Does the Bible Tell Us Anything about Cicadas?
- Barbara Latta Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 25 May
Growing up in Arkansas, I remember the whirring call of cicadas in the afternoon. The ugly creatures resembled a 1950’s monster movie to me. Enlarge them on the screen and you have a terrifying creature mutated by radioactivity.
The shells always fascinated all the kids. My brothers would pull the empty carcasses off of trees and chase me with them. After I discovered there was no bug inside, I explored the stuck-on crusts too.
2021 is the emerging year for the Brood X 17-year cicada which mostly affects the eastern United States. There are over 3,000 species of cicadas, but are they found in the Bible? As we explore Scripture and the characteristics, life cycle, and behavior of the cicadas, we can find out the answer to this question.
Differences in Cicadas and Locusts
Male cicadas make their loud noise by vibrating tymbals at the base of their abdomen. In large groups, the buzzing can become so loud it’s possible to damage a human’s hearing. The sound has been compared to tractors, lawnmowers, and motorcycles. The female lays eggs on deciduous plants. The eggs fall to the ground where the hatched nymphs burrow into the ground to remain for several years.
Cicadas are often referred to as locusts. Yet these two insects are members of different species. They are often confused with each other because they both fly and make buzzing noises. Locusts will swarm and devastate crops, while cicadas remain at their food source – attached to the tree – which is the reason we see their discarded exoskeletons on tree trunks.
Cicadas are similar to an aphid, while locusts are actually grasshoppers. A grasshopper’s life span is only several months. Adult cicadas live 4-6 weeks after laying eggs, but the nymphs can live 13-17 years underground.
Spiritual Lessons and Symbolism of Cicadas
Locusts are known for plagues as those described in the book of Exodus (Exodus 10:13-14).
They leave devastation in their wake as nothing green is left on the stem. Locusts and grasshoppers are the only flying insect the Torah allowed the Jews to eat.
Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other flying insects that have four legs you are to regard as unclean. (Leviticus 11:22)
While cicadas are not mentioned in the scriptures, their symbolism has been used by many to display spiritual lessons. When we read about John the Baptist in the Bible, our minds picture a rough-looking man clothed in camel hair while eating locusts and honey.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6)
Because these insects spend so much time underground, when they emerge and sing their song, it has been viewed as a song of liberation much like the music Miriam and the other women made with their tambourines after crossing the Red Sea.
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. (Exodus 15:20)
Seventeen years ago, the cicada appearing coincided with Shavuot and was viewed as a call to action for Jewish lives. Since the cicada nymphs lie beneath the earth for years, then pop up with a vision for reproduction, this symbolism was viewed as an invitation to Jewish people to live in a productive manner.
God Uses the Animal World to Teach Us
God has used the animal world many times in the Bible to teach us lessons such as a donkey speaking to Balaam (Numbers 22:28), a raven feeding Elijah (1 Kings 17:6), and a rooster reminding Peter of his rash comment (Mark 14:72).
God’s world may be mysterious to us in some ways, but we know that nature and all created beings have a purpose. At the beginning of time, God called everything good. That means at that point in the earth’s history, no living thing had destructive qualities. Yet even after the fall, God’s fingerprint was on all nature as He instilled checks and balances that would preserve the earth. Predators keep overpopulation at bay, and creatures with strange life cycles like the cicada have a reason to be here.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Superstitions and myths surround the cicada, but these sometimes-ancient beliefs do not change where our life source comes from. Our hope is in Christ’s resurrection, not an insect.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
Cicadas in Mythology
Cicadas have shown up in Native American folklore and ancient Greek literature. They were believed to bless the crops by bringing abundance. The critters usually showed up around the time the bean crops were ready for harvest, thus the superstition was connected to the appearance of the insects. In some cases, the bugs were ground into powder and used on injured warriors as they were thought to have healing powers. The Hopi believed their ancestor had insect form and was called cicada kachina, or spirit-being.
The hump-backed flute player, Kokopellie, has been described as influenced by cicadas and is often seen on Native American pottery found in the southwest United States.
The ancient Greeks thought the bugs symbolized immortality due to their development underground. They saw this as a picture of rebirth.
Eastern cultures also saw the shedding of the nymph’s skin as a symbol of rebirth. Cicadas carved from jade have been found from the Han Dynasty dating back to 1500 B.C. They would place these figurines on the tongues of the dead in the hopes of a resurrection
Benefits of Cicadas to the Earth
The laying of eggs on twigs of saplings can break weaker branches. This could be viewed as destructive but actually serves as a pruning process. Fabric that allows air to penetrate can be wrapped around trees to prevent damage from the cicada population if there is a concern. The nymph’s surfacing through the soil aerates the ground. The bugs are used as food for birds and even people have been known to roast and eat them. With the increase in food supply, the bird population can increase. And because they are no longer in the ground providing food for moles, the tunneling varmint’s population decreases. The bodies of cicadas that die after laying eggs produce nitrogen that feeds the soil.
Seeing God Through Cicadas
As the Brood X covers the ground and trees, we can know this noise-making mystery is temporary. New eggs will be laid, the hatched young will enter the ground and start the life cycle over again.
In 1225 St. Francis of Assisi penned these words as part of a poem that was later set to music by Englishman William Draper, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing.”
As the comparisons show us, cicadas were not the same meat that was on John’s menu, nor the same insect as the locusts that plagued Egypt. The Bible doesn’t mention them by name but when we hear the buzzing symphony of the cicadas, may we see this as God’s creation giving Him praise.
Praise the Lord from the earth…creeping things and flying fowl. (Psalm 148: 7, 10)
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/miwa_in_oz
Barbara Latta is a true southerner and is transplanted from Arkansas to Georgia. She writes a monthly column in her local newspaper and contributes to devotional websites, online magazines, and has stories in several anthologies. She is the author of God’s Maps, Stories of Inspiration, and Direction for Motorcycle Riders. She enjoys traveling with her Harley-riding prince on his motorcycle taking in the creativity of nature. Drinking coffee on the patio while the sun comes up is her favorite time of day. Barbara shares about walking in grace and thriving in hope on her blog, Navigating Life’s Curves, at www.barbaralatta.blogspot.com. She cherishes her role in life as a wife, a mom to two grown sons, and Mimi to one granddaughter.