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Issue #93 - 12/11
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What was the Hornet's function in the Old Testament?

When I teach Biblical Hebrew, I am being asked a lot of questions as a teacher. One of the last questions that I was asked relates to the function of very small animal, the hornet and its function in the Hebrew Bible. Firstly , I would like to thank the student, who asked to remain anonymous.
When G-d saved the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptian people, he gave them the Ten Commandments and the laws, and then he explained who will help them to conquer the Promised Land:

hornet

הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ מַלְאָךְ, לְפָנֶיךָ, לִשְׁמָרְךָ, בַּדָּרֶךְ; וְלַהֲבִיאֲךָ, אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר הֲכִנֹתִי. הִשָּׁמֶר מִפָּנָיו וּשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ, אַל-תַּמֵּר בּוֹ: כִּי לֹא יִשָּׂא לְפִשְׁעֲכֶם, כִּי שְׁמִי בְּקִרְבּוֹ. כִּי אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע, בְּקֹלוֹ, וְעָשִׂיתָ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר אֲדַבֵּר--וְאָיַבְתִּי, אֶת-אֹיְבֶיךָ, וְצַרְתִּי, אֶת-צֹרְרֶיךָ. כִּי-יֵלֵךְ מַלְאָכִי, לְפָנֶיךָ, וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ אֶל-הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִתִּי, וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי; וְהִכְחַדְתִּיו... אֶת-אֵימָתִי, אֲשַׁלַּח לְפָנֶיךָ, וְהַמֹּתִי אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם, אֲשֶׁר תָּבֹא בָּהֶם; וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-כָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ אֵלֶיךָ, עֹרֶף. וְשָׁלַחְתִּי אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה, לְפָנֶיךָ; וְגֵרְשָׁה, אֶת-הַחִוִּי אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְאֶת-הַחִתִּי--מִלְּפָנֶיךָ. לֹא אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ, בְּשָׁנָה אֶחָת: פֶּן-תִּהְיֶה הָאָרֶץ שְׁמָמָה, וְרַבָּה עָלֶיךָ חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה. מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ, מִפָּנֶיךָ, עַד אֲשֶׁר תִּפְרֶה, וְנָחַלְתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ"
 

"For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them… I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land."(Exodus 23:20-23,27-30)

The people of Israel were protected by two flying characters, the angels who guarded them until they entered the Land of Canaan and the hornets who will cause three nations to run away from the land after the entrance of the Israelites. The hornets are also a sign for people not to be afraid of the seven nations of Canaan as written in Deuteronomy 7:17-20-

" כִּי תֹאמַר בִּלְבָבְךָ, רַבִּים הַגּוֹיִם הָאֵלֶּה מִמֶּנִּי; אֵיכָה אוּכַללְהוֹרִישָׁם. לֹא תִירָא, מֵהֶם: זָכֹר תִּזְכֹּר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְפַרְעֹה, וּלְכָל-מִצְרָיִם. הַמַּסֹּת הַגְּדֹלֹת אֲשֶׁר-רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ, וְהָאֹתֹת וְהַמֹּפְתִים וְהַיָּד הַחֲזָקָה וְהַזְּרֹעַ הַנְּטוּיָה, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִאֲךָ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; כֵּן-יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לְכָל-הָעַמִּים, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה יָרֵא, מִפְּנֵיהֶם. וְגַם, אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה, יְשַׁלַּח יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בָּם: עַד-אֲבֹד, הַנִּשְׁאָרִים וְהַנִּסְתָּרִים—מִפָּניךָ"

"If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them; You shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish."

When you read a word that appears in the Bible only three times, you might think that this word is not some important as others. However, the last time that we can see the hornet shows us its importance. In his separation's speech of Joshua from the people of Israel, he mentioned as in a history class the most important events in the history of his people, and the hornet is mentioned too, as we can read:

