Israel: The Apple of God’s Eye

Posted on November 22, 2014

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By David Ettinger

Introduction: Israel as God’s “Eye”
One of the political world’s favorite pastimes is criticizing and condemning Israel. It seems that everything Israel does – especially in response to deadly attacks against her – meets with immediate and pointed denunciation. The typical scenario is that Israel over a certain period of time patiently endures a series of Palestinian incursions, bombings, and skirmishes which result in the deaths and injuries of Israeli citizens and the destruction of Israeli buildings houses. Eventually, Israel says, “Enough,” and launches an attack in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, depending on the origins of the hostilities. Israel doesn’t want to take such action, but when she does, she knows she must do so definitively, which requires ample force to weed out all culprits and hotbeds of future terror. In so doing, Palestinian casualties inevitably exceed those of the Israelis, retractors ignoring the fact that the Palestinian fatalities are a result of their own actions.

eyeWhat else is inevitable is the condemnation of Israel’s “excessive” retaliation by the nations of the world. The United Nations is usually first to sling the arrow of denunciation, followed invariably by the Arab nations and often China and Russia. Sadly, Western nations such as France and England and others of the European Union sometimes join the denunciation fray, condemning a tiny nation that needs to defend itself or face extinction.

When such entities look down their insolent noses at Israel, a nation overwhelmingly outnumbered by the surrounding Arab population (370 million to 8.1 million), little do they realize that they do so at their own risk. Israel, like all other nations, is an imperfect people and has made her share of political and military mistakes. However, unlike all other nations, Israel has a covenant relationship with God. Therefore, is to trifle with Israel is trifle with God. The book of Zechariah makes this quite clear: “…for he who touches you [Israel] touches the apple of His [God’s] eye” (2:8).

The “apple” of the eye refers to the pupil, the part of the eye most easily injured and most in need of protection. In Zechariah’s verse, Israel is seen as the recipient of God’s highest level of care. This is not to say that Israel is untouchable. Obviously, history verifies the nation’s great sufferings over the years. However, God has allowed those sufferings for the purpose of chastening the people. At the same time, those who have exceeded God’s mandate to chasten – to seek to wipe Israel off the face of the earth – have tasted the fury of God’s wrath. Those who continue to afflict Israel, and those who will do so in the future, will also feed on God’s fury.

Egyptian Epidemic
egyptA concept conceived:
Though the words spoken by Zechariah were not uttered until centuries later, the concept of God’s wrath upon those attempting to destroy “the apple of His eye” was conceived in Egypt. Fearing that the enslaved Hebrews might overrun his country, Egyptian monarch Thutmose I, around 1440 B.C., issued his heinous death sentence to a couple of Hebrew midwives (who in turn were to communicate the command to their subordinates): “When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live” (Exodus 1:16). To their great credit, the midwives – Shiprah and Puah ­– did not consent to this murderous plot. Nonetheless, Egypt had sought to destroy Israel, the “apple of His eye,” and would pay a heavy price for its treachery.

Disparaging deity: Thutmose I had opened the floodgates, but it was a different Pharaoh, Amenhotep II, who would see his nation drown in the floodwaters of plague and pestilence. The stubborn king continued to defame the “apple of His eye” with disdain and disgust. He continually made the lives of Hebrew slaves miserable and defied the Lord’s direct orders to give the people a three-day leave to worship Him (Exodus 5:3). It didn’t help Pharaoh’s cause that in defying the God of Israel he also belittled Him: “And Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (5:2). Who is the Lord? Pharaoh was about to find out.

Catastrophic consequences: Thutmose I lit the fuse when he sought to kill male Hebrew babies; Amenhotep II ignited the fire when he rebuked God; and the Lord engulfed Egypt in her own flames by inflicting the nation with an overwhelming onslaught of plagues. Egypt had launched an offensive against “the apple of His eye” and was nearly destroyed by a ten-fold epidemic of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, scourges, boils, hail, locusts, deathly darkness, and, ironically, the destruction of all firstborn males. Hence the irony: Thutmose I sought to destroy Israel’s male babies; God punished the Egyptians by destroying a multitude of her sons.

