Are the Locust Swarms in Africa a Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy?

Reports out of north Africa tell of a massive swarm of locusts that has been plaguing the region since December. Some news agencies have connected the swarm of locusts with Biblical prophecies of the return of Jesus. Thousands of acres of crop land in east Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, have been destroyed. Reports are now saying the swarm has reached the borders of China. This epic swarm is destroying crops and threatening the well-being of millions. It is an international catastrophe. Some preachers have said this swarm fulfills Biblical prophecy of tragic plagues that will hit the earth shortly before Jesus returns. Does it?

Locusts and plagues of locusts are a familiar theme in the Bible. A plague of locusts was one of the ten judgments of God upon Egypt when He brought the Israelites out of slavery. Locust swarms were a familiar sight to the Israelites during the entire Old Testament period. God warned Israel in the book of Deuteronomy that if they did not obey Him, their land flowing with milk and honey would be laid waste by droughts, disease, swarms of locusts and other pestilence. In Joel the totality of God’s judgment on Israel was prophesied to be like crop lands stripped bare by a swarm of locusts. The Bible also speaks of locusts to depict huge armies or other large groups of people. In the book of Nahum the Assyrian empire was compared to locusts. The prophet decreed that even if the Assyrians multiply themselves like locusts, they would all be destroyed.

The book of Revelation refers to locusts in its description of the series of judgments that will come on the earth during the Tribulation. A scene described in Revelation 9 is very dramatic. An angel sounds a trumpet and the bottomless pit was opened. Like a volcanic eruption, smoke filled the skies and blotted out the stars. A massive swarm like locusts came out of the smoke. However, the locusts described in Revelation 9 are not normal locusts. These are not crop eating insects. These are horrible beasts with the ability to sting men and cause terrible, prolonged pain.

The swarms of locusts in Africa and the Middle East are causing great harm, but they are not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The Bible never says plagues of crop eating insects will be a sign or precursor of the return of Jesus. The Bible teaches that the normal troubles of this world will continue and increase until the return of Jesus. In the final years before His Second Coming the entire earth will be shaken with terrible catastrophes unlike anything the world has seen since the flood of Noah. Droughts, earthquakes, forest fires, pandemics and insect swarms are terrible, but they are nothing compared to the truly terrifying calamities that will ravage the earth in the days to come. When God pours out His judgments on the earth, none will confuse them with natural disasters. In the meantime, we must live soberly, righteously and godly, looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13)

What does the Bible say about angels?

The Bible says much about angels, but does not give many particulars about them. The Bible says there are many angels, but does not say how many. At times the Bible describes specific angels, but the descriptions vary from angel to angel. Some angels are described as living creatures with multiple faces and multiple wings. Lucifer is described as once being covered in precious stones. Other angels are described as appearing like men. Unfortunately, the Biblical teaching about angels leaves us with more questions than answers.

The Bible mentions three angels by name- Lucifer, Gabriel and Michael. Michael is an archangel, a general over the angelic hosts. (Jude 1:9) Gabriel is a special messenger of God sent directly from His throne to declare God’s messages to men. (Daniel 8:16) Lucifer was a covering cherub who served at the throne of God. He rebelled against God, was cast out of his position and is now known as Satan. When Lucifer fell many other angels rebelled with him. Angels can now be divided into two categories- righteous angels and evil spirits, or, angels and demons. The Bible mentions two other groups of angels- cherubim and seraphim. The Bible does not give a job description of cherubim and seraphim but cherubim seem to be those who minister directly to God. (Psalm 18:9-10) Seraphim seem to serve in the heavenly throne room and are engaged entirely in the worship of God. (Isaiah 6:2-3)

Angels are messengers of God. An angel told Mary and Joseph of the birth of Jesus. An angel explained to Daniel God’s plan for the coming of the Messiah. During the Great Tribulation angels will preach the gospel to the world. The Bible also says angels were involved in the giving of the Mosaic Law (Galatians 3:19), they announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Matthew 4:11), they told Cornelius to send a messenger to Joppa (Acts 10:3), they told Philip to go to the desert to speak with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26), and they told the disciples of Jesus’ second coming. (Acts 1:11)

Angels minister to the children of God and serve as protectors. The Bible does not teach that every person has a guardian angel, but it does teach that angels guard the people of God.(Hebrews 1:14)

Angels are spiritual creatures that do not possess a physical body. At times they appear in human form, but they also appear in other forms. Ezekiel 1 describes certain cherubim as living creatures who had four faces, four wings and glowed like fire. Angels are powerful spiritual creatures.

