What Do Locusts Symbolize in the Bible?
- Lori Stanley Roeleveld Contributing Writer
- 2021 14 Apr
Locusts appear in the Bible, usually when God is disciplining His people or issuing a judgment. While they are also mentioned as food and we know the prophet, John the Baptist was known to have subsisted in the wilderness on locusts and wild honey, most mentions of locusts in the Bible are during times of God’s wrath poured out either as discipline for His people or as a means of demonstrating His power so as to move those who defy Him to repentance.
What Are Locusts and Where Do We See Them in Scripture?
Locusts are grasshopper-like insects who are generally solitary. In some countries, they are a source of protein, boiled with salt or roasted to a tasty crunch. They can go unnoticed in their solitary state for months except by children who marvel at the strength of their legs and their ability to jump to impressive heights. But under certain conditions. locusts can swarm, becoming a frighteningly destructive agent of crop devastation. In this swarming phase, usually brought on by drought, they breed rapidly and travel in large clouds, consuming all vegetation in their path. Locust swarms appear in our times, especially in Africa, India, and the Middle East, although they’re not completely unknown in parts of the United States. According to the BBC, in 2020, locust swarms appeared in dozens of countries at once. When they impact several neighboring countries in this way, we refer to this as a “plague of locusts.”
Locust swarms are featured in the Old Testament, figuring prominently in the history of the Jewish people. They also appear as essential figures in biblical prophecy both in the Old Testament and in Revelation.
What Role Did Locusts Play in the Egyptian Plagues?
Most famously, locusts played a starring role when Moses took on Pharaoh in Egypt. One of the 10 plagues Moses called down upon the Egyptians was locusts. The Israelites had been enslaved for generations under cruel Egyptian Pharaohs. In the time of Moses, it was God’s plan to free them from slavery, but Pharaoh’s heart was hard.
God used the 10 plagues—blood, frogs, gnats/lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the firstborn—to move Pharaoh’s heart to free the Israelites. God turned their water to blood and filled the land with frogs and biting gnats. The people endured and Pharaoh remained embedded in his hardness, so God sent a pestilence that killed their livestock, boils that afflicted their bodies, and then hail that destroyed much of their food supply. Pharaoh was still unrelenting, so God sent locusts to eat whatever the hail had not destroyed. They were the clean-up crew focused on leaving not a twig or leaf for food for Pharaoh’s people.
We see that locusts were followed only by two worse plagues—three days of complete darkness in the land and then the death of every firstborn son. The Egyptians were polytheistic, worshipping many gods, and some have compared the 10 plagues (10 being the number of completeness) to each of the 10 gods they worshipped. So, turning the Nile to blood would be a challenge to Hapi, the god of the Nile. Heket, the goddess of fertility, actually had the head of a frog and so, the plague of frogs. Locusts would have been a challenge to Seth, the god of chaos and storms, as swarming locusts appear like a great storm cloud on the horizon.
God has no problem demonstrating that He is God over all the universe. There is no one greater than He.
Photo credit: Public Domain Image
What Role Do Locusts Play in Revelation?
God’s demonstration of plagues against Pharaoh, as dramatic as it was, was only a precursor or foreshadowing of what is to come at the end of days. Revelation prophesies a time when the inhabitants remaining on earth will rise up against God. The people of God will be raptured, and deception will be rampant. Kings and nations will unite against God. God’s wrath is imminent but, just as He did with Pharaoh, God will send dramatic warning events to persuade people to repent and be saved.
The locusts of Revelation, however, are no ordinary locusts. They will not be swarming against vegetation. In fact, they are instructed not to bother with the grass or trees but to, instead, swarm against humans. They are given five months in which to torment people with pain like that of a scorpion bite. The Bible says it will be such agony that people will long for death but not be able to find it.
The locusts from Revelation nine have unique characteristics—as if they were bionic creatures—upgraded from swarming crop destroyers to great storm clouds of terror for humanity. They are, in fact, released by an angel from a great bottomless pit (or abyss) and rise like black smoke from the recesses of a place so terrible, their reigning king is an angel known as Apollyon which means “Destroyer.”
As you can see, when locusts are mentioned in the Bible, it’s worth paying attention. What will follow is likely widespread devastation and sorrow. Of course, God’s desire is that this devastation and sorrow would lead to repentance. Much as we, as human parents, will increase discipline with a stubborn child, hoping each elevation of restriction brings about a change of heart so they no longer repeat their unacceptable behavior, so God increases humanity’s discomfort to turn them from actions that will lead to eternal separation from Him.
The terrible locusts of Revelation, as horrific as they are, pale in comparison to the second death, which is life forever without God who is love, light, and life everlasting. God is always moving toward the day when He will “restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you” Joel 2:25 ESV. Satan looks only to kill and to destroy. His aim is eternal death. God sends trials, including locusts, but His aim is restoration of relationship, repentance, renewal, and life eternal.
It is worthwhile that we pray for those who are unsaved that God would use every hardship to soften and not harden their hearts toward the Gospel.
What Specific Bible Verses Talk about Locusts?
Revelation 9:1-6 ESV “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. 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.”
Revelation 9:7-11 ESV “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. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. 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.”
2 Chronicles 7:12-15 ESV “Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: ‘I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.’”
Joel 2:25-26 ESV “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. ‘You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.’”
Exodus 10:3-6 ESV “So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me. 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.’” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.”
Exodus 10:15 ESV “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.”
Matthew 3:4 ESV “Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
Leviticus 11:21-22 ESV “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.”
1 Kings 8:37-40 ESV “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.”
Amos 4:9 ESV “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.”
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Luke Dray/Stringer
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits who enjoys making comfortable Christians late for dinner. She’s authored four encouraging, unsettling books including Running from a Crazy Man and The Art of Hard Conversations. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.