3.2.15 Locust: Destruction
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 2.15
Solomon observed, “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer. The rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs. The locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank. The lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.” (Proverbs 30:24-28) Notwithstanding the fact that Yahweh put the administration of the world’s entire animal kingdom under the responsibility of man (see Genesis 1:26), there are large parts of it that we neither control nor comprehend. Following nothing more sophisticated than raw instinct and basic biological programming, animals often prove themselves immune to mankind’s attempts to manage them. Locusts are a perfect example. When a billion locusts land on your town and begin eating everything in sight, there’s not a lot you can do about it, except, perhaps, pray for a good stiff wind.
The Bible isn’t exaggerating when it talks of swarms of locusts covering the ground or blotting out the sun. A single locust swarm has been known to cover a hundred square miles and contain ten billion individuals. Such swarms are surprisingly mobile—and noisy: the sound is compared in scripture to chariots in battle, the roar of a grass fire, or an earthquake. Locusts have two sets of wings and an enlarged pair of legs for jumping. They’re able to fly for seventeen hours at a time and have been known to cover fifteen hundred miles between feedings. Their course, however, is usually determined by the prevailing winds, not the greenest pastures.
Taxonomically, locusts are insects belonging to the order of Orthoptera (“straight-winged”), the family Acridiidae (“short-horned grasshoppers”) and the subfamily Saltatoria (the “leapers”). Of the ninety-one species found in the Levant, only the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria or Acridium peregrinum) has perennially plagued the neighborhood. The biblical locust is not the same thing as the cicada,sometimes referred to as a “locust” in some parts of the United States. The most often used Hebrew word for locust is ’arbeh, which (interestingly enough) also means “sudden disappearance.” ’Arbeh is derived from the verb rabah, meaning “to become great or numerous.” But as we saw with so many animals with which the Hebrews were intimately familiar, there are a number of words used to describe locusts in scripture—not so much defining separate species as pinpointing different stages of development (mature, larval, nymph, and the stage between molts). There are no fewer than nine such Hebrew words: ’arbeh, gazam, geba (only as plural: gebim), gobay, hagab, hasil, yeleq, solam, selasal. (Aren’t you glad you know that? It could be worse: the Akkadian language recognizes eighteen names for locusts, and the Talmud employs twenty.)
The ’arbeh and three similar bugs—the sol’am (the “devastating locust”), the hargol (the cricket), and the hagab (the grasshopper)—are listed in the Torah as the only clean (that is, edible) insects. “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you.” He’s obviously not declaring that insects have only four legs. The expression “walking on all fours” simply means that they don’t walk upright (like birds, for instance). The distinction is necessary because there is no direct equivalent for the word “insect.” Sherets simply means “a teeming or swarming thing,” a word used to describe any type of small creature found in large groups, like fish swimming in schools. “Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. Of them you may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.” (Leviticus 11:20-23) Hebrew dietary laws were generally more restrictive than the customs of their contemporaries, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that other cultures also ate locusts. Bas reliefs from Nineveh show servants bringing skewered locusts for Sennacherib’s table. Many African and Arab peoples remove the wings, legs, and heads, and eat locusts either cooked or ground up as flour. Yum.
John the Baptist famously subsisted on locusts and honey. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of Yahweh; make His paths straight.’ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” One wonders if John’s diet was meant to convey the choice he had come to offer—a choice between the sweet life of a shared relationship with the Messiah and the certain destruction that awaited those who aligned themselves with the religious elite. “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” The repentant masses are represented by the honey. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, could only look forward to wrath and locusts: destruction. “And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’” (Matthew 3:1-10) Note that the line separating the blessed and the cursed (the honey vs. the locusts, so to speak) is the “fruit” one bears, that is, the evidence of one’s spiritual state. If the fruit is good and sweet (love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, etc.) the repentance is genuine and acceptable to God. If the fruit is sour and poisonous—or if it is merely non-existent—then your religious display is deemed a sham: Yahweh won’t have you taking up space forever in His garden.
