The Eyes of God

The idea of God ‘seeing’ is the most widely used anthropomorphism in the scriptures. Although the expression ‘the eyes of God’ is not found in the Bible,1 the phrase ‘the eyes of the Lord’, also translated as ‘the sight of the Lord’, occurs over 100 times.2 Many verses also refer to God ‘looking upon’ or ‘seeing’. Unsurprisingly, vision is our most dominant sense and to understand this anthropomorphism further we will briefly consider how the human visual system works and relate it to our subject.

The special focus of God’s attention: ‘Keep me as the apple of the eye’, Ps. 17. 8

Our eyes are really pieces of brain stuck to the outside of our heads which we can rotate around to look out into the world!3 A perfectly clear layer of tissue at the front of the eyes, called the cornea, along with a lens inside each eye, focuses light onto the retina, a thin layer of neurons at the back of the eyes, which converts light into electrical impulses. The most important part of the retina is a small indentation, the size of a pinprick, called the fovea where our light-sensitive cells are densely packed together. The brain invests a huge amount of effort in moving the eyes very quickly and precisely to maximize the use of the fovea in each eye, rapidly scanning the scenes we look at. Hence, we read, ‘For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him’, 2 Chr. 16. 9.

Once we get our fovea looking at an object, we can lock onto it, tracking the object, even if it is moving or we are moving, by making sophisticated synchronized eye movements. The object we are looking at then becomes the focus of our attention. John speaks of the time he spent with the Lord Jesus on earth and says, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life’, 1 John 1. 1. He is describing this process in relation to the Lord Jesus. We ‘looked upon’ Him. We viewed Him attentively and He became the special object of our focus. How blessed were their eyes in being able to gaze on the Lord Jesus in person, Matt. 13. 16.

Although God is aware of every event in the universe, at the same time there are certain things that are the special focus of His attention. King David said, ‘Keep me as the apple of the eye’, Ps. 17. 8. This refers to the ‘little man’ we see in the centre of a person’s eyes as we get close to them.4 The reason for this is because as they gaze upon us we see a tiny reflection of ourselves caused by the shiny surface of the eyes which is kept moist with a special tear film.5 The Lord Jesus has eternally been the true apple of God’s eye, constantly under the gaze of His Father, and the One who has always been ‘daily his delight’, Prov. 8. 30. We too, as God’s people, are considered as the apple of His eye, ‘the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry’, Ps. 34. 15. We are the special focus of His attention.

God’s awareness: ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place’, Prov. 15. 3

Information travels from the eyes to the brain through the optic nerves, with each nerve carrying around a million separate connections. Most of the business of seeing is actually done by the brain with up to half of our brain area contributing to processing vision. The information first arrives at the brain in the back of the head after which it travels in two directions. The first route, called the dorsal stream, can be thought of as the ‘where’ pathway. It identifies where objects are and where we are relative to the world. The second pathway, the ventral stream, is the ‘what pathway and is concerned with recognizing what we are looking at, for example, people, places, or objects. The brain combines all this incoming information to generate our awareness of the world.

This idea of awareness is used in Proverbs chapter 15 verse 3, where we read, ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’. The picture is of the omniscient God who is fully aware of, and comprehends, every minute detail in the universe. This truth is both comforting and deeply searching. David contemplates the omniscience of God in Psalm 139, ‘O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me’, v. 1. He is cognizant of the smallest aspects of our life. He knows when we stand up. He knows when we sit down, v. 2. He knows our words before we utter them, v. 4. Our prayers are known to God before we even say them. David concludes, ‘Such knowledge is too wonderful for me’, v. 6. The New Testament informs us that God continues to actively search our hearts as He brings to bear the incisive action of the word of God upon our hearts, exposing the ‘thoughts and intents’. This action proves to us daily that, ‘Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do’, Heb. 4. 12, 13.

When the Apostle John received the awe-inspiring vision on the Isle of Patmos, He saw the Lord Jesus as the judge of all the earth. The eyes of the Lord Jesus are described ‘as a flame of fire’, with no action, word, or motive missing His all-seeing gaze, Rev. 1. 14. Although we will never stand before Him as judge in respect to the penalty for our sins, we will stand before Him when He reviews our lives at the judgement seat of Christ, 2 Cor. 5. 10. Paul warns us to ‘judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God’, 1 Cor. 4. 5. Nothing escapes His watchful eye.

God’s perspective: ‘do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God’, Deut. 13. 18 Unfortunately, we cannot trust everything we see with our eyes. Our brains are extremely efficient signal detection devices that can rapidly interpret fragmentary and complex information using our previous knowledge and experience. Hence, we develop a perspective of the world by integrating incoming information from the eyes with what we already know. However, this comes at a cost. When we look at an ambiguous or incomplete picture of the world, sometimes our previous experiences will either convince us that something is real that does not exist, or generate alternative perspectives from the same information. This is the basis of visual illusions such as that seen in the figure.6

In the Necker Cube Illusion we see a series of cubes in three dimensions because we expect a light source to cause the surfaces of the cubes to be different shades. Because we do not know where the light source is, the cubes can flip in perspective with us either seeing the cubes from above or below.7

By far the most common reference to eyes or vision in relation to God is the expression ‘in the eyes’ or ‘in the sight’ of the Lord. It speaks of God’s view or perspective, which often stands in contrast to the human viewpoint, ‘for the Lord seeth not as man seeth’, 1 Sam. 16. 7. When we find ourselves in situations we do not understand, we often do not see the full picture, but should remember that God always does. We need to bow to His all-wise and perfect perspective when it conflicts with our own viewpoint.

The expression ‘in the eyes of the Lord’ is first used in Genesis chapter 6 verse 8, ‘But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord’. Noah’s standing before God and his manner of life was in contrast with the pervasive wickedness of mankind that was about to bring forth the judgement of God. Here are elements of the truth of Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God’. Noah had found grace because it was freely available to him. Yet, the expression ‘the eyes of the Lord’ speaks of the irreversible way in which Noah found grace because this was viewed from God’s perspective. It was an established and unchangeable fact.

Most frequently, this expression is used with reference to that which is ‘right’ or ‘evil’ in the sight of the Lord, often in relation to the kings of Israel and Judah. The expression indicates a manner of life consistent with personal faith in God. The Lord Jesus referred to the way our beliefs inwardly affect the way we live our lives outwardly, ‘A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit’, and, ‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them’, Matt. 7. 18, 20. We cannot truly say we belong to the Lord Jesus if our life is inconsistent with what we profess, ‘If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth’, 1 John 1. 6.



‘Eyes of God’ or ‘Eye of God’ does not occur in the KJV, NKJV, ESV, for example, but there is one reference in the NIV, Ps. 52. 1.


All of these references, except four, are found in the Old Testament. The four New Testament references are: Luke 1. 15; 2 Cor. 8. 21; Jas. 4. 10; and 1 Pet. 3. 12.


The eyes grow out from the brain during early development. Also, the retina is central nervous system tissue with very similar properties to brain tissue.


Another idea is that the apple of the eye refers to the pupil, the dark centre of the eye, which we guard to prevent damage to the cornea. The cornea is the most sensitive part of our body where we experience touch as pain.


This is called the corneal reflex. Thus, we read the description of the Shunammite women in the Song of Solomon, ‘Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon’, S. of S. 7. 4.


For other examples of visual illusions see:




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