A Watchful Eye Through Many Troubles
“For Jehovah’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He compassed him about, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:9,10, ASV).
This phrase, “apple (pupil) of His eye” is found a number of times in the Scriptures. It is an endearing phrase used by God to describe His love and care for His chosen people. God used this description because the natural eye is very precious and needs to be protected.
Regarding the phrase “apple of His eye,” Adam Clarke says, “Nothing can exceed the force and delicacy of this expression. As deeply concerned and as carefully attentive as man can be for the safety of his eyesight, so was God for the protection and welfare of this people. How amazing this condescension!”
From the very beginning of its existence the nation of Israel had a special place in the heart of God. Through the Law and the Prophets, He instructed them in righteousness and was their protector. God even described Israel as His own inheritance (verse 9). Being God’s inheritance tells of His intent to use them in a special way to bring blessings to others through the Abrahamic Promise.
Keep the Law Precious
This phrase occurs again in Proverbs 7: 2-4. “Keep my commandments and live, and my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, you are my sister, and call understanding your intimate friend” (NAS).
Here is an admonition for Israel to look at the Mosaic Law as the apple of their eye. In other words they should treasure it. They should care for it. They should observe it and keep it holy. They should see it as something precious and to be preserved.
When they were told to bind the Law upon their finger, it is reminiscent of a common expression, to keep it at your fingertips. Keep it at the ready. In other words, practice it and live by it. The essence of this admonition is that Israelites should write the law on the table of their hearts. They should have an emotional connection to it and they should love it as was expressed by Jeremiah and prophetically of Jesus. “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). “Your Law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
In these words we see a principle that we, as Christians, can take to heart. We should love the Truth, and live by the standards it conveys. If we see the principles that govern the New Creation simply as rules that we must follow, then we are not going to write them on our hearts. We are not going to protect them as the apple of our eye. We are not going to treasure them and bind them on our fingers. To value the principles of Truth the way God wants us to, we must love and treasure them and not just obey them.
A Prayer of David
In a heartfelt prayer to God, David said, “Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me under the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about” (Psalm 17:8,9).
David was asking God to protect him from his enemies. As a warrior, King David was constantly under attack, so he sought divine protection. David was wise enough to under- stand his need for God. He had learned this lesson very early in life.
Bro. Russell drew a spiritual lesson from this when he wrote, “Every battle we fight and every victory we win through faith in God develops strength for future conflicts” (Reprint 1902). As David called to mind previous occasions when God delivered him from his enemies, he was able to use those memories to help him trust God in current situations. In that approach, we see that faith is built upon faith. Previous experiences are necessary in order to build strength for current trials. David did his part in trusting God while God provided the needed protection for David, and for Israel.
A Time of Mourning
“Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease” (Lamentations 2:18).
Written by the Prophet Jeremiah, the book of Lamentations is a lament for Jerusalem’s
desolation during the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah loved Israel so much that when it was troubled and distressed, he grieved. He yearned for God to bless Israel, so he endeavored to reform their hearts. Unfortunately, widespread reform did not happen in his lifetime. When Jeremiah wrote “tears run down the walls like rivers day and night,” he was expressing grief for the destruction of Jerusalem.
When he said in verse 18, “let not the apple of thine eye cease,” he was making a different point from the way this phrase is applied in other passages. Jeremiah was saying to the people, “do not let your eyes cease from tears for the desolation of Israel.” The New American Standard Version renders the verse, “Let your eyes have no rest.” So, in this case, it is not a picture of God’s protection or of Israel’s place in God’s heart. This is a picture of the sorrow Israel should have over their plight. The Babylonian captivity was a great time of mourning for Israel.
Touching the Apple of His Eye
The last occurrence of the phrase “apple of the eye” is found in Zechariah 2:8. “For thus saith the LORD of hosts; after the glory hath he sent me unto the nations which spoiled you: for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.”
These words were written after Israel’s return from the Babylonian captivity. The Assyrians and the Babylonians were the instruments used by God for Israel’s punishment. Beyond this, these nations were cruel and motivated by evil intentions. So, God determined that they also would be punished for the wickedness they inflicted on His people. They touched the apple of his eye, and as a result, had to suffer the consequences.
History bears this out. Assyria, which decimated the ten northern tribes of Israel, suffered the destruction of Nineveh, their capital city, and subsequently lost their dominion to Babylon. Babylon, which destroyed the temple of Jehovah and carried the kingdom of Judah into captivity, was in turn overthrown by the Medes and Persians.
At his first advent, Jesus, like Jeremiah, wept over the trouble that was coming upon Israel. “Every battle we fight and every victory we win through faith in God develops strength for future conflicts.”
