3.3.2 Cedar: Strength
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 3.2
If the lowly hyssop is symbolic of humility and insignificance, the stately cedar tree (along with fir trees and cypresses, perhaps) represents the other end of the spectrum: strength, power, and prestige—and (unfortunately) that which all too often flows from those happy attributes: pride and self-sufficiency. The cedar symbol is found only in the Hebrew scriptures, where the word describing this lofty, solidly-rooted tree is ’erez, derived from the verb ’araz: to be firm or strong. The cedar is a good news-bad news story of sorts. As a scriptural symbol, it is employed both positively and negatively.
Strength per se is a spiritually neutral attribute. It can either be a gift from Yahweh or something one seizes for himself—temporarily. And how someone (whether a person or a nation) uses whatever strength he has is an indication of his moral character. It’s worth noting that the cedar tree is never used as a metaphor for the strength wielded by Yahweh or His Messiah—something that is absolute and intrinsic. Rather, the cedar “reigns” as the “king of the trees” only at the discretion of “higher powers”—in the literal sense, men with axes.
The fabled “cedars of Lebanon” still exist, but only as an endangered species. The once vast forests have been seriously exploited ever since the third millennium B.C., and all that are left today are small groves located in inaccessible mountainous terrain. Some of these trees, however, are up to a thousand years old and a hundred feet tall, with trunks ten feet across. These magnificent trees spread their branches much wider than the typical North American varieties of cedar. Their wood is aromatic and relatively pest resistant, accounting for the cedar’s longevity (if protected from men). I found it interesting that Rome’s Emperor Hadrian, who in 135 A.D. crushed Bar Kochba’s rebellion and made a concerted effort to eradicate all Jewish presence in Judea, going so far as to salt the fields of the Promised Land to make them unproductive, also instituted conservation efforts to protect the dwindling cedar forests of Lebanon. But as a resource, the cedars of Lebanon were just too tempting. The great forests were brought to the brink of extinction by the Ottoman Turks, who controlled them from the early sixteenth century until the end of World War I.
But our interest here is not the trees themselves, but in what they represent—the strongest, tallest, most magnificent of their type (the symbolic antithesis of hyssop). This is the heart of a parable in which various trees are personified in order to make a point. It was the age of the Judges, and Gideon’s successes against the Midianites had the people of Israel begging him to rule over them as king, and his many sons with him as a royal dynasty—an offer he firmly declined, insisting (as he should have) that Yahweh Himself was to be their ruler (see Judges 8:23). But when he died, the people he had freed from oppression quickly reverted to the worship of Ba’al (Judges 8:33-35). Then one of Gideon’s seventy sons (Abimelech, the offspring of a woman from the city of Shechem) made a play to be named king—at least of his mother’s home town. (This was centuries before Yahweh allowed Saul to be crowned Israel’s first king.) So Abimelech proceeded to murder his half-brothers, eliminating the competition, as it were. But one of the seventy, Jotham by name, escaped.
“When it [Abimelech’s mass murder] was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, ‘Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you.’” Shechem was located in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. This was where the “blessings and cursings” had been recited by all of Israel (see Deuteronomy 27:12), making Jotham’s parable all the more significant: “The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?...’” In other words, the people of Shechem had their pick of leaders, but the men who were qualified to lead were, like Gideon, unwilling to usurp the place of Yahweh.
But the Shechemites were desperate for a human king, someone to fill Gideon’s shoes. So they turned to the bramble, the thorny shrub: “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Judges 9:7-15) The “bramble,” of course, was the worthless Abimelech, who in his arrogance (as the appointed “king of the trees”) saw himself as superior to the cedars of Lebanon (who, you’ll notice, had not even been considered for the job). In a backhanded sort of way, Abimelech had declared his ascendency not just over the worthy men of Israel, but over Yahweh Himself. Shechem got their bramble-king, but the honeymoon was short lived. In just three short years, they had a serious case of buyers’ remorse, having finally begun to see what a foolish choice they had made. This is all beginning to sound way too much like American politics. Be careful who you vote for, folks.
A second “parable” employing the comparison of the lofty cedar to something inferior was uttered by one of Ephraim’s pagan kings. “Then Amaziah [one of the eight “good” kings of Judah] sent messengers to Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel, saying, ‘Come, let us look one another in the face.’” That is, let our armies meet on the field of battle. “And Jehoash king of Israel sent word to Amaziah king of Judah, ‘A thistle on Lebanon sent to a cedar on Lebanon, saying, “Give your daughter to my son for a wife,” and a wild beast of Lebanon passed by and trampled down the thistle. You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?’” (II Kings 14:8-10) Jehoash, the pagan king of Israel, was correct in warning Amaziah not to overestimate his strength, just because he had beaten an army of ten thousand Edomites (see verse 7). But Amaziah (the “thistle” who thought he was a cedar) wouldn’t listen to reason, and his pride led to Judah’s needless and costly defeat at the hands of the Northern Kingdom. The moral of the story: don’t go to war—even against Yahweh’s enemies—unless He specifically directs you to. To do so is to trust in your own strength instead of God’s—and that is idolatry.