 Joshua

" וַיֶּאֱסֹף יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶת-כָּל-שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁכֶמָה; וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְרָאשָׁיו, וּלְשֹׁפְטָיו וּלְשֹׁטְרָיו, וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אֶל-כָּל-הָעָם, כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר הַנָּהָר יָשְׁבוּ אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם מֵעוֹלָם, תֶּרַח אֲבִי אַבְרָהָם וַאֲבִי נָחוֹר; וַיַּעַבְדוּ, אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים. וָאֶקַּח אֶת-אֲבִיכֶם אֶת-אַבְרָהָם, מֵעֵבֶר הַנָּהָר, וָאוֹלֵךְ אֹתוֹ, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן; וָאַרְבֶּה, אֶת-זַרְעוֹ, וָאֶתֶּן-לוֹ, אֶת-יִצְחָק. וָאֶתֵּן לְיִצְחָק, אֶת-יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת-עֵשָׂו; וָאֶתֵּן לְעֵשָׂו אֶת-הַר שֵׂעִיר, לָרֶשֶׁת אוֹתוֹ, וְיַעֲקֹב וּבָנָיו, יָרְדוּ מִצְרָיִם. וָאֶשְׁלַח אֶת-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶת-אַהֲרֹן, וָאֶגֹּף אֶת-מִצְרַיִם, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי, בְּקִרְבּוֹ; וְאַחַר, הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם. וָאוֹצִיא אֶת-אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם, וַתָּבֹאוּ הַיָּמָּה; וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם אַחֲרֵי אֲבוֹתֵיכֶם, בְּרֶכֶב וּבְפָרָשִׁים--יַם-סוּף. וַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל-יְהוָה, וַיָּשֶׂם מַאֲפֵל בֵּינֵיכֶם וּבֵין הַמִּצְרִים וַיָּבֵא עָלָיו אֶת-הַיָּם וַיְכַסֵּהוּ, וַתִּרְאֶינָה עֵינֵיכֶם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתִי בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַתֵּשְׁבוּ בַמִּדְבָּר, יָמִים רַבִּים. ואבאה (וָאָבִא) אֶתְכֶם, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הָאֱמֹרִי הַיּוֹשֵׁב בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, וַיִּלָּחֲמוּ, אִתְּכֶם; וָאֶתֵּן אוֹתָם בְּיֶדְכֶם וַתִּירְשׁוּ אֶת-אַרְצָם, וָאַשְׁמִידֵם מִפְּנֵיכֶם. וַיָּקָם בָּלָק בֶּן-צִפּוֹר מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב, וַיִּלָּחֶם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּשְׁלַח, וַיִּקְרָא לְבִלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר--לְקַלֵּל אֶתְכֶם. וְלֹא אָבִיתִי, לִשְׁמֹעַ לְבִלְעָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ בָּרוֹךְ אֶתְכֶם, וָאַצִּל אֶתְכֶם מִיָּדוֹ. וַתַּעַבְרוּ אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, וַתָּבֹאוּ אֶל-יְרִיחוֹ, וַיִּלָּחֲמוּ בָכֶם בַּעֲלֵי-יְרִיחוֹ הָאֱמֹרִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי, הַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי; וָאֶתֵּן אוֹתָם, בְּיֶדְכֶם. וָאֶשְׁלַח לִפְנֵיכֶם, אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה, וַתְּגָרֶשׁ אוֹתָם מִפְּנֵיכֶם, שְׁנֵי מַלְכֵי הָאֱמֹרִי: לֹא בְחַרְבְּךָ, וְלֹא בְקַשְׁתֶּךָ. וָאֶתֵּן לָכֶם אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָגַעְתָּ בָּהּ, וְעָרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-בְנִיתֶם, וַתֵּשְׁבוּ, בָּהֶם; כְּרָמִים וְזֵיתִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-נְטַעְתֶּם, אַתֶּם אֹכְלִים"
 

 "Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God.  Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him through all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau, and to Esau I gave Mount Seir to possess it; but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt by what I did in its midst; and afterward I brought you out. I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and Egypt pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. But when they cried out to the LORD, He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them and covered them; and your own eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness for a long time. Then I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived beyond the Jordan, and they fought with you; and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land when I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel, and he sent and summoned Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I was not willing to listen to Balaam. So he had to bless you, and I delivered you from his hand. You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; and the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Thus I gave them into your hand. Then I sent the hornet before you and it drove out the two kings of the Amorites from before you, but not by your sword or your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and cities which you had not built, and you have lived in them; you are eating of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant."(Joshua 24:1-13)

I think that from the hornet we can learn that a land shouldn’t be conquered by a sword or by war, and with the help of G-d peace will rule our world so we won't have to fight with people or animals, as Isaiah said in the his beautiful prophecy in chapter 11.
 

 
Main Phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

Hebrew

Transcription

Translation

עָקַץ

'āqats

Sting

צִרְעָה

Tsir'āh

Hornet

הַיַּרְדֵּן

hayyardēn

The Jordan

כְּנָעַן

kənā'an

Canaan

זֵיתִים

zeytîm

Olives

לְקַלֵּל

ləqallēl

To curse

אֶרֶץ

'erets

Land

 

 
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