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The Blue Letter Bible

Dictionaries :: Locust

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


lo'-kust: The translation of a large number of Hebrew and Greek words:

1. Names:

(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).

2. Identifications:

(1), (2), (3) and (4) constitute the list of clean insects in Le 11:21 f, 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 Jud 6:5; 7:12; Job 39:20; Jer 46:23. Septuagint has usually akris, "locust"; but has brouchos, "wingless locust," in Le 11:22; 1Ki 8:37 (akris in the parallel passage, 2Ch 6:28); Na 3:15; and attelebos, "wingless locust," in Na 3:17. ‘Arbeh occurs (Ex 10:4-19) in the account of the plague of locusts; in the phrase "as locusts for multitude" (Jud 6:5; 7:12); "more than the locusts.... innumerable" (Jer 46:23);

"The locusts have no king,

Yet go they forth all of them by bands" (Pr 30:27).

‘Arbeh is referred to as a plague in De 28:38; 1Ki 8:37; 2Ch 6:28; Ps 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 Le 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 Le 11:22.


Haghabh (4) is one of the clean leaping insects of Le 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 (Nu 13:33), we have the expression, "We were in our own sight as grasshoppers"; in Ec 12:5, "The grasshopper shall be a burden"; in Isa 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 (2Ch 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 Joe 1:4 and again in 2:25.

For the etymology of these names, see 1 above. Gazam (Am 4:9; Joe 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) (1Ki 8:37; 2Ch 6:28; Ps 78:46; Isa 23:4; Joe 1:4; 2:25) is uniformly translated "caterpillar." The Septuagint has indifferently brouchos, "wingless locust," and erusibe, "rust" (of wheat). Yeleq (Ps 105:34; Jer 51:14,27; Joe 1:4; 2:25; Na 3:15,16) is everywhere "canker-worm" in the Revised Version (British and American), except in Ps 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 Joe 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 (Am 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 (Na 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 Isa 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 De 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 2Sa 6:5 and Ps 150:5 bis "cymbals," in Job 41:7 "fish-spears," and in Isa 18:1 "rustling." As stated in 1, above, it is an onomatopoetic word, and in De 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 (Mt 3:4; Mr 1:6); the same word is used figuratively in Re 9:3,1; and also in the Apocrypha (Judith 2:20; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:9; and see 2 Esdras 4:24).

3. Habits:

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 Joe 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).

4. Figurative:

Locusts are instruments of the wrath of God (Ex 10:4-19; De 28:38,42; 2Ch 7:13; Ps 78:46; 105:34; Na 3:15-17; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:9; Re 9:3); they typify an invading army (Jer 51:14,27); they are compared with horses (Joe 2:4; Re 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" (Pr 30:27). Like the stars and sands of the sea, locusts are a type of that which cannot be numbered (Jud 6:5; 7:12; Jer 46:23; Judith 2:20). Grasshoppers are a symbol of insignificance (Nu 13:33; Ec 12:5; Isa 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" (Mt 3:4).

Written by Alfred Ely Day


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