In the end, Yahweh Himself will determine what kind of “tree” we are—what role we will be asked to play. “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of Yahweh has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:19-20) Though we differ greatly in our gifts and stature, one thing is certain: if we thrive at all, it is because of Yahweh’s constant provision. The “wilderness,” you’ll recall, is the place of preparation, of transition between bondage in the world and rest in Yahweh. It’s where our choices are made, where our course is set. The life Yahweh causes to flourish there is not only for our sustenance; it is also for our consideration and understanding, so we might know that “the hand of Yahweh has done this.”
In the previous section, we explored the contrast of cedar with hyssop—of strength with humility. To recap, we saw the comparison in three places: first, in the process of declaring a leper (symbolic of the individual sinner) to be clean: “The priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop.” (Leviticus 14:4) Second, the same contrast was prescribed in the ritual for pronouncing a house (a metaphor for a society, culture, or nation) to be livable. In both cases, the thing being “cured” (broadly described as “leprosy”) was a euphemism for sin. “Thus he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and with the fresh water and with the live bird and with the cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn. And he shall let the live bird go out of the city into the open country. So he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.” (Leviticus 14:52-53) Finally, we saw cedar and hyssop together (with scarlet) again in the rite of the red heifer, the picture of becoming indemnified against death itself: “And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer.” (Numbers 19:6)
In each of these three cases, the contrast between the cedar and the hyssop points out not only the sin from which we need to be cured if we wish to stand purified in the presence of a holy God, but also the means of achieving that cure—found in the person of Yahshua the Messiah. In the first case (our sin), we are to place both our irrational pride (represented by the cedar) and our equally irrational insignificance (the hyssop) on the altar, recognizing that although we are not remotely strong enough to atone for our own sins, we aren’t worthless pond scum, either: the Son of God died so that we might have life, proving that (in God’s eyes) we’re worth saving. In the second case, the dichotomy between cedar and hyssop is illustrated in the character of our Savior. Yahshua, being God incarnate, was the very personification of power; but He set aside His glory and strength for a time. In the ultimate act of humility, He became a man so that mankind might live through Him. That, of course, is where the “scarlet” enters the picture. It is symbolic of both our sin (see Isaiah 1:18) and the blood of Christ that was shed to atone for it.
Used properly, the strength granted by Yahweh to a person or a nation is a good thing. As long as it doesn’t devolve into self-sufficient pride, strength is to be preferred over weakness. So throughout the Tanach, we see the cedar tree used to metaphorically describe the possession of God-given power. The symbol is used to describe Israel’s glorious destiny, define the circumstances of the righteous man, and confirm the anointing in power of one individual in particular—King David. Cedar also plays a large part—literally and symbolically—in the construction of the temple of Solomon.
The story of the prophet Balaam is a bit unnerving, for it demonstrates that being gifted by God is in and of itself neither a blessing nor a confirmation of one’s relationship with Yahweh. It is only an opportunity to make good choices. We might (as Balaam did) try to use our gifts to our own advantage, but in doing so, we can easily turn them into curses upon ourselves. Balaam, you’ll recall, had been hired by Moab’s King Balak to use his prophetic gift to get Yahweh to curse Israel—something the prophet found impossible. In the end, all he was able to do to earn his keep was to show the Moabites how to get Israel to curse Yahweh, a ploy that worked all too well.
But before that happened, Balaam had been compelled to tell the truth concerning God’s chosen people: “When Balaam saw that it pleased Yahweh to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said... ‘How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that Yahweh has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters….’” That last prediction speaks of a time when Israel would be like the cedar: strong, firmly rooted in the land, and blessed by Yahweh. That, of course, was the last thing Balak wanted to hear: “And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. And Balak said to Balaam, ‘I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them.’” (Numbers 24:1-3, 5-6, 10)
In case you haven’t noticed, being a “cedar tree planted by the waters” is not exactly reality in Israel today, nor has it been the literal case for more than a couple hundred years total during her long and turbulent history. Today, even though they are once again planted in the Land, they are anything but secure, nourished by streams of peace and blessing. That’s why I found it interesting that the cedars of Lebanon can live to be a thousand years old if they’re protected from their only natural enemy—man. That is precisely the predicted “lifespan” of the coming earthly kingdom of Yahshua the Messiah, a kingdom that will be epicentered in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel. Balaam’s prophecy—and hundreds of others like it—will come to literal fruition during the Millennial reign of Christ, or Yahweh is a liar.
On a personal level, however, the strength bestowed upon His children by Yahweh is an ever-present reality: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of Yahweh. They flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age. They are ever full of sap and green, to declare that Yahweh is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Psalm 92:12-15) This, of course, isn’t “strength” the way the world tends to measure it—financial clout or political influence, or even heightened physical prowess. Rather, it is the kind of strength that comes from “being planted in the house of Yahweh, in the courts of God.” That is, it’s moral strength, character, courage, and wisdom—the ability to cope with grace and patience in the face of adversity, knowing through a lifetime of experience that one’s trust in Yahweh is not misplaced. And here’s the amazing part: if God has planted us like cedars in His house, then the knowledge that “there is no unrighteousness in Him” will be reciprocated: in the end, He will find no unrighteousness in us, either.
It is as the Psalmist declared: “The trees of Yahweh are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that He planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees.” (Psalm 104:16-17) If we are cedar trees planted and nourished by Yahweh, we will find ourselves in turn to be a blessing to those with whom we share the world: God’s love will flow through us. Remember what “birds” signify? The consequences of choice. When we are rooted in Yahweh, we encourage others to make wise choices.
