The Apple of God’s Eye

An Old Testament figure of speech

In a desert land God found him, in a barren and howling waste. God shielded him and cared for him; God guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.
(Deut. 32:10-11, Moses’ Song).

The Bible is full of similes and metaphors that describe God. In this OT passage, God is compared to a parent eagle and that simile is so rich in meaning that it can’t be dealt with in a short column. I’ll try to explore it in a longer article for CC soon. For now, it is God guarding loved ones as the “apple of his eye” that intrigues me and that I’ll focus on. The phrase “apple of one’s eye” is now quite commonly used and means something like “my favourite loved one,” perhaps because the eye is so important and precious in providing us with sight. 

But what specifically is the meaning of the “apple” part of this expression? The apple of the eye is, in fact, the tiny hole, also known as the pupil, right in the centre of each eye. It is the pupil (the apple) of our eye that lets in the light by which we see. But there’s not much protection for the pupil, is there? In a way, no. The pupil must be exposed to the environment if we are to see; if you cover up your pupils you might as well be blind. Then this doesn’t seem like a very comforting metaphor, does it? If God guards us like the pupils of our eyes, it seems like not much guarding at all. Yet the pupil and the whole eye is protected by the bony orbit of the eye socket, and both the tough transparent cornea and the quickly flicking eyelid provide a remarkable degree of protection for the delicate front of the eye. 
In this image of God guarding his people Israel (and by extension, us) as the “apple of his eye,” it’s as if God is saying, “You can’t escape having to confront the world head-on, with your eyes wide open. There’s risk in that – you will probably get dust in your eyes from time-to-time. Sometimes it may be wise to wear protective eye covers, especially to prevent you from being blinded by all sorts of foolish philosophies that point you to other gods. But remember, I’m always here to surround you with my love, just as the pupil of the eye is protected by a tough transparent covering and by an orbit of protruding bone.”

This Old Testament figure of speech tells us not only that God loves us as a parent loves a favourite child, but that we can count on God’s protection even when life wants to slap us in the face. I think that’s pretty cool, don’t you? 

  • Bob is a retired Professor of Education (The King’s University) living in Edmonton.

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