Biblical writers employed metaphors and similes to describe the God whom no one has seen. We know well passages that envision God as Father, Lion, Creator, Shepherd, Warrior, and Refuge. In recent decades, increasing attention has been paid to passages that use feminine imagery (Mother, for example) to describe God and his care for humanity. The prophet Hosea introduces another metaphor for God that had escaped my attention until recently: Moth.
Moth? That description almost sounds blasphemous. My memories of moths involve batting them away as they flitted around porch lights and threatened to follow me into a building. They distracted me on those occasions, and that is just the reason Hosea used the moth to illustrate God’s concern for his wayward people. Note that Hosea did not say that God is a moth or that moths are divine beings. He used the way that moths distract to describe a way that God demonstrates his love. The prophet wrote,
“The princes of Judah have become like those who move the landmark; upon them I will pour out my wrath like water. Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment, because he was determined to go after filth. But I am like a moth to Ephraim, and like dry rot to the house of Judah” (Hosea 5:10-12).
Judah and its leaders had engaged in deceptive practices that abused the rights of the poor. Israel (Ephraim) was focused on following pagan deities and other human concepts. Israel’s path in particular led them to focus on filth rather than the beauty of God and his will for his Creation. God says through Hosea that he has become a moth to Israel; the Lord distracts his people from the filth they seek.
That imagery reminded me of other places where God or his messenger distracts: the Angel of the Lord blocking the path of Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22:22-35), the prophet Micaiah warning Kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 18), and Mordecai calling Esther away from a choice of not-getting-involved. In the New Testament, Paul advises Christians,
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 1:13).
Could God’s providing the way of escape be another instance of God being like a moth, distracting us from temptation towards a better way? At times in my own life, temptations to choose a path that might have harmed me or to engage in wrong activities have been interrupted by distractions that made it easier to turn away from bad decisions or questionable relationships. Sometimes, I brushed aside those distractions as if they were moths flying near my door. More often, the distraction reminded me of my calling to follow Jesus and prompted me to change my course of action. A few verses later, Hosea writes, “Come, let us return to the LORD, for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1). When God distracts, he moves us towards turning to the path he wants us to walk. A Psalmist prayed,
“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:66-67).
God acts like a moth, Hosea said, to turn his people away from focus on filth. He distracts us from evil, and directs us to a better way. We pray that God will distract us from evil and that he will cause us to remember his word and his intent for our lives that it reveals.
- Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
O God who distracts, we so often think we know best what we should do. We blunder down paths that would lead to our destruction if people, or obstacles of some sort, did not jar us from our reverie of rebellion and remind us of your will. Thank you for loving us enough to distract us when we stray from the path so that we may return to the course that leads to you. The people of northern Israel ignored your divine distractions until it was too late. We pray that we may heed your warnings and turn while we still have time. May we focus on your Son, our Lord Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, in whose name we pray, Amen.