If locusts are so destructive, how did they rate a spot on Yahweh’s “okay to eat” list? One thing has nothing to do with the other. But locusts, as it turns out, are very discerning about what they eat—and therein lies the answer. If I may quote a paragraph from my book on the Torah, The Owner’s Manual, “Because of recent swarms in which billions of locusts have swept across 60 countries in Africa, Asia, and Australia eating everything in their path, researchers have been studying these creatures intently in recent years. They can eat their body weight (2 grams) in food every day while traveling up to 130 kilometers. But stopping them with pesticides has proven problematical. It turns out that they are incredibly fussy eaters who know better than humans how to regulate and balance their food intake. They “taste” their environment through microscopic “hairs” on their legs as well as through their mouthparts. This helps them avoid areas that have been treated with pesticides. Oxford University researchers have discovered that locusts will regulate their food intake: when given food diluted fivefold with indigestible cellulose, the locusts merely increase their intake—fivefold! They will also compensate for past deficiencies in their diet if given the opportunity, eating precisely the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and salts. So locusts and their cousins are safe to eat (which is not to say they’re not an acquired taste).”
Locusts were mentioned among a hundred things that could go wrong if the Children of Israel turned their backs on the God who had redeemed them from the house of bondage: “But if you will not obey the voice of Yahweh your God or be careful to do all His commandments and His statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…. You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it.” (Deuteronomy 28: 15, 38) Written between the lines is the fact that the “locusts” plaguing the country need not be the six-legged flying variety. As I said, arbeh—the general Hebrew word for locust—is derived from a verb meaning “to become great or numerous.” One of the plagues that would descend upon the disobedient Israelites was armies of human invaders that behaved like locusts.
A case in point: “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them.” Midian was located just east of the Gulf of Aqaba, in modern day Saudi Arabia. The Amalekites’ lands were due south of Canaan, on the northern edge of the Sinai Peninsula. And the “peoples of the East” most likely included Ammon, Moab, Edom, and the Amorites. So these invaders were people the Israelites had encountered during their wilderness wanderings—people who had never been able to militarily prevail against Israel, even in their weakest, most vulnerable condition (when measured by the yardstick of human criteria)—when “all” they had going for them was Yahweh’s provision. Now, having said through their idolatries that they didn’t want Yahweh’s help, things had changed. “They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to Yahweh….” We see this pattern time after time in the age of the judges: the vicious cycle of faith, to complacency, to pride, to apostasy, to idolatry, to oppression, to bondage, to repentance, to deliverance, and back to faith. (Does this sound familiar, America? It should. As I write these words, we’ve fallen from the idolatry stage into oppression, and we’re staring bondage in the face. How my heart aches for the days of repentance and restoration!)
So God immediately sent a mighty deliverer to make everything swell again, right? No, He didn’t. First, He sent a prophet to remind the people that in spite of everything He had done for them, they weren’t exactly keeping their end of the bargain. “When the people of Israel cried out to Yahweh on account of the Midianites, Yahweh sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, “I am Yahweh your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed My voice.’” (Judges 6:1-10) What was the crux of Yahweh’s case against them? That they “feared” the gods of the Amorites. The Amorites were a brutal and bloodthirsty people who had lived east of the Canaanites, and had been pushed even farther east by the invading Israelites. But because they hadn’t been wiped out (per Yahweh’s instructions), they were still a recurring threat.
I don’t think that Israel’s problem was so much that they’d dumped the worship of Yahweh in favor of a gaggle of moldy Canaanite deities like Amurru, Sin, Molech, Dagon, Ba’al, and Ashtoreth—though that would come into play later. At this stage, I’m guessing, their “fear” (Hebrew yare: to revere, be afraid of, or hold in awe) of the gods of the Amorites was mostly in the form of respect for their ability to make war against them—putting these false gods on the same level as Yahweh. His point was, “If you people only trusted Me, these pagans wouldn’t have a chance—they certainly wouldn’t be able to come into the Land I’ve given you and strip it bare like a swarm of locusts.”
