Like a Cedar Tree
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bible to the book of Psalms and notice with me a portion of the Word which is contained in Psalm 92. May I remind you that the last several lessons might well be considered very simple messages. There is nothing profound about them at all, but we have felt led of God to bring you these simple messages that together our hearts might be examined before the Lord and we might be prompted to deeper spiritual living as that deeper spiritual living is emphasized for us in the metaphors which are presented to us in the Word of God.

We have mentioned to you that there are many parables, metaphors, and types in the Word of God. In the book of Psalms particularly, there are a number of them. We suggested to you that there are forty-one typical references to trees in the Word of God, twelve of them being found in the book of Psalms.

I would not suggest by these introductory marks that we are going to think about all of the trees of the Bible, and I would not suggest that we will be on this theme for any extended time, but the Lord is leading us in this fashion at the present moment, and I trust that you will not brush off some of the things that we are going to say today with the attitude of, “Oh, I have heard that before,” or with the attitude, “My, that's so simple. We need something deeper than that.”

Notice Psalm 92:

Psalm 92:

1 It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most high:
2 To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night,
3 Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound.
4 For thou, LORD, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands.
5 O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep.
6 A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.
7 When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:
8 But thou, LORD, art most high for evermore.
9 For, lo, thine enemies, O LORD, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.
10 But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.
11 Mine eye also shall see my desire on mine enemies, and mine ears shall hear my desire of the wicked that rise up against me.
12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
15 To shew that the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I would like for you to notice especially the spiritual truths which are suggested by the last statement of verse 12:

Psalm 92:

12 …he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

You will recall that when we began this brief series of messages on trees, we looked at a tree which was described in Psalm 1, verse 3, where the Christian was compared to a tree planted by the rivers of water, and we were told that it would bring forth its fruit in its season and that his leaf would not wither and whatever he did would prosper. Then we turned to Psalm 52 and noticed verse 8, where David said, “I, in the house of God, am like a green olive tree.” Then we noticed the first part of Psalm 92, verse 12:

Psalm 92:

12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…

We now want to notice the spiritual truths which are related to the simple statement; “…he shall grow like a cedar tree.” The analogy is a reasonable one, for it can be seen in a number of ways. It can be seen in some extra-scriptural facts about the tree. I mean by that some facts which are not found in the Word of God. I think it is important for us to recognize them because when I speak of a cedar tree, you might have in mind this scrubby, scrawny tree with which we are familiar in this part of the country. The cedars of Lebanon were far different from that. They did grow sparsely in what we refer to as the Holy Land, but they grew primarily in the mountains of Lebanon. As a matter of fact, I am informed that the little nation of Lebanon has for its primary insignia on its postage stamp one of the cedars of Lebanon because it is the thing that most typifies that part of the world.

Symmetry of the Cedar Tree

If you will keep that in mind, you will recognize that the cedars of Lebanon grow very high, sometimes to a height of 120 feet. They grew very broad, sometimes their girth being forty feet. They grew symmetrically when they grew because the branches were found ten feet above the ground at right angles. If you were to find another branch on that branch, you would find it growing in a symmetrical fashion, and if you found a little twig on the little branch, you would find it growing in a symmetrical fashion as well. The symmetry of the tree cannot be denied, nor should it be passed over if we are noticing the analogy between the growth of a Christian and the growth of cedars in Lebanon.

Growth is Slow and Steady

Something else I would like to remind you that does not necessarily come from the Scripture but it is a fact, and that is that the growth is slow and steady. Oh, there is no quick springing up on the part of a cedar of Lebanon. It is slow, gradual, but sure. They have tried to measure the age of some of these trees that are still in existence, and some of them that they have been able to measure age-wise go back beyond the birth of Christ, and they have every reason to believe that some of them are older than that. The growth is slow and it is steady.

Another indication of how slow and steady the growth is, is found in what we might call a pine cone if it were a pine tree, for they bear cedar cones. It takes three years for one to come to maturity. When it first appears, it is a little pale green fruit. The first year it is very small. The next year it turns a ripe brown, and by the time it reaches full growth in its third year, it has become dark in color. Suddenly, without any reason at all, it bursts open and a multitude of seeds so minute that it would be difficult to find them among the grass are dropped to the ground and new cedar trees spring therefrom. This tree exudes a gum or a balsam that is so fragrant that it seems as though it would last forever for it never loses the fragrance in it.

Description of the Cedar Tree

These are out of the Word of God, but they are important for us to paint the picture that we want to leave with you. I am going to ask you to turn to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 31, for in this chapter we have what I think is the most complete picture of the cedar tree in the Word of God. You will keep in mind that the cedar tree, in the Word of God, is referred to more than any other tree in the Bible; so if we had the time, we could look at any number of references to the cedar tree, but this one to which I refer is perhaps the most complete.

