Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may consume your cedars.
Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars. Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen; because the mighty are spoiled: howl, O ye oaks of Bashan; for the forest of the vintage is come down. This chapter, it has been said, divides itself into three sections.
1. The threat of judgment (vers. 1-3).
2. The description of the good Shepherd (vers. 4-14).
3. The sketch of the foolish shepherd (vers. 15-17).
The expression, "Open thy doors [gates], O Lebanon," is, of course, quite dramatic in style. "The prophet, instead of announcing to Lebanon its future destruction, commands it as the servant of God to open its gates; the meaning therefore is, 'Thou Lebanon wilt be stormed and devastated by the foe'" (Hengstenberg). Lebanon, here, may be regarded as a symbol of the kingdom of Judah, its cedars as denoting the chief men of the kingdom. We shall take the words to illustrate three subjects in relation to mankind - a variety of distinction, a common calamity, and a natural alarm.
I. A VARIETY OF DISTINCTION. The "cedar" here, the "fir tree," or cypress, and the "oaks," are employed to set forth some of the distinctions that prevailed amongst the Hebrew people. How, whilst all men have a common origin, a common nature, and common moral obligations and responsibilities, yet in every generation there prevails a large variety of striking distinctions. There are not only the cedars and fir trees, but even briars and thistles. There is almost as great a distinction between the highest type of man and the lowest as there is between the lowest and the highest type of brute. In the great forest of every generation there are a few tall cedars and oaks rising in majesty above all the other trees, down to mere brushwood and even fungi. There are intellectual giants and intellectual dwarfs, moral monarchs and spiritual serfs. This variety of distinction in the human family serves at least two important purposes.
1. To check pride in the highest and despondency in the lowest. The cedar has no cause for boasting over the fir tree or over the humblest plant: it owes its existence to the same God, and is sustained by the same common elements. And what have the greatest men - the Shakespeares, the Schillers, the Miltons, the Goethes - to be proud of? What have they that they have not received? And why should the weakest man despond? He is what God made him, and his responsibilities are limited by his capacities.
2. To strengthen the ties of human brotherhood. Were all men of equal capacity, it is manifest that there would be no scope for that mutual ministry of interdependence which tends to unite society together. There are the givers and the receivers; the delight of the former is in his gifts, the hope of the latter is in the helps he receives. The strong rejoices in bearing the infirmities of the weak, and the weak rejoices in gratitude and hope on account of the succour received. Between the least and the greatest, therefore, in human society there is ample scope afforded for the fall play of the faculties, the sympathies, and the services of all.
II. A COMMON CALAMITY. "Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen," An expression which implies that the same fate awaits the fir tree. There is one event that awaits men of every type and class and grade, the tallest cedar and the most stunted shrub, and that is, death. "All flesh is grass;" "Wine men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others."
1. This common calamity levels all distinctions. The cedar and the fir tree - if not cut down by the woodman, scathed by the lightning, or uprooted by the tempest - must sooner or later rot, and their dust mingle with the earth; so with men of all distinctions, the prince and the pauper, the cedar and the bramble in the human forest, must bow to the stroke. "Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish forever."
2. This common calamity should dematerialize all souls. Since we are only here on this earth for a few short years at most, why should we live to the flesh, and thus materialize our souls? Here we are only pilgrims, and we should be in quest of "the city that hath foundations, Whose Builder and Maker is God." To see the pinions of the noble eagle, made to pierce the clouds and bask high up in sunlight, buried in a foul pool of mud, is a lamentable sight; but ten thousand times more terrible is the sight of a human soul immersed in matter.
III. A NATURAL ALARM. "Howl, fir tree." It is the howl, not of rage, not el sympathy, but of alarm. The principle of alarm here implied is that when the higher falls the lower may well take the alarm. If the cedar gives way, let the cypress look out. This principle may apply to:
1. Communities. Amongst the kingdoms of the earth there are the "cedar" and the "fir tree." Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, - these were cedars; they have "fallen." Let the smaller ones take the alarm. England is a "cedar," but it must fall; it has, I fear, even now the marks of decay on it; its multiplying branches of ambition are exhausting its roots. Its tall, when it comes, will be a just warning to all the smaller states of the world. The same may be said of markets. There are the "cedars" in the commercial world, great houses regulating almost the merchandise of the world. Some have recently fallen, others are falling: let the "fir trees" take the alarm and be cautious.
2. Individuals. When men who are physical "cedars," strong and stalwart, whose build is almost like the gnarled oak, fall, let weaker men take the alarm. When men who are moral "cedars," majestic in character and mighty in beneficent influences - great preachers, authors, philanthropists - fall, let the less useful take the alarm, still more the useless. "Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen." This was the text of the funeral sermon which the famous Mr. Jay, of Bath, preached on the equally famous Rowland Hill; and commenting on it he spoke eloquently concerning the impressions made by the death of a man of mark. - D.T.