But Yahweh didn’t ignore their plight, either, refusing to help because His people had grown timid, weak, and faithless. In the very next verse, we’re introduced to Gideon, who would lead Israel in some remarkable victories. God made sure, however, that the way Gideon won his battles would make it clear to everyone that it wasn’t the valor of the Israelite soldiers or the skill of their leader, but Yahweh Himself who was miraculously providing the victories. Gideon raised an army of 32,000 men (probably not nearly enough, in human terms), a force Yahweh quickly pared down to a mere three hundred. “The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.” (Judges 7:12) What can three hundred soldiers accomplish against a force described as “innumerable?” Such a small force couldn’t really do anything against such odds—but that was kind of the point. Even with minimal human participation, Yahweh provided a stunning upset victory. You know the story: Gideon’s men split into three companies, surrounded the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, and suddenly announced their presence with torches, war cries, and blasts on the shofar. And then they just stood there—while the whole Midianite army “ran and cried out and fled” (v. 21), turning on each other in panic, confusion, and fratricide. I find it interesting (if not prophetic) that Gideon’s spoils of war included gold crescent-shaped ornaments (Judges 8:26), indicating that the defeated Midianites were moon-god worshippers. Why is this significant? Because a similar invasion of “innumerable” moon worshippers—Muslims this time—is predicted to take place during the Tribulation, and one of the weapons Yahweh has promised to use to annihilate them is the same sort of confusion-bred fratricide (see Ezekiel 38:21) He caused among Gideon’s Midianite foes. An enemy’s numerical superiority in battle is not an obstacle—actually, it’s not even a factor—to the God of Israel.
Israel wasn’t the only nation to face foes described in scripture as being “like locusts.” Egypt was to be devoured by the Chaldeans, just as Judah was: “The word that Yahweh spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt…. They shall cut down her forest, declares Yahweh, though it is impenetrable, because they are more numerous than locusts. They are without number. The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame. She shall be delivered into the hand of a people from the north.” (Jeremiah 46:13, 23-24) And what of the Assyrians who had decimated Israel (i.e., the ten northern tribes—Ephraim) in 722 BC? They too would be overrun by the Babylonian “locusts.” Nahum warns Nineveh, “Get ready for the siege! Store up water! Strengthen the defenses! Make bricks to repair the walls! Go into the pits to trample clay, and pack it into molds! But in the middle of your preparations, the fire will devour you; the sword will cut you down. The enemy will consume you like locusts, devouring everything they see.” But the Chaldeans weren’t the only “locusts” in the picture. The Assyrians had already been stripped bare by their own commercial interests and politicians, so corrupting their nation they were made an easy target for the hungry Babylonian invaders. “There will be no escape, even if you multiply like grasshoppers. Merchants, as numerous as the stars, have filled your city with vast wealth. But like a swarm of locusts, they strip the land and then fly away. Your princes and officials are also like locusts, crowding together in the hedges to survive the cold. But like locusts that fly away when the sun comes up to warm the earth, all of them will fly away and disappear.” (Nahum 3:14-17 NLT) Again, the whole scenario is reminiscent of recent American history—the decadence and corruption that has come to define our once-great nation. Because we have been devoured from within by our own “merchants, princes, and officials,” we have become as vulnerable to “Babylon” as Assyria was. Is there a Jonah in the house?