We are reading this passage of Scripture for one reason alone and that is the description of the cedar tree. In this particular passage, Pharaoh, or the Assyrian, is compared to the cedar tree, but I want you to forget that for the moment because that is not the subject of our meditation. I just want you to notice what was said about the cedar tree in verse 3:

Ezekiel 31:

3 Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs.
4 The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent her little rivers unto all the trees of the field.
5 Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.
6 All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations.
7 Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters.
8 The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty.
9 I have made him fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him.

When you have time, you might like to take the various phrases that describe this cedar tree like fair branches, shadowing shrouds, high stature, thick boughs and follow them through the Word. You will find that elsewhere references are made in the Scripture to these characteristics of the cedar tree, which gives you an idea of the kind of tree that it is.

Use of the Cedar Tree

There is another way that you can have the picture painted for you, since we are not an artist and cannot paint upon canvas, and that is by noticing what the Word of God has to say about the use of the cedar tree. For example, in Ezekiel, chapter 27, we are reminded that the cedar tree was choice material for the mast of ships. Tyre, who had the largest navy at the particular time of which Ezekiel spoke, kept in constant contact with the fellers of the cedars because they were used as masts for the ships.

In that same chapter, you are told that if people had anything of very great value, they had a chest made up out of cedar. In that cedar chest, they placed those things which to them were of very great value. Houses at this particular time were made out of stone which was durable, but they had a very bad habit of seeping moisture all of the time because they collected the moisture out of the air. Poor people lived in houses like that and endured the dampness, but rich people insulated their houses with cedar wood so that they had as perfect an insulation as some of our modern houses today.

That is the reason David, in the midst of his prosperity, sat down one day and said, “It isn't right for me to live in this sealed house while God's Ark remains in a tent. He was referring to his house being sealed with cedar. He said, “God's house isn't even as good as my house. I am not interested in giving God as good as what I have myself.” Of course, you remember that he covenanted with God to do something about it. Though he was not able to build the house, he gathered nearly all of the material, and Solomon, his son, carried on the work.

If you are familiar with what is recorded in the book of Leviticus, you will remember that cedar wood was used in connection with the sin sacrifice to lend it fragrance. Have you ever wondered how they could butcher so many animals and burn them on the altar without a terrible stench arising which would be objectionable to the worshipers? The reason they were able to do it is that the wood that they used to burn the sacrifices was cedar wood. Instead of the stench of the animal, there came up the sweet fragrance of the cedar wood that made the sacrifice acceptable both to God and to man.

Threefold Growth

This is all fact and that is the reason that God chose the cedar tree as the analogy for a Christian's growth and experience. It is not going to help you particularly to know these things, but perhaps they were somewhat of interest to you. I want us to notice the analysis, for in the analysis lies the lesson, so I would remind you that the analysis that we are going to follow is based upon one simple word in the text, which is the basis for our discussion. Notice Psalm 92, verse 12:

Psalm 92:

12 …he [that is, the Christian man, the righteous man] shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

I would remind you that this word grow comes from the Hebrew word sagah , which speaks of a threefold growth. I think if we understand the threefold growth of the cedars of Lebanon, we will understand the threefold growth which is expected of every child of God. There is in this word a suggestion of growth downward. Do you realize it is not easy to grow down fast? This is the time of the year when many of you will be putting out your little bedding plants, and in a matter of weeks, you will have an array of flowers around your house. In a matter of a few more weeks, you will have a dried stalk that you are going to have to dig up. Oh, how quickly they grow, but how short a time they last! Oh, how beautiful they were once, but how short a time their beauty lasted! It takes time to grow downward.

Turn in your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 13, as I remind you it takes time to grow downward, and it is an absolute necessity for cedars of Lebanon, because remember, with few exceptions, I reminded you that the cedars of Lebanon grew up on the top of the rocky mountains where there was not a great deal of soil. They had to put their roots down deep because on the top of the mountain the wind blew and the wind could bend those cedars over and crack them—uproot them—if they were not deeply rooted. So deeply rooted were those cedar trees that David spoke of them in Psalm 29 as being so securely implanted that only the voice of God could break a cedar tree, only the voice of God could uproot it.

It is important for you Christians to be deeply rooted. It is important for you that your roots go down deep, and if I should be speaking to some Christian who is a bit discouraged because the growth isn't what you would like to see—you measured yourself in comparison with last year and you haven't grown much—I don't want to advise you to look at the roots because you will kill the tree if you do, but by faith believe that it is possible to grow downward, too.

