Deep Dive: Them Locusts (Joel 1)

pabloDeep Dive is a weekly series in which I look at an aspect of the text that was important, interesting or just weird but that I was not able to touch on in the sermon.

When I was a kid, one of our pastimes during the summer would be running through the vacant lot next to our house and capturing grasshoppers in glass jars. We would look through the class and see the different colors and variations of the grasshoppers. Joel must have had a similar fascination. In Joel 1:4, he describes the locust hordes that descended upon Israel and Judah.

The ESV reads:

“What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locusts has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.”

Meanwhile, the King James says:

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.

Meanwhile, the NASB uses “the gnawing locust…swarming locust…creeping locust…stripping locust” and the CSB uses “devouring locust…swarming locust…young locust…destroying locust.”

These variety of translations and word choice leaves you wondering “Who knew there were so many different kinds of locusts!” Duane Garrett tells us that “the Old Testament uses no less than ten different words for locusts and grasshoppers, and the Talmud uses twenty.” This leads to the wide variety of translations used in Joel 1:4.

Duane Garrett offers a several of different interpretations of the variety of names for locusts found here in Joel 1:4. Some have thought that “the terms may refer to different species of insects,” which explains the KJV translation of the passage. Others thought “the words may describe subspecies of grasshoppers  or even grasshoppers of different colors.” While a third group thinks that the terms “refer to different stages of development (instars) in the life cycle of the grasshopper. Yet another of bible commentators thinks the terms “reflect regional dialectical differences.” Another group says “the terms could refer to four separate locust swarms that successively hit Jerusalem and its environs.” And lastly some put forward that idea that the “synonyms…are piled up for rhetorical effect.” (1) Whichever interpretation you think is correct, it does leave you asking one question.

Who knew that you could write so much about grasshoppers and locusts?

(1) Garrett, Duane A. Hosea, Joel. NAC. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1997.

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