Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Psalm 17:8).
“They have tracked me down, they now surround me.” With these words, King David described his plight. He had prayed, “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” (Psalm 16:1) Everywhere he looked he saw enemies. He needed help! David was a veteran warrior. He had a capable army. His commanders were skilled. But these are not the assets he turned to. Instead of looking around for help, he looked up. “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry” (Psalm 17:1). The call goes out to the Command Center on High. This was his only hope.
“Keep me as the apple of your eye!” he pleads. That’s a strange phrase. But, “apple of the eye” is an old way of referring to the center of the eye, the pupil. The illustration becomes clear. Throw something toward a person’s face and watch what happens. Instinctively, a hand will come out for protection. We watch out for our eyes.
This is what David is saying to the Lord: “Treat me as if I were the center of your eye. Protect me just as surely and quickly as a person would guard his eyes.” But the warrior David also knew that while sometimes it is best to fight, at other times it is better to hunker down and hide. That becomes his second plea: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”
He probably had seen this more than once in nature. Many birds, including eagles, use this technique to protect their young. When danger threatens, the bird will spread its wings, call its young to gather closely around, and then enclose the little ones under its strong wings. If a predator wants to attack the hatchling, it must first get past the fiercely protective parent. Many a person has found comfort and assurance in the words from this psalm. But those who have faced an enemy that was intent upon killing`—those people find a depth of meaning that few others can. The Submariner whose boat has been targeted by a ring of ships with depth charges, the Airman who found enemy fighters in all directions, the Marine or Soldier who has walked into an ambush, and the Sailor who has fought off simultaneous attacks on his ship— they grasp the terror behind the words, “They have tracked me down and now surround me.” But not all enemies are human. Not all enemies can be seen. Some threats can only be detected with an MRI. Some threats show themselves with a cough and a fever. Some foes surge out from the pits of hell.
In a famous hymn, we sing: “But for us fights the valiant one Whom God himself elected.” He is more powerful than any enemy. He has already overcome the greatest Enemy. He will protect us. He will shelter us. And when the time comes for us to close our eyes in death, we can say with David: “When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15) We will open our eyes in glory.
This we know to be certain: “With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected. But for us fights the valiant one Whom God himself elected. You ask, “Who is this?” Jesus Christ, it is, The Almighty Lord. And there’s no other God; He holds the field forever.” (CW 200:2)
Thus, we pray to the Lord:
Keep us as the apple of your eye. Hide us under the shelter of your wings. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer
WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military