The primary threat of a swarm of locusts is its destructive power—its collective voracious nature. Locusts can literally eat every bit of vegetation in sight. Their “ranking” among the ten plagues of Egypt tells the tale: locusts were eighth on the list—after the water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, disease on Egyptian livestock, boils, and hail. The only things considered worse than locusts were total darkness and the death of the firstborn children. “So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” That is still a loaded question, one that might be asked of any government on the earth today. At this late date, I would suggest that any nation or government that refuses to humble itself before Yahweh, and who refuses to allow its people to choose whom (and how) they wish to worship is asking for “locusts”—a plague of destruction, famine, and hopelessness. “For if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country, and they shall cover the face of the land, so that no one can see the land. And they shall eat what is left to you after the hail, and they shall eat every tree of yours that grows in the field, and they shall fill your houses and the houses of all your servants and of all the Egyptians, as neither your fathers nor your grandfathers have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’” (Exodus 10:3-6)
Pharaoh, of course, reacted in the manner customary of politicians and princes since the dawn of civilization—he dug in his heels, put his head in the sand, and doubled down on his bets. Why do those who rule over us insist on operating according to their philosophical mindset instead of looking at the evidence and then using logic and deduction? I mean, after experiencing seven successive plagues—first predicted, then inflicted, and finally interdicted by Yahweh through Moses—it wouldn’t take a “man of faith” to recognize the pattern. But the Pharaoh, like our politicians today, couldn’t seem to add up two and two. “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.’ So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and Yahweh brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts.” Forgive me for seeing a Muslim under every scriptural rock, but note where the plague blew in from: Arabia, east of Egypt—the same place the Islamic plague was born. From its larval stage in the seventh century, Islam has become a swarm of locusts that has engulfed one fifth of the world’s population, bringing poverty and desolation with it wherever it goes. “The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled on the whole country of Egypt, such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt….” Again, is this description materially any different than what Islam has done to this once great nation? I think not.
Four times previously, the Pharaoh had asked Moses to entreat Yahweh to remove the plague. This desperate plea makes five: “Then Pharaoh hastily called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against Yahweh your God, and against you. Now therefore, forgive my sin, please, only this once, and plead with Yahweh your God only to remove this death from me.’” What had begun as inconvenience had quickly escalated into annoyance, then debacle, then disaster. Now Pharaoh was seeing the plagues brought on by his own stubbornness as “death.” If only he knew: the next one would mark the demise of his chief deity, Amun Ra—the sun god of Egypt, followed by the death of what he really cared about—his own son, the heir to his throne and legacy. “So he went out from Pharaoh and pleaded with Yahweh. And Yahweh turned the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea.” Well, the locusts almost made it home to Arabia. How ironic it is that the Egyptians who were so anxious to be rid of the locusts were about to follow them to the same final resting place. “Not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt. But Yahweh hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.” (Exodus 10:12-20)
Fast forward about five hundred years. Solomon, Israel’s third king, has built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem to replace the wilderness tabernacle. In the intervening centuries, Israel had become all too familiar with the curses of Deuteronomy 28—and, to be fair, some of the blessings as well. They had been, on occasion, subjected to plagues of locusts—both the six legged and two legged varieties—resulting from their apostasies and idolatries. So Solomon asked that the new temple be made a focal point for the prayers of Israel—especially their petitions for forgiveness: “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven Your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart You know, according to all his ways (for You, You only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), that they may fear You all the days that they live in the land that You gave to our fathers.” (I Kings 8:37-40; c.f. II Chronicles 6:28-31) Locust swarms are God’s way (one of them) of saying you’ve screwed up. Repentance is our way of acknowledging the truth of His assessment. And prayer—done in the context of what the temple symbolizes—is how we may communicate our change of heart to our Father.
Since the temple retained the layout of the tabernacle, the lessons concerning prayer remained intact. In order to petition Yahweh, one first had to encounter the altar of judgment, then avail himself of the laver of cleansing. The priest (i.e., the one who intercedes with God) could then enter the temple, where the seven-branched menorah illuminates the bread of Yahweh’s presence—highlighting His constant provision. Only then could he approach the altar of incense, where prayer (symbolically, anyway) is offered. This altar stood immediately before the Most Holy Place, where Yahweh’s Shekinah was said to abide between the twin cherubim of the mercy seat atop the ark of the covenant. In other words, there were no short cuts to the throne of God in prayer. In the end, we could petition Yahweh for the “locusts” of our lives to be removed only because we had been redeemed by the blood of the lamb of God and cleansed by His Holy Spirit, we had acknowledged Yahweh’s constant provision, and had been admitted into His presence through prayer.
