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What does the Bible say about the hornet?

Bible hornet audio

The recent appearance of the Asian giant hornet, also known as the “murder hornet,” in North America and other parts of the world is causing people to wonder if this is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Revelation 9:1–12. However, the only similarities between the Asian giant hornet and what is described in Revelation 9:1–12 is the painful sting. In Revelation 9:1–12, the creature is described as a locust, not a hornet. Further, its sting is specifically said to not be deadly, only painful. The description of the creatures in Revelation 9:7–10 does not match what Asian giant hornets look like. So, while Asian giant hornets are indeed frightening, it is unlikely that they are the fulfillment of any specific biblical prophecy.

A hornet is a large wasp; like all wasps, the hornet has a painful sting. The word hornet is found in several places in the Old Testament. In each case, the hornet is mentioned in the context of God chasing His enemies out of the land of Canaan. God encourages the Israelites: “You may say to yourselves, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:17–21; cf. Exodus 23:28; Joshua 24:12).

Commentators disagree about whether the biblical references to the hornet are literal or figurative. When God says He will send hornets to pursue the Canaanites and drive them from the Promised Land, it’s possible that He was ready to call upon swarms of actual stinging wasps; on the other hand, God could have been speaking symbolically for a plague of another sort. Some Bible translations, such as the New Living Translation (NLT) and the International Standard Version (ISV) substitute the words terror and plague for the word hornet. Whether the language is literal or figurative, it’s clear that the Lord caused the Canaanites to flee before Joshua’s army.

Since the land that God gave His people was said to be “flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9), we know that bees were there. Israel is also home to several varieties of wasps and hornets. The Judean town of Zorah (literally, “town of hornets”), mentioned in Joshua 15:33, is a clue to the abundance of the stinging insects in the land. It is plausible that the hornets of Canaan could have become aggressive enough at the command of the Lord to drive out the inhabitants. However, some commentators point to passages such as Deuteronomy 7:20 and 35, which detail the diseases and physical afflictions with which God smote the Egyptians, as evidence of the more likely way in which He worked. God promised to drive out the Canaanites as if they were being chased by a swarm of hornets; He incentivized the Canaanite departure; He made it very difficult for them to stand and fight.

The Bible often uses metaphorical language. However, in proper scriptural interpretation, it is always best to take terms literally if a literal understanding is reasonable. God can employ the creatures He created to deliver messages to people. A donkey spoke to Balaam (Numbers 22:28). Frogs, flies, and gnats tormented the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go (Exodus 8:5, 16, 24). And God prepared a big fish to swallow the rebellious Jonah (Jonah 1:17). So it is not outside scriptural precedent if God indeed used actual hornets to drive out the enemies of His people.

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Questions about Deuteronomy

What does the Bible say about the hornet?
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This page last updated: October 3, 2022