se'-dar, se'-der ('erez, from Hebrew root meaning "to be firm"; kedros): The 'erez was in almost all the Old Testament references the true cedar, Cedrus libani, but the name may have been applied in a loose way to allied trees, such as junipers and pines. In Nu 24:6--"as cedar-trees beside the waters"--the reference must, as is most probable, be purely poetical (see ALOES) or the 'arazim must signify some other kind of tree which flourishes beside water.
1. Cedar for Ritual Cleansing:
Cedar is twice mentioned as a substance for ritual cleansing. In Lev 14:4 the cleansed leper was sprinkled with the blood of a "clean bird" into which had been put "cedar-wood, and scarlet, and hyssop." In Nu 19:6 "cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet" were to be cast into the holocaust of the red heifer. (For the symbolical meaning see CLEAN.) Here it is very generally considered that the cedar could not have been the wood of Cedrus libani, which so far as we know never grew in the wilderness, but that of some species of juniper--according to Post, Juniperis phoenicea, which may still be found in the wilderness of Edom.
2. Cedar Trees in the Old Testament:
Cedar trees are everywhere mentioned with admiration in the Old Testament. Solomon made the cedar the first of trees (1 Ki 4:33). They are the "glory of Lebanon" (Isa 35:2; 60:13). The most boastful threat of Sennacherib was that he would cut down the tall cedars of Lebanon (Isa 37:24). They were strong, as is implied in--
"The voice of Yahweh is powerful; ....
The voice of Yahweh breaketh the cedars;
Yea, Yahweh breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon"
The cedars are tall--"whose height was like the height of the cedars"--(Am 2:9; 2 Ki 19:23); majestic (2 Ki 14:9), and excellent (Song 5:15). The Assyrian power is compared to--"a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a forest-like shade, an high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs .... its stature was exalted above all the trees of the field; and its boughs were multiplied, and its branches became long" (Ezek 31:3-5). They are in particular God's trees--
"The trees of Yahweh are filled with moisture,
The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted" (Ps 104:16).
Doubtless as a reminiscence of this the Syrians today call the cedar `ars er rubb, "the cedar of the Lord." The growth of the cedar is typical of that of the righteous man (Ps 92:12).
That cedars were once very abundant in the Lebanon is evident (1 Ki 6:9-18; 10:27). What they contributed to the glory and beauty of that district may be seen in Zec 11:1-2:
"Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.
Wail, O fir-tree, for the cedar is fallen, because the
glorious (Revised Version margin) ones are destroyed:
Wail, O ye oaks of Bashan, for the strong forest is come down."
3. Cedar Timber:
The wood of the cedar has always been highly prized--much more so than the sycamore (1 Ki 10:27; Isa 9:10). David had a house of cedar built for him by Hiram, king of Tyre (2 Sam 5:11), and he prepared "cedar-trees without number" for the temple which his son was to build (1 Ch 22:4). Cedar timber was very much used in the construction of Solomon's temple and palace, the trees being cut in the Lebanon by Sidonians by orders of the king of Tyre--"Hiram gave Solomon timber of cedar and timber of fir according to all his desire" (1 Ki 5:6-10). One of Solomon's most important buildings was known as "the house of the forest of Lebanon" (1 Ki 7:2; 10:17; 2 Ch 9:16), on account of the source of its materials. While cedar was well adapted for beams ( 1 Ki 6:9; Song 1:17), boards (Song 8:9), pillars (1 Ki 7:2) and ceilings (Jer 22:14), it was suited as well for carved work, such as idols (Isa 44:14,15). It was also used for ships' masts (Ezek 27:5).
4. Cedars in Modern Syria:
The Cedrus libani still survives in the mountains of Syria and flourishes in much greater numbers in the Taurus mountains. "There are groves of cedars above el-Ma`acir, Baruk, `Ain Zehaltah, Hadith, Besherri, and Sir" (Post, Flora, 751). Of these the grove at Besherri is of world-wide renown. It consists of a group of about 400 trees, among them some magnificent old patriarchs, which lies on the bare slopes of the Lebanon some 6,000 ft. above the sea. Doubtless they are survivors of a forest which here once covered the mountain slopes for miles. The half a dozen highest specimens reach a height of between 70 and 80 ft., and have trunks of a circumference of 40 ft. or more. It is impossible to estimate with any certainty their age, but they may be as much as 800, or even 1,000, years old. Though magnificent, these are by no means the largest of their kind. Some of the cedars of Amanus are quite 100 ft. high and the Himalayan cedar, Cedrus deodara, a variety of Cedrus libani, reaches a height of 150 ft. The impressiveness of the cedar lies, however, not so much in its height and massive trunk, as in the wonderful lateral spread of its branches, which often exceeds its height. The branches grow out horizontally in successive tiers, each horizontal plane presenting, when looked at from above, the appearance of a green sward. The leaves are about an inch long, arranged in clusters; at first they are bright green, but they change with age to a deeper tint with a glaucous hue; the foliage is evergreen, the successive annual growths of leaves each lasting two years. The cones, 4 to 6 inches long, are oval or oblong-ovate, with a depression at times at the apex; they require two years to reach maturity and then, unlike other conifers, they remain attached to the tree, dropping out their scales bearing the seeds.
The wood of the cedar, specially grown under the conditions of its natural habitat, is hard, close grained, and takes a high polish. It is full of resin (Ps 92:14) which preserves it from rot and from worms. Cedar oil, a kind of turpentine extracted from the wood, was used in ancient times as a preservative for parchments and garments.
E. W. G. Masterman