The Hungry Locust
“LIKE the garden of Eden is the land before them, and after them a desert waste; from them there is no escape.” (Joel 2:3, New American Bible) Thus wrote the ancient Hebrew prophet Joel in describing the effects of a locust invasion.
A huge swarm of desert locusts can turn acres upon acres of growing crops into a sorrowful sight, giving rise to famine conditions. A single locust will eat the equivalent of its own weight each day. When we consider that a large swarm may consist of billions of locusts, the amount of vegetation consumed is colossal. An estimated 40 billion locusts in a swarm covering some 400 square miles (1,036 square kilometers) may devour some 80,000 tons of food daily!
In 1958 a swarm of this size made its appearance in Somalia, the easternmost country of Africa. This tremendous swarm, however, is not the largest one on record. In 1889 a swarm in the Red Sea area covered an estimated 2,000 square miles (5,280 square kilometers).
The following Biblical description of a locust plague is no exaggeration: “As with the rumble of chariots they leap on the mountaintops; as with the crackling of a fiery flame devouring stubble; like a mighty people arrayed for battle. Before them peoples are in torment, every face blanches. They assault the city, they run upon the wall, they climb into the houses; in at the windows they come like thieves. Before them the earth trembles, the heavens shake; the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withhold their brightness.”—Joel 2:5, 6, 9, 10, NAB.
The sound of an approaching locust swarm may be heard for a distance of about six miles (10 kilometers). Like a well-organized fighting force the locust army advances, reducing all vegetation in its path to a state of ruin. Also, linen, wool, silk and leather do not escape the locusts’ jaws. When invading houses, they do not spare even the varnish on the furniture.
In desperation, farmers may throw rocks and cans and hit at the locusts with reeds and sticks. But in the end, everything is in vain. The locusts are just too many. The onslaught continues. So great are their numbers that they appear as a cloud or blizzard darkening the sky.
Happily, it is not every year that desert locusts invade in full force, wreaking awesome devastation. Why is this?
Weather conditions are primarily responsible. During dry years, when vegetation is limited in desert areas, locusts do not hatch in great numbers and thereafter do not group together. They resemble green grasshoppers. But when there are repeated rains in the deserts, locusts hatch in tremendous numbers and become gregarious. Their color changes from green to yellow, black and red.
The change in behavior and color results from the locusts’ touching one another. This has been confirmed by scientific experiments. Confined to a jar wherein the touching effect is simulated by small swirling threads, a desert locust gradually undergoes a color change.
Modern methods of controlling locusts, particularly by aerial spraying, have limited the extent of locust plagues. But they do not stop locusts from reproducing in great numbers. The only thing that can really prevent a locust plague is a natural disaster—drought.
Does this mean that man will always be forced to battle against the hungry locust? No. Why not? Because the Creator, Jehovah God, has purposed to transform this earth into a place free from the problems that have interfered with man’s enjoyment of life. (Rev. 21:3-5) As part of his creation, locusts have a place on earth, and in his new order they will remain in their place and not become a devastating plague.
Centuries ago Jehovah God demonstrated his power to control locusts. He brought a great plague of these insects upon the Egyptians, who were holding the Israelites in slavery, and then also put an end to that plague, driving the entire swarm into the sea.—Ex. 10:12-19.
In its own way, the hungry locust can help us to appreciate man’s littleness and God’s greatness. Only the Creator can see to it that this insect will one day serve for man’s benefit and no longer be a problem with which he must contend.