Here, on the side of this mountain, above Fuliyeh [near the Sea of Galilee, two miles south of Tiberias], I had my first introduction, some twenty years ago [about 1837], to the far-famed locusts of the East. Noticing something peculiar on the hillside, I rode up to examine it, when, to my amazement, the whole surface became agitated, and began to roll down the declivity. My horse was so terrified that I was obliged to dismount. The locusts were very young, not yet able even to jump; they had the shape, however, of minute grasshoppers. Their numbers seemed infinite, and in their haste to get out of my way they literally rolled over and over, like semi-fluid mortar an inch or two in thickness. Many years after this I became better acquainted with these extraordinary creatures in Abeih [a mountain village 15 miles south of Beirut] on Lebanon.
Early in the spring of 1845, these insects appeared in considerable numbers along the seacoast and on the lower spurs of the mountains. They did no great injury at the time, and, having laid their eggs, immediately disappeared. The people, familiar with their habits, looked with anxiety to the time when these eggs would be hatched, nor were their fears groundless or exaggerated. For several days previous to the first of June we had heard that millions of young locusts were on their march up the valley toward our village, and at length I was told that they had reached the lower part of it. Summoning all the people I could collect, we went to meet and attack them, hoping to stop their progress altogether, or at least to turn aside the line of their march. Never shall I lose the impression produced by the first view of them. I had often passed through clouds of flying locusts, and they always struck my imagination with a sort of vague terror; but these we now confronted were without wings, and about the size of full-grown grasshoppers, which they closely resembled in appearance and behavior. But their number was astounding; the whole face of the mountain was black with them. On they came like a living deluge. We dug trenches, and kindled fires, and beat, and burned to death “heaps upon heaps,” but the effort was utterly useless. Wave after wave rolled up the mountain side, and poured over rocks, walls, ditches, and hedges, those behind covering up and bridging over the masses already killed. After a long and fatiguing contest, I descended the mountain to examine the depth of the column, but I could not see to the end of it. Wearied with my hard walk over this living deluge, I returned, and gave over the vain effort to stop its progress.
By the next morning the head of the column had reached my garden, and, hiring eight or ten people, I resolved to rescue at least my vegetables and flowers. During this day we succeeded, by fire, and by beating them off the walls with brushes and branches, in keeping our little garden tolerably clear of them; but it was perfectly appalling to watch this animated river as it flowed up the road and ascended the hill above my house. At length, worn out with incessant skirmishing, I gave up the battle. Carrying the pots into the parlor, and covering up what else I could, I surrendered the remainder to the conquerors. For four days they continued to pass on toward the east, and finally only a few stragglers of the mighty hosts were left behind.
In every stage of their existence these locusts give a most impressive view of the power of God to punish a wicked world. Look at the pioneers of the host, those flying squadrons that appear in early spring. Watch the furious impulse for the propagation of their devouring progeny. No power of man can interrupt it; millions upon millions, with most fatal industry, deposit their innumerable eggs in the field, the plain, and the desert. This done, they vanish like morning mist. But in six or eight weeks the very dust seems to waken into life, and, molded into maggots, begins to creep. Soon this animated earth becomes minute grasshoppers, and, creeping and jumping all in the same general direction, they begin their destructive march. After a few days their voracious appetite palls; they become sluggish, and fast, like the silkworms, for a short time. Like the silk worms, too, they repeat this fasting four times before they have completed their transmutations and are accommodated with wings. I do not remember to have seen this fact in their history noticed by any naturalist. In their march they devour every green thing, and with wonderful expedition. A large vineyard and garden adjoining mine was green as a meadow in the morning, but long before night it was naked and bare as a newly-plowed field or dusty road. The noise made in marching and foraging was like that of a heavy shower on a distant forest.
The references to the habits and behavior of locusts in the Bible are very striking and accurate. Joel says,
“He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white” (Joel 1:7).
