There are ten Hebrew words used in Scripture to signify locust. In the New Testament locusts are mentioned as forming part of the food of John the Baptist ( Matthew 3:4 ; Mark 1:6 ). By the Mosaic law they were reckoned "clean," so that he could lawfully eat them. The name also occurs in Revelation 9:3 Revelation 9:7 , in allusion to this Oriental devastating insect.
Locusts belong to the class of Orthoptera, i.e., straight-winged. They are of many species. The ordinary Syrian locust resembles the grasshopper, but is larger and more destructive. "The legs and thighs of these insects are so powerful that they can leap to a height of two hundred times the length of their bodies. When so raised they spread their wings and fly so close together as to appear like one compact moving mass." Locusts are prepared as food in various ways. Sometimes they are pounded, and then mixed with flour and water, and baked into cakes; "sometimes boiled, roasted, or stewed in butter, and then eaten." They were eaten in a preserved state by the ancient Assyrians.
The devastations they make in Eastern lands are often very appalling. The invasions of locusts are the heaviest calamites that can befall a country. "Their numbers exceed computation: the hebrews called them 'the countless,' and the Arabs knew them as 'the darkeners of the sun.' Unable to guide their own flight, though capable of crossing large spaces, they are at the mercy of the wind, which bears them as blind instruments of Providence to the doomed region given over to them for the time. Innumerable as the drops of water or the sands of the seashore, their flight obscures the sun and casts a thick shadow on the earth ( Exodus 10:15 ; Judges 6:5 ; 7:12 ; Jeremiah 46:23 ; Joel 2:10 ). It seems indeed as if a great aerial mountain, many miles in breadth, were advancing with a slow, unresting progress. Woe to the countries beneath them if the wind fall and let them alight! They descend unnumbered as flakes of snow and hide the ground. It may be 'like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them is a desolate wilderness. At their approach the people are in anguish; all faces lose their colour' ( Joel 2:6 ). No walls can stop them; no ditches arrest them; fires kindled in their path are forthwith extinguished by the myriads of their dead, and the countless armies march on ( Joel 2:8 Joel 2:9 ). If a door or a window be open, they enter and destroy everything of wood in the house. Every terrace, court, and inner chamber is filled with them in a moment. Such an awful visitation swept over Egypt ( Exodus 10:1-19 ), consuming before it every green thing, and stripping the trees, till the land was bared of all signs of vegetation. A strong north-west wind from the Mediterranean swept the locusts into the Red Sea.", Geikie's Hours, etc., ii., 149.
a well-known insect, of the grasshopper family, which commits terrible ravages on vegetation in the countries which it visits. "The common brown locust is about three inches in length, and the general form is that of a grasshopper." The most destructive of the locust tribe that occur in the Bible lands are the (Edipoda migratoria and the Acridium peregrinum ; and as both these species occur in Syria and Arabia, etc., it is most probable that one or other is denoted in those passages which speak of the dreadful devastations committed by these insects. Locusts occur in great numbers, and sometimes obscure the sun. ( Exodus 10:15 ; Judges 6:5 ; Jeremiah 46:23 ) Their voracity is alluded to in ( Exodus 10:12 Exodus 10:15 ; Joel 1:4 Joel 1:7 ) They make a fearful noise in their flight. ( Joel 2:5 ; Revelation 9:9 ) Their irresistible progress is referred to in ( Joel 2:8 Joel 2:9 ) They enter dwellings, and devour even the woodwork of houses. ( Exodus 10:6 ; Joel 2:9 Joel 2:10 ) They do not fly in the night. ( Nahum 3:17 ) The sea destroys the greater number. ( Exodus 10:19 ; Joel 2:20 ) The flight of locusts is thus described by M. Olivier (Voyage dans l Empire Othoman , ii. 424): "With the burning south winds (of Syria) there come from the interior of Arabia and from the most southern parts of Persia clouds of locusts (Acridium peregrinum ), whose ravages to these countries are as grievous and nearly as sudden as those of the heaviest hail in Europe. We witnessed them twice. It is difficult to express the effect produced on us by the sight of the whole atmosphere filled on all sides and to a great height by an innumerable quantity of these insects, whose flight was slow and uniform, and whose noise resembled that of rain: the sky was darkened, and the light of the sun considerably weakened. In a moment the terraces of the houses, the streets, and all the fields were covered by these insects, and in two days they had nearly devoured all the leaves of the plants. Happily they lived but a short time, and seemed to have migrated only to reproduce themselves and die; in fact, nearly all those we saw the next day had paired, and the day following the fields were covered with their dead bodies." "Locusts have been used as food from the earliest times. Herodotus speaks of a Libyan nation who dried their locusts in the sun and ate them with milk. The more common method, however, was to pull off the legs and wings and roast them in an iron dish. Then they thrown into a bag, and eaten like parched corn, each one taking a handful when he chose." --Biblical Treasury. Sometimes the insects are ground and pounded, and then mixed with flour and water and made into cakes, or they are salted and then eaten; sometimes smoked; sometimes boiled or roasted; again, stewed, or fried in butter.