The prophet Joel uses several words to describe locusts—which play a large symbolic role in his dire predictions. These words evidently represent stages of the creature’s development, rather than identifying separate species. The ’arbeh is the mature locust, that which deposits the eggs. The yeleq is apparently the larva as it emerges from the egg. The hasil seems to be the intermediate instar (the stage between molts). And the gazam is evidently the nymph stage, so destructive and ravenous it even strips the bark from trees. Of infinitely more importance, however, is the prophet’s message: that because of the apostasy and idolatry of God’s people, they will be subject to destruction (symbolized by locusts)—but if (actually, when) they repent, Yahweh will restore their fortunes. “Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation. What the cutting locust [gazam] left, the swarming locust [’arbeh] has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust [yeleq] has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust [hasil] has eaten.” (Joel 1:2-4) While Joel’s message is addressed to Judah, the dearth of specifics (not to mention the overall tenor of his prophecy) leads me to believe that the real object of his prophecy is the world at large during the last days.
And while I have no doubt that the locusts of judgment were literal in the case of Judah (and may be literal again as they wreak havoc upon the earth during the Tribulation), I also hear echoes of other prophesies, warnings of a great, unstoppable army rampaging upon the earth during the latter years of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. What does this sound like—locusts, or a well armed human horde? To me, it could go either way, either one or both: “The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.” As a battle tactic, Sherman’s march to the sea during the Civil War looked just like this. “Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run.” We’ve already seen that horses are an oft used scriptural metaphor for military might. “As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.” As locusts are equipped with wings, we are (perhaps) being given a prophetic glimpse of “close air support.” “Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path. They burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.” How else would you describe a modern disciplined fighting force, well trained in both open field and urban warfare? “The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.” (Joel 2:3-10) Any way you look at it, these adversaries are formidable, terrifying, numerous, and utterly destructive.
Though the Tribulation will be a time characterized by anarchy and lawlessness, punctuated by the almost casual use of weapons of mass destruction, there is one army that fits Joel’s prophecy to a tee. It isn’t the Muslim horde that will invade Israel about a year into the Tribulation. The “Magog coalition” will be characterized by the Islamic legacy of blind hatred toward everybody. Ezekiel reports (in 38:21) that their battle plan will disintegrate into chaos, infighting, and fratricide before they can achieve their objective of wiping Israel off the map. It will be like Gideon vs. the Midianites all over again. No, the army I’m talking about is described in the sixth trumpet judgment in Revelation—which places its rise within the second half of the Tribulation.
“Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.” (Revelation 9:13-16) We met this army when reviewing the symbolism of horses. This demon-led horde is identified by their battle flag—containing colors that define them as coming from China. If the schedule of their preparation (an hour, a day, a month, and a year) is timed from the abomination of desolation—when the Antichrist will assume control of the whole earth—then I’d place the date for the sixth trumpet judgment at April 23, 2031. This will give the Chinese horde about two and a half years to achieve their take-over of the entire Far East, killing 1.7 billion souls in the process—a reasonable chronological assumption, once you get past the enormity of the catastrophe. My point is that in order to conquer (or should I say, annihilate) Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, India, and all the rest in such a short time, they’re going to have to be the very disciplined, organized, locust-like fighting force that Joel envisioned.
This two-hundred-million-man Chinese army won’t stay confined east of the Euphrates River, however. Their ultimate prophetic task will be to participate in the final battle—the one in which the Antichrist’s worldwide coalition will attempt to succeed where the Muslim horde so unexpectedly failed. You guessed it: they’re going after the Jews. “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.... And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Revelation 16:12-15) This army will have lost none of its locust-swarm capacity for utter destruction. They, unlike the Muslims that attempted this a few years before, are a battle-hardened, efficient, undefeated (and on paper anyway, undefeatable) military force. But it doesn’t matter. Just like the locusts that Pharaoh called “this death,” Yahweh will blow them away with a word—or, as it’s phrased in Revelation 19:21, “with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse,” i.e., Yahshua the Messiah.