These locusts at once strip the vines of every leaf and cluster of grapes, and of every green twig. I also saw many large fig orchards “clean bare,” not a leaf remaining; and as the bark of the fig-tree is of a silvery whiteness, the whole orchards, thus rifled of their green veils, spread abroad their branches “made white” in melancholy nakedness to the burning sun.
In view of the utter destruction which they effect, the prophet exclaims,
“Alas for the day! for the day of the LORD is at hand, and as a destruction from the Almighty shall it come. Is not the meat cut off before our eyes?” (Joel 1:15,16).
This is most emphatically true. I saw under my own eye not only a large vineyard loaded with young grapes, but whole fields of corn disappear as if by magic, and the hope of the husbandman vanish like smoke.
“How do the beasts groan! the herds of cattle are perplexed because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate” (Joel 1:18).
This is poetic, but true. A field over which this flood of desolation has rolled shows not a blade for even a goat to nip.
“The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them. Before their face the people shall be much pained… all faces gather blackness. They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war, and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks” (Joel 2:3,6,7).
When the head of the mighty column came in contact with the palace of the Emeer Asaad in Abelh, they did not take the trouble to wheel round the corners, but climbed the wall like men of war, and marched over the top of it; so, when they reached the house of [a friend], in spite of all his efforts to prevent it, a living stream rolled right over the roof.
“They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall; they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief” (Joel 2:9).
Every touch in the picture is true to life. If not carefully watched, they would have devoured the flowers which were carried into the inner rooms in pots.
The prophet Nahum says:
“The locusts camp in the hedges in the cold day; but when the sun ariseth they flee away, and the place is not known where they are” (Nah 3:17).
Paxton and others have remarked that there is much difficulty in this passage, but to any one who has attentively watched the habits of the locust, it is not only plain, but very striking. In the evenings, as soon as the air became cool, at Abeih they literally camped in the hedges and loose stone walls, covering them over like a swarm of bees settled on a bush. There they remained until the next day’s sun waxed warm, when they again commenced their march. One of the days on which they were passing was quite cool, and the locusts scarcely moved at all from their camps, and multitudes remained actually stationary until the next morning. Those that did march crept along very heavily, as if cramped and stiff; but in a hot day they hurried forward in a very earnest, lively manner. It is an aggravation of the calamity if the weather continues cool, for then they prolong their stay and do far more damage. When the hot sun beats powerfully upon them, they literally flee away, and the place is not known where they are. This is true even in regard to those which have not wings. One wonders where they have all gone. Yesterday the whole earth seemed to be creeping and jumping, today you see not a locust. And the disappearance of the clouds of flying locusts is still more sudden and complete.
David complains that he was tossed up and down as the locusts (Psa 109:23). This reference is to the flying locust. I have had frequent opportunities to notice how these squadrons are tossed up and down, and whirled round and round by the ever-varying currents of the mountain winds.
“The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands” (Prov 30:27).
Nothing in their habits is more striking than the pertinacity [persistence] with which they all pursue the same line of march, like a disciplined army. As they have no king, they must be influenced by some common instinct.
I am not surprised that Pharaoh’s servants remonstrated against his folly and madness when they heard the plague of locusts announced. To their proud master they said:
“Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed? And when they came they were very grievous, for they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened, and they ate every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees, and there remained not any green thing in the trees, nor in the herbs of the field.”
“They shall cover the face of the earth so that one can not be able to see the ground” (see Exod 10:3-15).
I have this dreadful picture indelibly fixed on my mind. For several nights after they came to Abelh, as soon as I closed my eyes the whole earth seemed to be creeping and jumping, nor could I banish the ugly image from my brain.
The coming of locusts is a sore judgment from God. “If I command the locusts to devour the land,” says the LORD to Solomon (2Chr 7:13). Yes, it is the command of God that brings these insects to scourge a land for the wickedness of the inhabitants thereof.
W.M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, pp. 416-419