King David was one such “cedar tree,” someone whom God made strong among his brethren. So it is revealing to track the “cedar” metaphor in his life and that of his son Solomon. For example, “Then Hiram king of Tyre [a city-state on the coast of Lebanon] sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters and masons. And they built David a house. So David knew that Yahweh had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted His kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.” (II Samuel 5:11-12) It wasn’t just that Hiram had paid homage to his southern neighbor (though perhaps that’s all David himself perceived). If we’re attuned to the symbolism here, we’ll see that what Hiram sent indicated that David had been given strength—the establishment and exaltation of his kingdom. Note that David rightly attributed his success to Yahweh, not his own abilities.
Having been established upon the throne of Israel, all David could think about was honoring the God who had put him there: “Now when the king lived in his house and Yahweh had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ And Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that is in your heart, for Yahweh is with you.’” Yahweh was indeed with David, but it didn’t necessarily follow that the privilege of building the temple would be his. “But that same night the word of Yahweh came to Nathan, ‘Go and tell My servant David, “Thus says Yahweh: Would you build Me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for My dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?...”’” Between the lines, Yahweh seems to be saying, “I love your spirit, David, but there’s a reason I’ve never asked anyone to build Me a temple of cedar: man cannot add to the greatness of God. You can’t make Me strong. I am omnipotent: power flows from Me, not to Me. The old tent of meeting I asked Moses to build is a picture of My plan for your redemption. Everything about it—its materials, layout, construction, dimensions, and service—is designed to tell a story. A magnificent house of cedar—as much as you perceive that I deserve it—can only detract from the message. And My message of reconciliation is of the utmost importance.”
Yahweh would allow the temple to built, but to have let David do it would have sent the wrong message—that the kingdom of God can be established through strength: the warfare in which David (even though his name means “beloved”) had found himself embroiled his entire adult life. No, the truth was that our reconciliation with God (that which comprised the lessons of the tabernacle) can only be the inheritance of war, and spiritual war at that—its aftermath, its legacy, that which is established by perfect peace. So the prophet Nathan was instructed to give David more information than he’d bargained for: “Now, therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” Here again, the thought is that God makes us strong, not the other way around. “And I will appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over My people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies….” This sort of peace would happen under David’s son Solomon, but in truth, this was a longer-range prophecy: it would happen fully only under David’s ultimate anointed Son, King Yahshua.
David earnestly desired to make a “house” for his God. Yahweh returned the sentiment: “Moreover, Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” Is He speaking about Solomon, or Yahshua? In the short run, it appeared to be Solomon, but he would prove to be a mere dress-rehearsal for the coming Messiah. “He shall build a house for My name [something Solomon did physically, but Yahshua would do figuratively], and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to Me a son.” Again, both of them are in view. But here is where the whole thing starts to go sideways, unless we stay on our toes: “When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but My steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”’ In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.” (II Samuel 7:1-17) Solomon did commit iniquity (in his old age) and Yahweh, as promised, did not depart from him, for the sake of his father David. But Solomon was never “disciplined with the rod of men.” Yahshua was, though he never committed iniquity. What’s going on here?
The key lies buried deep in the minutiae of Hebrew word usage. The word translated “when” (or “if” in some translations) is asher, a primitive relative pronoun that can mean almost anything: when, who, which, what, if, how, because, in order that, etc. Strong’s notes, “As it is indeclinable, it is often accompanied by the personal pronoun expletively, used to show the connection.” That’s the key. The phrase, then, really means, “If—or when—He is associated with iniquity....” The prophet is predicting that the Messiah will suffer at the hands of men, not for his own sin, but for ours! Solomon here has become a metaphor for fallen man, we who deserve the “stripes of the sons of men” for our iniquity but whose punishment was borne by Yahshua instead.
So Solomon, the representative of fallen man indemnified through grace (not David, representative of those who wield Yahweh’s strength on earth), was the one given the privilege of building the temple. Thus we read: “Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, ‘You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of Yahweh his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until Yahweh put them under the soles of his feet. But now Yahweh my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune.’” Note that Solomon, like his father before him, credited Yahweh for the peace and prosperity Israel was enjoying. “And so I intend to build a house for the name of Yahweh my God, as Yahweh said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for My name….’”
We are left to ponder why a man who ruled in peace would be allowed to replace the tabernacle with a “permanent” temple, while his father who fought Israel’s battles was not. Although it is never stated outright in scripture, I have observed that quite a few of the symbolic details concerning the design and construction of the tabernacle were lost in the building of the new temple (for example, the symbol-rich detail built into the instructions for the four successive covering panels). We are given far more information concerning the design of the tent of meeting than we are of Solomon’s temple. We know that the ground plan was scaled up in the latter, while the basic layout of the rooms, their furnishings and their functions, remained constant. I can’t be dogmatic of course, but I suspect that the two things (the temple’s builder and its compromised design) may be related. Could God be telling us that the real, unabridged story of our redemption (represented by the tabernacle) will always be associated with conflict and spiritual struggle (the conditions we face in the wilderness), while the moment we reach what promises peace in this world—the Promised Land—we invariably begin to miss the point? (There is a vast difference between “peace in the world” and “peace with the world.”) Could it be that the tabernacle represents the essential covenant relationship with Yahweh, while the temple signifies the religion that men invariably wrest from it, given half a chance? Is it significant that every “permanent” temple ever built has been destroyed by pagan invaders because of Israel’s failures of faith, while the original tabernacle was never attacked, but was merely packed up and forgotten? I honestly don’t know, but I have to ask the questions.
