Do you like a good mystery? Often mysteries involve a crime scene, a victim, maybe even a dead body. However, others are less messy. We encounter phrases sometimes that leave us scratching our head and wondering, Where did that come from? When we want to describe someone as most dear to us, we say, “They are the apple of my eye.” What a mysterious expression! In solving that mystery we may learn something about God, the Christian, and prayer.
Apple of my eye occurs in English literature to designate the pupil of the eye, but poetically speaking it implied focused attention or devotion to someone above all others. In the Bible, it is the phrase used to render the Hebrew expression that literally means “little man of the eye.”1 Imagine how close you would have to be to someone that you could see your image reflected in their pupil. The expression carries the idea of being the object of intimate, singular devotion.
The Apple of God’s Eye
God referred to his covenant people, Israel, as the apple of his eye. “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deut. 32:10). “For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zech. 2:8).
The idea of God having favorites does not fit well in the popular conception of God (if we can call anything about God ‘popular’ in our day). Indeed, the Bible tells us, “God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11). So how do we reconcile God’s impartiality with the apple of his eye? It is a matter of motivation and influence – or lack of it.
The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love is freely given by his sovereign choice (Eph. 2:4-5; Titus 3:3-7). There is nothing in the creature that influences him to love. Neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, young or old, rich or poor, upstanding or contemptible have anything to commend themselves to God. Neither are any beyond the reach of his mercy (Exo. 33:19; Rom. 9:15). Before his holiness and justice we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23).
Nevertheless, the Scriptures teach that God chose to love some before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-6). So it was not based on anything good they had done but simply by his sovereign grace (Eph. 2:8-9). For these he sent his Son to bear the guilt and suffer the punishment that they deserved (Jn. 10:14-18). These are the apple of his eye.
However, in Psalm 17:8, David uses the phase in an individual sense. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Prayer, rightly understood, unites God’s transcendence (infinitely exalted beyond the created realm) and his immanence (intimately involved with his creation — especially his beloved children). Our prayers only ascend to heaven because heaven stoops to hear them.
Have you ever stopped to think about prayer from the receiving end? At this very moment there are probably tens or hundreds of thousands of believers around the world in different locations and with various languages praying to the true God of the Bible. Some prayers may be publicly audible, some whispered in private, and some only expressed in thought. Yet God hears them all. He does not hear them as a cacophony of voices like reporters at a press conference. He hears each one distinctly as if there were no others (Ps. 145:18). God could hear David’s prayer as coming from the apple of his eye — each individual believer is God’s favorite. His divine love transcends the boundaries of human reason and language.
God’s Exclusive Role
For this reason prayer should be reserved for God alone. Only God is omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), and omnipresent (completely presents everywhere at the same time). To direct prayer to even the most revered saint of old is preposterous. In fact, there is no hint of such a practice anywhere in the Bible.
God has no consultants, secretaries, or agents to negotiate deals. He neither needs nor wants someone to take his calls. He is never overwhelmed, unconcerned, or distracted. None is more willing nor is any other able to give full undivided attention to each of his children when they cry to him.
Confidence in Our Great High Priest
The clearest expression of this intense devotion to each and every child of God is our High Priest, Jesus Christ. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). The perfect priest, who was himself the perfect sacrifice, now sits upon the throne of God’s universal dominion. He who in love bore the full fury of divine wrath now has at his disposal the entire storehouse of divine mercy and grace. Each of us can pray like we are the apple of his eye. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). We should approach with wonder and reverence, yet also with confidence and delight.
So uncovering the mystery behind a phrase confronts us with an even greater mystery — the sovereign, eternal, intimate love of God for sinners. May God transform our praying to harmonize with the gospel of his astonishing power, love, and grace.
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