The translation of a large number of Hebrew and Greek words:
(1) 'arbeh from the root rabhah, "to increase" (compare Arabic raba', "to increase").
(2) sal`am, from obsolete [?] cal`am, "to swallow down," "to consume."
(3) chargol (compare Arabic charjal, "to run to the right or left," charjalat, "a company of horses" or "a swarm of locusts," charjawan, a kind of locust).
(4) chaghabh (compare Arabic chajab, "to hide," "to cover").
(5) gazam (compare Arabic jazum, " to cut off")
(6) yeleq, from the root laqaq "to lick" (compare Arabic laqlaq, "to dart out the tongue" (used of a serpent)).
(7) chacil, from the root chacal, "to devour" (compare Arabic chaucal, "crop" (of a bird)).
(8) gobh, from the obsolete root gabhah (compare Arabic jabi, "locust," from the root jaba', "to come out of a hole").
(9) gebh, from same root.
(10) tselatsal from [?] tsalal (onomatopoetic), "to tinkle," "to ring" (compare Arabic call, "to give a ringing sound" (used of a horse's bit); compare also Arabic Tann, used of the sound of a drum or piece of metal, also of the humming of flies).
(11) akris (genitive akridos; diminutive akridion, whence Acridium, a genus of locusts).
(1), (2), (3) and (4) constitute the list of clean insects in Leviticus 11:21, characterized as "winged creeping things that go upon all fours, which have legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth." This manifestly refers to jumping insects of the order Orthoptera, such as locusts, grasshoppers and crickets, and is in contrast to the unclean "winged creeping things that go upon all fours," which may be taken to denote running Orthoptera, such as cockroaches, mole-crickets and ear-wigs, as well as insects of other orders.
'Arbeh (1) is uniformly translated "locust" in the Revised Version (British and American). the King James Version has usually "locust," but "grasshopper" in Judges 6:5; 7:12; Job 39:20; Jeremiah 46:23. Septuagint has usually akris, "locust"; but has brouchos, "wingless locust," in Leviticus 11:22; 1 Kings 8:37 (akris in the parallel passage, 2 Chronicles 6:28); Nahum 3:15; and attelebos, "wingless locust," in Nahum 3:17. 'Arbeh occurs (Exodus 10:4-19) in the account of the plague of locusts; in the phrase "as locusts for multitude" (Judges 6:5; 7:12); "more than the locusts .... innumerable" (Jeremiah 46:23);
"The locusts have no king,
Yet go they forth all of them by bands" (Proverbs 30:27).
'Arbeh is referred to as a plague in Deuteronomy 28:38; 1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalms 78:46; in Joe and in Nahum. These references, together with the fact that it is the most used word, occurring 24 times, warrant us in assuming it to be one of the swarming species, i.e. Pachtylus migratorius or Schistocerca peregrina, which from time to time devastate large regions in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.
