The Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 7: The Plague of Flies

Exodus 8.20-30

What was it like?

If you have ever been on a fishing trip to Canada or Northern Wisconsin, you will identify with the nuisance of biting black flies. Imagine intensifying the situation with a number of other flying insects. Imagine such a swarm, that every time you took a breath, you would have to shield your mouth so as not to have a “fly lunch.” Imagine what it was like in Egypt!

20 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the water and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.

There is some question about the variety of fly that was involved. The word “flies” may be italicized in your Bible. It is italicized in the KJV indicating that it is not in the Hebrew text. The only word that does appear is the word “swarms.” This is a generic word which did not specify a particular kind of fly. Literally, the word “swarm” comes from a Hebrew word that basically means “mixture.” This swarm may have been a mixture of flying in sects including mosquitos, flies, horse-flies, etc.

stable fly

Stable Fly. Called the “dog-fly” in LXX

The Septuagint (LXX) uses the Greek word kunomuia which is interpreted, “dog-fly.” A dog-fly was a ferociously nasty biting insect. Today, it is known most commonly as the “stable fly.” It was brought to the US in the 1700s. The Stomoxys calcitrans (‘sharp mouth’ + ‘kicking’).

Why is this of any importance? The translators of the LXX lived in Egypt. They were accustomed to the conditions of life in the land and would have been bothered by the same fly. The point simply is that this swarm may very well have included a number of flying insects, including the biting and stinging ones. A grievous plague indeed!

God gave Pharaoh another length of rope with which Pharaoh will eventually hang himself.

21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses.


The boxed words in the Hebrew sentence above [fn. vs 21 in English vs 17 in Hebrew] are a play-on words. The Lord says “if you do not release my people then I will release…”

God favored His people.

22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This miraculous sign will occur tomorrow.’ ” 24 And the LORD did this….

He mentions this TWICE! Here is why…
1. The miraculous sign was unmistakably against the Egyptians. They could not deny the fact that they were on the wrong side, serving the wrong gods.
2. God is always in the business of showing His distinct favor for His people. The Hebrew is undeniably clear. Vs 23 in the ESV has a footnote. The meaning of the word “distinction,” in the Hebrew, is “to redeem.”

30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the LORD, 31 and the LORD did what Moses asked: The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.


In a previous lesson on the Hardening of Pharoah’s heart, we saw that there are three words in the Hebrew, all of them translated as “hardened.” The first word means “to become stubborn.” The second word means, “to grow rigid.” The third word means, “to become heavy… weighted down.”

The word used here for the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is “made heavy.” This phrase is damning. It did not simply mean he was depressed or saddened, in our vernacular. To the Egyptian mind it meant a pronouncement of eternal doom. The common illustration above shows this thinking.

The falcon god, Horus, leads a royal down the hall of death. There, they put the royal’s heart on a scale to weigh it against Ma’at’s “feather of truth/harmony/balance.” If the heart is lighter than the feather, the royal gets to continue down the hall to enjoy a peaceful eternity. If the heart is heavier than the feather, that indicates that this person has committed sins of great gravity and contributed to the disharmony of the world. This sinner will be devoured by the demon/goddess Ammit (part hippo, lion, crocodile).

Pharaoh’s heart was heavy.

Why the flies?

Flies and hornets were common symbols of Egypt.

In that day the LORD will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. (Isa 7.18)

Woe to the land of whir ring wings along the rivers of Cush. (Isa 18.1)

I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you – also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. (Jos 24.12)

Certain flies were associated with their gods. “The Ichneumon fly . . . was considered the manifestation of the god Uatchit.”[1] This fly drills into the bodies of other in sects and embeds its eggs. The larvae feed on the insect, eventually killing it. Though fear some in appearance, this fly was desired by farmers. It limited the number of other crop destroying insects.

Kheprer/Khepri was the god pictured as the flying beetle. This god was known as the “resurrection god” who brings life to himself. The reference in verse 21, “on the ground” may be referring to this particular beetle.

Flies were used as awards. A victory neck lace was one of the most sought after awards. This necklace was made up of three gold flies. Called the “order of the golden fly,” this necklace served as a military decoration given by the Pharaoh to his elite soldiers.[2]

[1] Ibid. 106.

[2] Francesco Tiradritti, ed., Egyptian Treasures (Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) 286.

Next Lesson: Lesson 8: The Plague on Livestock

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