A voracious winged insect, belonging to the genus known among naturalists as the Grylli, closely resembling the grasshopper, and a great scourge in oriental countries in both ancient and modern times. There are ten different names in the Hebrew Bible for insects of this kind; but some of these probably designate different forms or stages in life of the same species. The Bible represents their countless swarms as directed in their flight and march by God, and used in the chastisement of guilty nations, Deuteronomy 28:38-42 1 Kings 8:37 2 Chronicles 6:28. A swarm of locusts was among the plagues of Egypt; they covered the whole land, so that the earth was darkened, and devoured every green herb of the earth, and the fruit of every tree which the hail had left, Exodus 10:4-19. But the most particular description of this insect, and of its destructive career, in the sacred writings, is in Joel 2:3-10. This is one of the most striking and animated descriptions to be met with in the whole compass of prophecy; and the double destruction to be produced by locusts and the enemies of which they were the harbingers, is painted with the most expressive force and accuracy. We see the destroying army moving before us as we read, and see the desolation spreading. It should also be mentioned, that the four insects specified in Joel 1:4, the palmer-worm, the locust, the canker-worm, and the caterpillar, are strictly, according to the Hebrew, only different forms of locusts, some perhaps without wings, as mentioned below. The following extracts from Dr. Shaw and Mr. Morier, which are also corroborated by Niebuhr, Burckhardt, and other travelers, may serve as a commentary upon this and other passages of Scripture.
Dr. Shaw remarks, "Those which I saw, were much bigger than our common grasshoppers, and had brown spotted wings, with legs and bodies of a bright yellow. Their first appearance was towards the end of March, the wind having been some time from the south. In the middle of April, their numbers were so vastly increased, that in the heat of the day they formed themselves into large and numerous swarms, flew in the air like a succession of clouds, and as the prophet Joel expresses it, they darkened the sun. When the wind blew briskly, so that these swarms were crowded by others, or thrown one upon another, we had a lively idea of that comparison of the psalmist, Psalms 109:23, of being tossed up and down as the locust. In the month of May, these swarms gradually retired into the Metijiah and other adjacent plains, where they deposited their eggs. These were no sooner hatched, in June, than each of the broods collected itself into a compact body of a furlong or more square, and marching afterwards in a direct line towards the sea, they let nothing escape them; eating up every thing that was green and juicy, not only the lesser kinds of vegetables, but the vine likewise, the fig-tree, the pomegranate, the palm, and the apple-tree, even all the trees of the field, Joel 1:12; in doing which, kept their ranks like men of war, climbing over, as they advanced, every tree or wall that was in their way; nay, they entered into our very houses and bedchambers like thieves. The inhabitants, to stop their progress, made a variety of pits and trenches all over their fields and gardens, which they filled with water; or else they heaped up therein heath, stubble, and such like combustible matter, which were severally set on fire upon the approach of the locusts. But this was all to no purpose, for the trenches were quickly filled up and the fires extinguished by infinite swarms succeeding one another, while the front was regarded less of danger and the rear pressed on so close that a retreat was altogether impossible. A day or two after one of these broods was in motion, others were already hatched to march and glean after them, gnawing off the very bark and the young branches of such trees as had before escaped with the loss only of their fruit and foliage. So justly have they been compared by the prophet to a great army; who further observes, that the land is as the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness."
Mr. Morier says, "On the 11th of June, while seated in our tents about noon, we heard a very unusual noise, that sounded like the rustling of a great wind at a distance. On looking up, we perceived an immense cloud, here and there semi-transparent, in other parts quite black, that spread itself all over the sky, and at intervals shadowed the sun. These we soon found to be locusts, whole swarms of them falling about us. These were of a red color, and I should suppose are the red predatory locusts, one of the Egyptian plagues. As soon as they appeared, the gardeners and husbandmen made loud shouts, to prevent their settling on their grounds. They seemed to be impelled by one common instinct, and moved in one body, which had the appearance of being organized by a leader, Joel 2:7."
The locust was a "clean" animal for the Jews, Leviticus 11:22, and might be used for food. In Matthew 3:4, it is said of John the Baptist, that "his meat was locusts, and wild honey." They are still eaten in the East, and regarded by some as a delicacy, though usually left to the poorest of the people. Niebuhr remarks, "Locusts are brought to market on mount Sumara I saw an Arab who had collected a whole sackful of the. They are prepared in different ways. An Arab in Egypt, of whom we requested that he would immediately eat locusts in our presence, threw them upon the glowing coals, and after he supposed they were roasted enough, he took them upon the glowing coals, and after he supposed they were roasted enough, he took them by the legs and head, and devoured the remainder at one mouthful. When the Arabs have them in quantities, they roast or dry them in an oven, or boil the locusts, and then dry them on the roofs of their houses. One sees there large baskets full of them in the markets."
Burckhardt also relates the fact in a similar manner: "The Bedaween eat locusts, which are collected in great quantities in the beginning of April, when they are easily caught. After having been roasted a little upon the iron plate on which bread is baked, they are dried in the sun, and then put into large sacks, with the mixture of a little salt."
In Revelation 9:7-10, there is a terrific description of symbolical locusts, in which they are compared to war-horses, their hair to the hair of women, etc. Niebuhr heard an Arab of the desert, and another in Bagdad, make the same comparison. They likened "the head of the locust to that of the horse; its breast to that of the lion; its feet to those of the camel; its body to that of the serpent; its tail to that of the scorpion; its antennae, if I mistake not, to the locks of hair of a virgin; and so of other parts." In like manner, the Italians still call locusts little horses, and the Germans hayhorses.