Most importantly, angels are God’s servants. They go at His bidding, and even Satan and the other rebel angels can only do that which God permits them to do. (Job 1:12; 1 Kings 22:22). The righteous angels praise and worship God. They rejoice in His works (Job 38:7) and marvel at His salvation of men. (1 Peter 1:12) Perhaps the best description of angels is found in Psalm 103:20-21. “Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.” Angels are mighty, obedient to the commands of God and the righteous angels willingly serve to do all His will.

What was the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was recently in the news with reports of a claim the Ark is being kept by Ethiopian priests in a church in Africa. This claim has not been proven, but it does cause many to wonder what it would be like if the actual Ark of the Covenant was found. Many people know of the Ark because of the Ark to the Indiana Jones movies. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark” Indiana discovers the Ark in a long lost Egyptian city and then rescues the Ark from Nazis who were attempting to tap into its power to gain a military advantage during the second World War. The movie climaxes when a German officer opens the Ark and brings destruction upon everyone present (except the hero and heroine). The movie ends with the Ark being encased in a crate and stored away in a massive warehouse somewhere in Washington, D.C. While the movie is obviously fictional, the Ark of the Covenant was a real thing that remained at the center of Jewish worship for nearly one thousand years.

The ark of the covenant was built at the command of God. Through Moses God instructed the Israelites to build a tabernacle where He would be worshiped. His instructions included furniture for the tabernacle: altars, tables, candlesticks and the ark of the covenant. God gave precise instructions about to Israel about the tabernacle and all its furnishings.

The Ark was a simple wooden box about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. The wood was overlaid inside and out with gold. A gold moulding went around the top of the Ark and a gold ring was set in each corner. Golden staffs were made to fit inside the rings and were to be used by the Levites to carry the Ark. The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was also covered in gold and at each end of the lid was placed a statue of an angel. The angels faced one another and their outstretched wings covered the top of the Ark. This lid was known as the mercy seat, and it was the place where the presence of God dwelled. God instructed Israel to place three things inside the Ark: the copy of the law written on Mt. Sinai, a pot of manna and the staff of Aaron. (Hebrews 9:4) These three items served as reminders of the covenant God had made with Israel and evidences of His fulfillment of that covenant.

The Ark of the Covenant with the mercy seat was placed in the Holy of Holies where they remained unseen by any but the High Priest of Israel. When King Solomon built the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was transferred into the temple where it remained for the next several hundred years. When the temple was destroyed by the armies of Babylon all the furniture was taken out and shipped to Babylon. The Bible says nothing about the ark after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Ark of the Covenant was not a supernatural box and it did not give supernatural power to armies carrying it. In fact, the Israelites came to believe the Ark would save them from defeat in battle. They carried it into conflict with the Philistines, lost the battle and the Philistines captured the Ark. No ghosts flew out of the Ark and soldiers did not melt. After the Philistines captured the Ark many Philistines died and others suffered unpleasant diseases. When the Ark was sent back to Israel, a group of Israelites looked inside it. God killed thousands of men in that town because they opened the Ark of the Covenant. However, the Bible never describes the Ark as having supernatural powers, or as striking down armies of men. God punished those who violated the holiness of the Ark of the Covenant, but most of these punishments were not dramatic or obviously supernatural. The ark of the covenant was never a magic box. It was a constant reminder of the covenant of God with Israel and the seat of God’s presence in the midst of His people.

What is the doctrine of election?

The doctrine of election has been a source of debate among Christians for many centuries. One Bible teacher, Millard Erickson, who wrote a 1,000 page book about all the major doctrines of the Bible, said this doctrine is, “Certainly one of the most puzzling and least understood.” The Biblical doctrine of election has nothing to do with who is going to be the next President of the United States. The doctrine of election is about how God determines who will be saved.

