I was blind. A little piece of grit in my eye was enough to cause irritation and demand immediate action. Eyesight is precious and needs to be protected. In the Bible there is a phrase to describe this sensitive part of the body: “the apple of the eye.”
“For the LORD’ s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted inheritance.
In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” Deuteronomy 32:9-10
“Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17:8
Just as the apple of my eye is sensitive and needs to be protected, so God takes care of his people. By extension, the phrase means something that is precious, that is treasured above all else. Deuteronomy teaches that the nation Israel is the apple of God’s eye. David used the same phrase to pray for personal protection in Psalm 17.
But there is a parable hidden within the phrase in the original Hebrew “ishon bat ayn”. A literal translation would be “the little man of the eye.” The English word for the black part of the eye, pupil, can also mean a school student. I had erroneously assumed that these two meanings were unrelated but both refer to a little person coming from the Latin word “pupilla.” The Hebrew “little man of the eye” and the Latin “pupilla” are references to the reflection of ourselves that we see in another’s eye. And so the phrase, “Israel is the apple of God’s eye” takes on another meaning; Israel is the reflection of God’s character on earth. When God looked at Israel, he expected to see a growing likeness of himself.
Jesus used the same concept to highlight how we look at others:
“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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5
If we consider the proportional size of a person to the “little man of the eye,” the speck of sawdust could have been the reflection of the plank. We judge one another on issues that we ourselves are guilty of. We need the Holy Spirit to shine his light on our lives and reveal thoughts and attitudes that are not like God’s.
When God looked as Israel as a nation, he expected to see a nation of justice and mercy, righteousness and grace, integrity and generosity. A source of blessing to the nations and a blueprint so that his character and blessings could be spread throughout the earth. Yet God also knew that this reflection of himself was impossible until the barrier of sin was removed. He sent his son, the exact likeness of himself, to redeem everyone who believes in him.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3
The sinful nature and the guilt of sin were destroyed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was now able to dwell inside all who believed in Jesus. Each individual is transformed gradually into the likeness of Jesus as the Holy Spirit teaches us to turn from sinful thoughts and actions. The church as a whole, the body of Christ on earth is also transforming into his likeness.
But what of Israel? God’s desire is also for nations. When he established his covenant with Abraham, he swore by himself, saying “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants” Hebrews 6:13. After Abraham demonstrated that he had the same love as God through his willingness to offer up his son Isaac, God confirmed this covenant:
“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Genesis 22:16-18
God called the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to demonstrate his character on earth. He led them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them his law. Through the tabernacle and later the temple sacrifices, he provided a temporary means of deliverance from sin until the time for Messiah came.
“But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” Hebrews 10:12
Rather than shine as an example for the Gentiles, Israel chose to copy the surrounding nations and demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:5), adopted pagan gods (1 Kings 11:4-8) and evil religious practices such as the offering of children to appease these deities (2 Kings 3:27, 16:3, 21:6). In many ways Israel rebelled against being the chosen nation but God’s covenant was founded on his own name and character not on their actions. Throughout the stories of the Old Testament there is a thread of righteousness; an unfolding of the true salvation that would come through the Messiah.
God is still looking for a nation that will fully reflect his image. The spread of the good news to all nations allowed many more nations to come to partial reflection. Just as the individual believers are saved and yet still being saved, so also the nations of the earth are still works in progress. The gospel has gone out into the nations and is still going out. Israel also needs to hear the good news about her Messiah. There are not two bodies nor two separate images of God on earth; rather there is the Kingdom of God which is being established on earth in individuals, communities and nations. God’s desire is for one new man formed out of Jews and Gentiles coming together in love and acceptance. Both are important, both are significant. The Apostle Paul explained in Romans 9-11 that God’s plan has not failed. Throughout the generations there have been both Jews and Gentiles who believed in Messiah. Before Jesus came to earth, the emphasis was on Israel and Judah. After Pentecost, the emphasis moved to the Gentiles.
The Gentile church messed up and persecuted the Jews. We let the lies of antisemitism blot out the truths Paul set out in his letter to the Romans:
“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Romans 9:1-5
Today, within the nation of Israel there is a growing body of Messianic believers: Jews who have found their Messiah in Yeshua. There are also many Arabic churches: traditional churches that have endured through the centuries of Turkish rule as well as the more recent charismatic and evangelical churches. There are Armenian, Greek and Ethiopian churches with roots going back to the first centuries. There are also modern congregations of too many nationalities to mention. How can we all be one?
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
God created humans in his own image. He also made each one unique. Each human being is a masterpiece. We can appreciate our differences and still come together in love and honour.
Jesus’ last prayer was for unity (John 17). His glory will fully manifest in our unity. And his glory will be reflected in us as we together form the “apple of his eye” – the little image of the “one new man” that we shine back to God.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18