The eyes explain the intention of what we will do. Our loyalties, dispositions, and convictions come out of our internal barometer. The thing which our eyes see is not the problem. The action taken when looking is not the starting line for our response to that thing. “The eyes are the mirror of the soul” is perhaps the closest equivalent explanation that can be given in English. It is ourselves (the self, the “soul”) that is the problem.
Our eyes belie our intention—the focus, absorbed concentration, rapt attention toward the appetite of our desire. We now “set our sights” upon, designate, and “mark out our territory.” Once the act of our will has been determined, once we decide for sin, the act of coveting begins. It is then that we “lust a lust” or “feel a gluttonous craving” (cf. Num 11:4; Prov 21:26; Ecc 6:2).
Pleasure, beauty, desire, delight, luxuries, what is precious, delicacies, and things in general are NOT the problem. The longing, the unquenchable thirst we develop for matter—whatever it is—is born of an internal decision which leads to our intention. Sin’s birth or death happens right here. What’s the matter with matter? Nothing. This is Genesis 2:9. Is matter all that matters? If the answer is yes, then this is Genesis 3:6. The phrase “depending on how you look at it” exactly suggests the point.
What is “pleasing” to our eyes may be ethically good or bad depending on our intention. The words in Genesis 2:9 and 3:6 are different though synonymous in the Hebrew language (both are used interchangeably to identify coveting something belonging to one’s neighbor; Ex 20:17, Deut 5:21). Things that give the individual pleasure are always a result of seeing them first (cf. Achan, “I saw…I coveted,” Jos 7:21). Once the sight is set upon something, that thing can then become an object of desire. Unrighteous craving extends to idols (Deut 7:25; Is 1:29; 44:9), prostitutes (Prov 6:25), the belongings of others (Micah 2:2), or simply evil itself (Prov 21:10). Craving parallels greed (Ps 10:3), selfishness (Prov 18:1), mockery (Prov 1:22), and getting something for nothing (Prov 21:25, 26). Compared to a wild donkey in heat (Jer 2:24) wicked desires come to nothing (Ps 112:10). On the other hand, righteous longing ends in good (Prov 11:23), is granted (Prov 10:24), fulfilling (Prov 13:12), and sweet to the soul (Prov 13:19). The object of affection for the believer begins with God’s Word (Ps 119:20, 40, 174): which is “more precious than gold” (Ps 19:11).
So our focus is off. We want what we shouldn’t have. Replacing God with what we want is the essence of idolatry. Our choice becomes God. We usurp power simply by decision. What is good can become god but does not a good god make. We seek the ultimate in the temporal. Our god can be a person, position, power, pleasure, or possession. But the problem is not with the thing, it’s with us.
Our ineptitude, our own smallness, our finite, fallen, and fragile nature must be behind Yahweh’s sarcastic response to Israel’s idols. “You’ve GOT to be kidding, right?! You think that rock that can’t hear, think, see, or act is better than Me?!” The problem is not with the rock; the problem is with us. I believe that is Isaiah’s point about carving an idol out of a felled tree. With one half the idolater warms himself with fire, with the other he fashions an idol. What happens if he burns the wrong half?! (Isaiah 44:6-20).
“Keep your eyes on your own plate,” among other dictates, come immediately to mind when Mark teaches about ‘eyes’ in Old Testament Survey at Crossroads Bible College. Originally written for “Faith and Learning,” a course, Mark developed at MBI in 2004.