Digging Deeper: Apple of His Eye

Author: Mr. Kenneth Frank | Faculty in Theology, Living Education

Estimated Reading Time: 6 min., 46 sec.

Did you know that God’s care for His people is so protective and familial that He speaks of protecting them as the “apple of his eye”?

This phrase or one similar appears in five Scriptural passages. These verses reveal something special about the relationship of God to His people. What is an apple of the eye and what does each of these passages tell us about our relationship to God and His way of life? Examining each of these passages will enable us to dig deeper into God’s written word on this theme.

Our first passage is part of Moses’ final words to the new nation of Israel before his death. Israel was just about to cross the Jordan River to inherit the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 32:9-10 KJV reads: “For the LORD’S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” 

An annotation in the NET Bible explains the word apple: “Heb ‘the little man.’ The term אִישׁוֹן (ʾishon) means literally ‘little man,’ perhaps because when one looks into another’s eyes he sees himself reflected there in miniature.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible explains its significance: “He kept him as the apple of his eye, with all the care and tenderness that could be, from the malignant influences of an open sky and air, and all the perils of an inhospitable desert. The pillar of cloud and fire was both a guide and a guard to them.” Continuing this idea, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary reports: “It is a beautiful image, and, by alluding to the care with which every person defends his eye from injury, conveys a graphic idea of the tender, vigilant assiduity [care] with which the Lord watched over His people.” 

Our second passage from Psalm 17:8 is David’s prayer in which he requests, “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” The Dake Annotated Reference Bible comments that “It is an idiom for what is dearest to us; that which must have extreme care and protection. If the eye is lost one is blind. In creation God saw to it that the eye was well protected, being deeply entrenched in the skull and where the hands could easily protect it. He designed it to be further protected from dust and other harm by the eyelashes, eyelids, and eyebrows.” David understood God’s marvelous design of the human body and expressed his special request with this in mind. The NET Bible annotation reads, ” Heb ‘Protect me like the pupil, a daughter of an eye.’” Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible explains that daughter denotes, “that which is dependent on, or connected with (Gesenius, Lexicon), as the expression ‘daughters of a city’ denotes the small towns or villages lying around a city, and dependent on its jurisdiction.” 

Our third passage is Proverbs 7:2 KJV: “Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye.” Here God commands us to diligently observe His teachings. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary explains, “As we guard the pupil of the eye from the least mote, which is sufficient to hurt it, so God’s law is so tender and holy a thing that the least violation of it in thought, word, or deed, is sin; and we are so to keep the law as to avoid any violation of it. The law resembles the pupil of the eye also in its being spiritually the organ of light, without which we should be in utter darkness.” Knowing this will impel our commandment-keeping! 

Our fourth passage is Lamentations 2:18 KJV :”Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.” This lamentation over the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was probably written by the Prophet Jeremiah. An annotation from the NET Bible explains: “Heb ‘the daughter of your eye.’ The term ‘eye’ functions as a metonymy for ‘tears’ that are produced by the eyes. Jeremiah exhorts personified Jerusalem to cry out to the LORD day and night without ceasing in repentance and genuine sorrow for its sins.” Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible supports the notion of tears: ” בת עין bath ayin means either the pupil of the eye, or the tears. Tears are the produce of the eye, and are here elegantly termed the daughter of the eye. Let not thy tears cease.”

Our fifth and last passage is Zechariah 2:8 KJV: “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; After the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.” This section of Zechariah’s prophecy is God’s vision to His prophet. The NET Bible notes that, “A scribal emendation (tiqqun sopherim) has apparently altered an original ‘my eye’ to ‘his eye’ in order to allow the prophet to be the speaker throughout vv. Zechariah 2:8-9. This alleviates the problem of the LORD saying, in effect, that he has sent himself on the mission to the nations.” The reason for such a textual emendation is given by E.W. Bullinger in his Companion Bible: “The primitive text read ‘Mine eye’; but the Sopherim [Jewish scribes] say (App-33) that they altered this to ‘His’, regarding it as derogatory to Jehovah to read aloud such pronounced anthropomorphic expressions.” 

To explore even further, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible leads us along to this intriguing possibility: “בבבת עינו bebabath eyno, the babet of his eye. This is a remarkable expression. Any person, by looking into the eye of another, will see his own image perfectly expressed, though in extreme miniature, in the pupil. Does our English word babbet or baby come from this? And does not the expression mean that the eye of God is ever on his follower, and that his person is ever impressed on the eye, the notice, attention, providence, and mercy of God?”  The Pulpit Commentary provides us this touching reason for the usage of this term, “Nothing can more finely convey the idea of the exquisitely tender care of Jehovah for the objects of his love. Such interest the Bible teaches with frequency and fervour. Hence we read, ‘In all their affliction, he is afflicted.’ We read, ‘As a father pitieth his children,’ etc. We read, ‘Can a woman forget her sucking child?’ We read, ‘He is touched with a feeling of our infirmities,’ etc.”  

These five passages have expressed the depth of God’s love for His people Israel. However, we must remember that the God of the Old Testament is most often the One who became our Savior. Now we can better understand this New Testament passage from the words of Jesus Christ about His followers today. Matthew 25:40 KJV reads: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” All of these tender biblical words of God should fortify our appreciation for His abiding love and care. 

Kenneth Frank headshot

Kenneth Frank was born and raised in New Jersey, USA, and attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1973. He served in the Canadian ministry from 1973-1999, after which he returned to the USA to pastor churches in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina for 15 years. Having earned a BA degree from Ambassador College he later earned a MA degree from Grand Canyon University before being assigned to the Charlotte office to teach at Living University, now Living Education. Currently, he teaches the Survey of the Bible course to the on-campus students and writes the Digging Deeper column for our online Bible study program. He is married, has four children, and seven grandchildren.