On the other hand, there is another—completely unrelated—factor that may explain why Yahweh wanted Solomon, and not David, to build the temple. It’s timing. Even though Yahweh has held His cards maddeningly close to the vest when explaining His schedule, it should be obvious to anyone sitting at the table playing the game that He has one. I can’t (and won’t) ignore the recurring pattern of sevens—invariably arranged as six plus one—found in scripture: the creation, Sabbath rest, and a dozen other permutations. If II Peter 3:8 (the idea that with God one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day) is to be taken literally, then we (or at least I) would expect to see spiritual milestones of stunning significance spaced at precise one-thousand-year increments across the chronological landscape between the fall of Adam into sin and the conclusion of the Millennial reign of Christ—the beginning of the eternal state. After a little research, I did indeed discover such a pattern in history (though admittedly, the dates back past 1000 BC or so are impossible to verify). The “anchor date” would have to have been the passion, which took place in 33AD.
So we’re looking for spiritually significant events spaced at precise, even, one thousand year increments from that. Going backwards, the very first “target date”—967 BC (exactly one millennium before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection) is the very year when Solomon began construction of the temple of Yahweh, that symbol-rich expression of God’s plan for our redemption. Back in our text, then, we read Solomon’s request of Hiram of Tyre, to procure for him the building materials needed to erect a magnificent replacement for the tabernacle. “Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” (I Kings 5:1-6) The primary structural material to be used in the construction of the new temple was cedar: it was to be a place of strength—not the picture the tabernacle presented at all.
A thousand years prior to the building of Solomon’s temple was (if my observations are correct) the almost-sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah (near the temple site, on the exact spot of Christ’s crucifixion, if I’m not mistaken). A millennium back from that brings us to Noah’s corrupt generation, and a thousand years before that, I surmise, the events that started it all were taking place in the shade of the no-no tree in the Garden of Eden. Moving forward from the crucifixion anchor date, we come to 1033, and the literal fulfillment of a complex and rather strange prophetic precept found in Numbers 5, describing the confirmation of Yahweh’s assessment that both Israel and the Church had been unfaithful to Him. (I describe it in The End of the Beginning, Chapter 3, and explored it a bit further in The Owner’s Manual, Volume 1, Chapter 13, Mitzvah #535, so I won’t repeat it all here.) What’s really “interesting” about this line of thought is that the next milestone (if the pattern is actually there) is right around the corner: 2033 (on Tishri 15, or October 8, if you must know). If I were a betting man, I’d lay it all down on the prospect of this being the timing Yahweh has in mind for the second coming of Christ, the definitive fulfillment of the seventh and final holy convocation on Yahweh’s schedule, the Feast of Tabernacles. (Note: I’m not referring to the rapture, which is predicted under the fifth convocation, the Feast of Trumpets.)
But I digress. We were talking about cedar, and specifically, how it was used in the construction of Solomon’s temple. Here are the details: “So he built the house and finished it, and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar.” So the symbolism of the four successive covering layers picturing the atonement process (linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins dyed red, and porpoise skins, as we saw in a previous chapter) was now replaced with a statement of strength, and dare I say, of pride. “He built the structure against the whole house, five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar….” That is, there was a three-story complex of rooms, accessible by stairways, attached to the outer walls of the temple proper. Each story was about seven and a half feet in height.
I may have inadvertently left the impression that Yahweh was not “behind” the building of the temple (because of its truncated symbolism), but that isn’t really true. His main concern, however, was that Israel continued to heed the Torah’s precepts and statues as they worshipped there. These were what pointed directly toward the coming Messiah. And after all, they (and we) still had the original Instructions concerning the tabernacle, and that’s really all we need to comprehend what He meant to tell us. “Now the word of Yahweh came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in My statutes and obey My rules and keep all My commandments and walk in them, then I will establish My word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake My people Israel….’” That “word” which Yahweh promised to establish or confirm with Israel is the Hebrew dabar—the equivalent of the Greek logos. John explained Who this “word” was: Yahshua the Messiah, God who became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth (see John 1:14).
“So Solomon built the house and finished it. He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar.” What the record stresses (and what it doesn’t) is always significant. We see cedar mentioned time after time, but the temple was actually a stone structure, its blocks being quarried from the beautiful off-white limestone that comprises the very bedrock of Jerusalem. The cedar walls and cypress floors were only a covering—a hint that atonement is in view, for that is what the word means. “From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the Most Holy Place. The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long….” These dimensions were twice that of the original tabernacle, but the proportions were the same: the Most Holy Place was square, and the Holy Place was a double square. The record goes on to state (v.19) that the ceiling height was proportional as well: twenty cubits.
