Locusts, Gentile Kingdoms, and Israel
Several numbers in the Bible bear a great deal of meaning. Although it may seem so at first, this article is not mainly about the fascinating subject and study of numbers in Scripture. However, we are going to see how the number four relates to and explains a huge portion of Israel’s history; in the context of God’s providential direction for the Jews and their interaction with mighty Gentile nations.
The number four derives its significance from God’s creative work especially pertaining to the earth, including God’s dealings with and disposition (rise and fall destiny) of nations. It is the number of wholeness, totality, entirety, and summation. It is a number concept that would be completely incomplete if we eliminated just one of the component parts of any given foursome.
If we want to move from one place to another, we must go forward, backward, left or right. Up or down doesn’t count; if we go beneath or above the earth, we must then travel in one of four directions. For example, try to imagine if there was no direction of west on the compass. I would need to travel east from my home city of Phoenix, Arizona to get to Los Angeles, California! I suppose I’d get there eventually, but….
Yes, there are four seasons, four primary lunar phases, and four sides to what is probably the most perfect geometric object we can think of … a square. And many more fours:
- On the fourth day God created the material universe—the sun, moon, planets, and stars. To give us light, to distinguish day from night, and enabling us to tell time.
- Each day has four component parts: Seconds, minutes, hours, and day. One day is cyclical … it begins, ends, and starts all over again. Weeks, months, and years are linear, continuous.
- Four basic elements comprise material creation: Earth, fire, air, and water.
- In the Ten Commandments, the fourth is to keep God’s Sabbath day of rest, which is an integral part of the creation week.
- Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—each emphasizing a distinct characteristic of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our Jewish Messiah—Son of David; God’s suffering servant; Perfect Son of Man—to both Gentile and Jew; and Son of God, respectively.
- Messiah Jesus is a direct descendant from the fourth tribe, Judah, (son) of Jacob.
- There were four rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden.
- Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Revelation Chapter 6).
- Four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds (Revelation 7:1).
- Four angels released at the Great Euphrates River (for that hour, day, month, and year) who will lead a demonic army that will kill one-third of the earth’s inhabitants (Revelation 9:13-16).
- The angels for the fourth trumpet and the fourth bowl judgements change the physical laws of heavenly bodies, including the sun—all part of the fourth day of creation (Revelation 8:12 & Revelation 16:8).
- Four mighty cherubim, each with four faces and four wings (Ezekiel Chapters 1 & 10, Revelation Chapter 4).
- Four major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
- Fourth Book of the Bible is (none other than) the Book of Numbers!
Lions, Bears, Leopards, Terrifying Iron-Tooth Beast (and Locusts) … Oh My!
Alright, I agree … not the best takeoff of the Wizard of Oz. But the story did have four main characters: Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Let’s shift to the Bible and continue with two more sets of four; with the first four creatures listed above most likely tweaking your memory. Or if you know nothing about them, sparking your interest in the four amazing beasts seen by Daniel in his incredible vision recorded in Daniel Chapter 7; and earlier depicted as four parts of a magnificent statue seen by King Nebuchadnezzar as recorded in Daniel Chapter 2.
But what about the locusts? It’s like, what do locusts have to do with the number four and with four mighty Gentile nations that shaped the course of Israel’s destiny and world history. From a divine perspective, these (grasshopper) nations rose and fell according to God’s providential plan and purpose for Israel; specifically through divine discipline that would lead to purification and restoration of God’s chosen people, the Jews. Which also exerted a direct impact on the rest of the world … past, present, and future.
Prosperity & Punishment for Israel
First, let’s begin with a Biblical statement of fact, one that will clarify and correct a common misunderstanding of a good many Bible scholars: In Scripture there are four and only FOUR Gentile kingdoms that are identified; attached and relating to Israel’s prophetic destiny, beginning with Babylon. Not seven, as the seven kings of Revelation 17 are just that … kings, not kingdoms. They are not to be equated to any of the four kingdoms listed in Daniel. Please read my book, Out of the Abyss, for complete clarification.
To be sure, there are other Gentile nations prophetically referenced directly or indirectly in Scripture, such as Russia, Iran, and Turkey in the Gog/Magog attack on Israel. But all of these countries are mentioned in the context of Israel’s final time (last days) of turmoil just before Messiah returns. They are nations bent on Israel’s destruction AFTER the Jews fulfill God’s providential plan for their return to Israel, which is underway as we speak.
