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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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הצרעה , Exodus 23:28; Deuteronomy 7:20; Joshua 24:12 . The hornet, in natural history, belongs to the species crabo, of the genus vespa or wasp. It is a most voracious insect, and is exceedingly strong for its size, which is generally an inch in length, and sometimes more. In each of the instances where this creature is mentioned in Scripture, it is as sent among the enemies of the Israelites, to drive them out of the land. Some explain the word metaphorically, as "I will send my terror as the hornet," &c. But Bochart contends that it is to be taken in its proper literal meaning, and has accumulated examples of several other people having been chased from their habitations by insects of different kinds. AElian records that the Phaselites, who dwelt about the mountains of Solyma, were driven out of their country by wasps. As these people were Phenicians or Canaanites, it is probable that the event to which he refers is the same as took place in the days of Joshua. How distressing and destructive a multitude of these fierce and severely stinging insects might be, any person may conjecture. No armour, no weapons could avail against them. A few thousands of them would be sufficient to overthrow the best disciplined army and put it into confusion and rout. From Joshua 24:12 , we find that two kings of the Amorites were actually driven out of the land by these hornets, so that the Israelites were not obliged to use either sword or bow in the conquest. One of these, according to the Jewish commentaries of R. Nachman, was the nation of the Girgashites, who retired into Africa, fearing the power of God. And Procopius, in his history of the Vandals, mentions an ancient inscription in Mauritania Tingitana, stating, that the inhabitants had fled thither from the face of Joshua, the son of Nun. This account accords with Scripture, in which, though the Girgashites are included in the general list of the seven devoted nations either to be driven out or destroyed by the Israelites, Genesis 15:20-21; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11; yet they are omitted in the list of those to be utterly destroyed, Deuteronomy 20:17; and among whom, in neglect of the divine decree, the Israelites lived and intermarried, Judges 3:1-6 . That the name of the Girgashites, however, was not extirpated, we may collect from the Gergesenes, in our Saviour's time, inhabiting the same country, Matthew 8:28 . Other tribes of the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites, were also expelled by the hornet gradually; not in one year, lest the land should become desolate, and the wild beasts multiply to the prejudice of the Israelites, Exodus 23:28-30 .

The "arms of Jove," to which Virgil refers, ( AEneid v. 355-358,) in describing the flight of Saturn from the east, were the hornets sent by the God of Israel, IAHOH, or by contraction Io, to which also his description of the Asilus exactly corresponds:—

Plurimus—volitans, (cui nomen AsiloRomanum est: οιστρον , Graii vertere vocantes,)

Asper, acerba sonans, quo tota exterrita sylvis

Diffugiunt armenta.

Georg. v. 145.

"About the Alburnian groves, with holly green, Of winged insects mighty swarms are seen; This flying plague, to mark its quality, OESTROS the Grecians call; ASYLUS, we:

A fierce loud buzzing breeze; their stings draw blood, And drive the cattle gadding through the wood. Seized with unusual pains, they loudly cry." DRYDEN.

Dr. Hales is of opinion, that the Latin asilus and Greek οιστρον , were probably only different pronunciations of the same oriental term, הצרעה , hatsiraah, as this fly is called by Moses and Joshua. The vindictive power that presided over this dreadful scourge was worshipped at Ekron, in Palestine, through fear, the reigning motive of Pagan superstition, under the title of Baal-zebub, "master or lord of the hornet," whence Beelzebub, in the New Testament, "the prince of demons," Matthew 12:24 . Isaiah, denouncing a wo against Abyssinia, describes it as "the land of the winged cymbal," ( tsaltsal canaphim, ) Isaiah 18:1; by the same analogy that tsaltsal signifies "a locust," Deuteronomy 28:42; a strepera voce sic dictam. [So called from its streperous sound.] Bruce, in his Travels in Abyssinia, has given an accurate description of this tremendous fly, which in Arabic is called zimb, and by the Abyssinians tsaltsal-ya, "the cymbal of the Lord," from its sonorous buzzing. And in his Appendix he has given a drawing of it, magnified, for distinctness' sake, something above twice the natural size: after which he observes, "He has no sting, though he seems to me to be rather of the bee kind; but his motion is more rapid and sudden than that of the bee, ( volitans, ) and resembles that of the gad-fly in England. There is something particular in the sound or buzzing of this insect; it is a jarring noise, together with a humming, ( acerba sonans, ) which induces me to believe it proceeds, in part at least, from a vibration made with the three hairs at his snout." Bruce does not cite or refer to Virgil's description, though his account furnishes the most critical and exact explanation of it. Such undesigned coincidences are most satisfactory and convincing; they show that the poet and the naturalist both copied from nature. And the terror impressed by this insect on all the cattle, quo tota exterrita sylvis diffugiunt, [affrighted at which the entire herds flee to the thickets,] according to Virgil, is thus illustrated by Bruce: "As soon as this plague appears, and their buzzing is heard, all the cattle forsake their food, and run wildly about the plain till they die, worn out with fatigue, fright, and hunger. No remedy remains but to leave the black earth, where they breed, and hasten down to the sands of Atbara; and there they remain while the periodical rains last, this cruel enemy ( asper ) never daring to pursue them farther. The camel, emphatically called by the Arabs the ship of the desert, though his size is immense as is his strength, and his body covered with a thick skin, defended with strong hair, still is not able to sustain the violent punctures the fly makes with his pointed proboscis. He must lose no time in removing to the sands of Atbara; for when once attacked by this fly, his body, head, and legs, break out into large bosses, which swell, break, and putrefy, to the certain destruction of the creature. I have found some of these tubercles upon almost every elephant and rhinoceros that I have seen, and attribute them to this cause. All the inhabitants of the sea coast are obliged to put themselves in motion, and remove to the next sand, in the beginning of the rainy season, to prevent all their stock of cattle from being destroyed. Nor is there any alternative, or means of avoiding this, though a hostile band was in the way, capable of spoiling them of half their substance, as was actually the case when we were at Sennaar. Of such consequence is the weakest instrument in the hand of Providence." See FLIES and See BEELZEBUB .

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Hornet'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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