For all its stately height and symbolism, cedar is a “softwood,” a conifer; it is a more compliant carving medium than, say, oak or maple. And this property was utilized in the temple: “The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen.…” But the cedar wasn’t seen either, it transpires: “And he overlaid the whole house with gold.” (I Kings 6:9-18, 22) The picture, then, is a covering of the covering, atonement upon atonement. The cold dead stone (remember, limestone is composed of the shells of dead sea creatures, and “unclean” ones at that) is first covered by cedar wood, symbolic of strength and carved with images of living things—indicative, I believe, of the mortal lives we are given, crafted by Yahweh so that we may make our choices before Him. But then, the cedar—the power and privilege we wield as mortal men imbued with free will—is in turn overlaid with pure gold. This speaks of our atonement, our covering, with the immutable purity of Christ, who endured the crucible of mortal flesh so that we might be qualified to stand before the Almighty. This arrangement would be brought into focus by Yahshua in John 3, where He explained the “second birth” in God’s Holy Spirit to Nicodemus. The imagery is different, but the message is the same.
Solomon’s reign marked a high point in the history of Israel, a time of peace, prosperity, and political ascendency. “And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah.” (I Kings 10:27) But it would not have happened if it had not been for the faithfulness of his father, David. It was he who fought the battles, he who taught Israel how to honor Yahweh, and he who collected the vast wealth his son used in the building of the temple. Yes, Solomon’s reign was glorious, but only because he stood on the shoulders of a spiritual giant. Solomon’s kingdom was powerful, but only because David had served Yahweh with a whole heart.
All too often, the strength God has bestowed upon men, (symbolized by the cedar tree) is leveraged into an occasion for arrogance, overconfidence, and self-reliance. Thus we find far more scripture using the cedar as a euphemism for pride than we do for unadorned strength. Typical is this blanket indictment against the proud: “For Yahweh of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up; and against all the oaks of Bashan; against all the lofty mountains, and against all the uplifted hills; against every high tower, and against every fortified wall; against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.” (Isaiah 2:12-17) Besides the cedars of Lebanon standing tall and proud with their “noses in the air,” Yahweh has identified several other permutations of pride, all of which will be brought low. (1) Bashan was known for its bounty and fertility, a place of fat cattle. The haughty, overprivileged women of Samaria were called “fat cows of Bashan” by the prophet Amos because they oppressed the poor and crushed the needy. The oaks of Bashan, then, speak of the deadly hardness of their hearts. (2) The “lofty mountains” are a euphemism for political or military power. (3) The ships of Tarshish are a symbol for gaining wealth through trade. These days, we’d call Tarshish “Wall Street.” Though there is nothing wrong with wealth per se, there is something desperately wrong with making money one’s god, or being arrogant because you are wealthy while others are not.
Again, it’s hard not to see twenty-first century America in these verses, but not in the way you might think. This is not a call for the sort of class warfare that insists the wealthiest and most productive must become impoverished through taxation and regulation in order to provide a free ride for the masses in some sort of socialist utopia. Remember, “the lofty mountains” and “uplifted hills,” that is, power in the hands of government, are being taken to task along with the fat cows and investment bankers. No, what God seems to be saying is that everyone must realize that they stand accountable before Him. Those He has gifted materially are required by the law of love to provide for their neighbors. Since love is, by definition, voluntary, there is no place in the equation for government sponsored theft. And there is no place for pride.
Lest the “spoilers” of the world—the terrorists, rogue governments, anarchists, and rebels—get it into their heads that it is somehow right and proper to appoint themselves the “righters of wrongs,” we should be aware that Yahweh reserves judgment for Himself. There is one thing prouder than a cedar: the man who presumes to cut it down. “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to Me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that Yahweh has spoken concerning him…. By your servants you [Sennacherib] have mocked the Lord, and you have said, “With my many chariots I have gone up the heights of the mountains, to the far recesses of Lebanon, to cut down its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses, to come to its remotest height, its most fruitful forest….” Because you have raged against Me and your complacency has come to My ears, I will put My hook in your nose and My bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.’” (Isaiah 37:21-22, 24, 29) The Assyrians had indeed been “assigned” by God to prune back the proud and apostate Samaria. But in their enthusiastic cruelty, they clear-cut the entire forest, and then moved on to Judah (whose “iniquity was not yet full.”) He who fells a cedar tree should beware: the trunk might just crush him as it falls.
In the end, of course, there is no one remotely as powerful as the One who made the cedar, caused it to grow tall, and then made men clever enough to bring it down. Humans err greatly if we imagine ourselves to be the top of the food chain. “The voice of Yahweh is over the waters. The God of glory thunders, Yahweh over many waters. The voice of Yahweh is powerful. The voice of Yahweh is full of majesty. The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness; Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of Yahweh makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in His temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (Psalm 29:3-9) We who “abide in His temple” (see Psalm 15) understand that strength in this world can be derived only from the One who made the world and everything in it. Only there are we able to perceive His glory—even before He finds it necessary to raise His voice.