God explicitly and exclusively used these four Gentile empires to execute his warnings to Israel first given through Moses before the Hebrews even entered and possessed the Promised Land. Whereas, The Lord promised bountiful blessings to his people if they would keep the Covenant he made with them (Mosaic Law), he also gave them powerful warnings of punishment should they break the covenant by worshipping false gods (idols); by deliberately and continually turning from and abandoning the Lord their God. You can find a detailed description of the distressing consequences in Leviticus Chapter 26 and a recap review by Moses in Deuteronomy Chapter 28. But, in summary, the ultimate and, by far, most devastating penalty is expressed in the following passage:
“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins” (Leviticus 26:27-28, italics for emphasis).
This was the fourth (there’s that number again) set of seven times over consecutive and uninterrupted periods of punishment Israel would undergo, with the fourth and final set culminating in something the Jews couldn’t possibly imagine would happen. Even though the Lord God told them: “I will scatter you among the nations … Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then at last the land will enjoy its neglected Sabbath years as it lies desolate while you are in exile in the land of your enemies…” (Leviticus 26:33-34).
Defeat in battle by siege and by the sword is one thing. To be torn from their land and carted off to a foreign country was the ultimate disgrace and desolation for Israel.
I say periods of punishment in the literal application of actual time or years of Israel’s history. Because that’s exactly how the Lord applied this discipline … initially through the Babylonian destruction of Israel and Solomon’s Temple followed by a seventy-year exile in Babylon. Although the Jews partially returned to Israel, they never really returned to God. We know beyond any doubt that the four consecutive sets of seven times over (meaning years) resumed after the Babylonian captivity, as the Jews were once again conquered, this time by the Romans … with that Diaspora exile lasting an agonizing 19 centuries.
*Note: If you want to see some amazing details of this prophecy, please read the Eye of Prophecy articles entitled, Seven Times Seven (to the 4th power), Parts I, II, & III. Published 1-25-14 through 2-8-14, respectively. Then the summary article, The Omega Generation, published 2-15-14. There you will find that seven times over (7 x 7 x 7 x 7) translated to years (which was the basis for God’s measuring out of his discipline) lasted exactly until 1967; the remarkable year when Israelis once again assumed control of the Holy City of the Holy Land in the Six-Day War of 1967. Thus, ending Gentile domination of Israel, referred to as The Times of the Gentiles.
Covenants, Conditional and Unconditional
Scripture is exceedingly explicit that God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants (the Jews) was unconditional. It was God’s eternal promise to the Jews, one that would ultimately result in perpetual possession and occupation (in the positive connotation of the word) of Israel. However, God’s covenant with Israel through Moses was conditional; obedience to and exclusive worship of God was necessary for the Jews to remain in the Promised Land—until God’s final plan for all mankind was fulfilled. It was from Israel that the Jews were to be a blessing and a light to the Gentile nations by teaching them the Word and Attributes of the true and living God.
In our day, in this generation, the Abrahamic Covenant is finally being fulfilled, by the commencement and ongoing return of Jews to Israel from nations the world over. And the covenant with King David will be fully accomplished when Messiah (King of all kings) returns to the Mount of Olives and rescues the Jews from the onslaught of the ten-king federation led by the Antichrist.
But there is another Covenant that God struck with Israel and also the Gentile nations … the New Covenant announced by the prophet Jeremiah (Chapter 31). A covenant that most Jews refused to recognize as it was accomplished by Jesus Christ. Only Messianic Jews embrace Jesus as Messiah; however, there are tens of thousands of those Jews the world over.
It’s of vital importance to understand that when it comes to salvation for all peoples, as specifically purchased by God’s Son, Christ Jesus, as well as selecting Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants (the chosen people) specifically through King David to bring us Messiah, it is God who took the initiative. It’s very evident in Scripture that God loves Israel, those whom he calls his special possession. It’s equally clear that his sovereign choice had nothing to do with any self-worth or intrinsic value that the Jews may have otherwise possessed.
In fact, just before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, Moses told them: “After the Lord your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ‘The Lord has given us this land because we are such good people! No, it is because of the wickedness of the other nations that he is pushing them out of your way. It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land…’” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5)
Through Abraham, God began a certain race of people to one day give birth to Messiah, the Son of Man and the Son of God. Which is why the Virgin Birth of Christ was both natural and supernatural. He did this because he knew (and so do we) that not a single person on earth ever has or ever will be without sin; thus qualified to live forever with a loving but Holy God. Only God’s Messiah could and would do this, which is so poignantly described in the song; which, in turn, is a superb summary of so many passages in the Bible.
“Amazing love how can it be, that you my God should die for me.”
Yet, before the first advent of Jesus Christ, there were long periods in which God was either silent or, because of Israel’s disobedience, issued stern warnings of punishment unless they listened to and obeyed him. What parent would not first warn his or her child of the consequences of disobedience, and give that child reasonable time to respond favorably? With God, we’re talking about hundreds of years of patience.
