Eye (עִיַן a'yin, from the idea of flowing [see below]; ὀφθαλμός). In most languages this important organ is used by figurative application, as the symbol of a large number of objects and ideas. In the East such applications of the word "eye" have always been uncommonly numerous, and they were so among the Hebrews. It may be serviceable to distinguish the following uses of the word, few of which are common among us except so far as they have become so through the translation of the Bible. (See Gesenius, Hebrews Lex.; Wemyss's Symbol. Dict.)
(1.) A fountain. This use of the word has already been indicated. SEE AIN. It probably originated from the eye being regarded as the fountain of tears.
(2.) Color, as in the phrase "and the eye (color) of the manna was as the eve (color) of ladellium" (Nu 11:7). This originated, pearhaps, in the eye being the part of the body which exhibits different colors in different persons.
(3.) The surface, as "the surface (eye) of the land" (Ex 10:5,15; Nu 22:5,11): the last is the passage which affords most sanction to the notion that עִיִן means in some places "face." This is the sense which our own and other versions give to "eye to eye" (Nu 14:14, etc.), translated "face to face." The phrases are indeed equivalent in meaning; but we are not thence to conclude that the Hebrews meant "face" when they said "eye," but that they chose the opposition of the eyes, instead of that of the faces, to express the general meaning. Hence, therefore, we may object to the extension of the signification in such passages as 1Sa 16:12, where "beautiful eyes" (עֵינִיַם יפֵה) is rendered "fair countenance."
(4.) It is also alleged that a between (or about) the eyes means the forehead, in Ex 13:9,16, and the forepart of the head, in De 6:8; but the passages are sufficiently intelligible if understood to denote what they literally express; and with reference to the last it may be remarked that there is hair about the eves as well as on the head, the removal of which might well be' interdicted as an act of lamentation.
(5.) In Song 4:9 "eye" seems to be used poetically for "look," as is usual in most languages: "thou hast stolen my heart with one of thy looks" (eyes).
(6.) In Pr 23:31, the term "eye" is applied to the beads or bubbles af wine, when poured out, but our version preserves the sense of "color."
(7.) To these some other phrases, requiring notice and explanation, may be added:
"Before the eyes" of any one, meaning in his presence, or, as we should say, "before his face" (Ge 23:11,18; Ex 4:30).
"In the eyes" of any one means what appears to be so or so in his individual judgment or opinion, and is equivalent to "seeming" or "appearing" (Ge 19:8; Ge 29:20; 1Sa 12:3).
"To set the eyes" upon any one is usually to regard him with favor (Ge 44:21; Job 24:23; Jer 39:12); but it occurs in a bad sense, as of looking with anger, in Am 9:8. But angels more usually expressed by the contrary action of turning the eyes away.
As many of the passions, such as envy, pride, pity, desire, are expressed by the eye, so, in the scriptural style, they are often ascribed to that organ. Hence such phrases as "evil eye" (Mt 20:15), "bountiful eye" (Pr 22:9), "haughty eyes" (Pr 6:17), "wanton eyes" (Isa 3:16), "eyes full of adultery" (2Pe 2:14), "the lust of the eves" (1Jo 2:16). This last phrase is applied by some to lasciviousness, by others to covetousness; but it is best to take the expression in the most extensive sense, as denoting a craving for the gay vanities of this life (comp. Eze 24:25). In the same chapter of Ezekiel (verse 16), "the desire of they eyes" is put not for the prophet's wife directly, as often understood, but for whatever is one's greatest solace and delight, which in this case was the prophet's wife, but which in another case might have been something else.
Whether the Hebrews attached the same ideas to the expression "evil eye" (Pr 23:6; Pr 28:22) as is done by the Orientals at the present day is not easy to ascertain. It has been obseraed by Mr. Lane, and also by Mrs. Poole, that "nothing distresses an Egyptian parent more than that which in other countries is considered to convey a compliment — admiration of the child. If any one is seen to stare at so as to envy the offspring, the mother hastily snatches it away, to perform some superstitious rite, as a charm against the supposed evil eye." And Mr. Roberts says, among the Hindoos, the kan-nuru, "evil eye," of some people is believed to have a most baneful effect upon whatsoever it shall be fixed. Those who are reputed to have such eyes are always avoided, and none but near relations will invite them to a feast.
In Zec 4:10, the angels of the Lord are called "his eyes," as being the executioners of his judgments, and watching and attending for his glory. From some such association of ideas, the favorite ministers of state in the Persian monarchy were called "the king's eyes." So, in Nu 10:31, "to be instead of eyes" is equivalent to being a prince, to rule and guide the people. This occurs also in the Greek poets, as in Pindar (Olymp. 2:10), where "the eye of Sicilia" is given as a title to one of the chief men in Sicily, showing his power. In like manner, in the same poet, "the eye of the army" stands for a good commander (Olymp. 6:16).
To keep anything as the apple or pupil of the eye is to preserve it with particular care (De 32:10; Zec 2:8).
Eye-service is peculiar to slaves, who are governed by fear only, and is to be carefully guarded against by Christians, who ought to serve from a principle of duty and affection (Eph 6:6; Col 3:22).
The expression in Ps 123:2; "As the eyes of servants look unto the hand's of their masters," has suggested a number of curious illustrations from Oriental history and customs, tending to show that masters, especially when in the presence of others, are in the habit of communicating to their servants' orders and intimations by certain motions of their hands, which, although scarcely noticeable by other persons present, are clearly understood and promptly acted upon by the attendants. This custom keeps them with their attention bent upon the hand of their master watching its slightest motions. (See Kitto's Daily Bible Illustra. on Pr 6:13.)
The celebrated passage "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's aye, and considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye" (Mt 7:3), has occasioned much waste of explanation. It seems mecuch better to understand it as a hyperbolical proverbial expression, than to contend that as δοκός cannot literally mean "a beam," it must here signify something else, a disease, a thorn, etc. (see Doddridge and Campbell, in loc.). As a proverbial plurase, parallels have been produced abundantly from the Rabbins, from the fathers, and from the classics. SEE BLIND.