A tree of the pine family frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, where the "cedar of Lebanon" is generally meant. The cedar-tree grows best in a high, dry, and sandy region, and it found these requirements in the northern part of Palestine in the Lebanon district. In this district there are to be seen trees that reach a girth measurement of no less than forty-two feet. The tree spreads its roots among the rocks, and thus secures a strong hold. From this hold the tree sometimes grows to a height of ninety feet, but this scarcely gives an idea of its size, for the cedar usually grows horizontally, the limbs out from thestem as well as the branches out from the limbs. The leaves are dark green, about an inch in length, and are evergreen; the shade they make is broad and dense. The wood of the cedar-tree is valuable for building purposes, since the oil in it prevents destruction by dry-rot and worms. Cedar-oil was used by the Romans for the protection of their manuscripts.
Various were the uses to which cedar was put in Biblical times. It was used by Solomon in building the Temple (I Kings vi. 18), the inside of which was all of cedar, no stone being visible. On the outside, also, cedar was used (I Kings vii. 12). The altar was made of the same wood (I Kings vi. 20). Later on it was employed in building the Second Temple (Ezra iii. 7). From Ezek. xvxii. 5 it is clear that cedar was used in the making of masts. In religious service it was used in cleansing the leper (Lev. xiv. 4, 49, 51, 52) and in the ceremony of the Red Heifer (Num. xix. 6).
It is natural to find so striking a tree introduced as a favorite figure of the Biblical writers. A maiden describes her lover as a choice cedar (Cant. v. 15). Oftentimes a strong nation is compared to the cedar; for example, the Amorite (Amos ii. 9) and Assyrian (Ezek. xxxi. 3). In Zech. xi. 2 it is a synonym of "powerful." The strength of the cedar as well as of the leviathan is brought out in Job xl. 17. Another favorite figure is based on the luxuriance of the growth of the cedar. A flourishing land is evidenced by the presence of the cedar (Isa. xli. 19); and the prosperity of the righteous is compared to it (Ps. xcii. 13 [A. V. 12]).
In Num. xxiv. 6 cedar is mentioned as growing beside water. This seems to be impossible; but it is to be noticed that the term "cedar" was applied very often to trees that were really not cedars. In Rosh ha-Shanah 23a the statement is made that the inhabitants of Palestine called ten different trees cedar.
- H. B. Tristram, Natural History of the Bible, pp. 341-344.