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Holman Bible Dictionary

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The organ of sight. Literal uses. The eyes were especially valued organs. If a master stuck a slave, blinding him in an eye, the slave was to go free as compensation for the eye (Exodus 21:26 ). The Old Testament law of retribution limited vengeance of personal loss to “an eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:20 ). Jesus replaced this concept of justice with His requirement of love for enemies (Matthew 5:38 ). An eye defect disqualified one for priestly service (Leviticus 21:20 ). An exceptionally cruel punishment was to gouge out the eyes of a enemy (Judges 16:21; 2 Kings 25:7 ). This act was interpreted as bringing disgrace on the land of the blinded ones (1 Samuel 11:2 ). The description of Leah's eyes (Genesis 29:17 ) is of uncertain meaning. The KJV rendering tender can be understood either positively (lovely, NRSV) or negatively (weak, NAS).

Extended uses The Old Testament often speaks of the eye where we would speak of the person, reflecting the Hebrew concept of bodily parts as semi-independent entities. The eye can thus approve actions (Job 29:11 ). The eyes can be full of adultery (2 Peter 2:14 ) and can desire (Psalm 54:7 ) or lust (Numbers 15:39; 1 John 2:16 ). The eyes despise (Esther 1:17 ), are dissatisfied (Proverbs 27:20; Ecclesiastes 4:8 ), and can dwell on past provocation (Job 17:2 ). Job even spoke of entering a covenant with his eyes as if they were a second party (Job 31:1 ). Eyes can be evil, that is, greedy or stingy. Such an evil eye refuses to loan when the sabbatical year is near (Deuteronomy 15:9 ) and begrudges a brother food (Deuteronomy 28:54 ). The evil eye of Matthew 6:23 is often interpreted as an unhealthy eye in contrast to the single (whole, healthy) eye of Matthew 6:22 . The Matthean context of teaching on treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19 ) and serving mammon or riches (Matthew 6:24 ) as well as the usage in Matthew 20:15 suggest that the familiar Old Testament idea of the evil eye as the stingy eye is in mind here also. The eyes can be generous to the poor ( Proverbs 22:9 ). The eyes can scorn and mock (Proverbs 30:17 ), spare an enemy (1 Samuel 24:10; Isaiah 13:18 ), or wait for a time to sin (Job 24:15 ). The eyes can offend (Matthew 5:19 ), that is, cause someone to sin. Jesus' call to pluck out the offending eye is an exaggerated call to let nothing cause one to sin.

Expressions The “apple of the eye” is a description of the pupil. Proverbs 7:2 called for making God's law the apple of one's eye, that is, something of value to be guarded (kept) carefully. To “make any baldness between your eyes” ( Deuteronomy 14:1 KJV) means to shave one's forelocks (NRSV, REB). Bribes blind the eyes of judges causing them to ignore justice ( Deuteronomy 16:19; 1 Samuel 12:3 ). The difficult expression “covering the eyes” (Genesis 20:16 KJV), denotes either compensation for injury (REB), covering the offense (NIV), or else exoneration or some similar term (NRSV, NAS, TEV). In some way Sarah was vindicated; Abimelech and his company could see nothing to criticize in her behavior; and her marriage was saved.

The difficult expression, “daughter of the eye” (Lamentations 2:18 NAS margin), rendered “apple of the eye” by the KJV is generally understood as a poetic equivalent for the eye. To see “eye to eye” ( Isaiah 52:8 ) is either to see in plain sight (NRSV) or to see with one's own eyes.

Eyes which have been enlightened or brightened (1 Samuel 14:27 ) are likely an image for being refreshed (REB, TEV). Compare Psalm 13:3 . Light of the eyes can parallel strength (Psalm 38:10; compare Proverbs 15:30 ). The Lord's commands could enlighten the eyes (Psalm 19:8 ) in this sense of giving strength or in the sense of giving understanding.

To fasten one's eyes (Acts 11:6 ) is to look closely. Heavy eyes (Mark 14:40 ) are drowsy eyes. To have one's eyes opened (Genesis 3:5; Genesis 21:19 ) is to be made aware or to recognize. The image of “tearing out ones eyes” (Galatians 4:15 ) pictures willingness to do anything. Winking one's eyes (Psalm 35:19; Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10; compare Proverbs 16:30 ) is associated with hate, treachery, and troublemaking.

God's eye(s) God's eye or eyes is a frequent picture of God's providential care. God guides with His eye (Psalm 32:8 ), that is, gives counsel while offering His watchcare. Deliverance from death and famine result from God's watchful eye (Psalm 33:18-19 ). The image of God's eye(s) ranging throughout the earth (2 Chronicles 16:9; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 16:17 ) symbolizes God's knowledge of all human activity and His control over it. Apocalyptic pictures involving numerous eyes (Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12; Revelation 4:6 ), likewise, reassure of God's awareness of His people's plight wherever they might be.

Other uses The Hebrew term for eye is used in a variety of expressions not related to sight or seeing. The word can be translated spring (Genesis 16:7; Numbers 33:9 ). The term can refer to the (sur)face of the land (Exodus 10:5 ,Exodus 10:5,10:15; Numbers 22:5 ,Numbers 22:5,22:11 ) or to facets (faces) of a stone (Zechariah 3:9 ). The term is used for the sparkling of wine (Proverbs 23:31 ) perhaps in reference to bubbles that resemble eyes. The word translated “color” in Numbers 11:17 is also a word for eye.

Chris Church

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Eye'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​e/eye.html. 1991.
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