Philistine Failures
Aggravating antagonists:
Without a doubt, the Philistines were the most persistent and irritating adversaries Israel ever had, bringing misery to the Jewish nation for about 500 years (1100-600 B.C.). The Philistines, the heathen “Sea People” who settled in the eastern Mediterranean region, were already well entrenched in the land of Canaan by the time of Abraham (Genesis 21:32). As a distinguishable, identifiable people they managed to survive until about the beginning of the Babylonian Empire. However, until drifting off to obscurity, they proved to be an ever-present source of hatred and heartache to their eastern neighbors.

Enduring enemies: No matter what the Hebrews did, they could not escape the continual harassment of these coastal irritants. Part of the reason for this is that the Lord was using this heathen horde as a source of punishment for Israel. This is evident in the book of Judges: “Again the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years” (13:1). The 40-year subjugation would eventually end with the death of about 3,000 Philistines meted out by Samson (16:27, 30), but they would recover to further torment Israel. The Philistines were constant antagonists to Kings Saul and David, and for the next 300 years until King Hezekiah.

Lost lessons: One thing is evident regarding the Philistines: the lessons they should have learned from the Egyptians were lost on them. In reckless disregard of history, the Philistines foolishly sought – and failed – to snuff out the “apple of His eye.” They would pay a devastating price:

Thus says the Lord God: “Because the Philistines dealt vengefully and took vengeance with a spiteful heart, to destroy because of the old hatred,” therefore thus says the Lord God: “I will stretch out My hand against the Philistines … I will execute great vengeance on them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I lay My vengeance upon them” (Ezekiel 25:15-17).

Assyrian Annihilation
assyriaRuthless rivals:
From its beginning, Assyria had been ruthless and cruel. Assyria first entered the scene in Israel in about 769 B.C. during the reign of Menahem, monarch of Israel’s northern kingdom (2 Kings 15:14-22). Menahem was able to buy off the Assyrians – for a time. But why would Israel bribe Assyria rather than fight it? The prophet Nahum describes the savage empire:

Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. The noise of a whip And the noise of rattling wheels, Of galloping horses, Of clattering chariots! Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear.
There is a multitude of slain, A great number of bodies, Countless corpses – They stumble over the corpses (Nahum 3:1-3).

Commissioned by the Creator: Ultimately, Assyria was to prove the downfall of the northern kingdom. Under King Shalamaneser, the Assyrians came up against northern Israel’s capital, Samaria, besieged it for three years, and, in 722 B.C. carried the people away to captivity. Though Assyria attacked the “apple of His eye,” it was commissioned by God for a very specific reason: “For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:7).

Breaking boundaries: Blood-thirsty Assyria should have quit there and stayed on its side of the boundary the Lord had created. However, after conquering Samaria, the new king, Sennacherib, set his sights on Jerusalem. Just as Egypt had done, not only did the king seek to destroy Israel, he also ridiculed God: “Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of other lands? … Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed that could deliver his people from my hand, that your God should be able to deliver you from my hand?” (2 Chronicles 32:13, 14). Not only did Sennacherib seek to “touch” “the apple of His eye,” he also challenged God Himself. The Lord’s response was Assyrian annihilation: “And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand [185,000]” 2 Kings 19:35).

Babylon Brutalized
babylonPrideful prattlers:
The Babylonians, also known as the Chaldeans, have had a long history of defying God. Following the Noahic flood, the Lord wanted the nations “to bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). However, a group of Noah’s descendants had their own plans. As they moved eastward, they settled in the plain of Shinar (Babylonia). In so doing, they made their intentions clear: “…let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves …” (11:4). They sought to elevate themselves, but God brought down their pride by confounding their language (11:7) and bringing the tower project to an end.

