The Blight of the Locusts

The first chapter of the book written by the Old Testament prophet Joel tells a tale of utter desolation.

“What the locust swarm has left / the great locusts have eaten; / what the great locusts have left / the young locusts have eaten; / what the young locusts have left / other locusts have eaten” (Joel 1:4). 

This was no ordinary event. There were locusts on top of locusts on top of locusts. This plague of insects made the Egyptian plague of Moses’ day look like one solitary bug. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the true story of swarms of locusts that obliterated the sun and destroyed two years of wheat in nineteenth-century Minnesota. Over a period of five years, locusts destroyed more than thirteen million bushels of wheat and eleven million bushels of corn and oats.3

Wilder wrote of her own experience: “Huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail. The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with the noise of a hailstorm.” 4

Before it was over, Wilder wrote, the wheat and oats—their cash crops—were destroyed that year, their vegetable garden was gone and there was no grass for the milk cows to eat.

Westminster Theological Seminary professor Raymond Dillard writes of the passage in Joel that even today a large swarm of locusts can devastate a region. Once the crops are destroyed, food becomes scarce, lowering the immune systems of the starving people and making them more vulnerable to disease.  

The scarcity of food prevents the affected area from trading its surpluses, driving up prices and weakening the economy. Once the locusts die, their rotting carcasses breed typhus and other communicable diseases. Dillard goes on to say that swarms “have even been observed twelve hundred miles at sea. The swarms can reach great sizes: a swarm across the Red Sea in 1889 was estimated to cover two thousand square miles. A swarm is estimated to contain up to 120 million insects per mile.”5 Imagine a swarm of locusts roughly the size of Delaware’s land mass! With so many ravenous insects, not a single piece of vegetation would be left. In fact, as Hampton Keathley points out, the locusts Joel talks about would have destroyed even the grain that the Israelites used in their grain offerings to the Lord, meaning “their sacrifices had to stop and their relationship with God was severed.”6 In other words, this proclamation by the prophet Joel tells us everything that mattered had been destroyed.

The loss of our families can make us feel this way—forsaken and utterly destroyed. We can feel like that wheat field next to the Little House on the Prairie, stripped bare and good for nothing. The family we knew is gone, blown apart, obliterated. Maybe more than just our family was gone. For many of us, divorce meant leaving the house we grew up in, leaving our neighborhood, our friends, our school. For some of us, divorce even meant losing our church, either because we felt ashamed that our family did not fit the image we thought everyone expected of us or because we felt and even heard condemnation from those who should have been most concerned for our souls. To use Joel’s metaphor, locusts ate our family, but then other locusts came and ate our friendships and childhood home, and still more locusts ate our church.

But there is more to the book of Joel. We need to keep reading. Joel did not write just one chapter. There was destruction and famine and hopelessness for a time, but God did not leave his people in such a state.

In chapter 2, God offered this promise: I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (Joel 2:25-26)

What a great promise! God does not promise that we will eke out a living from the dusty earth left behind by the locusts. He says we will have an abundance, that we will eat until we are full. It is like the children’s Sunday school song that says “he feeds me at his banqueting table.” The tables are overflowing with good things to eat, more than we can possibly need, and God invites us to sit down and eat until we cannot eat another bite.

God is not stingy with his blessing. He promises to fully restore the lost years and bring us to a place where we will be completely satisfied. This is a lifeline, a hope we can hold on to when things look bleak.

I cannot tell you what that restoration will look like in your life, nor can I tell you when it will happen. Some of us will see broken relationships with our parents and siblings mended and new ones forged that are stronger and deeper. Others of us will build our own great marriages and loving families that will bring us tremendous joy. And some of us may have to wait for heaven, where all wrongs will be righted, all wounds healed, all tears wiped away.

One man I talked to described the announcement of his parents’ divorce as his family’s own personal 9/11. “We were sitting in the house, secure and safe, watching television, not suspecting a thing; and then suddenly, wham! You turn away from the television for a minute and think, ‘I couldn’t have just seen that; it couldn’t have been real.’ But then you turn back to look and see it all replayed, over and over again.” He is still waiting for the restoration to begin in his life, to see God bring him to a place of feasting after the blight of locusts.  

What he has seen, however, is that God has used his ministry to urban youth to teach him about the power of persistent, unconditional love to break down walls of insincerity and falsehood. He is trying to apply this principle to his relationship with his father and hopes that he will one day see his father come clean with him about the real story behind his abandonment of their family.

Like this man, and like most of the people I interviewed for this book, I too am still in the process of healing, of watching the young green shoots poke through the barren soil. I do not have a perfect relationship with my dad, but we talk from time to time, and each time it is less awkward and less stressful. It has not been easy and it has not been quick, but the locusts are not having the last word! 

When we are still in the locust-stripped field, we need to remember that God knows where we are. Think about all the great people in the Bible who encountered God or his emissaries:

Abraham, who entertained angels in his tent home (Genesis 18); Jacob, who saw the ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending

(Genesis 28:10-22); Moses, who saw God in a burning bush (Exodus 3); Daniel, whose prayer was answered by a visit from the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9); the virgin Mary, who received a special message of her own from Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38).  

In not one of these passages do we read that the angel got lost or had to ask around for directions.

God did not burn up ten bushes on random mountains hoping that Moses would stumble across his path. None of the angels says, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Even Gabriel, who had to stop and fight a battle on his way to deliver his message to Daniel, knew exactly where to find him. God knows exactly where we are. He knows it geographically, he knows it spiritually, he knows it emotionally. Your bare, locust-eaten field of a heart is no surprise to him, nor has it escaped his notice.

There is an old spiritual that says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Part of us is actually glad that nobody knows our deepest trouble. We do not like the vulnerability of letting others see the anguish of our souls laid bare. In many Christian circles, it can be very tempting to paste on a smile and pretend that nothing in the world is troubling us. This is shallow Christianity, and it masks the truth. If we could see into the lives of those other nicely dressed and pressed members of our churches, we would see many wounds and scars as deep as our own. Life does that to us, but sorrow is not all bad. I am convinced that without deep sorrow, deep joy and deep peace are not possible.


Taken from Child of Divorce, Child of God by Kristine Steakley, (c) 2008 by Kristine Steakley. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. ivpress.com

Kristine Steakley is a freelance writer and a grant-writing consultant living in northern Virginia. She is a graduate of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and worked for more than a decade at Prison Fellowship Ministries. She is a blogger for The Point (www.thepoint.breakpoint.org) and also blogs at www.childofdivorce-childofgod.blogspot.com.