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Locust laying eggs, with ovipository deep in the ground (from Comstock ''Introduction to Entomology''). Copyright ''M.P.S.''
A swarm of locusts devouring herbage, as in the plague of locusts (Exod. 10, etc.) and the book of Joel. Copyright ''M.P.S.''

LOCUST. Nine Heb. words are tr. locust in one or other Eng. VS, as follows:

(1) אַרְבֶּה, H746, from רָבָה, H8049, to multiply. Locust most Eng. VSS; grasshopper, also swarming locust (Joel 1:4). Most common word for locust; used for eighth plague.

(2) סָלְעָם, H6155. Bald locust all Eng. VSS (Lev 11:22). This tr. is based on a rabbinical statement that the front of the head of this species is bald.

(3) חַרְגֹּל, H3005. Beetle KJV; Cricket RSV, (11:22).

(4) חָגָב, H2506. Cf. to hide (?) the sun. Tr. grasshopper most Eng. VSS; locust once only (11:22).

(5) גֹ֣וב. A swarm (11:42), grasshopper, great grasshopper KJV (Nah 3:17); locust (Amos 4:9); grasshopper (Nah 3:15, RSV). Found in Amos and Nahum only.

(6) גָּזָם, H1612. To cut off, palmerworm (Joel 1:4, KJV). Cutting locust (Joel 1:4, RSV). Joel and Amos only.

(7) יֶ֫לֶק, H3540. To lick, cankerworm (1:4), caterpillar (1:4) KJV. Locust, hopping locust (1:4) RSV.

(8) חָסִיל, H2885. To consume. Caterpillar (1:4 KJV); destroying locust (1:4 RSV).

(9) צְלָצַל, H7526. To whirr. Locust, all Eng. VSS, Deuteronomy 28:42 only. (Also fishspear, Job 41:7; whirring Isa 18:1).

Only one Gr. word is used ἀκρίς, G210, locust.

Difficulty of identifying species.

This rich vocabulary is evidence of the importance of these insects in the life of the Israelites. Including the four NT references, these words occur some fifty-six times, and it is generally agreed that they all refer to one or other kind or species of locust. They are found in many different books and contexts, yet these provide little incidental information. No. 4 could be an exception; tr. “grasshopper” four times and “locust” once, it is used three times as a measure of smallness; e.g. Numbers 13:33 “we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers.” It is once described as good for food and only once as a potential danger to crops (2 Chron 7:13). This could thus be a smaller grasshopper, perhaps non-gregarious, of which there are many species, but against this the root may suggest a swarming species. As the above table shows, there is little uniformity of tr. either within one Eng. VS or between KJV and RSV; e.g. in KJV three Heb. words are tr. both “locust” and “grasshopper. One word (No. 2) is consistently tr. “bald locust,” and this description would fit some of the Tryxalinae, which have long smooth heads but are otherwise typical grasshoppers. Solomon refers to the extraordinary co-ordinated mass movements of swarming locusts (Prov 30:27), which is almost the only direct Biblical comment on their biology and habits.

Are Hebrew names species or phases?

From the list in Leviticus 11:22 it would seem that Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4 are different; they may be separate species. From the striking description of the locust plague (Joel 1:4) it seems at first that Nos. 1, 6, 7, 8 are different, but it is equally likely that these are all names for various phases of the migratory locust. With the exception of Nos. 2 and 3, which are prob. other species, each name refers to a different attribute of locusts, and they may be virtually synonyms. (Such usage is common today in undeveloped countries; e.g. in Ghana a ground squirrel can be a serious farm pest and is also eagerly killed for food. It has a precise name in each language, but is more often referred to as traveler, road-crosser, peanut thief, etc.) If such is true generally of “locust” in the Scriptures, there is no point in trying to identify words which may be largely nicknames.

Description of locust family.

In Europe locusts are often the larger members of the family and grasshoppers the smaller, but the criterion is sometimes that locusts swarm and migrate, while grasshoppers are more or less solitary. In America the connotation is different and the words are nearly interchangeable; even cicadas, of another insect order, may be called locusts. The name strictly belongs to a number of large insects of the family Acridiidae (Gr. ἀκρίς, G210) of the order Orthoptera—straight-winged. The main characteristic of locusts is that from time to time they multiply at a frightening rate and move in huge swarms, often over great distances. Their antennae are short and the female has a short, stubby ovipositor. Locusts are entirely vegetarian, which is a reason why they were allowed the Israelites as food, and they eat a wide range of green stuff. Much research work has been done on this major pest and it is now known that all locusts exist in two phases, solitary and gregarious, with intermediate forms. These differ in appearance, and within each phase there is variation in color, size and proportions. Swarming is in part a physiological response to conditions and is a way of colonizing new areas.

Species now found in Palestine.

The Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria), in many races, is found in most warm parts of the world except America. The other two likely to do damage in Pal. are the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) and the Moroccan Locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus). Eggs are laid in small packets near the surface of the soil; hatching sometimes depends on moisture, and the eggs of some species, e.g. S. African Brown Locust can survive for three and one half years in dry ground, but hatch in ten days if the soil is damp. The young that emerge have the same general shape as adults, but no wings, and they pass through five or six moults, growing larger after each and gradually acquiring wings. The narrow forewings are like parchment, while the hind-wings, which are folded like a fan when at rest, are broad and membranous, sometimes with a color pattern.

Locust control.

In their early stages locusts move only by crawling or hopping, being known as hoppers. These are less mobile and thus easier to destroy, and control organizations aim at forecasting swarm formation and movement in order to do this. Many swarms fly out to sea or into true desert and so destroy themselves. Numbers can be astronomical; a Desert Locust swarm that crossed the Red Sea in 1889 was estimated to cover 2,000 square m. Such swarms are like dark clouds and contain countless millions. Wind is the main factor in determining the direction taken by a swarm. Locusts usually approach Pal. from the Arabian deserts to the SE, but they may also come from other directions. Locusts have always been a scourge, esp. in the Middle E, but modern materials, and communications based on a degree of co-operation rare in that area, have greatly reduced the damage done annually.

Locusts in the Bible narrative.

Locusts appear mainly in three settings:

a. The cause of the eighth plague, nine times.

b. A destroyer, both literal and fig. (twenty-five times).

c. A source of human food (six times).

The remaining sixteen occurrences are in a variety of contexts, mostly fig., some of which have already been mentioned.

Eighth plague.

This tr. is amply confirmed by the details in the narrative (Exod 10). The complete stripping of all crops and green stuff; swarms dense enough to hide the sun; arriving with the E wind and being carried away by a “very strong W wind.” Hort (see Lice) sees the locusts as part of a logical sequence, for the unusually heavy winds that began the series would create conditions likely to cause mass breeding and swarm formation. The divine element is seen in the complete control of the situation, with the swarms coming and going according to God’s will. It is ironic that the cause of this devastating plague, with its long-lasting effects, should also have been a useful source of food to the Israelites on their desert journey.

As a destroyer.

From antiquity the locust has been almost synonymous with destruction. Joel 2:25, “the years that the locust hath eaten” is now a proverb. Soon after the Bible was tr. into Eng. by Tyndale (1546) a greedy, devouring man was known as a locust. To the inhabitants of Pal. and many lands to the NE locust swarms were classed with drought and pestilence as utter calamities against which they could do nothing. It is not surprising that on nearly half the occasions where the words are used it is in this connection. Most commentators see in Joel 1 the accurate description of an actual plague, but some take it as largely fig. In at least three cases, apart from the plague, locusts are sent or threatened by God as a direct punishment for wrongdoing. Deuteronomy 28 lists the curses which will result from disobedience in Canaan; v. 42, “All your trees and the fruit of your ground the locust shall possess.” (See also 2 Chron 7:13; Amos 5:9.)

As food permitted to Hebrews.

The regulations about food in Mosaic law were not arbitrary rules such as one finds in food taboos among primitive tribes today, but divinely inspired keys for easy recognition of safe and harmful kinds. Where distinction was hard, the good was forbidden along with the bad. Leviticus 11:20: “All winged insects that go upon all fours are an abomination to you.” These would include beetles, cockroaches, crickets, etc., many of which feed on or live among carrion and domestic rubbish and are therefore liable to transmit filth diseases. All these must be avoided. Insects are, of course, six-legged, and “all fours” must be here regarded as a technical term for creeping or running as opposed to jumping, which characterizes the grasshopper tribe. So v. 21, “Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those which have legs above their feet, with which to leap on the earth.” The anatomy sounds strange in all Eng. VSS but the meaning is clear, for the hind pair of legs is greatly enlarged, and when at rest they reach far above the body.

Value of locusts as human food.

