We read about different metaphors in the bible, and we read about different insects and animals sometimes as a part of those metaphors. In Psalm 59:14 we read that enemies return at evening, howling "like a dog". In Proverbs 6:6, we are advised to be like the ant. Psalm 18:33 says, "He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights."
Sometimes God uses a metaphor to ascribe a quality to Himself. In Matthew 23:37 God says tenderly,
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" See also Ruth 2:12.
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Insects mentioned quite often include the moth. Moths are mentioned several times.
"but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." (Matthew 6:20)
"For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool; but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations." (Isaiah 51:8)
But see this verse from Hosea where God pronounces judgment on Israel, God says HE will be like the moth!
"I am like a moth to Ephraim, like rot to the people of Judah." (Hosea 5:12)
So in reading Hosea 5 when you come across a verse like this, stop and ponder, ask, what does it mean? What do moths do, how do they act, so we can better understand what God is saying here.
When we think of God working, we often think of Him powerfully and noisily working great things, such as in the scene from 1 Kings 19:11-12
"And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper."
But God works quietly too, as the low whisper showed. (NOT that God speaks to us today in a still, small voice, that was not the point of the verse). It's that He works loudly and demonstrably but also quietly.
It is the same with the moth. Though we think of judgments like brimstone and earthquakes, a judgment is also what the moth can do, and in a way, it is worse.
Moths (or moth larvae) work secretly, stealthily. You put away your clothes for the summer and when winter comes again you take out that sweater and it has been rendered useless because of all the holes in until it is good for nothing. It will not cover your nakedness anymore. Pulpit Commentary quotes Calvin:
"The meaning of the prophet is by no means obscure, and that is, that the Lord would by a slow corrosion consume both the people; and that, though he would not by one onset destroy them, yet they would pine away until they became wholly rotten."
Gill's Exposition says,
"Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth,.... Which eats garments, penetrates into them, feeds on them privately, secretly, without any noise, and gradually and slowly consumes them; but at last utterly, that they are of no use and profit:"
Can there be a worse judgment? To awaken finding yourself one day wholly rotten? A slow but sure destruction that had come upon you? Not even having rated a loud showy judgment of brimstone, but a lowly worm having done you in.
S. Lewis Johnson ended his exposition of Hosea 5, a sermon titled "God Withdrawn", this way-
The perils of apostasy! When we apostatize from the faith, when we depart from the faith, when lethargy and indifference grips us, the real enemy is the Lord God Himself!
If you have believed in Jesus and your life is in a shambles because of indifference and because of lethargy, the Lord God may be working like a moth in your life. May God help you to recognize what is really happening, and may He stir you by His Holy Spirit to come back to Him. Confess your sin, seek to put Him first in your life. Use the time He has given you for the glorification of His name. The remedy as Hosea puts it so plainly is, 'know the Lord.' " (Hosea 5:4)
Take protective measures against the moth's destructive capabilities by keeping your faith living and active. Study the word, know the Lord. Pray ceaselessly. Serve lovingly. Submit constantly. There will be no need to mothball your holy garment if you never put it away for a season!