California braces for ‘plague’ of locusts
California and other states across the south-west are suffering a historic drought which is bringing with it all of the obvious hardships as well as a few that are unexpected. For the Biblically minded, these natural phenomena are undoubtedly divinely inspired messages.
Grasshoppers in the US
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the current dry spell is already outpacing the state’s devastating 2012-16 drought. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a drought emergency to 41 California counties, covering 30% of the state’s population. To compound the problem, a heatwave swept across Southern California this month, breaking several records and heating Palm Springs to 123 degrees.
Associated Press reported last week that federal agriculture officials are launching what could become their largest grasshopper-killing campaign since the 1980s amid an outbreak of the hoppers. Grasshoppers thrive in warm, dry weather, and populations already were up last year. A 2020 survey found dense concentrations of adult grasshoppers across about 55,000 square miles in the Western US. This meant at least 15 insects per square yard in large areas of Montana, Wyoming and Oregon and portions of Idaho, Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.
So another warm dry season this year bumped the population even more. Dry weather protects locust eggs from parasites that require moisture. The Department of Agriculture began aerial spraying of the pesticide diflubenzuron this week to kill young grasshopper nymphs. If the program is unsuccessful, authorities will resort to carbaryl and malathion, targeting the full-grown grasshoppers with the more toxic pesticides.
Unfortunately, widespread spraying of insecticides will harm other breeds of insects as well including species that eat grasshoppers. Other species, such as Monarch Butterflies, are already struggling. Spraying pesticides will also damage any organic farms in its path and affect bees which are necessary for pollination.
But if left unchecked, an outbreak of grasshoppers could consume crops and pasture intended for cattle, driving up grain and beef prices. Grasshoppers initially eat young and tender plants, move on to full-grown plants, and eventually eat the seed heads of grain plants. A typical infestation can remove 20% of forage from the range and have a $900 million impact, according to a 2012 University of Wyoming study cited by federal officials. Many farmers are insured against such damage but ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands are unprotected.
The last outbreak on this scale began in 1986 and lasted until 1988, affecting almost 20 million acres. The current outbreak is expected to peak in another two months, tapering off when the critters run out of food after having eaten everything in sight.
Locusts are a group of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers that have a swarming phase. Normally not a threat to agriculture, under suitable conditions of drought followed by rapid vegetation growth, a hormonal reaction changes the solitary grasshoppers into locusts after which they form swarms. Though the American species of grasshoppers do not undergo the hormonal change that transforms them into locusts, they do swarm and can cause great damage.
This happened in 1874 when an estimated 12.5 trillion grasshoppers flew over an area encompassing 198,000 square miles between Minnesota and the Rio Grande. The “plague” of grasshoppers took place during a severe drought, compounding the troubles of the farmers.
If the situation in the western US gets worse, it could grow to resemble the Biblical plague.
Locusts invaded all the land of Egypt and settled within all the territory of Egypt in a thick mass; never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Exodus 10:14-15
In fact, 2020 was, by many accounts, the year of the plague of locusts .A wave of locusts swept through East Africa in 2019, returning again in 2020 in swarms estimated to be 20 times larger. The 2020 infestation was described as the worst in 70 years.
Swarming grasshoppers as a wake-up call for American Jews
Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, noted that the threat of the plague of locusts in Egypt was directly preceded by an explanation.
“Though all of the plagues were intended to co0nvince Pharaoh to let the Jews go, this was especially true of the plague of locusts, “ Rabbi Berger said.
For if you refuse to let My people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts on your territory. Exodus 10:4
“But the plague of locusts, which finished up the last shreds of food remaining in Egypt, was also intended to convince any Jews who were reluctant to leave Egypt,” Rabbi Berger said. “We saw that even after the plagues, the Jews were nostalgic for the food of Egypt.”
“The Jews of America are complacent, too comfortable in the richness of the lifestyle,” Rabbi Berger said. “A plague of locusts would wake them up. If their normal comfort food is no longer available at the local supermarket, they may remember that God promised them a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Plagues precede final redemption
Jewish sources predict that all of the plagues will reappear in the final Redemption but in even more powerful forms. This reload of the Egyptian plagues was prophesied by Micah.
It is also written in Midrash Tanchuma, homiletic teachings collected around the fifth century, that “just as God struck the Egyptians with 10 plagues, so too He will strike the enemies of the Jewish people at the time of the Redemption.”
This concept was explained by Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, a 13th-century Spanish commentator, who wrote, “In Egypt, God used only part of His strength. When the final redemption comes, God will show much, much more of His power.”
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