Just off the coast of Northern Ireland, on the lonely island of Rathlin, a man lay on a makeshift bed inside a small cave. The year was 1306, and the man was Robert the Bruce.
He was king of Scotland, but at that time, he was in hiding. He and his army had battled the English and their allies for Scotland’s independence six times, and all six times, they had been defeated. The latest defeat had forced Robert to go into hiding on this island.
As Robert lay in the cave, he was discouraged and considered giving up. Suddenly, his eye was caught by something moving on the ceiling of the cave.
It was a spider.
The creature was hanging by a silky thread of webbing from one part of the rocks, and it was trying to swing itself over to a nearby protrusion of rock so that it could attach its thread there and spin a web.
Robert watched the spider try to swing itself over, but it failed. It tried a second time and failed again. It tried a third time—and then a fourth, fifth and sixth. Each time, the swing came up a little bit short, and the spider couldn’t connect his thread to the other part of the rock.
As he watched this spider, Robert thought to himself, I’ve fought against England six times and failed each time. This spider has failed to land its swing six times. But if it succeeds on the seventh, I’ll get out of this cave and try to lead Scotland to victory once again.
The spider swung itself with all its strength, and on that seventh attempt, it succeeded. Robert the Bruce was inspired. He sat up, cast off his despair, and soon called his army back together. They went to war against the English once again for Scotland’s independence, and at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Robert’s forces defeated the English in a landmark of Scottish history.
No one definitively knows whether the spider part of that story is history or just legend, but in either case, it gives us a chance to consider what people can learn from bugs. It is worthwhile to take notice of these tiny creatures, as Robert the Bruce apparently did.
In fact, it is worthwhile to take notice of all the various details of the natural world. In Romans 1:20, the Apostle Paul wrote that by examining aspects of nature, we can gain precious insight into the divine mind that created it all. So let’s put three insects—the bee, the caterpillar and the ant—under the magnifying glass and consider a few lessons we can learn from them.
Food Fit for Royalty
The life of a queen bee begins just like those of the other 30,000 bees in her hive. She starts off as an egg that is just about half the size of a grain of rice. The egg is laid inside a cell of honeycomb, and about three days later, she hatches from it as a tiny, white, legless larvae.
Although she may be the future queen, she doesn’t know it yet. In fact, she’s exactly like all the other worker bees at this phase. Molecular biologist Ryszard Maleszka has done extensive research into honeybees at Australia National University in Canberra, and he has found that “[t]he larvae that develop into workers and queens are genetically identical.”
That means that at the beginning of their lives, all the larvae are exactly the same. There is no differentiation between the larvae that will grow up to be worker bees and the one special larva that will be the queen. But if we skip forward a few weeks, the queen is an insect starkly different from the ordinary worker bees. She is so different that she is hardly even recognizable as the same species.
Since the larva that became the queen had absolutely no genetic advantage over the thousands of other larvae, what accounts for these differences later in life? What is it that makes the queen become queen?
Remember, when the eggs first hatch, all the larvae are the same. Each of those tiny, legless little creatures could become either a worker or a queen. The factor that makes all the difference is what they eat.
For the first three days after hatching, all the larvae are fed the same thing: a milky, protein-rich substance called royal jelly. After those first three days, however, the thousands of larvae that will grow up to become worker bees switch to a diet consisting mostly of honey. They never eat royal jelly again. But the one that’s selected to become queen continues to be fed royal jelly—and only royal jelly—for the rest of her incredibly long life.
That’s what makes a queen. The sole factor that elevates her to that position of majestic royalty is her diet of royal jelly instead of the usual diet of honey and pollen.
Since God intended to use the details of physical creation to deepen our spiritual understanding, there are some spiritual parallels to draw from this. This royal jelly phenomenon actually contains some fascinating parallels to the way God converts human beings into spiritual royalty.
The central lesson is this: If a person is to become a royal member of God’s Family, he or she must live on the daily diet of God’s royal truth. Like honeybee larvae, human beings begin in a humble state. Some Bible passages even compare mortal man to worms—similar to those young bee larvae (Job 25:6). But even though man’s state is humble, we all have the same potential. After the return of Jesus Christ, just about everyone who has ever lived will be given access to a diet of God’s royal truth (Ezekiel 37:14; Revelation 20:11-13). Spiritual royal jelly, you could call it.
In that future time, the vast multitudes will be given the opportunity to live on this diet and to be transformed from worms into members of the royal God Family. Right now, however, God has cut off mankind as a whole from accessing the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). That is somewhat analogous to the way the vast majority of those squiggly little bee larvae are cut off from accessing royal jelly.
