Any of a variety of grasshoppers with short antennae or feelers, especially those that migrate in great swarms. Of the several Hebrew words rendered “locust,” ʼar·behʹ appears most frequently and is understood to refer to the migratory locust, the insect in its fully developed, winged stage. The locust measures two inches (c. 5 centimeters) or more in length. It is equipped with two pairs of wings, four walking legs and two much longer leaper legs with broad thighs. The wide, transparent back wings, when not in use, lie folded under the thick membranous front wings. By means of its leaper legs the insect is able to jump many times the length of its body. (See Job 39:20.) in Scripture the locust is at times used to represent innumerableness.—Judg. 6:5; 7:12; Jer. 46:23; Nah. 3:15, 17.
A “CLEAN” FOOD
The Law designated locusts as clean for food. (Lev. 11:21, 22) John the Baptist, in fact, subsisted on insect locusts and honey. (Matt. 3:4) These insects are said to taste something like shrimp or crab, and are rich in protein, desert locusts, according to an analysis made at Jerusalem, consisting of 75 percent protein. When used for food today, the head, legs, wings and abdomen are removed. The remaining portion, the thorax, is cooked or eaten raw.
In Bible times a locust plague was a severe calamity and, on occasion, an expression of Jehovah’s judgment, as, for instance, in ancient Egypt. (Ex. 10:4-6, 12-19; Deut. 28:38; 1 Ki. 8:37; 2 Chron. 6:28; Ps. 78:46; 105:34) Locusts, brought by the wind, arrive suddenly, but the sound of their coming, compared in Scripture to that of chariots and a fire consuming stubble (Joel 1:4; 2:5, 25), can, it is said, be heard at a distance of about six miles (10 kilometers). Their flight is largely dependent on the wind, which, when favorable, enables them to cover many miles. Locust swarms have even been seen by persons at sea more than a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers) from land. Unfavorable winds, though, can drive them into the water to their death. (Ex. 10:13, 19) The effect of a large swarm in flight (one in the Red Sea area was reported as having covered 2,000 square miles [c. 5,000 square kilometers]) is comparable to a cloud that intercepts the light of the sun.—Joel 2:10.
An invasion of locusts can transform a land from a paradise-like state into a wilderness, for their appetite is voracious. (Joel 2:3) They eat not only greenery but also linen, wool, silk and leather, not even sparing the varnish on the furniture as they penetrate the houses. The daily food consumption of a large swarm has been estimated as equaling that of a million and a half men.
A swarm of locusts progresses like a well-organized, disciplined fighting force, but without king or leader, this testifying to their instinctive wisdom. (Prov. 30:24, 27) Even though many perish, the onslaught continues. Fires built to check their advance are extinguished by the bodies of the dead locusts. Water-filled ditches are of no avail in impeding their progress, for these likewise become filled with their dead bodies. (Joel 2:7-9) “There is no known natural enemy that can keep their devastating migration in check,” wrote a zoology professor. (“The Locust War,” New York Times Magazine, May 12, 1960) Research indicates that the life-span of the locust is between four and six months. Appropriately, therefore, the symbolic locusts of Revelation 9:5 are said to torment men for five months or what would commonly be their full life-span.
Describing a locust plague occurring in the nineteenth century, Louis Figuier states: “It was in the month of April, 1866, that the vanguard of these destructive insects appeared. Debouching through the mountain gorges and through the valleys, into the fertile plains near the coast, they alighted first on the plain of Mitidja and on the Sahel of Algiers. Their mass, at certain points, intercepted the light of the sun, and resembled those whirlwinds of snow which, during the storms of winter, hide the nearest objects from our view. Very soon the cabbages, the oats, the barley, the late wheat, and the market-gardeners’ plants, were partly destroyed. In some places the locusts penetrated into the interiors of the houses.”—The Insect World, p. 308.
At Nahum 3:16 mention is made of the locust’s stripping off its skin. The locust, unlike other insects such as the butterfly, does not pass through the pupa stage of metamorphosis. Instead, it sheds its skin five times to reach adult size. At Nahum 3:17 the Assyrian guardsmen and recruiting officers are compared to locusts that camp in stone pens during a cold day but flee when the sun shines forth. The allusion here may be to the fact that cold weather makes the insects numb, causing them to hide in the crevices of walls until such time as they are warmed by the sun’s rays, after which they fly away. It is reported that not until their bodies reach about 70° Fahrenheit (21° Centigrade) can locusts fly.