Election is defined in many different ways. One view of election is typically associated with the group of teachings known as Calvinism, and is also closely related to the Lutheran view of election. This view teaches that God unconditionally chose to save certain, specific people. He chose these people before He created anything. He chose them only because of His grace, not because He saw they would believe in Jesus or because of some other good He foresaw would be in them. The ones God chose to save will be saved because He Sovereignly works in them to bring them to salvation.

The position that is often seen as the opposite of Calvinism is the Arminian view of election. This view teaches that God chose to save those who would believe in Him. In this teaching, God chose to save but He did not chose specific individuals who would be saved. Some variations of Arminianism teach that God chose to save individuals based upon foreknowledge of who would believe. That is, God saw who would believe Him and He elected to salvation those He foreknew would believe.

Others believe that election is of a means of salvation. God did not choose who would be saved, but He chose to save through the death of Jesus. All those who believe Jesus are joined to the chosen Savior and become part of the elect.

Others believe God chose to call out a group of people to Himsel, but He did not select the individuals of that group. He chose the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and He chose the church in the New Testament. In the New Testament era, all who are saved become part of the body of Christ. The individual members of this elect group are then known as the elect.

The question of election is challenging because it struggles with ideas that seem to be competing and contradictory. If God Sovereignly chooses those who will be saved and if only those He chooses can be saved, then how can He righteously punish any who do not believe what He has not given them the ability to believe? On the other hand, if man has the ability to believe or reject salvation then God cannot be fully Sovereign. If people have the full freedom to chose or reject God, then they have the ability to do things that God has no control over. The question of election wrestles with this seeming paradox of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability.

Despite the challenges surrounding the doctrine of election, several key truths about God must be upheld. These truths cannot be denied and remain true to Biblical teaching. God knows everything. God knows the past, the present and the future. His knowledge includes everything that was, is and will be. He knows what men will believe and what men will not believe.

God is good and infinitely loving. He always acts for the benefit of His creation. He is not cruel or malicious. He is just. He does not play favorites with humanity based upon color, language, wealth, education, employment or power. God does not prefer those who have the most to offer Him. He deals with all men in goodness and justice.

Though many Christians have reached different conclusions on this subject, election should not divide sincere believers. In the end, each Christian will have to reach his own conclusions on the doctrine of election.

Does God raise the dead today?

A December news item reported the heartbreaking story of a church which prayed for the healing of a two year old girl who had died unexpectedly. She stopped breathing, was rushed to the hospital, pronounced dead and transferred to the city morgue. While she was in the morgue the church members gathered to pray for her to be restored to life.

An official statement from the church said, “Bethel Church believes in the accounts of healing and physical resurrection found in the Bible (Matthew 10:8), and that the miracles they portray are possible today.” Despite the church’s prayers, the young girl did not revive.

Most Christians readily admit God is able to do the miraculous. Many Christians believe the miracles described in the Bible, including resurrections, actually happened. The question is not if God is able to raise the dead to life. The question is, should Christians today pray for the immediate resurrection of one who dies before their time?

God is absolutely able to raise the dead to life, but the Bible never promises He will do so. The Bible never teaches that resurrection should be a regular part of the Christian’s experience today. In the 4,000 years of Biblical history recorded from Genesis to Acts only 9 people are named as being raised from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the most important. In the Old Testament, only three people were raised back to life. All three of them were in connection with the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In the gospels, Jesus restored three people to life. In Acts, Peter and Paul each raised one person to life. Millions of believers never saw a resurrection. The Bible never tells of God raising someone from the dead in answer to the prayers of a local church or its pastors. Jesus, two prophets and two apostles are the only ones who brought the dead back to life. Nothing in the Bible teaches Christians to expect to see resurrections in answer to their prayers. God is able to restore the dead to life at any time He desires, but Scripture shows His intent is for the dead to remain dead until the resurrection at the last day. The great resurrection at the return of Jesus is the only one promised to believers.

The New Testament miracles were directly associated with the ministry of Jesus and the apostles. The miracles recorded in the New Testament were the Divine certification that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the apostles were messengers of Him. The miracles were intended to act as confirmation of Jesus and His apostles. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews, “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” (John 5:36) When the apostolic era came to an end the miraculous confirmation of the truth of the apostles message was no longer needed.

