in order to make some scheme of their own to be the true teaching of the Bible, instead of the simple lesson,--shun evil and do good for the love of the Lord Jesus: they who set up the belief in the Lords death as the only requisite for heaven, instead of that victory over sin and regeneration of heart and life, which should follow faith, are the magicians of today, who rule and flatter Pharaoh.

There are magicians, great in jugglery, who enchant the people, and cover them with illusions. These play with three and one, and person, and mystery, until the people are so bewildered that they know not whether there are three Gods or one God, or who is God, or what is God, and see in the merest dimness that Great and Only Wise God our Savior who is LOVE ITSELF. These magicians treat with like jugglery the Word and Commandments of the Most High, those Commandments which are the laws of happiness and of heaven, the delight of the true Christian, and upon which hang all the law and the prophets. They commence usually by exaggerating the demands and requirements of God, and the awful punishments He will inflict if they are not complied with. When they have terrified the poor souls who listen to them, with false horrors, the phantoms of their own depraved imaginations, they then gently let the terrified minds glide into a false peace, assuring them, that if they only believe their version of the Saviors death, though they may have broken all the Commandments a thousand times, even up to the hour of death, the Divine Wrath will be disarmed, and they may be as sure of bliss in heaven as those faithful followers of the Savior who, through a life of regeneration, have been attuning their hearts and minds to His. Great magicians are these. They carry away thousands and tens of thousands at their will.

They play upon those deep evils of human nature, which indispose the soul for steady combat with self and its lusts, and put off the radical change of heart and life which can alone fit the soul for heaven. These enchanters can do great wonders by their persuasive powers. They often display fiery zeal,--making fire come down from heaven in the sight of men (Rev. xiii. 13). They have unbounded confidence and assurance. The deluded people believe their zeal to be zeal for God and goodness, not for self and sect, for power and lucre, those hidden sins which lurk in the recesses of the souls of the spiritually ambitious. These command large congregations, create great excitement and successful causes, but what is the result, look around and say. These great magicians sustain a system which inevitably leads to evils of every kind, but their own evils must be of that subtle class which do not shock the vulgar. They dare not place themselves on a level with the grosser class of sinners, or their power would be broken. God reveals the lice by the rod of Aaron, but they dare not create lice.

The result is that mean evils swarm as completely over the skins of men, over the outward life of men, as these disgusting insects swarmed over the land of Egypt. What is the testimony of the present day, if its business pursuits are examined? Who is there that can venture to say, if he goes at random into any of the different places of business, that he will get an honest article? Nay, if he happen to know that it is the practice of a trade to cheapen by deteriorating with some more gainful article to the seller, is there one man that can be sure, even, that that cheaper article is not also deteriorated, and so on five or six times deep? Why! What is this, but when the dust is examined it is covered with these outward little disgusting animals. In the sight of the Lord it is shewn, that under the reign of this Pharaoh, when explored with the rod of Aaron held over the dust, there appear these deflections from right, these frauds and wrongs of ten thousand kinds, usually covered up, but all swarming with these offensive creatures. But, inasmuch as Pharaoh and his magicians represent those who are inwardly evil and outwardly religious, they will not admit that their system produces or conduces to these evils. They say the commands of God cannot be kept, and it is not needful to keep them to prepare for heaven, that God never intended they should be kept; that He has never believed that they would be kept; that He simply laid down commands, in order that we should find out that we could not possibly keep them, and so Christ has done them for us. Yet they seek power and influence over the simply good, and that influence would be broken if they admitted that the frauds and meannesses of the day were the consequences of their system.

They cannot, because they dare not, produce lice. It is morally impossible. They do ultimately arrive at all such evils as are represented here by the disgusting little creatures before us; yet the power of all those who teach such a system depends upon the good will, depends upon the approbation of the mass of the simple-minded, and therefore it is not possible for them, nakedly and professedly, to bring out the result,--of declaring that the divine commands cannot be kept. They must not get drunk, they must not swear, they must not fight; or, externally do the things which are plainly of a coarse, low, and vicious nature, they dare not create lice, and therefore cannot. Their whole power would be broken if they were to suffer its tendencies to be obviously seen, and the result is, that like the magicians, they cannot do this with their enchantments.