May I say a word to those of you who may be more critical than you ought to be, who sit in judgment more often than you should. Before you pass final judgment on some Christian in relation to his growth, before you say, “I don't see any growth in him”—maybe you mean by that he isn't preaching yet. Thank God. Maybe you mean that he isn't teaching a Sunday School class. Thank the Lord. Maybe you mean that he isn't going out and doing this and doing that. Thank God—you be sure you know for sure there is no growth. You see, it could be that God is letting the growth occur downward, and because He is letting the growth occur downward, it is not as apparent to you as it should be, but oh, how important it is.

This passage in Matthew you will recognize as the story of the sower of the seed. Glance with me at verse 6:

Matthew 13:

6 And when the sun was up, they [some of the seed that had been sown] were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

I know that we are talking about plants primarily, but the application is to trees as well, and certainly to Christians, if you will look over at verse 21, for when the interpretation of the parable is presented it is said:

Matthew 13:

21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

That is, by and by, he is caused to stumble. By and by, he is caused to break. Why did he stumble? Why did he break? Because he did all of his growing upward and not any of it downward, or not any of it to speak of. What are we talking about? We are talking about the cedars of Lebanon. And what about that cedar in Lebanon? It stood upon the cold, bleak mountaintop where the winds came and bent it every which way. If it had not grown down deep, it couldn't have stood the wind. Not only that, Lebanon is a place of deep snow. As a matter of fact, the word Lebanon means “white snow.” That is the reason they call the mountains that. They were always covered the year round with heavy drifts of snow; and when the storm came, it fell upon the cedar tree with its majestic boughs outstretched. At times the weight has been measured, and it has been phenomenal. Men say that no ordinary man could construct a beam at right angles that could bear the weight that the cedars of Lebanon bear.

Grow Deep

I don't know whether that is true or not, but I tell you why they were able to bear that weight. They were deeply rooted. Listen to me. I don't want to discourage you, and I don't want to be a calamity howler. As I have said before and I will say again: I believe we are living in those days which are approaching the end of the age and I believe because of the Word of God tribulation is going to come—not the Tribulation, but tribulation. I believe the wind is going to blow, and I believe the snow is going to fall; and if you don't grow downward, you will not be able to stand.

Turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 3, as perhaps I could hear some of you saying, if you were able to reply to me, “Tribulation, trials, gonna come? What do you mean, gonna come? They are already here. What do you mean we are going to go through tribulation? I am already going through it. What do you mean, there is going to be a hard time and the winds are going to blow? It is already blowing.”

Friend, if that is your response to me, let me ask you, how are you standing? Did you notice what I said? How are you standing? I didn't say, “Are you bending under the weight?”. I didn't say that. I didn't say, “Are you bending with the force of the wind?” You may bend. As a matter of fact, will you get this: If you don't learn to bend, you will break. Learn to bend.

You may bend, but the secret is whether you break. If you are uprooted, it is because you haven't spent enough time growing downward. Let me give you one application from this passage of Scripture in Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 17. It was the prayer of the Apostle Paul. He said:

Ephesians 3:

17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
19 And to know the love of Christ…

What is this thing that Paul was praying? Generally speaking, he was praying, “Oh, God, these people to whom I minister, root them deep. Let them go down deep.”

I say with all sincerity, concerning you to whom I minister regularly, I would far rather know that you were growing deep than to know that you were growing up. I would far rather know that you were growing deep than to know that there was a sudden mushroom of growth that would cause everybody to talk because I have been in this thing long enough to know that when there is a sudden mushroom of growth which attracts everybody's attention, there is also a sudden decay that brings forth everybody's word of pity.

Grow Up

Let me suggest to you that this word that I referred to in the Hebrew means not only a growth downward, but it does mean a growth upward, and it is important. Did you notice in the passages of Scripture at which we looked that emphasis was placed upon the tallness of this tree, that it was taller than all the other trees? Do you recall that in the New Testament when a word is used for growth for believers, it is a word that speaks of growing up.

Glance at Ephesians, chapter 4, and notice verse 15:

Ephesians 4:

15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

Notice those two little words, grow up , as I remind you that they are the translation of the Greek word auxano , and then recall what we read not too many weeks ago in II Peter, chapter 3, verse 18, where Peter closed his epistle with the exhortation:

II Peter 3:

18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…

What he really said was, “Grow up in grace.” There is a difference in growing in grace and growing up in grace. Grace is that provision of God whereby you will be able to mature, and some folk just draw on the grace of God. They just draw on it all the time. They never use it for what it was intended. Oh, I don't mean that there will ever come a time when you won't need the grace of God, but this is what I mean: The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the Apostle Paul when Paul had interceded, “Lord, take this thorn from me.” “No Paul. I won't remove the thorn. My grace is sufficient for thee.”

What did He mean? Did He mean that the Apostle Paul was going to carry the thorn and grin and bear it? No. He said in the next verse, “My strength is made mature in weakness.” He is saying that this grace, in the midst of your weakness, if you will learn to use it, will enable you to grow up.

