Keep me as the apple of your eye. Psalm 17:8*
I like apples but I don’t put them in my eye. Do you? Such a curious phrase. When I ran across it this morning in Psalm 17 I heard the serpent whispering in my ear:”Did God really say ‘apple’?” Ok, so what the serpent actually asked Eve was whether God had really said they couldn't eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, but you get the idea. And technically what I’m asking is whether the Psalm writer actually said “apple.” So I went to my favorite Hebrew/EnglishBible website and looked it up—and it says the word “ke-i-sown” means apple—but I was still suspicious. So I also looked up the etymology, which I’ll admit is a little bit dicey on websites,** but that’s what I have available on short notice. Anyway, I found that “apple of my eye” has a large gap in usage—besides the Bible, it doesn't show up until the 1600s. Curiously this is also when the King James Bible was so artfully written. “Apple of my eye” is just the sort of poetic phrase one might expect from the KJV. So I went to my trusty VanGemeren dictionary and found that the root of this word means “darkness.” Aha! I should have known. Apples have been at the center of trouble since the very beginning.
Ok, so technically, the “apple” is the pupil of the eye, and the pupil is black, and black is dark, so I could just stop here, but what fun would that be? Besides, right now in my mind I have a picture of that big red apple sticking out of someone’s eye. It’s not a pretty picture, and it looks remarkably like the image conjured by Jesus’ words about logs: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3) (Yes, I did look up the Greek for this verse and it does say ‘plank’!) Both the apple and the plank are pretty effective at keeping the eye from seeing clearly. I already know that we frail humans have trouble with this, but why would you want God to have obstructed vision? Oh, wait a minute….
So, what the Psalm writer is really saying here is, “God, don’t see me as I really am.”
Anybody with any sense knows that God is the one person who will always see us as we truly are. The really crazy thing, though, is that because of Jesus, it’s as if God DOESN’T see us clearly. Through faith in Jesus, we put on a coat of righteousness (Eph 4:24) so we look pretty good, despite how we really are. There is an awesome song about this by Bill Cantos called “New Red Coat.” The red is because our new coat is made from the blood Jesus shed by dying on the cross for us. Red coats are also what apples wear. So now we’re back where we started, and those poetic King James Version translators are looking more clever by the minute.
Phew! Now that I’ve got that one figured out, I think I’ll go eat an apple.
*Literalists may enjoy the fact that the NLT, a dynamic translation, actually uses the literal meaning here!
**Yes, I use wikipedia. It's way too handy not to.