Locusts in scripture aren’t always either Acridium peregrinum or a metaphorical reference to innumerable armies of destructive men. On one occasion at least, they were used to describe something that doesn’t really exist in our ordinary human experience—though it will be all too real when the time comes. “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.” So far, so good: we’re familiar with angels (from scripture, anyway), and we can envision shafts belching thick black smoke. The “fallen star” is no doubt a euphemism for a fallen angel—a demon. But what are we to make of this? “Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them….” Literal locusts do not sting like scorpions, nor do they attack people directly. They do eat green plants and trees. So these are not actual insect-style locusts. Why aren’t they described as scorpions? I believe it’s because scorpions neither fly nor swarm in huge numbers, as these beasties do. Note that these demon-locusts (1) have corporeal existence—mortal bodies. Unlike ordinary demons (who, like angels, are spirits), these “locusts” can interact on a physical level with human beings. (2) Being demons, they are placed under limits—restrictions they must obey—by God Himself. (3) They are prevented from attacking anyone who is “sealed” by Yahweh—a term I believe includes every mortal believer (of whom there will presumably be quite a few, here in the post-abomination second half of the Tribulation).
The description continues: “In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle.” What they “looked like” can’t be so much a literal description as it is a symbolic portrayal. “Horses prepared for battle” tells us they’re armored, mobile, and strong—they’re hard (or impossible) to kill. A “crown of gold” seems to be a mark of authority, or at least power. “Hair like women’s” might be an indicator of pride, since the fancy hairdos of privileged women were the first thing to go when they were hauled off into captivity for their arrogance (e.g., Isaiah 3:24). “Lions’ teeth” speaks of power over one’s prey. “Breastplates of iron,” says (again) that they’re well defended, as they must be, since they have mortal, corporeal bodies. “They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails….” Needless to say, literal locusts do not have tails, nor do they sting people. This may be an indication that their threat is not where you might expect it to be, but the damage they inflict comes from an unexpected direction (as is the case with the scorpion). Deception seems to be Satan’s usual modus operandi.
“They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.” (Revelation 9:1-11) This forces us to ask: whose “troops” were these demon-locusts, anyway? We’re given mixed signals on that issue. On the one hand, they’re released into the world by a fallen angel, and their leader is the spirit of the abyss: it would seem that the devil is calling the shots, especially considering the fact that it’s the second half of the Tribulation, when Satan’s rule on the earth will be unchallenged. On the other hand, it was Yahweh who kicked the “fallen angel” (Satan himself, I’m guessing, though we aren’t told) out of heaven, Yahweh who supplied him with the key to the bottomless pit, Yahweh who imposed a five month time limit on the plague, and Yahweh who set the rules of engagement to exclude attacks on His own children, and even Yahweh who created the “locusts” in the first place, since Satan doesn’t possess a creative nature. In the end, it would seem, the devil’s control over his own demonic manifestations is an illusion. Yahweh is in control.
But why would He engage in such a proactive campaign against the world’s fallen populace? Off hand, I can think of only three other times in history when Yahweh has unilaterally “attacked” mortal humans en masse—the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the conquest of Canaan. And every time, the reason was the same (as far as we can tell): these populations had unanimously received Satan’s spirit. They had all made their choice of whom to serve, and there was no going back. This leads me to a very uncomfortable conclusion about the demonic locusts of the fifth trumpet. Because they are sent to torment “only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads,” by the time of their release, it would appear that everyone alive on the face of the earth had already made their choice of whom to worship and serve—Satan and his Antichrist, or Yahweh and His Messiah. Unlike today’s world, there will be no “undecided” box to check on this survey.
Coming as it does a few years after the epiphany of the Battle of Magog (see Ezekiel 39:22), the fifth trumpet will find many in Israel attuned their God again for the first time in thousands of years. And these intrepid pioneers of renewed Jewish faith in Yahweh will form the backbone of redeemed Israel—where the “locusts” of judgment will never again be allowed to swarm. The same prophet who foretold the destruction of Judah by locusts now reports Israel’s restoration: “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust [’arbeh] has eaten, the hopper [yeleq], the destroyer [hasil], and the cutter [gazam], My great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Yahweh your God and there is none else. And My people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:24-27)
(First published 2014)