Grow Outward

One other thing I must say. In Psalm 92, verse 12, the word grow speaks not only of growing downward and growing upward, but it speaks of growing outward. Did you notice in the passages of Scripture which we read how many times reference was made to the broadness of its boughs? In this day of weight consciousness, whether it be correct or incorrect, none of us want to get very broad; but let me encourage you to get as broad as you can, spiritually speaking. Get as broad as you can because the cedar tree was a broad tree. Do you remember when we read the passage in Ezekiel, chapter 31, there was a phrase that described the branches of the tree? I have loved that phrase for a long time, and I have asked God repeatedly to make me that. Do you remember the phrase, “a shadowing shroud?” I like even the sound of it. What is it? The branches of the cedar tree became a shadowing shroud, a garment that provideth protection, a garment that provideth shade where there was no shade.

Are you listening? Who needed the shade? Did the tree? No, not the tree. The tree was the shadowing shroud for all of the animals that left the heat of the day and came beneath the boughs of the cedar tree. The cedar tree was made a shadowing shroud for all of the birds of the air to come and take their place in the branches of the tree.

How often I have prayed that God would make me a shadowing shroud. In the Song of Solomon, chapter 2, verse 3, there is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is compared there to an apple tree, and Solomon, when he was thinking about the Lord Jesus Christ, said, “He is the loveliest of all the trees in the garden. He is an apple tree.” Then he said this: “I sit down under His shadow with great delight.”

Let me digress for a moment and ask you what your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ is. Do you sit down under His shadow with great delight? Solomon added another phrase. He said, “His fruit is sweet to my taste.” Do you sit down under His shadow with great delight and enjoy fellowship with Him?

Let me move this illustration into another realm. We are supposed to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, aren't we? We can't be Him, but we can be like Him. If we as Christians should be able to sit down under the apple tree with great delight, you and I should be sure that we have grown outward far enough that we have become a shadowing shroud so that other Christians and those who are in need will come and sit down under our shadow with great delight.

Let me ask you another question. We trust that the Holy Spirit will minister it to your own heart and you will find the answer yourself. Is that how folk feel about you? Do they want to come and sit in your shadow? Do they come to you and say, “You know the battle is pretty rough, and the heat of the day strong. I would like to sit with you a while. I would like to talk with you a while.” You sit with them and you talk with them. Then you have prayer with them. Maybe you don't say anything particularly important, but when they leave, they say, “You know, you have helped me a lot.”

You might wonder how in the world you had helped them. You didn't say anything that you hadn't already said, but you see, they had been sitting under your shadow with great delight. God had made you a shrouded shadow.

Conclusion

I close with this one thought. It is found in Psalm 104, where the cedar tree is mentioned again. There, in verse 17, the Spirit of God is pleased to remind us of a ministry available to every child of God. In verse 16, He said: “The cedars of Lebanon which God had planted, that is the place where the birds make their nests.”

The thing that interests me is the word birds . It is a word that means sparrows —a worthless little bird. What is it we re reading? In the cedar tree, deeply rooted, tall, wide, the sparrow makes its nest. I wonder why the Spirit of God made that analogy. You know that I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible in the original text, and I don't believe that the Holy Spirit just picked up words helter-skelter and used them. I believe He did it for a purpose. Do you remember what the Scripture says about the sparrow? The Scripture says that God is so interested in the sparrow that not one of them falls to the ground without His knowing it, not one of them.

Then, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ made the application, and I just pass it on to you. He said to you: “You Christians who are discouraged, you Christians who are having a hard time, aren't you of much greater value than many sparrows? Not one sparrow falls to the ground but what God knows it, and you are more value than a sparrow.”

Back to the cedar tree. Are you a cedar tree? How much do you care about the sparrow? Are you interested in growing up and growing out and growing deep so that if need be some of the little sparrows that could be shot by little boys with air-guns or could be eaten by the cat can laugh at any danger that may come their way?

Listen to me: It is quite all right for you to tell another Christian, “You stand on your own two feet.” It is quite all right for you to tell another Christian, “You can pray, I can pray. My prayers are no different than yours. Go ahead and pray.” It is quite all right for you to say that, but Beloved, you won't be the cedar tree that God wants you to be because God wants some of you to grow so deep and grow so high and grow so wide, that the little sparrow will feel perfectly safe when he commits himself to your care.

Let's face it. Though there is one Great Shepherd of the sheep and many under-shepherds as we think of them in relation to pastors, it is a fact that every believer is an under-shepherd. God has given you sheep to take care of and some sparrows to protect. How is your growth? Have you grown deep enough, high enough, wide enough to do the job? If you haven't, ask God to help you grow.


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