He knew that the coming punishment would be far greater than in the days of Jeremiah. For 1845 years they would be dispersed throughout the world. They would experience a withdrawal of God’s favor unparalleled by any other trouble they had experienced. And yet, like Assyria and Babylon before, those who oppressed Israel during the Gospel Age did so in such a wicked and perverse way that they, too, are destined for punishment.
Reflecting back on the last 2000 years, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The Jews are a nervous people. Nineteen centuries of Christian love have taken a toll.” What a condemnation of Christianity! “Christian love,” as he called it, meted out many unchristian acts on the Jewish people.
To get a sense of how badly Jews have been treated during their diaspora, below is a partial listing of some of the events that brought distress and persecution to the Jews. The extent of their mistreatment is overwhelming.
- In 70-73 AD: The Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem, killing over 1 million Jews and taking some 100,000 into slavery. Many were taken from Israel and scattered to other parts of the Roman Empire.
- 113 AD: Jews in Cyprus, Cyrene, Egypt, and Mesopotamia revolted against the Roman Empire. The response caused the death of several hundred thousand Jews.
- 132 AD: Bar Kochba led a three-year revolt against Rome. In its reprisal, Rome slaughtered roughly a half-million Jews. Thousands were sold into slavery or taken captive. The rest were exiled from Palestine. Judaism was no longer recognized as a legal religion.
- 135 AD: Direct Roman persecution of the Jews began. They were forbidden, upon penalty of death, from practicing circumcision, reading the Torah, or eating unleavened bread at Passover. A temple dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter was erected on the temple mount in Jerusalem.
- 200 AD: The Roman Emperor Severus forbade religious conversions to Judaism.
Then began the Persecution of Jews by Christians
- 306 AD: The church Synod of Elvira banned marriages and community contacts be- tween Christians and Jews.
- 315 AD: Constantine passed a law forbidding any to convert to Judaism. Jews were also heavily taxed.
- 325 AD: The Council of Nicea decided to separate the celebration of Easter from the Jewish Passover. They stated: “Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people … we desire to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews.”
- 337 AD: Emperor Constantius made a law forbidding marriage of a Jewish man to a Christian woman punishable by death.
- 379-395 AD: Emperor Theodosius permitted the destruction of synagogues.
- 415 AD: The Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, expelled the Jews from that city.
- 418 AD: Jerome wrote of a synagogue: “If you call it a brothel, a den of vice, the Devil’s refuge, Satan’s fortress, a place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster or whatever you will, you are still saying less than it deserves.”
- 489-519 AD: Christian mobs destroyed the synagogues in Antioch, Daphne (near An- tioch) and Ravenna.
- 528 AD: Emperor Justinian passed the Justinian Code. In addition to giving the Pope supreme religious authority, it prohibited Jews from building synagogues, reading the Bible in Hebrew, assembling in public, celebrating the Passover before Easter, and testifying against Christians in court.
- 535 AD: The “Synod of Claremont decreed that Jews could not hold public office or have authority over Christians” (www.reli- gioustolerance.org/jud_pers1.htm).
- 538 AD: The 3rd and 4th Councils of Orleans prohibited Jews from appearing in public during the Easter season. Marriages between Christians and Jews were prohibited.Christians were prohibited from converting to Judaism.
- 561 AD: The bishop of Uzes expelled Jews from his diocese in France.
- 613 AD: Very serious persecution began in Spain. Jews were given the options of either leaving Spain or converting to Christianity. Jewish children over six years of age were taken from their parents and given a Christian educa- tion.
- 722 AD: Pope Leo III outlawed Judaism and Jews were baptized against their will.
- 855 AD: Jews were exiled from Italy.
- 1078 AD: Pope Gregory VII decreed that Jews could not hold office or be in positions that were superior to Christians.
- 1096 AD: The First Crusade began. Although the prime goal of the crusades was to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims, Jews were a secondary target. As the soldiers passed through Europe on the way to the Holy Land, large numbers of Jews were challenged: “Christ-killers, embrace the Cross or die!” 12,000 Jews in the Rhine Valley alone were killed in the first Crusade. This behavior continued for eight additional crusades until the ninth Crusade in 1272.
- 1099 AD: The Crusaders forced all of the Jews of Jerusalem into a central synagogue and set it on fire. Those who tried to escape were forced back into the burning building.
- 1121 AD: Jews were exiled from Belgium.
- 1180 AD: Philip Augustus, King of France, arbitrarily seized all Jewish property, including land and houses, and expelled Jews from the country.
- 1189 AD: Jews were persecuted in England. The Crown claimed all Jewish possessions while most of their houses were burned.
