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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MOTH (σής).—The Bible frequently makes reference to the destructive action of the moth as a fit symbol of the perishableness of man and his earthly possessions. In Oriental countries, where so large a part of ‘treasure’ consisted of costly silken and woollen fabrics, the figure was peculiarly appropriate and impressive. Specially referred to is the ‘clothes’ moth,’ one or more (not readily identified as to its particular member of the family) of the genus Tinea, which may be said to have an almost cosmopolitan distribution. The larva of this moth feeds on wool, silk, hair, fur, feathers, etc. Out of the material on which it feeds it forms a portable case or house, supposed to be alluded to as an image of instability (though Cheyne [EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] , ‘Moth’] denies this) in Job 27:18 a. The moth first finishes its case, which is often motley-coloured on account of the variety of material from which it draws supplies, and afterwards feeds voraciously on the substance from which the tent or house has been produced. For building purposes it selects the long straight fibres, but for food the shortest and thickest, and in order to get the latter it eats down below the surface pile to the fabric itself. The feeding process is therefore the most destructive to the fabric. The yellowish-brown pupa is either formed in this structure which the larva constructs, or in a slight cocoon. Before the perfect insect appears the mischief is accomplished, for large patches are eaten in the clothes, carpets, or tapestry where the parent moth has laid its eggs. If the action of the insect is undiscovered, or by carelessness allowed to be completed, it makes the fabric into a mere flimsy shell which falls into nothingness on the least touch or breath. ‘Crushed before the moth’ (Job 4:19) is a faithful description of this most effective destruction—an apt figure of the insidious, deadly work of evil in the human character.

Our Lord refers to this well-known phenomenon in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 12:33). Along with the corroding work of the rust—due to chemical action on metals left unused and exposed—He classes the ravages of the moth, as illustrations of the inevitable corruption and decay which overtake all earthly things apart from the heavenly and Divine. Men are not to set their affections on things that belong to the earth (things which contain no higher and heavenly element), are not to make these their treasures, for in that case their heart, the centre of their life, set upon these decaying, perishing things, is itself subject to similar destructive forces—‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ All earthly things are to be valued, not in themselves as ends, but as means to the higher spiritual life. The affection is to be positively fixed on the enduring things of human virtue, knowledge, and character, formed and obtained by fellowship with the Divine—elements which all lower things are adapted to subserve, and which themselves ‘neither moth, nor rust can corrupt.’

T. H. Wright.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Moth'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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