At one time the land of Palestine had abundant forests with trees of many types. The Scriptural references to forests and woodlands and to the use of wood materials make it evident that trees were then much more common there than at present. (2 Chron. 27:4; Judg. 9:48, 49) This is also made certain from the description of wild animal life, showing that the forests were such as provided adequate cover and habitation for bears (2 Ki. 2:23, 24), lions (1 Sam. 17:34; 1 Chron. 11:22), and other forms of animal life.—Ezek. 34:25.
But deforestation of large areas has come about due to the devastation of war, the extensive use of timber with no accompanying effort to replenish the forests, and uncontrolled grazing, in which the young shoots of new trees have been eaten by goats and other animals. Denis Baly, in his book The Geography of the Bible (1957, p. 92), speaks of “a thousand years of neglect,” which has resulted in the disappearance of many woodlands and the severe erosion of soil, leaving much of the land rocky and barren.
Certain forests are specifically mentioned in the Bible. The forests of Lebanon, now reduced to a few small groves, were outstanding for their splendid tree growth (1 Ki. 5:2-10, 13-18; 2 Ki. 19:23), with great quantities of cedar, juniper, cypress and other trees. The “forest of Ephraim” (perhaps “forest of Mahanaim”), in which Absalom met disaster, may have been located E of the Jordan River near Mahanaim and appears to have been of considerable density. (2 Sam. 18:6, 8, 17, NW, 1955 ed., ftn.) The “forest of Hereth” was in Judah. (1 Sam. 22:5) Additionally, the region of Gilead was famous for its woodlands and balsam trees, while Bashan to the N was noted for its “massive trees,” apparently including the oak. (Isa. 2:13; Zech. 11:2) In the days of David and Solomon, sycamore trees grew in abundance in the Shephelah lowlands. (1 Ki. 10:27; 1 Chron. 27:28; 2 Chron. 1:15; 9:27) The Jordan valley had a thick growth of tamarisks and willows, where lions lurked.—Jer. 12:5; Zech. 11:3.
Even as trees are used to symbolize individual persons and rulers, so the Bible uses forests symbolically for peoples or nations and their rulers. The wickedness of apostate Judah was like a flame to burn up her people (Isa. 9:18); their people would be cut down and thinned out like trees of a forest (Isa. 10:19, 34); Jehovah’s anger would burn up the southern kingdom (Judah) with an unextinguishable flame. (Ezek. 20:46-48) Similar prophecies are given against pagan nations, enemies of God’s people.—Ps. 83:14, 15; Jer. 46:22, 23.