Except for termites in some areas, locusts are more important than any other insect as a source of food, and they have been used as such since antiquity. Stone carvings in the palace of Ashurbanipal (8th cent. b.c.) show locusts on sticks being carried to a royal banquet. Diodorus of Sicily (2nd cent. b.c.) (Historia III. 2) among other Gr. historians, refers to Acridiphagi, or locust-eaters, of Ethiopia. Locusts are permitted food for Muslims and tradition has it that Mohammed himself used to eat them. Some African tribes still largely depend on locusts for their protein for much of the year; after eating as many as possible roasted and boiled they preserve large quantities by drying or grinding into flour. Until recent years, and perhaps now, the nomads of Algeria tried to store about 450 lbs. per tent. The recent influx of oil wealth into N Africa and other Arab lands is changing many old habits but in poorer areas locusts are still a welcome and valuable addition to an often marginal diet. It is not stated directly that the Israelites ate locusts in the desert, but this can reasonably be assumed. The food laws were first given at Sinai, early in the journey, and, as for locusts, this permission prob. codified a practice of long standing. Their routes must have crossed the lines taken by many swarms, and though the desert would offer no green food at most seasons, locusts cannot fly indefinitely and would be compelled to land at intervals, thus coming within reach of the travelers. Locusts are a useful source of protein, fat and calories; they also have a fair amount of mineral salts, but are not rich in vitamins. Dried locusts contain more than fifty per cent protein and a variable amount of fat—up to twenty percent. When John the Baptist was reported to be living on “locusts and wild honey” (Matt 3:4), he was enjoying a crude but fairly balanced diet; the honey would be basically sugar, but with some pollen and perhaps bee grubs as well, which would increase the protein content.


H. B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible 9th ed. (1898), 306-318; F. S. Bodenheimer, Insects as Human Food (1951); P. Pesson, The World of Insects (1959).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

lo’-kust: The translation of a large number of Hebrew and Greek words:

1. Names:

(1) ’arbeh from the root rabhah, "to increase" (compare Arabic raba’, "to increase").

(2) sal`am, from obsolete [?] cal`am, "to swallow down," "to consume."

(3) chargol (compare Arabic charjal, "to run to the right or left," charjalat, "a company of horses" or "a swarm of locusts," charjawan, a kind of locust).

(4) chaghabh (compare Arabic chajab, "to hide," "to cover").

(5) gazam (compare Arabic jazum, " to cut off")

(6) yeleq, from the root laqaq "to lick" (compare Arabic laqlaq, "to dart out the tongue" (used of a serpent)).

(7) chacil, from the root chacal, "to devour" (compare Arabic chaucal, "crop" (of a bird)).

(8) gobh, from the obsolete root gabhah (compare Arabic jabi, "locust," from the root jaba’, "to come out of a hole").

(9) gebh, from same root.

(10) tselatsal from [?] tsalal (onomatopoetic), "to tinkle," "to ring" (compare Arabic call, "to give a ringing sound" (used of a horse’s bit); compare also Arabic Tann, used of the sound of a drum or piece of metal, also of the humming of flies).

(11) akris (genitive akridos; diminutive akridion, whence Acridium, a genus of locusts).

2. Identifications:

(1), (2), (3) and (4) constitute the list of clean insects in Le 11:21 f, characterized as "winged creeping things that go upon all fours, which have legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth." This manifestly refers to jumping insects of the order Orthoptera, such as locusts, grasshoppers and crickets, and is in contrast to the unclean "winged creeping things that go upon all fours," which may be taken to denote running Orthoptera, such as cockroaches, mole-crickets and ear-wigs, as well as insects of other orders.

"The locusts have no king,

Yet go they forth all of them by bands" (Pr 30:27).

’Arbeh is referred to as a plague in De 28:38; 1Ki 8:37; 2Ch 6:28; Ps 78:46; in Joe and in Nahum. These references, together with the fact that it is the most used word, occurring 24 times, warrant us in assuming it to be one of the swarming species, i.e. Pachtylus migratorius or Schistocerca peregrina, which from time to time devastate large regions in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean.

Cal`am (2), English Versions of the Bible "bald locust," occurs only in Le 11:22. According to Tristram, NBH, the name "bald locust" was given because it is said in the Talmud to have a smooth head. It has been thought to be one of the genus Tryxalis (T. unguiculata or T. nasuta), in which the head is greatly elongated.

Chargol (3), the King James Version "beetle," the Revised Version (British and American) "cricket," being one of the leaping insects, cannot be a beetle. It might be a cricket, but comparison with the Arabic (see supra) favors a locust of some sort. The word occurs only in Le 11:22.

See Beetle.

Haghabh (4) is one of the clean leaping insects of Le 11:22 (English Versions of the Bible "grasshopper"). The word occurs in four other places, nowhere coupled with the name of another insect. In the report of the spies (Nu 13:33), we have the expression, "We were in our own sight as grasshoppers"; in Ec 12:5, "The grasshopper shall be a burden"; in Isa 40:22, "It is he that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers." These three passages distinctly favor the rendering "grasshopper" of the English Versions of the Bible. In the remaining passage (2Ch 7:13), ".... if I command the locust (English Versions) to devour the land," the migratory locust seems to be referred to. Doubtless this as well as other words was loosely used. In English there is no sharp distinction between the words "grasshopper" and "locust."