Contemptuous Chaldeans: Centuries later, Israel’s southern kingdom would receive the same punishment – exile – as did her northern sisters more than 100 years earlier. This time, instead of the Assyrians inflicting the damage, it would be the Babylonians who would be the rod of God’s fury. The Chaldeans followed the same destructive path as the Assyrians in that they overstepped their boundaries. The Babylonians were indeed sanctioned by God to punish Israel, but they took it too far by defying Him and showing Him contempt. During a riotous party in the palace of King Belshazzar, the monarch exhibited utter disdain for God by ordering some of the holy objects confiscated from the sacked Temple in Jerusalem to be brought to the party. God was furious and passed judgment: “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old” (Daniel 5:30-31).

The final fall: Ultimately, Babylon’s satanic hatred for Israel (living on in Iraq), will be brought full measure. No doubt Iraq will be part of any end-of-the-age coalition of nations that will seek to destroy “the apple of His eye” once and for all. However, it is the Lord who will have the final say: “For I will rise up against them … and cut off from Babylon the name, and remnant, and son, and nephew … and I will sweep it with the [broom] of destruction” (Isaiah 14:22-23).

Persian Persecution
iran1Vile villain:
In about 480 B.C., the Israelites found themselves fully entrenched in the clutches of the Persian Empire. Oddly enough, though, it was not the empire as a whole Israel had to fear, but one, lone, vile man. Haman, King Ahasuerus’ highest-ranking official, who took great offense when a Jew named Mordecai refused to bow to him (Esther 3:5). Most politicians would have ignored the snub and gone on with the business of the state, but not Haman. He wanted revenge on not only Mordecai, but Mordecai’s people, as well. There is a certain people, he told the king, who are “scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain” (Esther 3:8).

Careless calculation: This is one decree that both Haman and Ahasuerus would later wish was never written. That the Jewish people were scattered throughout the empire was the Lord’s doing – it was an extension of the Babylonian exile. However, that a decree be proclaimed and a date set for the Jewish people to be annihilated was far from God’s will. Haman calculated foolishly that his proposed genocide of an obscure people would go unnoticed. What he foolishly failed to realize was that this very people he sought to annihilate had a God who would soon annihilate him and his entire family.

Tables turned: Too bad for Haman that he never read the Jewish writings, for it was about 40 years earlier that Zechariah penned the famous words, “for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). Haman was now attempting to do the very thing that caused his downfall. The results of his treachery: his own death (Esther 7:10); the deaths of his ten sons (9:1-10); and the destruction of the enemies of the Jewish people (9:5-6). Those enemies totaled 75,000 (9:16). The Persians, as represented by Haman, had sought to destroy the Jewish nation, but instead the tables were turned and they themselves suffered the retribution of the God of Israel.

Roman Rejection
romeOverbearing oppressors:
It is impossible to write about Israel’s history without mentioning her greatest oppressor, Rome. It must be granted that Rome did not possess the satanic hatred for Israel many of her other adversaries possessed, but Rome nonetheless has been a brutal enemy of the Jewish state, and will be again.

Devastating destruction: Two primary incidents stand out in the history of the stormy relations between Israel and Rome. The first was the four-year period of A.D. 66-70. In the spring of A.D. 66, the Jews of Roman Judea rose up in rebellion against their rulers. By way of reply, Roman Emperor Nero dispatched his top general, Vespasian, to suppress the uprising. The Roman rebuff began in northern Israel and culminated for years later with the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The gruesome four-year results: 1.1 million Jews killed and 97,000 more sent into slavery.[1] About 60 years later, in A.D. 132, a second Jewish revolt occurred when Emperor Hadrian instigated the Jewish population by, among other things, banning circumcision and announcing he would rebuild Jerusalem as the Roman city of Aeolia Capitolina, and would construct a temple to the god Jupiter on the site of Herod’s Temple. Naturally, the Jews – under the leadership of self-proclaimed messiah Simon Bar Kokhba – rebelled against the Romans. The results: 985 villages destroyed and 580,000 Jews slain.

Crushed conquerors: The fearsome subjugators of the ancient world had dealt violently with the “apple of His eye.” Their punishment will come when God re-establishes some form of the Roman Empire at the end of the age. The prophet Daniel speaks of this empire: “…and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. … and it had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7). As frightful as this kingdom will be, it will pay for its treatment of Israel: “I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame” (v. 11).

