WORD STUDY – APPLE OF THE EYE
Psalms 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings,”
It seems every Christian at one time or another has heard this expression explained as the little man of the eye. You are pictured in God’s eye and constantly in His sight. Yet most our translations insist that it be translated as the Apple of the eye and not the little man of the eye. Some translations will say the pupil of the eye which is probably the most correct. The idea of the little man of the eye tends to be a bit misogynist as the word beth follows this and that clearly is speaking of the female gender, usually a daughter or young female child. I leave it to you to figure out why some male translators render it as little man. Well, to be fair the word pupil is ishon and somewhere along the macho line translators latched onto the word ish and considered that to be the root word for ishon. The word ish means man and it was assumed, wrongly, that the ‘on means little. Some figured that since that word beth or daughter was thrown it had to be speaking of a small child thus you have little man. Yet, your lexicons will say it means pupil or middle. It also has the idea of darkness. No one knows for sure what the root is and I tend to think the idea of man, let alone little man does not fit. In fact lexicons throw in the words apple and man more out of tradition that linguistical consideration. Ishon does not mean apple and doubtful it means man or little man.
You see if you translate directly from the Hebrew you get this rendering: as you keep me as a little man a daughter an eye. I believe the Aleph at the beginning of this word is a prefix indicating the first person, singular imperfect tense or I will. The root word would then be yashan which means to be dark or I will be dark. Ish doesn’t mean dark, but the BDB will put dark under the root word ish anyways again – tradition?
This idea of darkness gets its later use as pupil because the pupil is dark and becomes darker as one walks out of the light into the shadows. This would go along with the rest of the verse which asks to be hidden under the shadows of God’s wings, suggesting the idea of the pupil becoming darker. We might render this as: “I will become darker under the shadow of your wings.” You still have the preposition Kap which is “as” or “like” and there is no definite article “the”. So this could read: “Keep me like I will become dark an eye daughter hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” From this you can easily understand why even the best translators and linguists would have to paraphrase. You can come up with any number of possibilities from that line.
Once again during a visit to the library of the University of Chicago I ran across a possible explanation for the use of the word daughter or beth. In the Sumerian language I found a form of ishon which has the idea of something that is so precious it is surrounded or protected. This could easily be used for the pupil of the eye which is surrounded by the white part of the eye, eye eye brows, and skull to protect the pupil the part that lets in the light to see. In the desert it is quickly understood that dust blown into the white part of the eye is far more endurable than dust blown onto the pupil. Dust and sand in the eyes was a common affliction and everyone understood if the pupil (we know it is the cornea that covers the pupil) is damaged one cannot see. Cataracts were as common then as today only without modern surgery. In those days they matured to the point where the black pupil was covered with white or grey and all know if one had white eyes with no black pupil he was blind.
So it was easily understood that the pupil was very precious for sight. The word daughter was added because the daughter was very precious to the father, not that the son wasn’t but the son was supposed to become a man, a warrior and fighter, one who protected his family. The daughter was equally precious to the father but needed far more protection that the son. Someone harms a man’s son he will encourage that son to stand up and fight back. Someone touches a man’s daughter, well look out buddy that was one bad move you deal with papa.
So David is seeking protection from God as someone just as precious as the pupil of the eye and/or a man’s daughter. We can understand that, but where did the idea of the apple come from? This phrase is found five times in the Old Testament. Four times it is ishon beth ayin but the fifth time it is bebabath ‘eyin. Bebabath comes from an uncertain root and it is assumed it comes from the root word bath which is also of an uncertain origin and rendering. Its use is so limited there was little to compare it with. Traditionally it was felt to mean apple but most scholars tend to lean toward the understanding that it means to be hollow. The Talmud teaches that it means a hollow place or a tunnel. The Persian form says it is a gateway.
Is it possible that David is saying that like the pupil is the gateway to man’s soul, a daughter is the gateway to a man’s heart so he wishes to be protected as the gateway to God’s heart? I mean how many gangster movies have you seen where a young man takes a mafia chief’s daughter on a date and is warned by that tough, cruel, heartless gangster father: “You harm’a my daughter, I break ‘a you legs.”
But you know what, that phrase apple of my eye is just so poetic, I think I will just stay with that. Because it is so ingrained in our culture that if you are the apple of someone’s eye you automatically know you are very precious to that person. When it comes down to it, that is all these five verse are trying to convey