Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. [Psalm 17:8-9 (ESV)]
When my father called me the apple of his eye, while I knew that meant he cherished me, I didn’t know the idiom originated in the Bible. The Hebrew expression used was ‘iyshown ‘ayin which literally means “little man of the eye.” The ancient metaphor most likely refers to the eye’s pupil—the opening through which light enters the eye. Because our eyes are both necessary and vulnerable, God provided us with reflexes that automatically shut them, turn our heads, or shield them with our hands as a means of protection. Throughout Scripture, the apple of the eye metaphor is used to mean something as precious as the pupil of the eye. With this in mind, the psalmist may be asking God to protect him as if he were the pupil of God’s eye. Supporting that interpretation, the psalmist switches metaphors by asking God for protection by hiding the man in the shadow of His wings. In line with this interpretation, the NLT and other thought-for-thought Bibles translate the above verse as, “Guard me as you would guard your own eyes.”
If we simply replace “apple of your eye” with “pupil” or “eyeball,” however, we’d miss the nuance of the idiom. Although the psalmist is asking God to hide and protect him as God would his own eyes, he is asking more—that God keep His eyes focused on him. When someone looks directly at us, it is in the pupil, the central and darkest part of the eye, where our miniature reflection can be seen. We literally have become the little man or woman in the other person’s eyes. Of course, for us to become that little person in another’s eyes, he or she must be looking directly at us! Since we can’t be the apples in God’s eyes unless He is gazing at us, the psalmist is asking God to keep His eyes focused on him. Fortunately, God never takes His eyes off any of His beloved children and each one of us is the “little man” (or woman) in His eyes!
To shield our eyes and protect them from things like dust, sun, bugs, chemicals, infection, and wind, we wear sun glasses with UV protection, safety glasses, face shields, and assorted goggles for things like SCUBA, skiing, swimming, racquetball, and welding. If we’re careful enough to protect the apple of our eye when handling power tools, riding a motorcycle, playing paintball or handling chemicals, why are we so casual about protecting our relationship with God and His word? For that matter, if we are the people reflected in the pupil of God’s eyes, who is reflected in the pupils of our eyes? On who or what do we gaze? It should be God. Is it?