Four Hundred Years
Here again we see the number four, multiplied to the sum of four hundred (years).
Four Hundred Years in Egypt: Through Joseph, the son whom Jacob’s other sons had sold into slavery, God rescued Jacob and his family from a great famine in Israel. Most of us know this incredible account in Scripture. But it was not God’s intention that the Jews remain in Egypt. They could and should have returned to Israel, especially after Joseph died. Their choice to remain in Egypt resulted in both physical and spiritual servitude.
We most often think in terms of their physical bondage, but that came many years later. During their four-hundred years of what turned into captivity and slavery, they also began to worship some of the false, man-made Egyptian gods. They forgot about and abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moreover, there is no indication, whatsoever, that they would have voluntarily made any effort to once again seek their true and living God. Thus, the Lord took the initiative to deliver them; not just from bondage to Pharaoh, but from spiritual slavery to false gods.
Four Hundred Years of Forewarnings: From the time that King David’s reign of glory ended and about half way through Solomon’s reign (the latter part of his kingship resulted in Solomon, himself, and Israel beginning to turn away from God) to the time of the Babylonian captivity was about four hundred years. To be sure the ten northern tribes were conquered and exiled to Assyria after only 250 years; however, the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (the heart and soul of Israel if for no other reason than Jerusalem as their Holy capital) were spared from God’s punishment for nearly four hundred years—right up to Babylon’s final conquest of Judah.
Once again, God took the initiative to return his people to Israel by providentially causing Babylon to fall to the Persians; with none other than Cyrus, the King of Persia, issuing an edict that the Jews could return to Israel. Still, many Jews refused to make the journey. Although some who did return under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah were those who rebuilt the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, by and large, they continued to time and time again depart from the Lord.
Four Hundred Silent Years: Therefore, in less than one generation (using 70 years as a generational measurement) God suddenly stopped all communication with his people for four hundred years. With the same sovereign purpose: to get the attention of his people, this time through silence, so that they would earnestly and enthusiastically seek and love the Lord their God. But they didn’t.
*Note: One of my favorite verses is Amos 3:7, which says, “Indeed, the Sovereign Lord never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.” Which means that anything pertaining to God’s plan for Israel and Gentile nations as they interface with Israel has been proclaimed by his prophets! Did you know that God announced this period of silence with Israel ahead of time? I certainly didn’t until just recently, when I read again and this time realized the following passage says exactly that. And from the same prophet no less!
“The time is surely coming, says the Sovereign Lord, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).
When God ended his silence, he did so in an astounding way that would forever change the course of not only Jewish history, but the history of the entire world. Messiah Jesus came to earth. He was the express image of God, the Father. The Jews needed to search no more for the word of the Lord. Jesus of Nazareth was the living Word of God!
Speaking of Messiah Jesus: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).
But sadly, ever so tragically, the religious leaders of Israel and most of the people rejected Jesus as Messiah. The disastrous result of this denial was that the seven times over discipline of Israel would continue and even intensify in duration and magnitude; beginning in 70 AD with the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and near complete exile of Jews to what would be virtually every nation on earth. Although the Gentile domination of the Jews ended in 1967, the Aliyah ingathering of the Jews is still in progress, and the Temple has yet to be rebuilt.
But that will all change and soon! It will all come to a magnificent climax when Christ Jesus appears to totally redeem the remnant of Israel … all those who will believe and receive him as Savior and Lord.
The Four Gentile Kingdoms
Now let’s examine the four kingdoms that God specifically utilized to accomplish a good part of his plan for Israel and for all peoples. These nations were identified through a spectacular vision that the prophet Daniel experienced when he was well into his 60’s. The four nations were metaphorically portrayed in the form of beasts. The first three beasts were personified by an animal, with each animal the (historical) symbol of that nation. By referring to other passages in Daniel and as easily confirmed by world history, the four nations were:
Babylon: “The first beast was like a lion with eagles’ wings…” (Daniel 7:4).
Mede-Persia: “Then I saw a second beast, and it looked like a bear…” (Verse 5).
Greece: “Then the third of these strange beasts appeared, and it looked like a leopard…” (Verse 6).
Rome: “…I saw a fourth beast—terrifying, dreadful, and very strong. It devoured and crushed its victims with huge iron teeth and trampled their remains beneath its feet. It was different from any of the other beasts, and it had ten horns” (Verse 7).
