You asked the question

The Apple of my Eye

I often get asked interesting questions as a local church pastor but the most recent one led me into a bit of biblical research and a finding that really blessed me.

I was asked, “What does ‘the apple of my eye’ refer to?

I found four references to this expression in the Old Testament literature: Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 17:8; Proverbs 7:2 & Zechariah 2:8.

Apple of your eye 3Most commentators suggest that the expression refers to the pupil of the human eye but being a biologist by background I had a closer look. I suspect that it was used by the people of the Ancient Near East to refer to the iris of the eye – the coloured circle that surrounds the pupil. Given that the colour of most irises from this region is in the warm spectrum of colour, and given the spherical surface of the eye, it would make the iris look much like an apple.

These ancient lands often suffered from arid conditions with frequent gusts of wind whipping particles of dust into the air. The residents learned to protect their eyes from the dust because of how easily the delicate surface of their eyes could be damaged.

Moses addressed God’s people in the wilderness and said, “In a desert land he (the Lord) found him (Jacob), in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10). The other passages mentioned above carry similar descriptions of the totality of God’s care.




Was Zacchaeus really a short person?

This was not something I had ever considered before because I simply accepted the NIV translation that Zaccheaus “was short” (Luke 19:2).

The Greek at this point is helikia micros with the translation of the adjective micros fairly obviously meaning ‘short’, ‘little’ or ‘tiny’. The noun helikia is open to a range of translations including ‘length of life’; to ‘maturity’ both physical and personal ; and to ‘physical stature’.

The real question is this: which one best suits the context?

In verse 2 of chapter 19 of Luke’s Gospel, Zacchaeus is described as a ‘man’ from Jericho. The Greek is aner which refers to a man as opposed to a woman, one who is of an age to be married, who is an adult male and not a boy, and so is one who has reached full manhood. His manhood indicates he is not someone who has had a short life. If we understand the expression to mean Zacchaeus was someone who had little time left in life, suggesting he was critically unwell, then why did he endanger his life by climbing a fig tree? If the expression was to be understood to mean he was immature in character then he would never have been given the role of tax-collector (verse 2).

The understanding that makes best sense of the passage is that Zacchaeus was an adult male who was short in physical stature which required he climb a fig tree to view Jesus above the crowd.