One of my kids is a science nut, which means I have watched every science and nature documentary on Netflix. I know more than I ever wanted to know about bugs, lizards, and weather. For example what is the difference between and locust and a grasshopper? They look the same, but they are different. Locusts are bigger and move about in destructive swarms. Grasshoppers are smaller, solitary, and gentle natured. They are closely related though, a locust is not born a locust.
A locust starts out as a grasshopper and is driven into the metamorphic change. Turns out grasshoppers don’t like the feeling of other grasshoppers rubbing up against them. Repeated disruption from its neighbor creates anxiety and the grasshopper starts to flee. As it’s running away the other grasshoppers start to flee as well and the problem just follows the first grasshopper. The frenzy picks up speed and number until the grasshoppers start to physically change, growing larger and spreading wings. The anxiety turns to aggression. Locusts start to swarm because each one knows if he stops the guy behind him will eat him. They swarm to keep from being eaten, meanwhile they eat all the plants in their path. It just escalates until the locusts become a devastating plague.
Locusts show up a lot in bible. Locusts were the eighth plague in Exodus, sent to Israel as a wake-up call in the years leading up to the Babylonian captivity, and foretold as the result of the fifth trumpet in Revelation. In 2 Chronicles God promises to send locusts. When I first read that I had to look again. God promising a plague on the people of promise? I liked it better when the plague was called down on Egypt, the baddie, the other guy. Yet there it is in black and white, “Then the LORD appeared to Solomon by night and said to him: ‘I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’” (2 Chron. 7:12-14 NKJV Emphasis added)
God tell Solomon He will dwell in the new temple, but he warns Solomon that He will go to great lengths to get the attention of the people if they stray away from Him. One of those lengths being devouring locusts. Along with the warning God tells Solomon how they can be reconciled and find healing. If the people turn away from sin, repent, and return to Him, God will heal their land.
We see the promise to heal after repentance expanded in Joel. The people eventually did turn away from God. God did send locusts to Israel, crippling their agricultural economy. God speaks to His people through the prophet Joel saying, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” Joel goes onto add, “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and He relents from doing harm.” (Joel 2:12-13 NKJV) It was never about agriculture for God, it was always about the heart. Joel says to forget the religious rituals for mourning, get your heart right with God.
Later God goes into detail on how He will renew Israel if they will return to Him, “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, and the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25-26 NKJV) That which was lost will be made up with new crops. Those who were hungry will be full. God will be praised and those who felt shame will be no longer be ashamed.
I have always lived in the city. So agricultural metaphors are a stretch for me. I understand the concept in an abstract way, but it does not connect with me on a gut level. I don’t know how to relate it to my real day to day life. If I stray away from God I don’t think He will send locusts. Even if He did, there wouldn’t be much for them to eat. I am surrounded by pavement and my garden is full of weeds. My finances are not tied to the earth. A plague of locusts would be bizarre but it would not get my attention to turn back to God.
God is a creative God. I think there are literal locusts and there are spiritual locusts. Archie brought up that nature documentary and the locusts in discussion the other day. He pointed out that stress in people and the competitive nature of our culture to achieve and come out on top can create a frenzy that is much like the locusts. The stress can grow and take over until other people rub us the wrong way, creating more stress. The frenzy can cause us to be driven and change us. If unchecked, we go from civil, mild mannered people who mean well to aggressive backstabbers. Just read the news, watch reality TV, or surf social media. As the saying goes, it’s a dog eat dog world.
In our minds we’re staying one step ahead of it all, nothing’s changed inside. When all along we forgot to keep track of what’s in front of us. We think we’re headed for money, success, or popularity, fame even. But really it’s whoever is in our way. “If only such-and-such were out of the picture then I’d be set.” Or, “If only so-and-so noticed me then I’d make it.” On and on until we’re hollow inside. The locusts came as spiritual locusts inside of us.
Meanwhile God is sending His Joels out to invite us to return to Him. God invites us to grieve everything that has gone wrong. It’s not like, “You screwed up, go sit in the corner til you’re ready to make it right.” It’s like your heavenly Father is waiting with His arms open, ready for embrace. His chest ready to be drenched with tears, His along with ours. In that grieving process we can turn our hearts back towards God. We can stop looking at so-and-so’s in our life and just look at Jesus. We can stop running the rat race and just rest in His presence. We invite Jesus back onto the throne of our hearts and He will disarm stress so it is no longer our slave driver. The locusts will be gone and we will be restored.