As alluded earlier, there is a distinct reason why there are only four kingdoms revealed by God to Daniel: because each of these nations were used by God to accomplish his prophetic purpose for Israel. Directly, this plan involved God’s discipline of Israel in order to return them to himself. Indirectly, but nonetheless dramatically and effectively, to fulfill God’s plan for all peoples. Not the least of which was Messiah’s death on the (four-pointed) cross during the ascendancy of the Roman Empire, to redeem every person who would accept him as their personal Savior.
God withdrew his protection and blessings from Israel enough to allow Israel’s enemies to conquer and/or control them. But he never completely abandoned them during their long period(s) of oppression while in their land or during their exile in other lands. There was a mixture of retribution and rescue; of reprisal and redemption. As follows:
Babylon: It was the first kingdom to conquer the remaining tribes of Israel. Assyria’s deportation of the northern tribes was intended to be mostly a serious wake-up call to God’s chosen people. Had the southern tribes heeded the example of the ten northern tribes and warnings that the same thing would happen to them, they would not have been exiled to Babylon. But God was merciful in his discipline of Judah, by allowing his people to return to Israel after seventy years. During the relatively short exile in Babylon (in comparison to the lengthy period of captivity under the subsequent three nation beasts), the Lord graciously caused King Nebuchadnezzar to show periodic favor on his Jewish captives, as epitomized by his treatment of Daniel. Also, God took this opportunity to demonstrate to mighty Babylon that he was the one and only powerful God of the universe, through up close and personal encounters with King Nebuchadnezzar. But overall, this captivity invoked times of great hardship and misery and sporadic episodes of hostility such as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace.
Persia: God caused this nation to rise in power in order to end Israel’s exile in Babylon, by crushing the once mighty Babylonian empire. Once again there were good times and bad times for the Jews under Persian domination. Extremely good, when God caused Cyrus to permit all Jews to return to Israel. And a really bad time: So much so, that were it not for God’s direct intervention through Queen Esther, the Persian King’s edict falsely procured by the lies of the wicked official Haman would have resulted in genocide of the Jewish people. Which is why the Jews to this day celebrate the Feast of Purim.
Greece: Israel’s discipline continued through the world-wide conquest of Alexander the Great and subsequent division of his kingdom into four world empires. Although Alexander, himself, was mostly kind to and considerate of the Jews, his successors were not. Particularly the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. By God’s miraculous intervention through the Maccabees, Israel was rescued from what would have been even more massive destruction and death at the hands of this evil ruler, one who is identified as the prototype of Antichrist in Daniel Chapter 11. To this day, the Jews celebrate Hanukkah.
Rome: Here the metaphorical comparison of the first three kingdoms changes from an animal to just that of a Beast. But with obvious implication that this beast was greater and more terrifying that the three predecessors. However, this time there would be no physical rescue, either natural or supernatural, of the Jews from their captors. From God’s perspective, that’s one of the reasons why the Roman beast was different from the previous kingdoms.
Instead, God would for the second time take the initiative by ending his four hundred year silence. This time to spiritually deliver his people from their sins, through the incredible birth, life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah. But not just the Jews. This time God’s salvation was for Gentiles, too. Which had also been promised by the Jewish prophets long before. The New Covenant had arrived!
The New Covenant fulfilled and replaced the Mosaic Covenant. Because for hundreds of years—before, during, and after their Babylonian exile—God’s people time and time again demonstrated that they could not and would not keep their part of the Covenant. They were continually disobedient to God and deceitful with each other, especially the religious leaders toward the common people.
But sadly, God’s people rejected their very Messiah, who was the Mediator, Author and Finisher of the New Covenant. Which led to their near annihilation by the Romans and second exile, this time much more severe and longer in duration. Which is why the Jews to this day mourn during the 9th of Av, the same Jewish calendar date when Solomon’s Temple, then Herod’s Temple were destroyed by Babylon and Rome, respectively.
The Four Locusts
Did you think I had forgotten about the grasshoppers?! Not hardly. So we’ll wrap this week’s article up with a hidden gem of prophecy that is a short, veiled counterpart to Daniel’s vision of the four beasts. In fact, the actions of the four locusts strikingly represent the characteristics of the four world kingdoms. Let’s look at the (locust) passage from one of the so-called Minor Prophets (all of them are major to me!):
“The Lord gave this message to Joel son of Pethuel. ‘Hear this, you leaders of the people. Listen, all who live in the land. In all your history, has anything like this happened before? Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation. After the cutting locusts finished eating the crops, the swarming locusts took what was left! After them came the hopping locusts, and then the stripping locusts, too!’”(Joel 1:1-4).