We have the same idea taught in the boob, of Revelations, where the system of faith alone is represented by the beast with seven heads and ten horns, and it is said, as you will read in the 3rd verse and 13th chapter of the book of Revelations, that one of his heads is wounded even unto death, representative of the same circumstance. The system of salvation by faith alone, without keeping the divine commands, is wounded to death, when it is seen to be in utter opposition to the Word of God. But the deadly wound was healed, it is said, and it appears to be healed to those who live in a system of that kind, when it is said that although we are not saved by keeping the commands, but by believing that the Lord Jesus has done everything for us centuries ago, yet the believer will do the commands, after salvation, from the love he bears to HIM who has thus saved him. This idea serves, in the estimation of the simple-minded man, to heal the deadly wound; and all the world (all the church), it is said, wondered after the beast. The simple-minded are deceived, although it is a fact well known that it is not true these persons do thus keep the Commandments, and when we ask them, they say they cannot. They say, the Christian does if he has the right faith simply to keep up the appearance of the connection with the Word of God, and to save thee system which is totally contrary to its whole spirit from beginning to end. Blessed are they, and only they, that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city.

Such is the lesson taught by this extraordinary part of the history of the deliverance out of Egypt.

But Pharaoh, it is said, hardened his heart again, although he acknowledged here, in this matter, the finger of God. And we are told that the Lord said unto Moses, Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh, and he was commanded he proclaim, that unless he would suffer the people to go forth, swarms of flies, as it is said, should be sent. In the Divine Word in the original, it is swarms of noxious flying things,swarms of venomous painful flies. If we have borne in mind what we noticed in the commencement of the discourse, we shall easily perceive what is signified by the description of these flying venomous painful flies, which infested the houses and the persons of the Egyptians.

These flying things, so small and pernicious, are representative in the Word of God of thoughts which fly across the mind of bad persons, and which are continually either leading them into vain conceits, or, into vicious, biting, and destructive ideas concerning others. Our Lord describes these,--at least of the lighter class,--when He exhorts, as you will read in the 6th of Matthew, to lay up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. The moths are vain foppish thoughts, which hit about the soul of a light and frivolous individual, and, eating into all that is solid, are like moths which destroy our garments. A person who is continually going from vanity to vanity, whose mind is never suffered to rest on the great duties and purposes of life, but who is perpetually dreaming of this ball, that opera room, or those frivolous games, which may be harmless as mere diversions from lifes serious business, but are destructive if made lifes work. They may be pursued until they make a soul one great moth. But the stinging flies which are represented here are much worse than the moths; they represent those bitter thoughts, those unpleasant stinging notices of others, which have been said to be, and largely no doubt are, the sins of those who have become religiously proper, but who remain selfish in heart. These, the rigidly righteous, are not flagrantly bad, as the openly impious are, but they are infested by swarms of stinging flies. The vices of others are brought incessantly up in their minds. They see little good in others, but fix upon their weaknesses, and even attribute evil where it does not exist. There is something bitter ever ready to sting others, which keeps up a constant irritation. Those who seek to injure others ever injure themselves.

The minds of those, who are dispose, to think evil of others, are a perpetual blister; yet you will see, occasionally, persons who have been professing religion during a number of years, when others are spoken of, ready instantly with some depreciating remark, some ill-natured observation. They are great in BUTS. How common is it to hear, when some persons character has been noticed in conversation, the little word but come out,--the advance guard of unpleasant remarks flowing from the spirit which seeks admiration at the expense of others. They blame and sneer. Their words are described in the old English expression backbite. Such are they whose houses are filled with stinging flies.

But, in this miracle, the Lord makes a severance between those and His people; He says And I will sever, in that day, the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth. And I will put a division between my people and thy people: tomorrow shall this sign be. Divine words, which are descriptive of the difference between those who are in mock religion and those who are in real religion. Real religion is the spirit of heavenly charity. It is beautifully described by the Apostle, when he says, Charity suffereth long and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. There are none of those stinging flies there. A person, who has a spirit of charity, attributes good to others, sees a good side, even in apparent evil, supposes things are not as bad as they look. A true Christian always thinks kindly, and attributes good to all, looks for good in all, and sees it.

The true Christian rejoices in the good of all, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Among the Israelites, in the land of Goshen, there were no noxious flies. In the souls of true Israelites there are gentle thoughts, courteous sentiments, true and kindly desires to promote the happiness of others, the spirit which adopts the apostolic declaration, Now abideth faith, hope, charity, but these three; the greatest of these is charity.

Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)

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