There doesn’t seem to be anything that Yahweh hates more than human pride. And pride, though not inevitable, is all too often the result of having become strong in comparison with one’s peers. So time after time in scripture, Yahweh refers to cedar trees as a euphemism for this pride borne of strength (real or imagined)—cedars that He personally intends to “cut down.” One example, this time referring to Judah: “I will prepare destroyers against you, each with his weapons, and they shall cut down your choicest cedars and cast them into the fire…. Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages, who says, ‘I will build myself a great house with spacious upper rooms,’ who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion. Do you think you are a king because you enclose yourself in cedar?...” Now there’s a question that needs to be pondered by anyone who has attained any degree of power in this world—not just the leaders of nations or the heads of corporations, but anyone who wields the least little bit of influence over anyone else. God is asking, “Okay, you’ve got a little strength. What makes you think that gives you the right to exercise dominion over your fellow man? What makes you think that this power you wield should be used to abuse those I’ve placed under your care? I alone, Yahweh, am worthy: I rule in love and grace, not oppression and pride. Remember this: the strength I’ve given to you can just as easily be taken away”: “O inhabitant of Lebanon, nested among the cedars, how you will be pitied when pangs come upon you, pain as of a woman in labor?” (Jeremiah 22:7, 13-15, 23)
Another example, this time addressing the pride of the Amorites: “It was I [Yahweh] who destroyed the Amorite before them [i.e., before Israel: see Numbers 21:21-25], whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks. I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath.” (Amos 2:9) That is, their destruction—the result of their unwarranted attacks upon the Israelite pilgrims—was complete and permanent. Met any Amorites lately?
A couple of hundred pages back, when we were examining “eagles” as a symbol, we encountered a complicated parable designed to warn Judah (under King Zedekiah) to receive Yahweh’s rod of correction in the spirit in which it was given. Alas, Zedekiah did not submit to the initial, relatively mild, Babylonian conquest, opting instead to rebel and form a disastrous military alliance with Egypt. Later in the same passage, the parable is explained (sort of). The bottom line reads: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘I Myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I Myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 17: 22-24) In the preceding verses, Yahweh had made it clear that Zedekiah would pay a steep price for his own rebellion. But here, He reveals that He intends (after a suitable “time out” period in Babylon) to once again plant Israel in the Land of Promise, make her strong enough to fulfill His purposes, and make her the spiritual home of anyone who chooses to take shelter in her branches. He’s speaking, of course, of the coming of Yahshua the Messiah, the reason Israel had to be restored.
The reason the proud Zedekiah had thought he could avoid Yahweh’s Babylonian rod of correction (despite the warnings of God’s prophets) was that Egypt had presented herself as a viable alternative. So Ezekiel, building upon the symbolic imagery Isaiah had used a century and a half previously, issued this warning to Egypt. “The word of Yahweh came to me: Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: ‘Whom are you like in your greatness? Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height, its top among the clouds….’” Assyria thought she was pretty hot stuff too, he says. And yet it was doomed to failure, a victim of anarchy and civil war as much as foreign invasion. So you, Egypt, should not imagine that your military strength and rich history will save you. Your pride is misplaced.
Ezekiel continues: “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh: Because it [Assyria] towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it.” The reference, of course, it to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, who took Nineveh in 612 BC. “On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit….” Yahweh is saying that the downfall of Assyria was hastened by His unwillingness to allow another strong leader (like Ashurbanipal or Sennacherib) to arise. Again, I can’t help but see a parallel in American’s recent governance. The “cream” is supposed to rise to the top, but all we (like Assyria) have been getting lately is foam, froth, lightweight talent poetically suited to a nation in severe decline.
Still speaking of Assyria’s downfall, the prophet says, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations….” If my observation is valid that America’s decline is beginning to look a lot Assyria’s did, then this is pretty depressing stuff. When we go down the drain (as we surely must, during the Tribulation if not before) then the world will mourn for us—and with us—for they will find themselves in the same mass grave.
But remember, this was all addressed to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, the point being that he was just as proud of his strength, and was thus just as doomed, as Assyria had been. So Yahweh asks, “Who are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You [Egypt] shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 31:1-3, 10-18) What does “Egypt” represent? It denotes bondage in the world, the place from which Israel (read: those who stand with God) are delivered. So it is almost beside the point that this prophecy was literally fulfilled in near-term history. In 605 BC, the Babylonians (with the Medes) defeated both the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish, closing the book forever on Assyria as an independent political entity. The subsequent—and final—fulfillment will be much more far reaching: in the end, the world’s ability to hold people in bondage will be brought to an abrupt end. During Christ’s Millennial reign, Egypt (in the figurative sense—the place of bondage) will be consigned to sheol, its power and pride broken forever.
Perhaps the “proudest” of them all was Babylon, the nation Daniel identified as the “head of gold” in his interpretation of the prophetic dream of Nebuchadnezzar II, its greatest king. It was he who cut down “cedar trees” like Assyria, Judah, and Egypt with reckless abandon. So Isaiah writes, “When Yahweh has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon….” Bear in mind that this was written over a century before Babylon was even a blip on the radar screen of history. Assyria was the big dog on the block in Isaiah’s day. “The cypresses rejoice at you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, ‘Since you were laid low, no woodcutter comes up against us.’” (Isaiah 14:3-4, 8) He’s speaking (in the short term) of a time when Babylon would have come and gone as a world power, when they would no longer threaten the surrounding nations as a woodsman threatens a tree. As the history worked out, the Persians and Medes conquered Babylon by stealth, without firing a shot, more or less. Instead of going to all the trouble of waging war against Babylon from the outside in (the way the Allies took both Germany and Japan in World War II), they simply cut the head off the snake, so to speak. They diverted the Euphrates River (which ran under the city wall, making the place virtually siege-proof), waltzed in with a small commando force, opened the gates from the inside, killed Belshazzar the regent/king, and took over the government as a going concern, without missing a beat. Even though it had a centuries-long historical impact on the entire region, the “conquest” of Babylon was virtually a non-event. It was brushed over in scripture with two short verses (Daniel 5:30-31).
