The Stately Cedars of Lebanon
By “Awake!” correspondent in Lebanon
FROM sea level to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters) above the Mediterranean—this is a trip often made by visitors to see the ancient cedars of Lebanon. No other tree has a history like it!
Come with me from Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city, northeast about a hundred miles (161 kilometers) to a place near the Maronite village of Beshari. There the cedars are known as Arz Ar-rub, “Cedars of the Lord.”
As we travel we have the blue Mediterranean on our left and the mountains on our right. We go around the beautiful bay of Jouni through the renowned city of Byblos (Biblical Gebel, where the Egyptians came for cedar) and on toward Tripoli. Just outside the village of Chekka we take a road up the mountains. Our 6,000-foot (1,800-meter) climb begins.
Now, keep on the watch. You will soon get your first glimpse of the majestic cedars. What a breathtaking sight these magnificent trees give, some of them being huge specimens towering over a hundred feet (30 meters)!
Unlike other trees, the branches of cedrus libani are in tiers, pyramid-style. Note how they spread out flat, some branches reaching out as far as the tree is tall. Going closer to these beautiful evergreens, we find that trunks are gnarled with age and are massive—showing the characteristics of their ancient forebears. Some reach a circumference of forty feet (12 meters). There are trees here that are thought to be over a thousand years old. The bark is coarse, rough and reddish brown frosted with white. The needles are bright green, about one half inch (1.3 centimeters) long, and the tree bears egg-shaped cones.
Stepping out of the coolness of the cedar forest into sunlight, we can view the cedars from a distance. Imagine, these mountains were once covered with lofty cedars! Indiscriminate use and failure to replenish and the ravages of war, however, have left few groves remaining. This particular grove of about 400 trees was probably preserved because of the difficulty of access. However, since World War II efforts have been made to replant cedar trees as well as others.
But why so famous? Because of the cedar’s frequent appearance in art and literature, especially in Scripture. The Bible refers to this monarch of trees over seventy times. It is used to represent stateliness, loftiness and strength, real or apparent. For instance, the Messiah is likened to a twig taken from the very top of a cedar tree. The growth of the righteous one is like a firmly rooted cedar. By contrast, unfaithful ones are likened to a cedar because of their self-exaltation and feeling of false security.—Ezek. 17:22-24; Ps. 92:12; Isa. 2:11-13; Jer. 22:13-15, 23.
But the majestic cedar is far more well known for its use in building the gorgeous temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem in the days of King Solomon. Its beauty, fragrance and durability, besides its warm red tone, well recommended it for that purpose.—1 Ki. 6:9, 15-18, 20.
Ah, but how could the trees be cut and shipped from here to Jerusalem? It is hardly likely that they were cut and shipped from this location. But, remember, in ancient times the trees covered the upper limits of the mountains of Lebanon, which stretch from north to south some ninety-five miles (153 kilometers). Today, farther south, near the Druzes village of Barouk, there is a younger grove of around 900 trees. Choice cedar may have been cut at this location or nearby by the Sidonians, who were expert woodcutters. The logs then could have been floated on the Litani River, which flows south and then around the southern end of the Lebanon range of mountains into the Mediterranean, near Tyre. There the logs could have been formed into rafts and floated south along the coast, possibly to Joppa, modern Tel Aviv. The logs may have been cut there and transported twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) overland to the temple site in Jerusalem.
The ancients truly valued cedarwood. It is a majestic tree with a meaningful history. Soon in the earthly paradise of God majestic cedars will again flourish, covering the mountains, to the praise of their Maker.