Swarms of locusts and the book of Joel

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, September 4, 2018

As long as they are in their solitary phase, they are grasshoppers, but for some reason and under certain circumstances they can transform into a swarming phase — then they are called locusts. There is no taxonomic difference — they are locusts when they swarm and grasshoppers when they don’t. 

As long as they remain in the solitary grasshopper phase, their numbers are low and they pose no danger to crops. But under the right conditions of drought and availability of vegetation, they begin to rapidly multiply and mature into adult locusts. Able to fly, the adults can travel long distances and strip fields in their path of any green vegetation. And they’ve been doing it for a long time, even before our history was written down.

They appear in pictures on the walls of Egyptian tombs, and we read about them in the Iliad, the Bible and the Koran. They have destroyed crops, caused famines and driven people to migrate to other, unaffected places. Their destructive power is legendary and we can only imagine what it must have been like to watch them blacken the sky, descend on a crop in our field, devour it in a very short time, and then move on to the next field. 

Now, thanks to better surveillance and insecticides, we don’t hear much about locust swarms any more — but we might in the near future. Grasshoppers and/or locusts are edible and considered a delicacy in many countries around the world. So we might, someday in our near future, create swarms and harvest them to feed the hungry. In fact, the word “locust” comes from the Latin “locusta,” which also gives rise to “lobster.” 

“Blow the trumpet; sound the alarm on Zion, God’s sacred hill. Tremble, people of Judah! The day of the Lord is coming soon. It will be a dark and gloomy day, a black and cloudy day. The great army of locusts advances like darkness spreading over the mountains. There has never been anything like it, and there never will be again (Joel 2).”

We can only imagine what it must have been like to look up and see the sky blackened with a cloud of locusts descending on our fields. I can’t imagine feeling more helpless. It’s a vivid picture of divine warning and judgment from above and Joel predicts, unless God’s people repent, a time of judgment advancing like a dark cloud of locusts.  But fortunately, judgment is not God’s last word. Joel also predicts the good news, the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower us and the second coming of Jesus to save us.