The “you” being taken to task in Isaiah’s prophecy is the “king of Babylon.” But (as we might have come to expect) that is not only true of a literal, historical king (Nebuchadnezzar, in this instance), but is also prophetic of a symbolic truth, something far more significant, something yet in our future. “Babylon” is not only a literal city in Mesopotamia, but is also metaphorical of false worship in all its guises—religious (of course), but also political, cultural, and financial. In the end, it represents anything that men place before Yahweh in their affections, anything other than the true and living God that they trust, revere, or bow down to. In this broader sense, then, who is the “king of Babylon?”
A few verses later, Isaiah describes him: “Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps. Maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers….” So far, it sounds like a human king. But that notion is soon eclipsed: The one being described has been cast down from a far greater height than a mere earthly throne. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!...” “Heaven” here is not the usual shameh, but is the Hebrew ma’al, meaning above, high, at the top, of great degree or high status. So this “person” isn’t in the same league with Yahweh, but he is exalted above his peers. Who is he? He’s called “Day Star, son of dawn,” the Hebrew helel ben shachar—literally, shining one or light bearer, son of the dawn or daybreak (or the darkness immediately preceding it). This phrase is sometimes translated “Lucifer, son of the morning.”
This is the only time in the Bible the word helel (or heylel) is used, making it highly presumptive to assign the Latinized “Lucifer” to it, as if Yahweh has named our adversary. Although the one being described here is almost certainly Satan (literally, “the adversary”), God never told us his name. The truth is somewhat more prosaic. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes concerning helel, “McKay contends that in the allusion in Isaiah 14:12–15 there is a Canaanite version of the Greek Phaethon myth as mediated and influenced by Phoenician culture during the ‘heroic age.’ The development of the Canaanite version is complex and has affinities with the Ugaritic myth involving Athar, son of Athirat, who was unable to occupy the throne of Baal. It was Phaethon who attempted to scale the heights of heaven and as the dawn star was ever condemned to be cast down into Hades.” That’s not to say that Isaiah is lending credence to a Canaanite myth; he’s only making a literary reference to it, the same way someone in our age might refer to admittedly fictional “dark lords” such as Dracula, Sauron, Voldemort, or the Wicked Witch of the West.
For what it’s worth, I should point out that this profile of evil is also a pretty good fit for the coming Antichrist—the false messiah who, empowered by “the dragon,” Satan, will succeed in becoming a “king of Babylon” in the last days. That is, he will be given dominion over the entire apostate earth during the Great Tribulation—the last three and a half years preceding the second coming of Yahshua the Christ. The distinction between Satan and the Antichrist is academic, of course. They will operate as one (just as Yahweh and Yahshua operate as One).
Lest we lose our bearings, we’re talking about someone who was (or is) in the habit of “cutting down cedars,” that is, who brings down people and nations who proudly fancy themselves lofty and strong, beyond the reach of retribution or justice. You may protest, “That’s Yahweh’s profile, is it not?” In the end, yes, but His habitual modus operandi in this age is to simply allow our poor choices and bad attitudes to run their natural courses and precipitate their natural consequences. Yahweh builds up; Satan tears down. Yahweh protects; Satan attacks. If we refuse to seek Yahweh’s shelter, we will be left vulnerable to Satan’s “roaring lion” approach. Remember, this whole line of inquiry began by looking forward to when “Yahweh has given you rest from your pain and turmoil.” Satan, meanwhile, seeks to devour us like a chain saw biting through a cedar sapling, and if we are haughty and proud, the job is that much easier.
So Isaiah reveals Satan’s ultimate fate: “How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven [ma’al]; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high. I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:11-15) Note that Satan isn’t stupid enough to think he can become “god,” no matter what aspirations are attributed to him by the fools who follow him. He has no illusions about being able to dethrone Yahweh. He does, however, crave the worship of man, and he aspires to ascendency over the entire angelic realm. How successful has he been? The only hint we have is this brief notice: “Behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.” This description, once again, links Satan inextricably to the Antichrist: they operate as one. “His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” (Revelation 12:3-4) If this indeed means that Satan was able to entice one third of the angelic hosts to rebel against Yahweh, we should shudder at the statistic. It means that he is the unparalleled master at “selling the lie.” He is the most persuasive, cunning, and shrewd adversary we could possibly face. We dare not stand against him armed only with logic, intelligence, or good intentions. Our only refuge is in the Holy Spirit of Yahweh.
Isaiah wasn’t done describing this evil entity (whether Satan or his Antichrist). “Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?’” My prophecy research led me to the conclusion that the Antichrist will touch off a thermonuclear holocaust that will engulf one third of the earth’s surface, killing one fourth of its inhabitants and “making the world like a desert.” “All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; but you are cast out, away from your grave, like a loathed branch, clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, like a dead body trampled underfoot.” No grave? Revelation 19:20 states that the Antichrist will be “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” “You will not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have slain your people.” That’s “your people,” not Yahweh’s. Folks who conclude that there is an advantage to be gained by following Satan (or the Antichrist) are in for a shock: betrayal is the devil’s middle name. Like the big shots of Hitler’s Third Reich or Stalin’s Russia, they’ll be thrown under the bus of expediency (or paranoia) at the first sign of adversity. They will die unsung and unidentified. “May the offspring of evildoers nevermore be named!...”
