Flies to Locusts
Before sending the fourth plague, God says that He will prevent it and the remainder of the plagues from afflicting the Israelites in Goshen. Thus, the first three plagues had been experienced by everyone, including the Israelites. But the seven last plagues (out of 10) afflict the Egyptians only. That the "seven last plagues" are distinct is quite interesting in light of the fact that we actually find this phrase in Revelation 15:1, in reference to the final plagues poured out on rebellious mankind—following a period of suffering that will come on God's people (physical and spiritual) and on the rest of the world. And, just as in Egypt, God's people of the end time will be spared the seven last plagues.
4. Flies: Concerning the word "flies," the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary states that these were "not 'flies', such as we are accustomed to [or perhaps not only such flies, as Egypt had and still has those too] but diverse sorts of flies [i.e., flying, buzzing insects] (Ps. 78:45), the gad-fly, the cockroach, the Egyptian beetle, for all these are mentioned by different writers.... The worship of flies, particularly of the beetle [in the form of the scarab god Kheper], was a prominent part of the religion of the ancient Egyptians" (1961, note on Exodus 8:20-31). Furthermore, as the flies crawled all over them, flew into their eyes, covered their food and buzzed incessantly around them, adding to their misery, where was the supreme Amun, helper of the pious and god of the wind, to blow away this plague? Where was the guardian goddess Mafdet and the protector god Sed? Finally, the "divine" pharaoh begins to bargain, agreeing to let the Israelites sacrifice to God in Goshen. But Moses points out that this would be an abomination to the Egyptians, since they considered it detestable to sacrifice sheep (see Genesis 43:32; Genesis 46:34), and that—now really hating the Israelites—they might stone them. So, with flies still buzzing around him, Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites travel a short way into the wilderness to sacrifice. But once again, the stubborn ruler changes his mind.
5. Death of livestock: As in most pagan societies, oxen had strong attachments to various deities in Egypt. Apis, the bull god, was the living personification of the creation god Ptah. The creator sun gods Atum and Re, later syncretized into a single deity, were represented by the black bull Mnevis of Heliopolis. Nut and Neith were both depicted as the great celestial cow who gave birth to the cosmos and other deities. Mehet-Weret, another goddess associated with creation, was depicted as a cow. The mother goddesses Hathor and Nekbet were both pictured with the form of a cow. Hesat, the goddess of birth, was depicted as a cow. And the foster mother of Horus, the cow goddess Sekhet-Hor, was even invoked to safeguard cattle—a prayer that now availed nothing in the face of the true God's power. It should also be noted here that the Egyptians did possess some sheep (Exodus 9:3), though apparently not for food or sacrifice (compare Exodus 8:26). And ram gods figure prominently in the Egyptian pantheon—Ba, Banebdjedet, the primeval Heryshaf, and the Nile god Khnum. Even the supreme god Amun was symbolized by a ram with curved horns. The statement that "all the livestock of Egypt died" (Exodus 9:6) must actually mean that the vast majority of their animals died, as livestock are still alive in Exodus 9:19-21 and horses in Exodus 14:7-9. Even so, we can imagine that this was a major blow to the economy and military strength of Egypt. Once again, God spares the Israelites, as Pharaoh discovers. But still he refuses to let God's people go.
6. Boils: Once again, the false deities of Egypt are of no help, including Sakhmet, a guardian goddess against disease (besides her major role as war goddess), Imhotep, the god of medicine, and Isis, goddess of life and healing. Pharaoh's magicians are now too afflicted to be present; yet Pharaoh's heart is still hardened. Interestingly, the narrative for the first time states that God actually hardened Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 9:12)—an intent God had earlier stated (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3). Yet before this, Pharaoh is seen as hardening his own heart (Exodus 8:15, Exodus 8:32). God, then, is now reinforcing Pharaoh's stubborn inclination—for the purpose described in verse 16 (see Romans 9:14-24). To better understand this, please refer to the article "Twist of Fate" at http://bible.ucg.org/bible-reading-program/materials/fate.pdf.
7. Hail: This plague killed servants, animals and cattle if they were not under shelter. Plants and trees were also destroyed, including crops in the field. That this was an extremely severe thunderstorm of icy hail and that the "fire" darting to the ground was lightning is apparent from Psalm 78: "He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost. He also gave up their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to fiery lightning" (Psalm 78:47-48). These destructive elements, of course, had a devastating impact on the nation's food supply. And still the gods of Egypt were shown to be powerless: the sky goddesses Nut and Hathor; the sky god Horus; Shu, the god of air and bearer of heaven; Seth, the god of storms and protector of crops; Neper, the god of grain crops; Osiris, the ruler of life and vegetation; Isis, the goddess of life; and all the cow and ram deities mentioned above proved impotent before the true God. Pharaoh now relents—for the time being. Of course, once the plague subsides, he again changes his mind.
8. Locusts: By this point, Pharaoh's servants are attempting to impress on him that "Egypt is destroyed" (Exodus 10:7). So he resorts to bargaining with Moses once again. But as he will not accede to God's demands, a mighty wind brings an infestation of locusts on the land. The results are horrible to behold. Whatever vegetation had been left after the hail is now devoured by the locusts. The land is stripped bare. It must have been a wonder to look out over what was once a fertile, bountiful land and to no longer see the color green among the plants (verse 15). Again, Seth, Neper, Osiris and Isis are all defied—as are Shu, god of the air, and Amun, god of the wind. This terrible plague must have left the nation on the brink of starvation. In desperation, Pharaoh even confesses sin and asks forgiveness—outwardly. But his contrition is short-lived. By now, Moses may have become accustomed enough to Pharaoh's stubbornness so as to not be surprised when, once again, Pharaoh changes his mind about releasing the Israelites.