YHWH commanded Moses to return to Pharaoh and again request that he let his people depart from Egypt to serve him. If he refused to let them leave, Egypt would be overrun by a plague of frogs that would come up from the Nile. (8:1-4 [7:26-29])
YHWH directed Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his hand with the rod (the arm of the hand with which he held the rod) over the rivers, canals and pools to cause frogs to come up and spread out over the land of Egypt. Aaron did so and the frogs covered the land. With their secret arts, the Egyptian magicians also seemed to cause frogs to come up from the water, but they were unable to end the plague. The croaking of frogs and their presence in houses, sleeping quarters, beds, ovens, and kneading bowls must have been extremely annoying, prompting Pharaoh to summon Moses and Aaron with the request that they entreat YHWH to end the plague. He even agreed to let the Israelites depart from Egypt to sacrifice to YHWH. (8:5-8 [8:1-4]; see the Notes section.)
Moses granted Pharaoh the honor over him to designate the time for the entreaty to be made so that the frogs would no longer plague him and his people, perishing from the houses and only remaining in the river. After Pharaoh asked that it happen the next day, Moses said that it would take place so that Pharaoh would come to know or recognize that there is no one like YHWH, the God of his people Israel. Frogs would cease to be in the houses and would only remain in the Nile. After leaving the presence of Pharaoh with his brother Aaron, Moses prayed to YHWH regarding the frogs. God answered according to Moses’ petition, and the frogs in the houses, courtyards, and fields died. The Egyptians piled up the dead frogs and the land began to stink as the frogs decayed. (8:9-14 [8:5-10])
After Pharaoh experienced relief from the plague of frogs, he went back on his word. He “hardened his heart” or stubbornly refused to let the Israelites depart to sacrifice in the wilderness to YHWH their God. Just as YHWH had revealed beforehand, Pharaoh refused to heed the words conveyed to him through Moses and Aaron. (8:15 [8:11])
YHWH told Moses to direct Aaron to stretch out his rod and to strike the dust of the earth or land, causing the dust to give rise to gnats . After Aaron acted on the directive and gnats came to be on people and animals, the Egyptian magicians tried to do the same with their secret arts but were unsuccessful. They said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger [or power] of God.” Targum Jonathan refers to them as saying that the plague was “not by the power or strength of Mosheh and Aharon [Moses and Aaron],” but that it was a plague “sent from before YY” (Yeya [YHWH]). Despite what he had witnessed, Pharaoh continued his stubborn resistance, not permitting the Israelites to leave in order to sacrifice to YHWH in the wilderness. His “heart” was hardened or he remained defiant in his refusal to heed the words of Moses and Aaron. (8:16-19 [8:12-15]; see the Notes section.)
YHWH instructed Moses to rise early in the morning and then to head for the water, evidently the Nile River, to meet Pharaoh. The ruler of Egypt would be coming to the water. His reason for arriving in the morning is not stated in the Exodus account. Possibly it was to make an inspection of the water level, for water from the Nile was needed for irrigation purposes. Targum Jonathan refers to Pharaoh as going forth “to observe divinations at the water, as a magician.” Again the word of YHWH for Pharaoh was, “Let my people go that they may serve me.” If he refused, Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects would experience a plague of stinging flies. These could have been horseflies or “dog flies” (LXX). Female horseflies are blood-sucking insects, and both male and female dog flies suck blood. These insects can inflict significant pain on their victims. In the case of this particular plague, the Egyptians would see that they alone had swarms of these insects fill their houses and that they would be throughout their land, but the Israelites would be spared. None of these insects would be found in Goshen. This demarcation between the Egyptians and the Israelites would serve to let Pharaoh know that YHWH is the God “in the midst of the land” or the God who was actively involved in everything that occurred in the land of Egypt or in all lands (or in the whole “earth”) (8:20-22 [8:16-18]; see the Notes section.)
YHWH revealed that the plague would start the next day. After Pharaoh, his officials, and his subjects suffered from the effects of the plague, he summoned Moses and Aaron and told them that they could sacrifice to their God in the land (in Egypt). To this Moses replied that it would not be acceptable to do so in Egypt, as the Egyptians would regard the sacrificing as abominable and would kill the Israelites by stoning. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus (Histories, II, 65) wrote that the punishment for killing a sacred animal intentionally was death. Therefore, the Israelites needed to undertake a journey of three days into the wilderness and there sacrifice to YHWH their God as he had commanded them. (8:23-27 [8:19-23])
Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites go to sacrifice to YHWH, but he did not want them to go so far away into the wilderness. Moreover, he wanted YHWH to be entreated for him. Before departing from Pharaoh’s presence and telling him that he would pray to YHWH so that the plague would end the next day, Moses made it clear that he should not trifle with the Israelites, going back on his word and refusing to let the people go to sacrifice to YHWH. In answer to Moses’ prayer, YHWH brought an end to the plague. After experiencing relief, Pharaoh did not keep his word. He hardened his heart or continued to be stubborn in his refusal to let the Israelites leave to sacrifice to YHWH. (8:28-32 [8:24-28])
The plague of frogs may especially have been troubling to the Egyptians, as their goddess Heqet (also spelled Heket, Heqtit, Heqat, and Heqt), a deity of childbirth and fertility, was powerless to do anything to stop the plague. This goddess was represented as a frog or as a woman with the head of a frog, and what was sacred to her had been transformed into an annoying plague.
There is some uncertainty about the Hebrew word rendered “gnats” (ken, kinnim [plural]). It was most likely a blood-sucking insect like a gnat, mosquito, louse, or flea. The plague of these insects could not be duplicated by means of the Egyptian secret arts, and would have exposed the weakness of the god Thoth (the inventor of magic) and the god Heka (Hekau), a deity associated with magic and medicine.
In a significant manner, the fourth plague (8:18 [8:14]) exposed the Egyptian deities as powerless. Whereas YHWH protected his people from the effects of this plague, the gods and goddesses whom the Egyptians revered could not shield them from experiencing its full impact.