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The Cankerworm Was in No Hurry

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten, Joel 1:4.


In A. W. Pink's book The Sovereignty of God, he describes the absolute power that God has over animals. He used the ark as an illustration. When the Lord commanded a certain number of animals to show up, they showed up. Insects have been a weapon in God's arsenal to chastise and even destroy men. History is replete with accounts of the sky being dark with grasshoppers, or locusts as they invade an area.

The accounts are heart rending. Mile after mile, acre after cultivated acre are left devastated. Entire fields of crops are left with just stalks. Pastures have been stripped of grass. In my lifetime, the elm tree has gone from one of the most common trees in America to one of the rarest. The Gypsy Moth invaded and killed them by spreading Dutch Elm Disease.

Whether such a plague is directed by God or merely tolerated by God is beyond my knowledge. There are however plagues which the Lord himself sent. When he does, man is helpless to stop it. We see just such a plague prophesied in our opening verse, Joel 1:4. In Nahum 3:15 (There shall the fire devour thee; the sword shall cut thee off, it shall eat thee up like the cankerworm: make thyself many as the cankerworm, make thyself many as the locusts); the prophecy is that the enemies of Israel will multiply like these insect hoards.

This brings us to a minor difference between the Cambridge text and the Oxford Texts which exists to this day and is often scattered higgly piggly through various editions of the King James Bible as various outfits seek to print it.


Pure Cambridge: Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away, Nahum 3:16.


Oxford Text: Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and fleeth away, Nahum 3:16.


What Oxford has done here is to keep an error that crept into the 1762 Paris Edition of the King James Bible and was then retained in the 1769 Blayney Bible published by Oxford. It is one of those typos that are so difficult to catch because the errant reading made perfect sense to the reader. Just one letter of the word was changed. It went from "flieth" to "fleeth". It took Scrivener's labor in the mid-1800s to discover the error and to correct it which he did in his Cambridge Paragraph Bible in 1873.

As we have said before, Scrivener corrected many errors and then introduced more. It took A. W. Pollard in the early 20th century to weed them out and to leave us an explanation for what happened. From his book Records of the English Bible:


A still more serious error was committed by the distinguished scholar, Dr. F. H. A. Scrivener, who in 1884, in his book entitled The Authorised Edition of the English Bible (1611) : its subsequent reprints and modern re-pre- sentatives (an enlargement of his Introduction to the Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873) argued strenuously, but in entire ignorance of the customs of the book trade in the seventeenth century, that copies of the (second) edition with the woodcut title dated 1611 preceded the (first) edition with the engraved title, here reprinted.

Dr. Scrivener was led to this conclusion by the idea, natural to a modern scholar, that the opportunity of a new edition would be used for making the text more correct. So far from this being the case it is a practically invariable experience that for every error corrected in a seventeenth-century reprint, at least two are introduced. Dr. Scrivener allowed that the accepted editio princeps was the finer and better, but did not see how incredible it is that an eagerly expected book like the version of 1611, of which copies would at once be given to the king and other great persons, should have been put on the market in the first instance in an inferior form, have been then improved in almost every respect in a second edition, and then have gone back to its original state, or a little worse, in a third. Pages 71-72


In less scholarly terms, Scrivener thought that every time a printer printed an edition of the bible, that the printing would be more and more perfect. In the 17th century that was wrong. They got worse with every printing. As a result, Scrivener corrected many errors that had crept in and had been either started or missed by Paris or Blayney, but he also reintroduced printing errors from Barker's hay day as the King's Printer when he churned out bibles as rapidly as his greed overrode his accuracy.

About 1893, Oxford revised their King James Text and somehow managed to miss what Scrivener had discovered 20 years earlier. During WWI, Cambridge with A. W. Pollard as their editor weeded out Scrivener's exuberant errors and kept those corrections wherein he had been correct. That gave us the Pure Cambridge Text of the King James Bible.

As for Nahum 3:16, the cankerworm was in no hurry and in no danger. He feasted until his belly was full, then at his own pace and at his own timing, he flew away when he was good and ready. He did not flee.


Thou hast multiplied thy merchants above the stars of heaven: the cankerworm spoileth, and flieth away, Nahum 3:16.

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