Jesus’ death on the cross removed the sting of death, but death is still a grievous enemy. The death of a child is even more terrible. However, the Christian’s hope is not in a few more years on this earth with a loved one. The Christian’s longing is for the eternal life and the eternal joy of heaven. The Bible promises Christians they will one day put aside all sickness and death, but that day is not now.

Did the crucifixion cut short Jesus’ ministry?

In a recent conversation someone mentioned that the death of Jesus seemed to be such a waste. This individual wondered that if Jesus was such a great teacher, who taught people to love one another and who did kind deeds for others, wouldn’t God’s plan have been better served by Jesus remaining alive?

Many people understand Jesus’ life and ministry to be all about teaching people to love one another. The author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams, said, “(Jesus) had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change.” But what if Jesus was doing something other than trying to convince people to be nice to one another? What if Jesus’ crucifixion was not the interruption of Jesus’ ministry but its purpose? The death of Jesus was not a failure in God’s plan. Jesus’ death was the plan.

A few days before His crucifixion, knowing that His betrayal and death were near, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus came into this world to die. When He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that He could call down twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from the hands of the Roman soldiers, “But how shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:54) The death of Jesus was no accident, no failure in His Divine plan. It was the plan all along.

Jesus did not come to earth to show mankind how to be more loving. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) The angel told Joseph that when Mary had given birth, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” The apostle Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Jesus became a man that He might save men from sin. The problem of humanity is not unkindness, hate or poor education. The problem of humanity is sin. Mankind’s sin can not be corrected by a valiant effort to be better or by a great example of love. The problem of the world is a deep seated one that can never be rooted out by any person’s effort.

The death of the Son of God for our sin shows how terrible the problem of sin is. God graciously provided a means by which a substitute could take the place of the sinner. The wages of sin is still death, but God made a way for an innocent victim to die in the place of the guilty. Jesus was the innocent One who died in the place of the guilty. Christ’s death was the plan all along because His death is the only way the sin of men can be taken away.

Did Jewish Shepherds Swaddle Lambs?

This Christmas a new story related to be the birth of Jesus was brought to my attention. According to the story, many of the lambs to be offered at the temple in Jerusalem came from nearby Bethlehem. The law of Moses required every lamb that was sacrificed to be free from any defect. The shepherds- or priests, depending on which version of the story you find- would examine the lambs very carefully. To protect the sacrificial lamb from injury it was tightly cocooned in blankets or strips of cloth- it was swaddled. Then the swaddled lamb was laid in a stone feed trough, a manger, to protect it from harm.

When the angel told shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus he said to them, “This shall be a sign unto you, Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” What an incredible dovetailing of circumstances! An event familiar to the shepherds fit perfectly with the birth of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! These simple shepherds would have immediately recognized the significance of a baby swaddled and laid in a manger. As great as this story is little evidence exists to support the tale of swaddled lambs.

An online search will return many articles repeating this story. But none of the sites I perused cited any archaeological or historical evidence for the story or presented any credible evidence of this taking place in ancient Israel. I was unable to find any commentary, Bible dictionary or other scholarly work which referred to this practice. Time to research this story was limited and it is possible there is evidence to back up the story that I have not yet found. I also realize the lack of evidence for something is not the same as proof against it. Possibly shepherds in Bethlehem swaddled sacrificial lambs, but it seems very unlikely to this author.

The story is interesting and compelling. All its little details fit together nicely with the Christmas story to give a marvelous image of the Lamb of God being readied for His sacrifice. But the Bible never mentions lambs being swaddled. The law of Moses did not command sacrifical lambs to be wrapped in cloth or laid in a manger. If sacrificial lambs were swaddled at birth, it was an extra-Biblical custom of the Jews.

While this particular story is probably harmless, the danger of such stories is their tendency to undermine the sufficiency of the Bible. Everything the world needs to know about the birth of Jesus is found in the pages of Scripture. Archeology and history help bridge the gap between events that happened thousands of years ago and our understanding of those events, but the Bible is sufficient in itself to teach everything we need to know about God the Son and the salvation of men. The Bible does not need the help of 20th century discoveries or modern day Rabbies to communicate Divine truth and transform lives.