This is as abrupt an event (which is also a prophetic image) that you’ll find anywhere in the Bible. Only four lines telling the Israelites about four kinds of locusts that have (will) devastated the land. After this vivid description of locusts demolishing the land, Joel immediately begins to warn Judah that the Day of the Lord will come upon them.
Joel is writing exclusively to the southern kingdom of Judah. Consequently, the severe attack of the locusts does not include or involve Assyria as the instrument nation God used to punish the ten northern tribes.
Many prophets combine current events in Israel when they were written with future (prophetic) events. Isaiah often does this. Not only end-times events, but things that took place dozens or hundreds of years later; that are, nevertheless, historical to us. The destruction of Tyre comes to mind: begun by Nebuchadnezzar and completed by Alexander the Great. Thus, the locust plague could very well be a metaphorical analogy that can be applied or equated to actual armies of nations that would subsequently conquer and control Israel. The imagery of fire, flood, and locusts are used in Scripture to represent great armies of nations pouring through the peoples they defeated.
The dramatic and traumatic magnitude of this locust onslaught strongly indicates that the locusts are much more than just insects that may have ravaged the land in a one-time plague. Such as, “in all your history, has anything like this happened before?”
Therefore, even if Joel is referring to a serious plague of locusts that actually took place in his time, the ultimate long-term reference is the incredible (historical) things that would happen to Israel and the nations in the future, including mighty armies that would overwhelm Israel.
I have read the book of Joel several times, indeed, all of Scripture. I do this in my personal time of Bible study with the Lord. But also in the writing of two books and (now) over a hundred Eye of Prophecy articles, I’ve had need to read and study hundreds, if not thousands, of Bible passages. In all my readings of the book of Joel, I couldn’t figure out why the Lord would tell Joel to write about four different types of locusts to describe what every other Bible passage that refers to locusts does so as just a one-time (whole) swarm of locusts. That is until now! It hit me that the four locusts are one and the same as the four beasts of Daniel Chapter 7 (which are the same four nations of Daniel Chapter 2).
In other Bible translations you’ll find different adjectives to describe each kind of locust, but they all are very similar. But when I learned the Hebrew meaning for each kind of locust listed, I was even more convinced that Joel’s prophecy is a precursor allusion to and confirmation of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s four world empires vision.
Here are the Hebrew definitions.
Cutting locust: It means “shearer.” (Think of shearing wool from a sheep).
Swarming locust: It means just that, “swarming.” Or covering densely.
Hopping locust: It means “lapper.” (Or leaps and bounds … think of a gazelle or frog).
Stripping locust: It means “devourer.”
Although I don’t believe we absolutely need to know the Hebrew amplified meaning of each type of locust, the meanings do help us understand how each of the four Gentile kingdoms dealt with Israel.
Babylon: They summarily cut the people and property from the land, shearing (cutting down) the Temple and removing all instruments from Temple Mount.
Persia: No cutting or removal here. Instead they swarmed over the empire of Babylon; thereby, enveloping all of the Jews held captive in those lands. The Mede-Persians were noted for their massive armies. They would send wave after wave of soldiers that would “swarm” over their enemies.
Greece: Alexander the Great’s amazing four-year campaign that conquered much of the civilized and uncivilized world was accomplished in blitzkrieg fashion, i.e. by hopping and lapping and skimming rapidly over and through other peoples and nations, including Israel.
Rome: The Roman Empire stripped Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple like never before. Rome’s destruction of Israel and the Jews was even greater than Babylon’s. Itdevoured everyone and everything that resisted its relentless conquest for world dominion. In fact, the same word devour is used by Daniel to describe the fourth beast (Rome), when he says, “…It devoured and crushed its victims…”
Rest assured, the story didn’t end there.
“The Lord says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts … and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you. Never again will my people be disgraced. Then you will know that I am among my people Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other. Never again will my people be disgraced'” (Joel 2:25-27).
As we watch with eager expectation, this powerful promise of God is taking place in our generation. Soon, very soon, Israel’s physical and spiritual restoration will be complete. Never again will the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be cut away from or stripped of their God-given inheritance … the glorious land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem.
Soon, even sooner, the Lord will rapture born-again believers, Jew and Gentile alike, from an earth that is lapped by terror and covered with evil.
Things to Ponder
“There are three things that amaze me—no, four things that I don’t understand: how an eagle glides through the sky, how a snake slithers on a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, how a man loves a woman” (Proverbs 30:18-19).
There are several verses in Proverbs 30 that begin with the observation, there are three things—no, four….
It’s a poetic way to highlight the number four, but also to suggest that there are even more than four things that amaze … or whatever.
And so I will close by saying: There are three things about The Lord that are precious to me—no, four: