The cedar trees, and particularly those of Lebanon, were renowned in Bible times and are especially prominent in the account of the temple construction by Solomon.
The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is a majestic tree of massive proportions, with deep, strong roots. Large forests of these cedars once blanketed the mountains of Lebanon, but today only a few small groves remain because of indiscriminate use and the failure to replenish the trees by proper conservation and reseeding. The ravages of war doubtless contributed to this depletion as well. (Isa 14:5-8) However, the remaining trees still present an impressive sight.—Compare Ca 5:15.
The cedars sometimes reach a height of 37 m (120 ft) and the trunk may have a circumference of up to 12 m (40 ft). The long, spreading branches, stretching out horizontally from the trunk, may give a total circumference of as much as 60 to 90 m (200 to 300 ft). The trees are somewhat pyramid-shaped when young but tend to flatten out on top as they mature. The foliage grows in distinct horizontal tiers or layers (instead of interlacing), the boughs bearing round flowerlike sprays of bright-green needles about 1.3 cm (0.5 in.) in length, and tan-colored cones that exude a fragrant resin. The bark is reddish brown in color and quite rough. The trunk becomes gnarled with age.
The wood of the cedar has a warm red tone, is free from knots, and was valued highly for building purposes because of its beauty, fragrance, durability, and resistance to attack by insects. (Ca 1:17; 4:11) The Phoenician shipbuilders used it for their masts. (Eze 27:5) King Hiram of Tyre supplied men and materials for building “a house of cedars” for David in Jerusalem. (2Sa 5:11; 7:2; 2Ch 2:3) Solomon later used cedarwood in the temple, for the beams (1Ki 6:9), for overlaying the altar of incense (1Ki 6:20), and for paneling the interior of the temple in its entirety so that “there was no stone to be seen.” (1Ki 6:15-18) “The House of the Forest of Lebanon,” constructed later, was probably so named because of its 45 pillars of cedarwood. (1Ki 7:2, 3) Cedar was also used in the Porch of the Throne and in the temple courtyard.—1Ki 7:7-12.
Such extensive use of cedarwood required the labor of thousands of workers in cutting the trees, transporting them to Tyre or Sidon on the Mediterranean seacoast, forming them into rafts, and floating them down the coast, probably to Joppa. They were then hauled overland to Jerusalem. This was worked out by a contract between Solomon and Hiram. (1Ki 5:6-18; 2Ch 2:3-10) Thereafter the flow of lumber continued so that it could be said that Solomon made ‘cedarwood like the sycamore tree for quantity’ during his reign.—1Ki 10:27; compare Isa 9:9, 10.
Following the exile, cedar timbers from Lebanon were again obtained for reconstruction work on the temple.—Ezr 3:7.
Figurative Use. In the Scriptures the majestic cedar is used figuratively to represent stateliness, loftiness, and strength, either real or apparent. (Eze 31:2-14; Am 2:9; Zec 11:1, 2) Thus, King Jehoash of Israel intended his reply to King Amaziah of Judah to be a withering insult when he compared Amaziah’s kingdom to a “thorny weed” while likening his own kingdom to a mighty cedar of Lebanon. (2Ki 14:9; compare Jg 9:15, 20.) The cedar figures dramatically in Ezekiel’s riddle (chap 17), wherein the king and princes of Judah are likened to the treetop of a cedar of Lebanon carried off to Babylon. (Eze 17:1-4, 12, 13) Thereafter the Messiah is prophetically pictured as a twig from the very top of the cedar, which Jehovah then plants on a lofty mountain.—Eze 17:22-24; compare Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Ps 2:6; Re 14:1; Da 4:17.
The cedarwood used in the wilderness by the Israelites was evidently from a type of cedar other than that of Lebanon. The brown-berried cedar (Juniperus oxycedrus) and the Phoenician juniper (Juniperus phoenicia) have been suggested, both being well known in the Sinai desert region. Certain purification rites required the use of cedarwood, and it may be that, because of its well-known resistance to decay, it was there used to symbolize freedom from corruption or disease.—Le 14:2-7, 49-53; Nu 19:6.
That the cedar served figuratively in an adverse as well as a favorable sense is evident. It became a status symbol among the unfaithful materialistic kings of Judah and symbolized their self-exaltation and false security. (Jer 22:13-15, 23; Isa 2:11-13) Yet, the growth and development of the righteous man is likened to that of the firmly rooted cedar. (Ps 92:12; compare Isa 61:3 with Ps 104:16.) So, while on the one hand Jehovah manifests his power by breaking the mighty cedars of Lebanon and making them ‘skip about the mountains like calves’ (Ps 29:4-6), on the other hand he foretells the time when he will make the cedar grow even in the wilderness regions (Isa 41:19, 20) and singles it out among the trees as one of the many creations that will praise his lofty name.—Ps 148:9, 13.