The demons that emerge from the abyssal cloud in Revelation 12 are initially are described as being like locusts. We know what that means. In the Egyptian plague, the scorpions cover the ground so that no one can see the land, and they eat and eat, eating everything that is left behind after the plague of hail destroyed all the green plants (Exodus 10:5). They cover the surface of the land at eat plants and fruit until nothing green is left (10:12-15).
In Joel too, the locusts bring devastation of a particular kind. Locusts are voracious eaters. Joel speaks of gnawing and stripping locusts, which leave black destruction behind. They bring wilderness where there was once a garden. They are anti-Edenic, anti-glorification. They devour, eat insatiably, and so leave no food. That is a regular accent of Joel’s: The locusts leave nothing for anyone to eat or drink. No wine is left for the drunkards (1:5), there is no grain (1:9). Food is cut off, and with food gladness and joy is destroyed (1:16).
When there is no grain or grapes, when the locusts devour everything, they also devour the substance that is necessary for the temple worship. “Grain offering and libation are cut off,” and therefore the ministers of Yahweh mourn (1:9). They are not merely hungry; they are deprived of the means they need for worship.
But after being introduced as locusts, they are immediately given authority but not the authority of locusts. Locusts have the authority to eat and consume voraciously. But these creatures are given the authority not of locusts but of scorpions.
Then we learn not only that they are given the authority of scorpions rather than the authority of locusts, but we learn that they are specifically forbidden to do what locusts normally do: They are forbidden to attack the grass or the trees or any green thing. When these locusts are done, the only thing left unscathed are the green things!
It is not until we get to the very end of the passage that the full picture is given, namely, that they are locusts that have authority like scorpions because they have tails like scorpions. That is not specified until verse 10; that is where we learn that the authority of the locusts is in their tails and not in their mouths.
There is a certain subtle artistry here: We see a swarm of locusts coming, and then we see them pass and everything is still green. It looks as if the plague has been averted, but then the locusts pass by and strike with their scorpion tails. The passage is written to delay the realization that the tails are the dangerous part by leaving the tails to the tail end of the chapter.
Perhaps we can make sense of the passage this way: There is a demonic locust plague. In Joel, the locusts destroyed the garden and made temple worship cease. The locusts of revelation pass and leave the garden and temple worship intact, but just as they go by they strike and cause torment to the men of the earth. They pass by and everyone breathes a sigh of relief because everything is left normal. Then, just before they disappear, they strike and leave torment in their wake.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, September 14, 2012 at 2:32 pm
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