Personal God

If you say a prayer in faith and God has to do what you ask, who is in the position of power? And have we reduced God to some kind of genie in a lamp? Rub the lamp and out pops God asking, “What do you want master?” Or maybe he is like some kind of cosmic vending machine; plop in your prayer, maybe even add some fasting, and out comes what you paid for. And which side is God on? Is he American? Is there such a thing as the divine right of kings? Or Presidents? Or nations? And if we can convince ourselves that God is on our side, doesn’t that mean whatever we do is right? And if that is the case, then again, we should ask, “who is in the position of power here?” Who determines right and wrong? Do we listen to God or do we sternly inform him what he must do and who he must be?

In Exodus 8:20-32 Pharaoh discovers that Yahweh cannot be contained within a land or a people. Yahweh tells Moses to get himself up early in the morning to confront Pharaoh as approaches the water, possibly the Nile. This is the first time Moses is specifically told to rise up early in the morning. God tells him the same thing in 9:13, although the second time there is no mention of water, and this has generated a lot of discussion. Possibly unnecessarily. This may be a part of the story simply to demonstrate that Yahweh is fully aware of the comings and goings of Pharaoh. To announce Yahweh’s fourth Mighty-Act, he can find Pharaoh on his way toward the water early in the morning. Nothing is hidden from the God of Israel.

The message to be delivered is that Pharaoh should set the people free so that they can work for or serve God. And if he refuses yet again, Yahweh will send a mixed swarm. In the Hebrew, that’s all you get. The word that gets translated “swarm of flies” means “mixture, swarm”. Philo and the Septuagint called this a swarm of dog-flies, which Philo goes on to describe as particularly nasty biting flies. This mixed swarm will fill up every house from the lowliest Egyptian servant right on up to the house of Pharaoh. And if the swarm is in your house, making a specific identification may not be all that important. Well, I guess it matters if it is a biting insect or not. Interestingly, we are not told where this swarm originates from. What is significant is that for the first time we are told that God is setting apart the land of Goshen. He is setting up redemption between the Israelites and Pharaoh’s people. The word “division” in verse 23 is “redemption, ransom.” I think God is telling Pharaoh that he is paying the price for his people’s redemption and this clearly sets his people apart from the Egyptians. He is doing this by swarming Egypt, but leaving Goshen untouched. Well, that’s not how swarms work. They don’t swarm around everything except a particular area. God wants Pharaoh to know that he is in the heart or the midst of the land of Egypt. Only the presence of Yahweh could make a swarm behave this way. So, Pharaoh, the God of Israel is not just some puny god of a bunch of slaves that can be filed away as insignificant. Nah man, he is the Existing One who will not be bound up in a land. You cannot contain this deity. You might be able to do that with your own gods, but not Yahweh.

Apparently, Pharaoh does not listen. Now that’s surprising, isn’t it? So, Yahweh sends a heavy swarm on the land of Egypt and the land is ruined or spoiled, which may simply refer to the disgusting presence of the swarm. Pharaoh tries to bargain with God. Hey, Yahweh, I’ll let your people do the sacrifice thing in the land of Egypt. Moses informs him that the Egyptians would find the practice an abomination. The same word is used Genesis 43:32 where we are told that the Egyptians find eating with Israelites objectionable and in 46:34 in which we discover they don’t care much for the Israelite occupation. The idea may be that the Egyptians just plain found Israelite customs and probably the Israelites themselves to be loathsome. Pharaoh agrees to let them go indicating that he found merit in Moses’ argument. Moses then warns the Pharaoh to keep his word. What a bold move that was. Moses prayed, the swarm was removed, and Pharaoh hardened his heart and went back on his word.

Yahweh is not your personal God. He desires to be in a personal relationship with you. He sent his son to redeem you, to pay the price for your ransom. Is this not enough? Must we then own God and reduce him to our own personal servant, pulling him out of our pockets only when we want him to perform some service? Wouldn’t it be better if instead we decided to serve or work for the one who set us free? Yahweh cannot be contained in any land. He is not the God of America. He is God! Treat him appropriately.