Insects play a surprisingly prominent role in the Bible, often representing evil, judgement, and plagues from God. While we may overlook these small creatures today, biblical authors recognized their destructive power and used them metaphorically to convey spiritual truths. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the major appearances of evil insects throughout Scripture and what they signify.
Insects like locusts, maggots, gadflies, and catepillars emerge at key moments in the biblical narrative as instruments of destruction and divine judgement. Their presence usually indicates that sin and evil have taken root among God’s people. God then uses these creatures to enact his justice and spur repentance. Though insects appear “evil” from a human perspective, they operate as part of God’s plan for purifying the earth.
- Insects often represent God’s judgment on sin and evil
- Their destructive power conveys spiritual lessons
- God uses these “evil” creatures for his divine purposes
The Old Testament, in particular, contains dozens of references to insects as harbingers of plagues and devastation. The New Testament builds on this symbolism, with insects epitomizing the judgement of God on the wicked. Jesus himself uses insects as metaphors for spiritual corruption. Overall, “evil” insects serve an instructive purpose across Scripture – teaching vital lessons about sin, judgement, pride, and the power of God over all creation.
Locusts as Instruments of Judgement
Locusts emerge more than any other insect as agents of destruction in the Bible. Descending in swarms, they ravage crops and strip the land bare. The book of Exodus first introduces locusts when they constitute the 8th plague on Egypt:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.” So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt. (Exodus 10:12-15 NKJV)
This decimation of Egypt’s agriculture demonstrates God’s power over creation and his ability to use insects as instruments of his judgment. The completeness of the locust infestation – covering “all that was left” – highlights how insects can rapidly bring barrenness, loss, and suffering. Their arrival was precipitated by the sin and stubbornness of Pharaoh in subjugating the Israelites. The text establishes locusts as part of God’s retribution.
Later in Israel’s history, God deploys locusts against his own people to induce repentance. When Israel strays from the covenant and falls into idolatry, the prophet Joel writes:
What the chewing locust left, the swarming locust has eaten; What the swarming locust left, the crawling locust has eaten; And what the crawling locust left, the consuming locust has eaten. (Joel 1:4 NKJV)
Joel describes locusts stripping the land bare, destroying grain, vines, fig trees and other agriculture. This creeping devastation signals God’s displeasure with the spiritual state of his people. Joel calls everyone to weep, mourn, and turn their hearts back to the Lord who “has given the command, And His army will come in from the north and destroy the land.” (Joel 2:20 NKJV). The swarming insect hoard epitomizes an unchecked evil sent to spur change.
Throughout Scripture, locusts constitute an instrument of God to humble the people and call them back to righteous living. Their emergence is a call to reflection and repentance.
Destructive Maggots and Mildew
In addition to locusts, the Old Testament deploys maggots, mildew, and other insects as instruments of destruction and judgment:
- Exodus 16 – When the Israelites hoarded manna in the wilderness against God’s instructions, it bred worms and became foul. This signified the impermanence of God’s provision and the importance of obedience.
- Deuteronomy 28:38-42 – Disobedience to God’s laws in the land of Canaan would result in destroyed crops consumed by locusts. Their invasion signals God’s curse.
- 1 Kings 8:37 – Maggots and caterpillars are listed among the plagues that God could send upon the land for sin.
- Amos 4:9 – God declares he struck the people’s gardens and vineyards with blight and mildew.
- Haggai 2:17 – Mildew and hail are again portrayed as instruments of judgment on the disobedient.
- Joel 1:17 – Rotting seeds under clods of earth show God’s hand against the people to spark repentance.
In all these instances, insects and crop diseases represent God’s displeasure and his power to follow through with punishment. The people are called to see their affliction as divine discipline. While unpleasant and destructive from a human perspective, these creatures spur spiritual correction.
Proverbs and Insect Imagery
The wisdom literature of the Old Testament, especially Proverbs, uses insect imagery to convey principles of righteousness and justice. These small creatures illustrate qualities to embrace or avoid.
For example, ants exemplify hard work and wisdom in preparing for the future:
Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler, Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8 NKJV)
Grasshoppers epitomize aimlessness and idleness:
The lazy man will not plow because of winter; He will beg during harvest and have nothing. (Proverbs 20:4 NKJV)
Maggots and worms graphically symbolize death and decay:
But a godless man’s house will be destroyed, through apathy; in a spider’s web the trusting man will lean his weight, but invain. (Job 8:14-15 NKJV)
Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare. (Proverbs 20:13 NKJV)
These verses showcase how insects illustrated key virtues and vices. Their mention conjured up concrete images for the ancient audience. While locusts and plagues represented God’s judgment, proverbs used insects to teach wisdom.
Gadflies as Metaphors of Annoyance
In a memorable exchange between Zelek the Ammonite and King David, gadflies become a metaphor for persistent annoyance:
Then David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should be adversaries to me today? Shall any man be put to death today in Israel? For do I not know that today I am king over Israel?” Therefore the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king swore to him. Now Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king. And he had not cared for his feet, nor trimmed his mustache, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he returned in peace…Then Zelek the Ammonite, the servant of Shimei, said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the Lord has ordered him. It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing this day.” And as David and his men went along the road, Shimei went along the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, threw stones at him and kicked up dust. Now the king and all the people who were with him became weary; so they refreshed themselves there. (2 Samuel 16:10-14; 19:24-25; 21-22 NKJV)
Here Shimei persists in cursing and insulting King David as gadflies irritate cows. David’s men want to be rid of this annoyance, yet the king recognizes God’s hand at work in allowing the discomfort. Despite Shimei’s evil intent, God works through it mysteriously for David’s future good. The imagery of the gadfly’s relentless attack underscores David’s exasperated weariness, yet his response shows wisdom in letting the fly be.
Jesus’ References to Evil Insects
Building on Old Testament precedent, Jesus himself invokes insect imagery to convey spiritual lessons:
- He notes that straining out gnats while swallowing camels illustrates hypocrisy and misplaced priorities:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24 NKJV)
- Jesus compares Herod to a fox and declares he will carry out his ministry anyway:
And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ (Luke 13:32 NKJV)
- He urges followers to trample on sinister scorpions and serpents:
Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19 NKJV)
- He notes birds eating up seeds as representing evil snatching away the word of God:
Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. (Luke 8:12 NKJV)
In each case, insects and animals symbolize sinister spiritual forces that Jesus’ followers must overcome through discernment and divine authority.
Revelation’s Evil Insects
The apostle John’s vision in Revelation culminates God’s use of malignant insects as instruments of his wrath:
Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months. And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:3-11 NKJV)
Drawing on Old Testament imagery, John layers insect upon insect to convey the horror of judgement day. Their onslaught signals the end of the age, when wickedness will be punished. That they target only unrepentant sinners underscores their judicial role. Frogs also emerge from the mouths of unclean spirits in Revelation 16:12-14, further representing the plagues of God’s wrath.
Throughout his vision, John amplifies the foreboding symbolism of insects found in earlier Scripture. His fantastic and frightening images finalize their identity as agents of divine justice.
This survey reveals how insects prominently feature in the biblical narrative as metaphors for evil, destruction, and judgment. Their destructive potential provides vivid object lessons in the wages of sin. Yet God remains sovereign over the infestations, directing them to spur repentance and refinement.
Though the buzzing swarms and creeping, crawling hordes arise for inflicting destruction, God’s faithful may take comfort that they remain in his hands. For believers, these judgments prompt purification. Through the lens of Scripture, even evil insects operate in the service of God.