Heb. tsir'ah, "stinging", ( Exodus 23:28 ; Deuteronomy 7:20 ; Joshua 24:12 ). The word is used in these passages as referring to some means by which the Canaanites were to be driven out from before the Israelites. Some have supposed that the word is used in a metaphorical sense as the symbol of some panic which would seize the people as a "terror of God" ( Genesis 35:5 ), the consternation with which God would inspire the Canaanites. In Palestine there are four species of hornets, differing from our hornets, being larger in size, and they are very abundant. They "attack human beings in a very furious manner." "The furious attack of a swarm of hornets drives cattle and horses to madness, and has even caused the death of the animals."
The hornet bears a general resemblance to the common wasp, only it is larger. It is exceedingly fierce and voracious, especially in hot climates and its sting is frequently dangerous. In Scripture the hornet is referred to only by the means which Jehovah employed for the extirpation of the Canaanites. ( Exodus 23:28 ; 7:20 ; Joshua 24:12 ) Wisd. 12:8. (It is said that the Phaselitae, a Phoenician people, were driven from their locality by hornets; and other examples are given in Paxtons "Illustrations of Scripture," 1:303.--ED.)
Hornets are mentioned only in Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12. All three references are to the miraculous interposition of God in driving out before the Israelites the original inhabitants of the promised land. There has been much speculation as to whether hornets are literally meant. The following seems to throw some light on this question (Exodus 23:20,27,28): "Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. .... I will send my terror before thee, and will discomfit all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send the hornet before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee." The "terror" of Exodus 23:27 may well be considered to be typified by the "hornet" of 23:28, the care for the Israelites (23:20) being thrown into marked contrast with the confusion of their enemies. Compare Isaiah 7:18, where the fly and the bee symbolize the military forces of Egypt and Assyria: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh will hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria."
Hornets and wasps belong to the family Vespidae of the order Hymenoptera. Both belong to the genus Vespa, the hornets being distinguished by their large size. Both hornets and wasps are abundant in Palestine (compare Zorah, which may mean "town of hornets"). a large kind is called in Arabic debbur, which recalls the Hebrew debhorah, "bee." They sting fiercely, but not unless molested.
Alfred Ely Day
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