Last week we saw that the first plague (turning Egypt’s waters to blood) reverses God’s careful organization of the primordial waters in Genesis 1. Likewise, the second, third, and fourth plagues (frogs, gnats [or “lice” in some translations], and flies) also undo God’s original creative activities. This undoing of creation shows that God has power that Egypt’s gods do not, but it also expresses God’s immense love for Israel—to the extent that the Lord is willing to unravel the work of creation in order to set the Hebrews free.
As with the first plague, the frogs that arrive after the Nile turns to blood also wreak havoc on Egypt’s waters, but they do so in a way that recalls a different aspect of God’s creative work in Genesis 1. In particular, God tells Moses that “the Nile shall swarm (שׁרץ; sharatz) with frogs” that will then come out of the water and into the Egyptians’ houses, beds, ovens, and kneading bowls (Exod 8:3). The description of what the frogs will do echoes God’s declaration in Genesis 1 that the aquatic creatures will “swarm” within the bodies of water: “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms (ישׁרצו המים שׁרץ; yishratsu ha’mayim sheretz) of living creatures’…. So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm (שׁרץ; sharatz)” (Gen 1:20-21). In Exodus, God replaces the swarming sea creatures with frogs that don’t stay in the water, but come up out of the water in a way that diverges from the original order of creation. Interestingly, the Egyptians also worshiped a frog-god named Helek, so God’s decision to send frogs against the Egypt aligns with the divine desire to “execute judgment” on all the gods of Egypt (cf. Exod 12:12; Num 33:4).
The two plagues that follow the frogs—gnats and flies—are also related to the account in Genesis 1 insofar as God’s initial creative order had “flying things” appearing in tandem with the sea creatures; that is, just as the flying gnats and flies follow the watery frogs, God appoints the flying creatures to populate the skies immediately after appointing the fish and other sea creatures to populate the waters: “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let flying things fly (עוף יעפף;‘oph yopheph) above the earth across the expanse of the heavens. So, God created the great sea creatures and everything living creatures that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged flier (עוף; ‘oph) according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:20-21). Whereas God had appointed winged creatures to fly through the air at creation, God appoints bothersome gnats and flies to fly through the air in Exodus. In Egypt, God is performing a negative, destructive restaging of the Genesis creation narrative in order to undo that very creation with the goal of setting the Israelites free from bondage.