God does select and call a few people at this early phase in His plan to begin eating a continuous diet of spiritual royal jelly (John 15:19; Matthew 13:10-11). Those few may eat from the tree of life now, and they may live on what Deuteronomy 8:3 calls “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” Only those who consume God’s Word in an attitude of humility, and live on it, and understand it with God’s miraculous help can become His royal kings and queens.
Acts 17:11 says that the people who eagerly eat God’s spiritual royal jelly every day are more noble than those who are not serious about personal Bible study. People who God calls out to live on a diet of His royal truth—and who search the scriptures daily—and who God gives His miraculous understanding to—can be changed into noble royalty, just as eating royal jelly every day turns an ordinary bee larva into a more noble queen.
Another parallel revolves around the difference between royal jelly and honey. Honey is made from sugar-rich plant nectar. It’s generally golden in color, and anyone who has eaten it knows it is sweet and pleasant tasting. But royal jelly is different. It is derived from plant pollen, which is the potent, male part of the flower. The worker bees eat pollen, and then the pollen reacts with some of their glands. The result is royal jelly, which is secreted from the tops of their heads. Unlike honey, the taste of royal jelly is strong and bitter.
The parallel here is that the education, the literature and especially the entertainment of this world is all generally sweet to the taste. It’s all quite easy to consume day in and day out, and most people feed their minds with these things.
God’s Word, on the other hand, is not immediately sweet to the human senses. We need to exert effort in studying Scripture, and God has to work with us to give us refined spiritual senses and discerning minds. In The Key of David, Gerald Flurry writes, “It is not easy to grasp the full magnitude of what God is offering to all mankind. It takes great effort on our part to understand what God has revealed.”
We come to enjoy the strong meat of God’s royal truth with diligent work (Hebrews 5:14). Only then can we thoroughly appreciate God’s strong-tasting royal truth and grow into royalty from it.
Another fascinating parallel has to do with growth. Living on a diet of royal jelly makes a queen bee grow to about twice the size of ordinary worker bees. If we consume a diet of God’s royal truth, and if God gives us His help to understand it, this can similarly boost the size of our capacity for true wisdom and understanding.
Psalm 119:99-100 say, “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients….” Why did the Prophet Jeremiah, the writer of this psalm, have such a capacity for understanding? He meditated on God’s truth and kept his laws! He was consuming and digesting God’s royal diet every day, and the result was astounding growth in his capacity for wisdom and understanding.
If we eat a diet of God’s royal truth and consume a portion of it in Bible study each day, and apply it, we will experience remarkable growth in our knowledge, wisdom and understanding—just like a queen bee grows larger than all the other bees because of her diet of royal jelly.
Another parallel centers on length of life. Queen bees can live for up to five years, while most workers die in about five to six weeks. That makes a queen’s life over 40 times longer than the average worker bee’s. Similarly, people who hunger after God’s royal truth can be given the gift of life that never ends.
John 6:27 says, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” If you eat God’s royal diet—if you labor to study God’s truth and to eat the bread of life—then you can live forever.
When it comes to lifespan, what a difference a royal diet makes! For queen bees, it is the difference between living six weeks or five years. For human beings, it is the difference between living seven decades or for eternity.
The last parallel revolves around the queen bee’s reproductive ability. This feature of the queen is more significant than her large size or her long lifespan because the queen is the only bee in the entire hive that is able to bring new babies into the family.
Isaiah 56:5 says, “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” What is this name and position that is higher than sons and daughters? It is the name Bride of Christ, which is on the “mother” level.
God’s royal firstfruits—the few He has called out to eat His royal diet today—will become mothers. They will become a queen bride, working alongside God to bring forth countless children into the eternal God Family. The number of spiritual children will be far more than the 2 million offspring that those queen bees can bring into their hives.
Looking at honeybees and the way queens come about should inspire and motivate us to continue eating the royal bread of life. It should help us be committed to studying our Bibles daily—eating that precious truth so that we can grow into spiritual royalty.
A Miraculous Transformation
Being a human being can be humbling. Someone enduring a health trial or the natural deterioration in the winter years of life may understand that a little better than a young person—but even young people have to sleep one third of their lives away. We all have to eat. We all make mistakes. We all forget so much. We’re confined to this one little planet. And on top of that, we all know that we will die.
There are plenty of reasons to feel lowly as human beings, but we don’t have to be discouraged about it. Regardless of the state of our physical bodies, we can be greatly inspired knowing that we don’t have to remain this way. In His physical creation, God gives us numerous examples of life that begins lowly and unimpressive but ends up transforming into something really majestic. One of the most dazzling examples of this is the monarch butterfly.