- 1215 AD: The Fourth Lateran Council approved canon laws requiring that “Jews and Muslims shall wear a special dress.” They also had to wear a badge in the form of a ring to distinguish them from Christians. This practice later spread to other countries (www.religious- tolerance.org/jud_pers3.htm).
- 1227 AD: The Synod of Narbonne required Jews to wear an oval badge. This practice was reinstituted in the 1930’s by Hitler, changing the oval badge to a Star of David.
- 1229 AD: The Spanish inquisition started and in 1252 AD, Pope Innocent IV authorized the use of torture.
- 1290 AD: Jews were exiled from England causing roughly 16,000 to leave the country.
- 1298 AD: Jews were persecuted in Austria, Bavaria and parts of Germany. 140 Jewish communities were destroyed. More than 100,000 Jews were killed over a six month period.
- 1306 AD: 100,000 Jews were exiled from France. They left with only the clothes on their backs and enough food for one day.
- 1321 AD: In Guienne, France, Jews were accused of having incited criminals to poison wells. 5000 Jews were burned alive at the stake.
- 1347 AD: The Bubonic Plague, also known as the “Black Death,” had caused some 25 million deaths in Europe. People noticed that a smaller percentage of Jews had caught the disease. This was undoubtedly due to the Jewish sanitary and dietary laws which had been preserved from Old Testament times. But rumors circulated that Satan was protecting the Jews and that they were paying him back by poisoning wells used by Christians. The solution was to torture, murder, and burn the Jews. “In Bavaria, 12,000 Jews perished; in Ger- many, over 11,000; In France, 2000 Jews; and near Tours, France, an immense trench was dug, filled with blazing wood and in one day 160 Jews were burned” (www.religioustolerance.org/jud_pers3.htm).
These statistics take us only to the mid 1300’s. There are many more anti-Semitic events down to our day. But this is enough to see an attempt to destroy the Jewish race. (Source material for these statistics: http://www.religioustolerance.org/jud_pers.htm.)
Another incident occurred some 500 years later that marked a turning point for these persecuted people.
The Dreyfus Affair
In 1894, a French captain of Jewish descent, by the name of Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely convicted of treason by a secret court martial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, a penal colony off the northeastern coast of South America. He was convicted for allegedly passing French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris.
Before he was sentenced, Dreyfus was humiliated by being publicly stripped of his rank. The evidence against Dreyfus consisted of a torn up piece of paper found in a German em- bassy wastebasket. This paper was later proven to be written by a French army major by the name of Esterhazy. However, high-ranking military officials suppressed this new evidence and Esterhazy was unanimously acquitted during the second day of his military trial. Instead of being exonerated, Dreyfus was further accused on the basis of false documents fabricated by French counter-intelligence officers seeking to re-confirm his conviction.
A well-known political journalist, Emile Zola, did his own investigation into the affair and eventually wrote an article in a French newspaper. It ran on the first page of L’Aurore. It is interesting that in English the name means “The Dawn.” That article led to the first glimmer of hope for Jews everywhere. The article ran as an open letter to the president of France and accused the French government of anti-Semitism. This created such a public outcry that Dreyfus was returned to France and after another two years in jail, his guilty verdict was annulled.
In this affair we see the hand of the Lord working through a journalist by the name of Theodor Herzl, who had been assigned to report on the original trial and its aftermath. Following the Dreyfus trial in Paris, Herzl witnessed mass rallies chanting, “Death to the Jews!” He came to believe that anti-Semitism in Europe would not go away and that the only solution was for Jews to remove themselves from Europe and create their own state.
In 1896 he wrote the book The Jewish State — An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question. That book led to the found- ing of the Zionist movement, which fought for a Jewish Homeland. Some fifty years later the state of Israel was born.
The “Dreyfus Affair,” and its effect on Herzl, became a turning point for the Jews. Their time of forced servitude was over and the next phase of God’s plan was taking shape. But anti-Semitism persisted. There is no need to elaborate on what followed with the Holocaust and the hatred that exists even today against God’s chosen people. Satan is still trying to destroy the earthly seed of Abraham in order to thwart God’s plan of salvation.
Israel has now been duly punished, and yet, the Lord has said that those responsible for these things will have a price to pay. The Zechariah passage said that God would shake His hand against any who touched “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8,9).
It is our privilege to live in a time when Israel has been restored as a nation. Though they have not yet accepted Jesus as their Savior, that day is fast approaching. Whenever asked about Israel, our expressions can turn to this endear- ing phrase used by God that they are the apple of His eye. He will guide and protect them as the nation is being prepared to accept the Mes- siah and work with the Ancient Worthies in the administration of God’s earthly kingdom (see Jeremiah 31:31,32).