Nazi Nullification
hitlerModern-day madman:
The enemies of Israel and the Jewish people were not limited to the days of antiquity. In the twentieth century, the “apple of His eye” faced its most vicious of all foes, Nazi German and its madman “Fuhrer,” Adolf Hitler. Hitler attained the headship of Germany in August of 1934 when President Paul von Hindenburg died. Hitler, who was Germany’s chancellor at the time, was able to unite his office to that of president, thus becoming Germany’s supreme leader. Hitler had a deep-seated, satanic hatred for the Jewish people, believing they were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I. As soon as he came to power, he began to attack them. The attack reached its horrifying apex with the creation of extermination camps where masses of Jews – among others – could be executed in a relatively short period of time. This became known as the “Final Solution.”

Nefarious numbers: In 1946, at the Nuremburg post-World War II Trials of the Major War Criminals, Rudolf Hess, the commandant of the Auschwitz extermination camp, estimated that between May 1, 1940, and December 1, 1943, “at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, make a total dead of about 3,000,000.”[2] And this from just one camp. When it was all over, an estimated 6 million Jews perished. Add to this the more than 1 million gypsies killed and more than 4 million Soviet prisoners of war, among others, and the total Nazi death count topped out at about 12 million.

Demolished dream: The great Nazi dream of creating an Arian Utopia upon the earth was squashed by Allied bombs, tanks, and military. Even more humiliating to the Nazis was that their efforts to annihilate the “apple of His eye” actually resulted in helping to create the modern state of Israel. Thousands of Jews fled Europe to the only place they knew they would be free as a majority race in a land of their own.

Future Foes
Satan’s scenario:
As deadly and devastating as Israel’s sufferings have been, they will pale in comparison to the onslaught the “apple of His eye” will experience at the end of the age. Satan, knowing “that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12), will unleash his full fury upon Israel, seeking with all his might to at last destroy the nation that has been such an awful thorn to him.

Jerusalem in Israel tourism destinationsPotential peril: During various points in the final seven years of this era of human history – the seventieth week of the book of Daniel (erroneously referred to as the “tribulation period”) – Israel will experience several attacks. The first major one is detailed in Ezekiel 38 and 39. A coalition of nations – Russia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya, and Turkey – will flow into the tiny country with destruction as their aim. However, just when all looks lost for Israel, the Lord will “… rain down on him [Gog, representing the attacking forces], flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone” (38:22). The Russian-led invasion will pose a perilous threat to the existence of God’s chosen people, great enough, in fact, that the Lord will Himself save the day, administering dreadful retribution.

Fatal finale: As bad as this threat will be, it will be as but a passing shower compared to the final assault upon Israel as recorded in the book of Zechariah: “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; The city shall be taken …” (14:2). The destructive assault on Israel will be catastrophic as two-thirds of the people will be slaughtered (13:8-9). And once again, the Lord will come forth and save one final and permanent time the “apple of His eye”: “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle” (14:3). The results will be glorious: “I [the Lord] will say, It [Israel] is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (13:9).

Conclusion: The Apple of God’s Eye
In defending God’s choice of Israel as His chosen people – the “apple of His eye” – we cannot go beyond what Scripture tells us. Though much of the world politically, and much of the Church doctrinally, has sought to nullify Israel’s importance, the Lord says otherwise: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). To the question, “Why has the Lod chosen Israel?” the best answer is: We simply don’t know. Consider the following: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers …” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

Those who disparage Israel had better learn the lesson soon: Israel is the “apple of His eye,” and He will not tolerate those who seek to harm her outside of His will. Those who “touch the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8) can expect God’s awful retribution. However, those who love and support the “apple of His eye” can expect blessing: “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

[1] Josephus, Flavius. The Complete Works of Josephus, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981

[2] Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hess, “Affidavit, 5 April, 1946,” Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Tribunal,” Nuremburg, 14 November, 1945-1 October, 1946

Read more insightful articles by David Ettinger and Marv Rosenthal at zionshope.org.
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