[hha·silʹ, considered to be derived from a root meaning “to finish off,” “to consume,” “to cut off,” “to devour”].
There is uncertainty as to the particular insect referred to by the Hebrew word hha·silʹ. It has been variously rendered “caterpillar,” “cricket,” “stripper,” “shearer,” “locust,” “grasshopper” and “cockroach,” (Compare Isaiah 33:4 and Joel 1:4 in AS, AT, JB, Le and NW.) According to a recent Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon by Koehler and Baumgartner, the noxious insect designated by the Hebrew word hha·silʹ is different from the locust (ʼar·behʹ), probably the cockroach.
The cockroach has long, strong legs, enabling it to run with amazing speed. It is, in fact, one of the fastest of insect runners. This insect has a flat face and a short head, equipped with long threadlike antennae or feelers, and gives the appearance of looking slightly downward. Its compact-shaped body enables the cockroach to slip into narrow openings. Most of the species are somberly colored in black or brown and have a flattened, slippery body covered with a shiny casing. Disliking bright light, cockroaches usually come out only at night to feed. Considering that the cockroach devours almost anything, including vegetation, garbage, clothing and furniture, it may well be the insect corresponding to the Hebrew hha·silʹ.
The prophet Joel foretold a devastating onslaught by a horde of insects that would desolate the land, mentioning the hha·silʹ last, as the insect that consumes whatever has been left behind by the others. (Joel 1:4) Later, the prophet tells of the time when there will be blessings and forgiveness. The invader will be turned back and compensation made for what the hha·silʹ and the other members of God’s “great military force” have eaten. (Joel 2:25) With respect to such a divinely sent plague of insects, including the hha·silʹ, Solomon prayed that Jehovah might forgive his people if they repented of their sins. (1 Ki. 8:37-40; 2 Chron. 6:28-31) The hha·silʹ also figured in the devastation Jehovah brought upon Egypt during the plague of locusts.—Ps. 78:46.
In chapter thirty-three of Isaiah, the prophet takes note of the terrifying days of the Assyrian aggression. King Sennacherib’s army had been ravaging cities, and Isaiah asks for God’s favor, recalling that Jehovah had risen up against nations before, and assures the people that the Almighty will smite the enemy, forcing him to leave behind great spoil. The plunder of the Assyrian army would be collected by the Israelites, just as the hha·silʹ spread over a land, moving to and fro without molestation, gathering in whatever is in their way, consuming everything—thus God’s people would gather in the spoils of the Assyrian army. (Isa. 33:1-4) This would be a very striking figure of speech in a land that knew such devastation by hordes of hha·silʹ.