‘Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters.’ What is it? Fans of The Hobbit will know the answer straight away: wind. Sometimes we bless it, and sometimes we pray that it will go away, but always we are in awe of this fearful and wonderful aspect of nature that we understand so little. Psalm 18 tells us that God rides on the wings of the wind, and we can well imagine this picture of greatness and majesty. Even its unpredictability is harnessed by the Word to describe the Holy Spirit, and those who are ‘born of the Spirit’ (John 3:8). Let’s remember that nature is beautiful yet powerful, delicate yet strong, healing yet dangerous.
Today’s plant can also be awesome, and is used in the Bible as another metaphor of greatness and majesty. Growing up to 130 feet tall, the Cedar of Lebanon towers above nearly every other living thing in the Middle East, and is often found in parks and gardens in this country too, as in our picture.
Forests of Lebanon cedars once covered much of Lebanon, the country just to the north of Israel. The wood was highly prized for building because of its natural beauty, pleasing aroma and for its strength, and was used extensively in the construction of the temple (1 Kings 5:6) as well as in the palaces of both King David (2 Samuel 5:11) and King Solomon (1 Kings 7:1-2). These trees were cut down in Lebanon, dragged to the Mediterranean Sea, floated down the coast, landed, and then dragged back up through the hills to Jerusalem, and that was before they were sawn up for use – a truly amazing feat of engineering for people 3000 years ago, bearing in mind that they can grow up to 8 feet in diameter!
Lebanon cedar was therefore a status symbol of the highest order. Because of this, the fact that the Lord is credited with planting the forest speaks of His greatness (Psalm 104:16), and His ability to break it down again means that He is truly awesome (Psalm 29:5). Its abundance was a sign of blessing and wealth (1 Kings 10:27), but as a result, it came with a health warning: don’t let it go to your head. The prophet Jeremiah rebuked kings who had turned their backs on God, and in chapter 22 says, ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?’ (v15). He goes on to say that the important thing for a king to do is to defend the cause of the poor and needy. The symbol of God’s greatness and blessing had become a cause for pride and arrogance.
It is a sad truth that, whilst Lebanon used to be covered in forest, now only 17 square kilometres remain in scattered groves across the country, and these are threatened by ongoing climate change. Let’s remember that God’s blessing can result in peace and prosperity, but if that is taken for granted, and the source of that prosperity is forgotten, He is more than ready to remove it in order to restore a proper relationship with Him.