The migratory locusts belong to the family Acridiidae, distinguished by short, thick antennae, and by having the organs of hearing at the base of the abdomen. The insects of the family Locustidae are commonly called "grasshoppers," but the same name is applied to those Acridiidae which are not found in swarms. The Locustidae have long, thin antennae, organs of hearing on the tibiae of the front legs, and the females have long ovipositors. It may be noted that the insect known in America as the seventeen-year locust, which occasionally does extensive damage to trees by laying its eggs in the twigs, is a totally different insect, being a Cicada of the order Rhynchota. Species of Cicada are found in Palestine, but are not considered harmful.

The Book of Joe is largely occupied with the description of a plague of locusts. Commentators differ as to whether it should be interpreted literally or allegorically (see Joel). Four names ’arbeh (1), gazam (5), yeleq (6) and chacil (7), are found in Joe 1:4 and again in 2:25.

While these four words occur in Joe 1:4 and 2:25, a consideration of the book as a whole does not show that the ravages of four different insect pests are referred to, but rather a single one, and that the locust. These words may therefore be regarded as different names of the locust, referring to different stages of development of the insect. It is true that the words do not occur in quite the same order in 14 and in 2:25, but while the former verse indicates a definite succession, the latter does not. If, therefore, all four words refer to the locust, "palmer-worm," "canker-worm," "caterpillar" and the Septuagint erusibe, "rust," are obviously inappropriate.

Gobh (8) is found in the difficult passage (Am 7:1), ".... He formed locusts (the King James Version "grasshoppers," the King James Version margin "green worms," Septuagint akris) in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth"; and (Na 3:17) in ".... thy marshals (are) as the swarms of grasshoppers (Hebrew gobh gobhay; the King James Version "great grasshoppers"), which encamp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and their place is not known where they are." The related gebh (9) occurs but once, in Isa 33:4, also a disputed passage, "And your spoil shall be gathered as the caterpillar (chacil) gathereth: as locusts (gebhim) leap shall men leap upon it." It is impossible to determine what species is meant, but some kind of locust or grasshopper fits any of these passages.

In De 28:42, "All thy trees and the fruit of thy ground shall the locust (English Versions of the Bible) possess," we have (10) tselatsal, Septuagint erusibe). The same word is translated in 2Sa 6:5 and Ps 150:5 bis "cymbals," in Job 41:7 "fish-spears," and in Isa 18:1 "rustling." As stated in 1, above, it is an onomatopoetic word, and in De 28:42 may well refer to the noise of the wings of a flight of locusts.

In the New Testament we have (11) akris, "locust," the food of John the Baptist (Mt 3:4; Mr 1:6); the same word is used figuratively in Re 9:3,1; and also in the Apocrypha (Judith 2:20; The Wisdom of Solomon 16:9; and see 2 Esdras 4:24).

3. Habits:

The swarms of locusts are composed of countless individuals. The statements sometimes made that they darken the sky must not be taken too literally. They do not produce darkness, but their effect may be like that of a thick cloud. Their movements are largely determined by the wind, and while fields that are in their path may be laid waste, others at one side may not be affected. It is possible by vigorous waving to keep a given tract clear of them, but usually enough men cannot be found to protect the fields from their ravages.

Large birds have been known to pass through a flight of locusts with open mouths, filling their crops with the insects. Tristram, NHB, relates how he saw the fishes in the Jordan enjoying a similar feast, as the locusts fell into the stream. The female locust, by means of the ovipositor at the end of her abdomen, digs a hole in the ground, and deposits in it a mass of eggs, which are cemented together with a glandular secretion. An effective way of dealing with the locusts is to gather and destroy these egg-masses, and it is customary for the local governments to offer a substantial reward for a measure of eggs. The young before they can fly are frequently swept into pits or ditches dug for the purpose and are burned.

The young are of the same general shape as the adult insects, differing in being small, black and wingless. The three distinct stages in the metamorphosis of butterflies and others of the higher insects are not to be distinguished in locusts. They molt about six times, emerging from each molt larger than before. At first there are no wings. After several molts, small and useless wings are found, but it is only after the last molt that the insects are able to fly. In the early molts the tiny black nymphs are found in patches on the ground, hopping out of the way when disturbed. Later they run, until they are able to fly.

In all stages they are destructive to vegetation. Some remarkable pictures of their ravages are found in Joe 1:6,7, "For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number; his teeth are the teeth of a lion, and he hath the jaw-teeth of a lioness. He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my figtree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white" (see also 2:2-9,20).

4. Figurative:

5. Locusts as Food:

The Arabs prepare for food the thorax of the locust, which contains the great wing muscles. They pull off the head, which as it comes away brings with it a mass of the viscera, and they remove the abdomen (or "tail"), the legs and the wings. The thoraxes, if not at once eaten, are dried and put away as a store of food for a lean season. The idea of feeding upon locusts when prepared in this way should not be so repellent as the thought of eating the whole insect. In the light of this it is not incredible that the food of John the Baptist should have been "locusts and wild honey" (Mt 3:4).

See Insects.

See also

  • Animals