Psalm 17: Keep Me as the Apple of the Eye
“Keep me as the apple of the eye,” our psalmist asks God today. It is a beautiful prayer for protection, calling upon God to save the writer from evil, slanderous men who had brought charges against him in court. The writer has taken refuge in the temple and calls upon God to protect him. It is an individual lament where the writer makes an appeal, states his case, makes his request then ends on a note of trust and confidence in God. His request? That God keep him as the apple of his eye but what does that mean and where did it come from?
The writer is a righteous man, falsely accused. First, he appeals to God (vs.1-2). He insists on his righteousness, saying that if you visited him in the middle of the night, when all is silent and free from distraction, when the soul is most open to scrutiny, you would find nothing to charge him with (vs. 3). He is innocent.
He goes through a list of possible transgressions: he never achieved material gain by breaking a divine rule; he has never been violent; his mouth has not transgressed God by false witness, oath or worship. He has control of his tongue, quite an accomplishment as we have seen from our study of Psalm 12 and the difficulty of controlling the human tongue. He has kept to the straight and narrow without budging: My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped. (5) He truly is a worthy man, by his own account. May sound like boasting, yet in the face of being charged falsely, there is nothing wrong with defending yourself.
Appeal to God
After his statement of his innocence, he renews his appeal with confidence to God (vs 6-7). Verses 8-9 put his request in poetic terms – keep me as the apple of the eye. The apple of the eye in common parlance has come to mean that which is most precious to us.
In Scripture, apple of the eye was the pupil of the eye, the most vulnerable part which needed protection, or, in Hebrew, “the little man of the eye.” It was the reflection of one looking into the eye. In other words the psalmist is asking God to keep him as a reflection of God, as almost a part of God; protect him as you would that which is most precious to you. He goes on to say, “hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (8b) Protect me under your wings the way a mother bird protects her young, for his enemies are surrounding him.
As to the nature of these enemies, King James offers a poetic image, “they are enclosed in their own fat,” as opposed to Revised Standard Version, “they close their heart to pity.” (10) In this day and age where obesity has become an epidemic, this is a timely image. It brings to mind the image of Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars movies. So fat that he can hardly move, he waddles, devouring all who get in his way, to his own detriment as he is destroying himself with gluttony.
They are a people unreceptive to any positive influences because they are encased in their own fat, in their own greed and selfishness. Fat is their way of life, keeping them from feeling any concern or pity for anyone else. Like a lion, they are eager to tear (12), they lurk in ambush, both openly attacking and waiting in hiding.
Prayer for Vengeance
His prayer for vengeance takes an interesting turn. He prays for a violent overthrow. Using a traditional blessing formula, he twists it into a curse. He prays that these men whose portion in life is of the world, whose bellies are full of that which they have chosen, may have their fill until they burst, “May their belly be filled with what thou has stored up for them.” (14a)
Let the portion they have chosen be their portion – to their own detriment, is one interpretation. Or let their belly be filled with what you have in store for them, assuming that is punishment, is another interpretation. It isn’t enough that they be punished, but future generations, their children and their children’s children as well, for they are sharing the benefit of their ill-gotten gain and so are to share the punishment. New American Bible version, “their children are satisfied too, for they share what is left with their young.” (14b)
Prayer of Confident Trust
After venting, the psalmist ends with a beautiful passage of serenity and trust – “As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form.” (15) The poet’s conscience is at rest, he trusts completely in God’s righteousness, gives it all over to God.
This extreme is almost comical, to go from harsh words of vengeance to complete trust – yet they are truthful and so human. After asking God for what he wants, venting his anger against his enemy, he releases it all into God’s hands, trusting God to do what God will do, and so does not sin. Sometimes we need to vent our anger before we can release it. The writer ends with confident belief in God.
We are the Apple of the Eye – Precious in God’s Sight
The psalmist writes, “keep me as the apple of the eye.” We are God’s precious ones, the pupil that reflects the soul, wherein we see the inner person. Keep us as a reflection of you, O God. Keep us so close to you that we reflect you; protect us as you would that which is most precious to you. Hide us in the shadow of your wings as a mother bird protects her young.
Truly we are precious in God’s sight. This doesn’t mean we will not have challenges in this world. Certainly, the writer of this psalm had challenges. This doesn’t mean that God will spare us our own particular cross. It does mean that God’s promises are true, to be believed. If we put our trust in our God then we can say with the psalmist, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” We, too, are precious to God, the apple of God’s eye.
What does it mean to say you are the apple of God’s eye? In what ways are you a reflection of God in this world?
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