hor'-net (tsir`ah; compare tsor`ah, "Zorah" (Jg 13:2, etc.); also compare tsara`ath, "leprosy" (Le 13:2, etc.); from tsara`, "to smite"; Septuagint sphekia, literally, "wasp's nest"): Hornets are mentioned only in Ex 23:28; De 7:20; Jos 24:12. All three references are to the miraculous interposition of God in driving out before the Israelites the original inhabitants of the promised land. There has been much speculation as to whether hornets are literally meant. The following seems to throw some light on this question (Ex 23:20,27-28): "Behold, I send an angel before thee, to keep thee by the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. .... I will send my terror before thee, and will discomfit all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send the hornet before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee." The "terror" of Ex 23:27 may well be considered to be typified by the "hornet" of Ex 23:28, the care for the Israelites (Ex 23:20) being thrown into marked contrast with the confusion of their enemies. Compare Isa 7:18, where the fly and the bee symbolize the military forces of Egypt and Assyria: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that Yahweh will hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria."
Hornets and wasps belong to the family Vespidae of the order Hymenoptera. Both belong to the genus Vespa, the hornets being distinguished by their large size. Both hornets and wasps are abundant in Palestine (compare Zorah, which may mean "town of hornets"). a large kind is called in Arabic debbur, which recalls the Hebrew debhorah, "bee." They sting fiercely, but not unless molested.
Alfred Ely Day