That the fire may devour thy cedars, etc.
In this chapter there is an announcement of the judgment that was to come on the Jewish State and nation because of their ungodliness, and especially their contemptuous rejection of Him whom God sent to be their shepherd. The prophecy here is not in any way connected with that in the preceding chapters, except as it may be regarded as continuing the account of God's dealings with Israel, and their behaviour towards Him consequent on the events predicted in these chapters. Hitherto the prophet has been a bearer of good tidings to Zion, tidings of deliverance from oppressors, and restoration to former privilege and felicity. But there was a dark side to the picture as well as a bright one. All trouble and conflict had not ceased with their restoration to their own land: nor was their tendency to rebellion and apostasy from Jehovah, their Shepherd and King, finally subdued. Treating Him with contempt, His favour should be withdrawn from them, and the bonds that united them should be broken. The iron hand of foreign oppression should again be laid heavily upon them, and the ruin of their State and desolation of their land should mark the greatness of their sin by the severity of the penalty it had entailed. The prophecy begins with a picture of ruin and desolation overspreading the land, and then the process is detailed by which this was brought about and the cause of it indicated. The description of the judgment commences dramatically. Lebanon is summoned to open her doors, that the fire may enter to consume her cedars; the cypress is admonished to howl or wail because the cedar is fallen, because the noble and glorious trees are destroyed; the oaks of Bashan are called upon to join in the wail, for the inaccessible forest is laid low. The cypress is here called to lament for the fall of the cedar of Lebanon, the glory of the forest, not as deploring that calamity so much as anticipating for itself a like fate. That this description is to be taken literally cannot be supposed; the language is too forcible, and the picture too vivid to be understood merely of the destruction by fire of a few trees, even though these were the finest of their kind. On the other hand, there seems no sufficient reason for regarding this description as symbolical and wholly figurative. The more simple and tenable view is that which Calvin
suggested, namely, that by the places here mentioned is intended the whole land of Judea, the desolation of which is predicted by the prophet. The catastrophe thus depicted was brought about by the misconduct of the people, and especially their shepherds and rulers, towards the Great Shepherd of Israel, whom God sent forth to feed and tend the flock. This is described in what follows, where the prophet is represented as acting as the representative of another, and as such is addressed. It cannot be supposed that the person addressed is the Angel of Jehovah, or the Messiah, for the person addressed in verse 4 is evidently the same as the person addressed in verse 15, and what is there said does not in any way apply to the Angel of Jehovah, or the Messiah. Nor can it be supposed that the prophet is here addressed in his own person, for as it was no part of the prophetic office to act as a shepherd of Israel, it could not be to the prophet as such that the command here given was addressed. The only supposition that can tenably be made is that what is here narrated passed as a vision before the inner sense of the prophet, in which he saw himself as the representative of another, first of the good shepherd who is sent to feed the flock, and then of the evil shepherd by whom the flock was neglected, and who should be destroyed for his iniquity.
This chapter, it has been said, divides itself into three sections.
1. The threat of judgment (vers. 1-3).
2. The description of the Good Shepherd (ver . 4-14).
3. The sketch of the foolish shepherd (vers. 15-17).Lebanon, here, may be regarded as a symbol of the kingdom of Judah, its cedars as denoting the chief men of the kingdom.
I. A VARIETY OF DISTINCTION. The "cedar" here, the "fir tree," or cypress, and the "oaks," are employed to set forth some of the distinctions that prevailed amongst the Hebrew people. Now, whilst all men have a common origin, a common nature, and common moral obligations and responsibilities, yet in every generation there prevails a large variety of striking distinctions. There are not only the cedars and fir trees, but even briars and thistles. There is almost as great a distinction between the highest type of man and the lowest, as there is between the lowest and the highest type of brute. There are intellectual giants and intellectual dwarfs, moral monarchs and spiritual serfs. This variety of distinction in the human family serves at least two important purposes.
1. To check pride in the highest and despondency in the lowest. The cedar has no cause for boasting over the fir tree, or over the humblest plant it owes its existence to the same God, and is sustained by the same common elements. And what have the greatest men — the Shakespeares, the Schillers, the Miltons, the Goethes — to be proud of? What have they that they have not received? And why should the weakest man despond? He is what God made him, and his responsibilities are limited by his capacities. This variety serves —
2. To strengthen the ties of human brotherhood. Were all men of equal capacity, it is manifest that there would be no scope for that mutual ministry of interdependence which tends to unite society together. The strong rejoices in bearing the infirmities of the weak, and the weak rejoices in gratitude and hope on account of the succour received.
II. A COMMON CALAMITY. "Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen." An expression which implies that the same fate awaits the fir tree. There is one event that awaits men of every type and class and grade, the tallest cedar and the most stunted shrub, that is death.
1. This common calamity levels all distinctions. "Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish forever."
2. This common calamity should dematerialise all souls. