The Apple of God’s Eye
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.
They close up their callous hearts,
and their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
They are like a lion hungry for prey,
like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;
In the final dark hours before the Cross, Jesus wanted to steady and steel His disciples for the days ahead. “In this world you will have tribulation”, He warned, “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In a similar way today’s psalm seeks to steel and comfort God’s people in the realities of life this side of God’s new world. As in so many of the Psalms we see the psalmist surrounded by trouble, but finding contentment knowing God watches over him.
The superscript, or heading, of this psalm identifies David as author. We do not know if this was written at a time David was surrounded by Saul’s armies, fleeing his son Absalom’s rebellion, or in the grasp of the Philistines or some other enemies. David’s life story is crowded with troubles and enemies.
Note once again how David’s enemies are plural in number: “They…they…they”… are determined to “destroy” him. Enemies have tracked David’s every step, surrounded him, and, like a hungry lion, are ready to tear him apart. What can David do? Or, what can you do when surrounded by trouble on all sides?
I like to imagine at this point that David has been meditating and praying the torah, specifically in Deuteronomy 32:10-11: “The LORD shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young.” In meditating on God’s care of His people in the wilderness, David is now bold to pray: “Keep me as the apple of your eye.”
The “apple of the eye” is the eye’s pupil, the black center of the eyeball, so very delicate and precious to us. The “apple of the eye” is deeply fortified in the skull, garrisoned between the forehead and cheekbones, guarded by eyelids, eyelashes, and eyebrows, and protected by the quickly raised hand. As a symbol of a most precious part of our anatomy, “the apple of the eye” is cherished and protected. So David is teaching us to ask God to shelter us from our enemies, as we are most precious and protected by Him.
David also asks the Lord to protect him from enemies by hiding him as the eagle hides its young under its wings, or a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37).
John Calvin, in his Commentary on the Psalms, explains the reason for crying out to God against our enemies:
God, indeed, does not need to receive information and incitement from us; but the use and the end of prayer is, that the faithful, by freely declaring to God the calamities and sorrows which oppress them, and in disburdening them, as it were, into his bosom, may be assured beyond all doubt that he has a regard to their necessities… As this form of prayer was put into the mouth of David by the Holy Spirit, it is to be regarded as containing in it a promise.
Here is God’s promise to His people in time of trouble: He will guard and protect them as the precious and cherished apple of His eye. David, “by faith sees and enjoys the present in light of God’s promised end, beyond the time when the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer”. (Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms As Christian Worship)
In praying this psalm passage it is important to remember that we do not pray in isolation, but pray together with God’s people throughout the world. So, if today we are not facing trouble or enemies, then we pray this psalm for those who are facing trials and persecution. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3).
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