The Forest of Freedom

Yael Eckstein  |  August 9, 2020

Serene image of a forest with the sunlight shining through

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. — Psalm 23:4

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.

Psalm 23 is probably the most well-known psalm of all. The imagery of God as our shepherd, lovingly caring for our every need, is a welcome vision in a time of need. King David’s words, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” have served as a soothing balm for difficult times. When we explore the context of this psalm, its message becomes even more powerful.

According to Jewish tradition, this psalm was written by David when he was running away from King Saul and took refuge in the forest of Hereth (1 Samuel 22:5). The Jewish sages teach that in spite of being called a forest, Hereth was more like a desert. It was a dry, arid place where no vegetation could grow.

How could David survive? What would sustain him? When the prophet Jeremiah talked about those who “dwell in the parched places of the desert,” he called it a place “where no one lives” (Jeremiah 17:6).

And yet, David not only lived; he thrived.

David’s faith in God elicited miracles from Him. It is in this context, in this dry place, that David described the lush pastures to which God, as his shepherd, lovingly led him. That was why David had nothing to fear. He knew that if God could feed him in a desert, He could sustain him in any situation. If God could give David life in a place where no man could live, then God could save him from any enemy — including the king of Israel! David had faith, and therefore he enjoyed peace, tranquility, and prosperity.

It’s interesting to note that the forest is called Hereth. Hereth, that harsh place of bareness, shares the same letters as the word Heruth, which means “freedom.” In Hebrew, when two words look alike, they are alike and connected in some way. But what could possibly be the connection between the lacking and limited forest of Hereth and the emancipating qualities of freedom?

The answer is that through living in a forest of limitations, we find our true freedom — and that happens when we find God.

Maybe you’re going through a dry forest in your life right now. How will I pay the bills? How will I make it through this day? Sometimes it seems that we are living through challenges that most people couldn’t survive. Yet, if we place our faith in God like David did, we, too, will find our freedom from fear and despair as we realize that God can bless us with abundance and health anywhere.

In the darkest alley or in the driest desert, God’s providence is everywhere.

Your turn:

It would be a privilege and honor for me to take your prayer to the holiest site in all of Israel — the Western Wall — and pray for you. Please submit your prayer request today!