Cal`am (2), English Versions of the Bible "bald locust," occurs only in Leviticus 11:22. According to Tristram, NBH, the name "bald locust" was given because it is said in the Talmud to have a smooth head. It has been thought to be one of the genus Tryxalis (T. unguiculata or T. nasuta), in which the head is greatly elongated.
Chargol (3), the King James Version "beetle," the Revised Version (British and American) "cricket," being one of the leaping insects, cannot be a beetle. It might be a cricket, but comparison with the Arabic (see supra) favors a locust of some sort. The word occurs only in Leviticus 11:22.
Haghabh (4) is one of the clean leaping insects of Leviticus 11:22 (English Versions of the Bible "grasshopper"). The word occurs in four other places, nowhere coupled with the name of another insect. In the report of the spies (Numbers 13:33), we have the expression, "We were in our own sight as grasshoppers"; in Ecclesiastes 12:5, "The grasshopper shall be a burden"; in Isaiah 40:22, "It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers." These three passages distinctly favor the rendering "grasshopper" of the English Versions of the Bible. In the remaining passage (2 Chronicles 7:13), ".... if I command the locust (English Versions) to devour the land," the migratory locust seems to be referred to. Doubtless this as well as other words was loosely used. In English there is no sharp distinction between the words "grasshopper" and "locust."
The migratory locusts belong to the family Acridiidae, distinguished by short, thick antennae, and by having the organs of hearing at the base of the abdomen. The insects of the family Locustidae are commonly called "grasshoppers," but the same name is applied to those Acridiidae which are not found in swarms. The Locustidae have long, thin antennae, organs of hearing on the tibiae of the front legs, and the females have long ovipositors. It may be noted that the insect known in America as the seventeen-year locust, which occasionally does extensive damage to trees by laying its eggs in the twigs, is a totally different insect, being a Cicada of the order Rhynchota. Species of Cicada are found in Palestine, but are not considered harmful.
The Book of Joe is largely occupied with the description of a plague of locusts. Commentators differ as to whether it should be interpreted literally or allegorically (see JOEL). Four names 'arbeh (1), gazam (5), yeleq (6) and chacil (7), are found in Joel 1:4 and again in 2:25.
For the etymology of these names, see 1 above. Gazam (Amos 4:9; Joel 1:4; 2:25) is in the Revised Version (British and American) uniformly translated "palmer-worm" Septuagint kampe, "caterpillar"). Chacil in the Revised Version (British and American) (1 Kings 8:37; 2 Chronicles 6:28; Psalms 78:46; Isaiah 23:4; Joel 1:4; 2:25) is uniformly translated "caterpillar." The Septuagint has indifferently brouchos, "wingless locust," and erusibe, "rust" (of wheat). Yeleq (Psalms 105:34; Jeremiah 51:14,27; Joel 1:4; 2:25; Nahum 3:15,16) is everywhere "canker-worm" in the Revised Version (British and American), except in Psalms 105:34, where the American Standard Revised Version has "grasshopper." the King James Version has "caterpillar" in Psalms and Jeremiah and "canker-worm" in Joe and Nahum. Septuagint has indifferently akris and brouchos. "Palmerworm" and "canker-worm" are both Old English terms for caterpillars, which are strictly the larvae of lepidopterous insects, i.e. butterflies and moths.
While these four words occur in Joel 1:4 and 2:25, a consideration of the book as a whole does not show that the ravages of four different insect pests are referred to, but rather a single one, and that the locust. These words may therefore be regarded as different names of the locust, referring to different stages of development of the insect. It is true that the words do not occur in quite the same order in 14 and in 2:25, but while the former verse indicates a definite succession, the latter does not. If, therefore, all four words refer to the locust, "palmer-worm," "canker-worm," "caterpillar" and the Septuagint erusibe, "rust," are obviously inappropriate.
Gobh (8) is found in the difficult passage (Amos 7:1), ".... He formed locusts (the King James Version "grasshoppers," the King James Version margin "green worms," Septuagint akris) in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth"; and (Nahum 3:17) in ".... thy marshals (are) as the swarms of grasshoppers (Hebrew gobh gobhay; the King James Version "great grasshoppers"), which encamp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are." The related gebh (9) occurs but once, in Isaiah 33:4, also a disputed passage, "And your spoil shall be gathered as the caterpillar (chacil) gathereth:
as locusts (gebhim) leap shall men leap upon it." It is impossible to determine what species is meant, but some kind of locust or grasshopper fits any of these passages.