The conclusion of the matter may seem a bit confusing at first: “Prepare slaughter for his sons because of the guilt of their fathers.” Yahweh has often stated His policy of punishing us for our own sins, not for those of our fathers. But the fact remains, people more often than not adopt the attitudes and mindsets of their parents. It takes generations for a new idea (such as forsaking God for the worship of man, for example) to take hold. (See Yahweh’s commentary on the Second Commandment in Exodus 20:5.) But what can happen when the whole world rises up in opposition to the truth? “…Lest they rise and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.” (Isaiah 14:16-21) Rebellion against God is, even now, dangerously close to becoming a universal reality—and Satan’s followers (his “sons”) will indeed “rise and possess the earth” during the Tribulation. Only the children of Israel and scattered pockets of newly repentant “Laodicean” Christians will be left to hold out against it. So “slaughter for his sons” is decreed—within the natural lifetimes of everyone reading these words, if I’m not mistaken about a great many things. I don’t want to alarm you, only alert you.
I’d like to cover one final scriptural mention of “cedars” before we move on. This one, like some others we have seen, hits a little too close to home. As Assyria began to threaten the territories of Israel’s northern kingdom, the people reacted to their setbacks with pride and defiance—not as they should have, with introspection and repentance. Instead of allying themselves with Yahweh, Ephraim formed a military alliance with King Rezin of Aram (i.e., Syria), their neighbor to the north. So Yahweh sent word to Israel’s King Pekah, son of Remaliah: “The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: ‘The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.’ But Yahweh raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies.” (Isaiah 9:8-11) The “adversaries of Rezin” were the Assyrians, who conquered Syria in 732 BC. Israel would fall in turn ten years later, in 722, revealing their arrogant boast to be unrealistic and foolish.
The heart of Israel’s response was that they were determined to use Assyria’s limited successes against them as an occasion to display their defiance and patriotism, rebuilding what had been attacked bigger and better than ever. The trees tell the tale: sycamores are common, ordinary, and plentiful. They would be replaced with symbols of strength and pride—the mighty cedars of Lebanon. It apparently never occurred to Israel that Assyria had been allowed to attack them because Yahweh wished to awaken them to their precarious spiritual state.
One would have to be blind not to see the parallels to the 9/11/ 2001 attacks in by Islamic fundamentalists on America’s symbols of power—the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. (not to mention the attack that didn’t succeed, intended for the capitol)—focal points of financial, military, and political might in this country. We reacted not with repentance, but (just as Ephraim did) with defiance, with a determination to rebuild something even more magnificent, in our own strength, without Yahweh’s unwanted help. We paid lip service to the proximate cause of the attacks, Islam (though in truth, we were unwilling to see the impetus for their hostility built into their scriptures, but pursued only a symptom, a splinter group named al-Qaeda). But we utterly refused to face the underlying reason we had been attacked: that we had, as a nation, left our first love, Yahweh, in favor of a lesser god of our own manufacture and imagination—ourselves. Like those first Assyrian forays into Israel’s territory, the Islamic attacks on America were allowed by Yahweh (that is, He chose not to miraculously prevent them), so that we might awaken from our self-absorbed stupor and return to Him with a whole heart. It didn’t work—for Israel, or for us. So if history repeats itself (as it usually does), we’re in for it. It’s not too late to repent, but it soon will be.
The day after the 9/11 attacks, Tom Daschle (at that time the Senate Majority Leader) delivered America’s defiant response, saying, “America will emerge from this tragedy as we have emerged from all adversity—united and strong. Nothing, nothing, can replace the losses of those who have suffered. I know there is only the smallest measure of inspiration that can be taken from this devastation. But there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that speaks to all of us at times like this.” He then read Isaiah 9:10. “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”
Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, in his book The Harbinger, writes, “Daschle has no idea what he is doing here. He thinks he’s offering comforting words to a grief-stricken people, but he is actually embracing the spiritually defiant and arrogant words of the children of Israel, proclaiming the ancient and ominous vow of the leaders of that nation. He doesn’t realize it, but he is actually inviting more judgment on the nation.” And Daschle is not alone. Three years later, Senator (and future presidential candidate) John Edwards invoked the same disastrous curse upon America, quoting the same passage in the speech to the Congressional Black Caucus. I find it hard to fathom the arrogance of spiritually tone-deaf men who attempt to use the word of God to gain political advantage. For His part, Yahweh was apparently not amused: both men ended up professionally ruined and personally disgraced. Cahn writes, “Like Daschle, Edwards thinks he’s invoking inspirational and comforting words from the Bible, but he’s actually inviting judgment on America. He’s repeating the vow that provoked God to bring calamity on ancient Israel.” And we probably haven’t seen the last of the fallout. In his inauguration speech on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama intoned, “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken.” But we should be brought to our knees—not by the depraved acts of evil men, but by the stark realization of our own guilt before a holy God.
Beyond the tough talk, there were also some other eerie parallels: a big “hewn stone” was quarried in the Adirondack Mountains to serve as a cornerstone for the new “Freedom Tower” project. And a large and rather famous sycamore tree, felled in the Manhattan attack, was replaced with—you guessed it—a cedar tree. Our defiant pride is misplaced. We have no strength at all apart from Yahweh. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish. You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You. But for me it is good to be near God. I have made the Lord Yahweh my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.” (Psalm 73:26-28)
(First published 2014)