When a monarch first comes into being, it doesn’t have wings. It’s not just a smaller, scaled-down version of the adult. Instead, it starts out as a creature drastically different. It starts as a worm or, more specifically, a tiny wormlike larva.
This larva, also known as a caterpillar, stays on the milkweed plant where he was hatched, and he’s essentially stuck. He can crawl around the plant slowly, but his world is tiny. He can’t really see anything or go anywhere. He’s confined.
During this lowly two-week phase, the caterpillar’s main job is to become fat, so he eats the leaves of the milkweed plant almost nonstop. By the end of those two weeks, he will have increased his body weight not by three times or 300 times—but by 3,000 times. He’s 3,000 times heavier than when he hatched two weeks earlier. Before the caterpillar can undergo its drastic transformation and its rebirth, it has to have this period of steady growth.
This is analogous to part of the conversion process of a Christian. A person has to grow and work toward becoming perfect, as Christ said in Matthew 5:48, before he can undergo the momentous transformation. We have to grow and add to our spiritual weight, just like these caterpillars.
After two weeks of eating as much as possible, the larva will have grown into a caterpillar around two inches long. He then attaches himself to a twig, molts his outer skin, and makes a shell around himself called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the creature enters a state of inactivity. There’s no eating, no growing. He just sleeps deeply.
The Bible says that “it is appointed unto men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). 1 Corinthians 15:35-36 say, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (New International Version).
Scripture also often calls death sleep. In the big picture, from God’s point of view, a human being’s death could be compared to that caterpillar going into its chrysalis and entering a state of temporary inactivity, or sleep.
For the caterpillar, that state of inactivity doesn’t last long. After about 10-15 days inside the chrysalis, the creature emerges, and it looks nothing like the lowly, unimpressive-looking caterpillar that it once was. It emerges from that chrysalis transformed into one of the most beautiful and capable insects in the world. It’s not confined to a little plant anymore. Now, it can gracefully fly. The monarch butterfly is actually on the exclusive list of creatures capable of making trans-Atlantic crossings. They can fly for thousands of miles. Millions of them migrate from the northeast United States and Canada to Mexico for the winter each year—a 3,000-mile journey.
In our physical bodies, we are greatly limited. We sometimes struggle through days, weeks and months, just barely eking out a living. We are weak, and we battle fatigue and illness. But there is a time in the future when the majority of people will undergo a momentous metamorphosis from lowly physical beings to radiant incorruptible spiritual beings (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 49).
The material creation of man is only our first phase. It’s the caterpillar phase. Right now, the worm has to eat and grow, and some of us may have to go into the chrysalis for a little while, but if we yield to God, He will convert us into a finished, spiritual masterpiece: the majestic butterfly—the spirit being. What a dramatic transformation.
This analogy breaks down at a certain point because when a butterfly emerges, it only lives for a few weeks. Spirit beings will live forever. That makes our spiritual metamorphosis far greater than the change of the monarch butterfly.
Learning From Others
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). This is one case where the Bible specifically tells us to examine a certain insect in order to draw life lessons from that part of God’s creation. Most of the time, we examine the work ethic of ants because it teaches us to be industrious even if we’re not being supervised. But there’s something else about ants that is also worth considering: Ant colonies pass memories from one generation to the next.
Biologist Deborah Gordon, who specializes in the study of ants, writes, “A red wood ant colony remembers its trail system leading to the same trees, year after year, although no single ant does. In the forests of Europe …
[d]uring the long winter, the ants huddle together under the snow …. [W]hen the ants emerge in the spring, an older ant goes out with a young one along the older ant’s habitual trail. The older ant dies and the younger ant adopts that trail as its own, thus leading the colony to remember, or reproduce, the previous year’s trails …. Past events can alter the behavior of both individual ants and ant colonies.”
The Bible has quite a lot to say about the importance of passing valuable knowledge onto the next generation (Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 6:7; Psalm 78:5-6; Titus 2:3-5). There is great value in being able to learn vicariously—through the experience of others—rather than having to personally, and often painfully, experience everything ourselves.
In Speak for God, Joel Hilliker writes: “The physical realm is a product of a spiritual mind. God created the physical realm as a means of leading us toward and preparing us for eternal life in His Family. Thus, we exist in a kind of lab—a gigantic classroom, packed with specific elements that illuminate spiritual truth and the mind that originated everything—intended to point human beings toward God. Every detail of it ultimately serves this purpose.”
So the next time you see a bee, try not to run away in fright. The next time you see a caterpillar or an ant, resist the urge to smash them. These bugs are just a few of the miracles of God’s creation, and we can learn inspiring lessons from them!