In Deuteronomy 28:42, "All thy trees and the fruit of thy ground shall the locust (English Versions of the Bible) possess," we have (10) tselatsal, Septuagint erusibe). The same word is translated in 2 Samuel 6:5 and Psalms 150:5 bis "cymbals," in Job 41:7 "fish-spears," and in Isaiah 18:1 "rustling." As stated in 1, above, it is an onomatopoetic word, and in Deuteronomy 28:42 may well refer to the noise of the wings of a flight of locusts.
In the New Testament we have (11) akris, "locust," the food of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6); the same word is used figuratively in Revelation 9:3,1; and also in the Apocrypha (Judith 2:20; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:9; and see 2 Esdras 4:24).
The swarms of locusts are composed of countless individuals. The statements sometimes made that they darken the sky must not be taken too literally. They do not produce darkness, but their effect may be like that of a thick cloud. Their movements are largely determined by the wind, and while fields that are in their path may be laid waste, others at one side may not be affected. It is possible by vigorous waving to keep a given tract clear of them, but usually enough men cannot be found to protect the fields from their ravages.
Large birds have been known to pass through a flight of locusts with open mouths, filling their crops with the insects. Tristram, NHB, relates how he saw the fishes in the Jordan enjoying a similar feast, as the locusts fell into the stream. The female locust, by means of the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen, digs a hole in the ground, and deposits in it a mass of eggs, which are cemented together with a glandular secretion. An effective way of dealing with the locusts is to gather and destroy these egg-masses, and it is customary for the local governments to offer a substantial reward for a measure of eggs. The young before they can fly are frequently swept into pits or ditches dug for the purpose and are burned.
The young are of the same general shape as the adult insects, differing in being small, black and wingless. The three distinct stages in the metamorphosis of butterflies and others of the higher insects are not to be distinguished in locusts. They molt about six times, emerging from each molt larger than before. At first there are no wings. After several molts, small and useless wings are found, but it is only after the last molt that the insects are able to fly. In the early molts the tiny black nymphs are found in patches on the ground, hopping out of the way when disturbed. Later they run, until they are able to fly.
In all stages they are destructive to vegetation. Some remarkable pictures of their ravages are found in Joel 1:6,7, "For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the jaw-teeth of a lioness. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my figtree:
he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white" (see also 2:2-9,20).
Locusts are instruments of the wrath of God (Exodus 10:4-19; Deuteronomy 28:38,42; 2 Chronicles 7:13; Psalms 78:46; 105:34; Nahum 3:15-17; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:9; Revelation 9:3); they typify an invading army (Jeremiah 51:14,27); they are compared with horses (Joel 2:4; Revelation 9:7); in Job 39:20, Yahweh says of the horse:
"Hast thou made him to leap as a locust?" the King James Version "Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper?" Locusts are among the "four things which are little upon the earth, but .... are exceeding wise" (Proverbs 30:27). Like the stars and sands of the sea, locusts are a type of that which cannot be numbered (Judges 6:5; 7:12; Jeremiah 46:23; Judith 2:20). Grasshoppers are a symbol of insignificance (Numbers 13:33; Ecclesiastes 12:5; Isaiah 40:22; 2 Esdras 4:24).
5. Locusts as Food:
The Arabs prepare for food the thorax of the locust, which contains the great wing muscles. They pull off the head, which as it comes away brings with it a mass of the viscera, and they remove the abdomen (or "tail"), the legs and the wings. The thoraxes, if not at once eaten, are dried and put away as a store of food for a lean season. The idea of feeding upon locusts when prepared in this way should not be so repellent as the thought of eating the whole insect. In the light of this it is not incredible that the food of John the Baptist should have been "locusts and wild honey" (Matthew 3:4).
Alfred Ely Day
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