Insects are small creatures with a three-segment, stiff shell instead of bones, six legs, and two or four wings protruding from the middle segment (thorax). The one million species of insects are a large proportion of mobile animals in God’s world. They mostly have a four-stage life cycle (egg, larva, chrysalis (pupa), and adult). The United Kingdom hosts about 24 thousand species. Many have important tasks for humanity, such as pollination, dung disposal (task of some larvae), silk fibre, honey production, and aphid control. Conversely, some are vectors of disease such as malaria, and river blindness, or cause crop failure (e.g., mosquitos, river black fly larvae, locusts).
It is not surprising, therefore, that some insect species are mentioned in God’s word. A check of direct references with any concordance will yield the following statistics of references:
In addition, there are thirty-nine insect product references to honey or honeycomb, and three to silk, woven with fibre from silk moth chrysalis wrappings.
These are big flying insects, 3-6 cm long, of the grasshopper group that feed voraciously on all green vegetation. Three locust sub-species are mentioned in Leviticus chapter 11 verse 22. Even now, locusts can erupt in huge, dense swarms that destroy crops on a large scale from northeast Africa eastwards as far as Pakistan. Their average life span is three months. In consequence, whole communities may face starvation and require food aid from international donors.
In Old Testament times locusts would have caused many people to perish with hunger. They were the eighth judgement on Egypt, blown in from the east by the Lord to persuade Pharaoh to release the children of Israel, Exod. 10. 12-27. All green vegetation was eaten, the sky was dark with the insects. Pharaoh recognized the power of the God of Israel, v. 17, upon which a westerly gale drove out the insects into the Red Sea. However, he only offered a conditional release that Moses refused to accept.
Other locust swarms are briefly mentioned in Proverbs chapter 30 verse 27 and threatened as retribution upon Israel in Nahum chapter 3 verses 15 and 17, here referring to their grasshopper-like body and habits, v. 17. Locust invasion is listed as a potential retribution for national disobedience in the Promised Land, Deut. 28. 42, and actioned, as reported in Joel chapter 1 verse 4. Locusts can, however, be eaten, presumably fried, Lev. 11. 22, and they formed part of the diet of John the Baptist, Mark 1. 6.
In the last days of the fifth trumpet, the first woe, men without the seal of God will be tormented by very special locusts, Rev. 9.
These are the largest species in the wasp family and rightly feared for their aggressiveness and potentially fatal sting. In the Old Testament they are among the weapons promised by the Lord to ensure victory over the tribes in the Promised Land, Exod.
23. 28, as recorded in Joshua chapter 24 verse 12. Probably, Deuteronomy chapter 1 verse 44 actually refers to hornets (not bees) chasing men on nest disturbance, as they have this author!
These are rightly reported as beneficial insects. Isaiah 7 verse 18 refers to the old practice of hissing to call forth honeybees - this in reference to calling invaders to punish Israel. Samson acquired honey from honeybees occupying a lion’s carcass, Judg. 14. 8, 9. The many references to honey in the Old Testament indicate that such raiding was commonplace, as it still is in some countries today. Also, organized colonies of bees in hives must have been the practice of the Canaanites, as their land was said to flow with milk and honey. Psalm 118 verse 12 shows that the reaction to the human nest raiders could be hazardous! The large nesting colonies of honeybees are unique, though all species of bumblebees practise it on a limited scale.
The five references mainly refer to the appetite of some moth larvae for cloth fibres, thus the destruction of stored clothes - most likely to affect the rich in Bible times. Mention of silk, from the silk wound cocoons of the silk moth, is made in Ezekiel chapter 16 verses 10 and 13. Only the very rich could dress in this material, Rev. 18. 12.
Swarms of flies were the fifth judgement brought upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave the country, Exod. 8. 21, but, after dallying, he refused. This is recorded in Psalm 105 verse 31. Then, as now, flies must have spread many diseases, e.g., malaria by mosquitos, and flies might even contaminate the ointments of the apothecaries, Eccles. 10. 1.
Ants are amazingly well organised and make full provision for each colony to grow in the summer (with ‘meat’) and survive the winter (on earlier harvested items) when the search for provision items is futile. This timely action is referred to in these scriptures although then the complex structure of ant colonies was unknown.
These biblical records demonstrate how God can and will use His insects to deliver messages, and control and punish wayward human society.
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