The Tiny Mighty Act

One year my family came home from Bible camp telling stories about a gnat plague. Well, how bad could that be? I mean gnats are tiny. Maybe my incredulity showed a little because they emphasized how horrible the problem was. They told me that you could barely go outside; that if you were outside and forgot to keep your mouth shut you would be treated to a gnat feast. And who doesn’t love a gnat feast now and then? So, yes, gnats are tiny, but if there are a bazillion of them and they are swarming all over the place, they are an overwhelming annoyance.

The third Mighty Act of God is all about tiny. In Exodus 8:16-19 God commands Moses to command Aaron to stretch out his rod and strike the loose soil and that soil becomes gnats. Apparently, gnats don’t seem threatening enough to some people. They will try to compensate this tiny plague by combining this one with the next one into one big insect plague. There is absolutely no textual warrant for this. Others tell us with authority that the word “gnats” actually means “mosquitoes”. Still tiny, but now we’re dealing with disease carrying blood suckers. Mosquitoes are more plague worthy apparently. But the problem with this is that the word does not mean mosquitoes. It means either gnats or lice. Most likely in our text it means gnats; small and incredibly annoying insects.

Aaron obediently smites the dry loose soil with his rod and all of the loose soil becomes gnats all across the land of Egypt. And they are all over people and animals. Picture a cloying swarm of tiny gnats; a veritable black cloud of distress. Imagine not being able to find rest from these tiny insects. When you are in your house, there they are. When you are lying in your bed, there they are. When you are trying to tend to your livestock there they are. Imagine how restless your cattle becomes. Imagine constantly trying to keep them out of your eyes, nose and mouth. Hey, don’t forget the ears. Are you feeling squirmy yet?

Pharaoh’s experts in the secret arts are baffled by this one. Not only can they not stop it, they cannot reproduce it. And doesn’t this seem odd? They were able to turn water into blood. They were able do the whole frog thing. And even though they ended up making the whole matter worse, at least it was a means of saying, “That’s pretty good, but our gods can do the same thing.” But now they cannot even say that. So, they tell Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God”. And this is weird, because the normal expression is “the hand of God.” This has caused some to think that they are referring to the staff of Aaron. “Hey, Pharaoh, that staff is the very finger of God.” Are they acknowledging the superiority of Yahweh? The question that arises is whether the word “God” should be capitalized or not. In their pagan reality, it seems likely that they were merely acquiescing that this was a divine act that they could not reproduce with their secret knowledge. This was a work of a god that was beyond their comprehension; beyond their learning of the mysteries of the gods.

This is a turning point in the story. Even if they are not bowing down to Yahweh in awe and reverence, they are beginning to sense something that is beyond them. They were humbled by a tiny gnat. Well, a suffocating cloud of bazillions of gnats. None of my sources connected this with an Egyptian god or goddess. Maybe the Mighty Act here is all about God taking what is normally so small that it is overlooked; thought of as inconsequential, and turns it into a plague. Pharaoh hardens his heart again. We are not told about any exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. What is important about this story is God’s use of a tiny insect; the inability of the magicians to reproduce the mighty act; and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. We are reminded that Yahweh told Moses this would happen. Maybe, Pharaoh refused to be humbled by the use of something as insignificant as a gnat.

There is no need to go searching for ways to strengthen this Mighty Act, as if we are telling Yahweh, “Surely you meant to use something more threatening like mosquitoes.” God can use loose dirt and turn it into a cloud of gagging gnats. And this is indeed the finger of God. Whatever the magicians were willing to admit makes little difference to the story. The readers know. This is the finger of God. Sometimes we dismiss what God is doing as too small. Surely God will use something bigger than prayer groups to spark a spiritual revival. And here is a truly amazing thought. The finger prints of God are all over you and your life. God can use the tiniest of things to accomplish a Mighty Act. Shalom, Walter