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, and thus the Hebrew name, derived from a root word meaning “to be firm,” is very appropriate. Large forests of these cedars once blanketed the mountains of Lebanon, but today only a few small groves remain due to indiscriminate use and 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 Song of Solomon 5:15.
The cedars sometimes reach a height of 120 feet (37 meters) and the trunk may have a circumference of up to 40 feet (12 meters). The long, spreading branches, stretching out horizontally from the trunk, may give a total circumference of as much as 200 to 300 feet (60 to 91 meters). 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 (rather than interlacing), the boughs bearing round flowerlike sprays of bright, green needles about half an inch (1.27 centimeters) 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. (Song of Sol. 1:17; 4:11) The Phoenician shipbuilders used it for their masts. (Ezek. 27:5) King Hiram of Tyre supplied men and materials for David when David built a “house of cedars” in Jerusalem. (2 Sam. 5:11; 2 Chron. 2:3) Solomon later used cedarwood in the temple, for the beams (1 Ki. 6:9), for overlaying the altar of incense (1 Ki. 6:20), and for paneling the interior of the temple in its entirety so that “there was no stone to be seen.” (1 Ki. 6:15-18) The “House of the Forest of Lebanon,” constructed later, was probably so named because of its forty-five pillars of cedarwood. (1 Ki. 7:2, 3) Cedar was also used in the Porch of the Throne and in the temple courtyard.—1 Ki. 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. (1 Ki. 5:6-18; 2 Chron. 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.—1 Ki. 10:27; compare Isaiah 9:9, 10.
Following the captivity, cedar timbers from Lebanon were again obtained for reconstruction work on the temple.—Ezra 3:7.
Elsewhere in the Scriptures the majestic cedar is used figuratively to represent stateliness, loftiness and strength, either real or apparent. (Ezek. 31:2-14; Amos 2:9; Zech. 11:1, 2; Job 40:17) 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. (2 Ki. 14:9; compare Judges 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 by Babylon. (Ezek. 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.—Ezek. 17:22-24; compare Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Psalm 2:6; Revelation 14:1; Daniel 4:17.
The cedarwood used in the wilderness by the Israelites was possibly from another type of cedar than that of Lebanon. The brown-berried cedar (Juniperus oxycedrus) is well known in the Sinai desert region. Certain purification rites, including that of a cured leper, required the use of cedarwood, and it may be that, due to its well-known resistance to decay, it was there used to symbolize freedom from corruption or disease.—Lev. 14:2-7, 49-53; Num. 19:6.
That the cedar served figuratively in both an adverse as well as 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 Isaiah 61:3 with Psalm 92:12; 104:16.) So, while on the one hand Jehovah promises to manifest 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.