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John the Baptist: Locusts and Honey, Chaos and Blessing

A friend of mine was interested in the symbolism of the beehive and bees so I sent him this article.

We were talking about John the Baptist and how he ate locusts and honey and what that might have meant. Then some lights started going on and I thought of something I hadn’t considered before. I haven’t thought this whole thing through yet, but here are some of my initial ideas.

Throughout the scriptures, we see teaching through contrast and complimentary opposition. Themes of chaos/disorder/cursings are juxtaposed with themes of creation/order/blessings. For an example, look up the word “otherwise” as it is used in the Book of Mormon. That’s a great keyword to see where these contrasting themes are presented, here are a few examples:

“And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned;” (Mosiah 4:25)

“Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.” (3 Nephi 13:1)

“…and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.” (Moroni 7:24)

“But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment;” (Alma 42:22)

The blessing/covenant/doctrine/principle is followed by an “otherwise” and the curse/condemnation/consequence; this pattern is consistently in the Book of Mormon. There are so many other examples in the Bible, some really wonderful examples, but this suffices to make my point.

Here is what the Book of Mark says about John the Baptist:

“And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;” (Mark 1:6)

I’ll have to address the camel’s hair and the girdle of skin another time, but the locusts and honey are of interest to me here. Locusts are a common chaos motif. Whether it is an Exodus plague, the seagulls, and crickets episode from Church history or modern “Plague of locusts” that “cause chaos in Yemen,”  locusts are a sign of bad news.

On the other hand, honey is associated with goodness and blessings. God’s people are promised a “land flowing with milk and honey.” (Numbers 13:27Deuteronomy 26:9) I think it is clear that locusts and honey are great metaphors for chaos and blessing. There is another place where we find a man named John eating something contrasting and honey is mentioned there too:

“And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.” (Revelation 10:9-10)

I doubt this is a coincidence. John the Revelator eats and the effects are both sweet and bitter, very contrasting sensations. D&C 77:14 says that the “little book” John ate was a “mission.” Eating is a symbolic way of accepting something into yourself, much like we do with the sacrament emblems. Could John the Baptist’s eating of locusts and honey be a deliberate symbolic reference to his own mission?

John was a polarizing figure who did not mince words:

“And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10)

He came offering blessings while promising chaos to those that rejected God’s commandments. Jesus and John the Baptist were two sides of the same coin in a way. Their missions were tied together by divine design and it’s appropriate that Jesus, before he ascends to heaven, utters a similar ultimatum:

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16)

John’s food is associated with insects. Locusts destroy crops, perhaps crops of wheat which are often symbolic of people who God is seeking to gather in. Bees, on the other hand, are gatherers, the go out and gather sweet nectar and bring it into hexagonal chambers. Their influence on plants doesn’t destroy but actually aids in their procreation as they spread pollen and generate life.

John promised destruction to the trees that didn’t produce good fruit while working to “gather” in the penitent and prepare them for the blessings that Jesus would soon provide. Jesus acted somewhat like a bee in that he “went about doing good,” (Acts 10:38) bringing new life, healing and gathering people into the ‘fold’ or perhaps the ‘hive.’

There is much more that can be gleaned from these concepts. This is one of the things I love about the scriptures and how beautifully intricate so many things are. Where it gets tricky is applying this to our actual lives rather than just thinking, “Gee whiz, that’s neat.” God isn’t trying to impress us with things like this, he’s trying to warn us, so he can bless us.

This entire world, the greater cosmos, the microcosmos and everything in between illustrates the principles of chaos and creation; there is much to learn if we pay attention.