Clouds of Fear
Yael Eckstein | March 28, 2021
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me? — Psalm 56:3-4
In honor of my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and his lifework helping Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, I offer you one of his devotional teachings from the beloved Psalms.
Often when dark clouds hover over Jerusalem, they are good clouds, because they mean that much needed rain is on the way. But sometimes there are more ominous clouds that bring fear and sadness when Israel is under a terror attack, or more recently, the devastation of a global pandemic. Yet, when the clouds of fear descend, we must face these times with a healthy dose of faith and put our trust in God.
An amazing thing happens when we realize that we are completely vulnerable and not in control of our lives, we recognize that God is. When we truly understand that it is not within our power or our government’s ability to ensure our safety, we realize that only God can. Our darkest hours can bring the most light when we realize that God is our only source of security and protection.
This is what King David experienced in Psalm 56. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. He was forced to leave Israel because King Saul, out of resentment and jealousy, had decided to kill him. David left Israel for the Philistine city of Gath where he hoped to remain anonymous and live in safety.
However, upon arrival, David was immediately in even more danger than before. The Jewish sages teach that the person minding the gate of the city was none other than a giant named Yishbi — the brother of another famous giant — Goliath! Yishbi immediately identified his brother’s killer, detained him, and asked the king’s permission to kill this enemy of the Philistine people.
The Clouds of Fear
So there David was — in grave danger on all sides. He wasn’t safe back in Israel, and he wasn’t safe out of Israel. The clouds of fear were swirling all around him, but how did he react? “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” He turned to God, his only hope for salvation.
In the introduction to this psalm, we are told that it is “A miktam.” The sages teach that the word miktam can be broken into two words: mach meaning “humble,” and tam, meaning “perfect.” When we are in such frightening experiences as described in this psalm, the upside is that we can become humble and perfect — humble because we recognize our insignificance and God’s omnipotence, perfect because we learn to trust in God.
So when the clouds of fear threaten to envelop you with despair, remember that these dark times can also bring about great faith and even greater salvation when we trust in God.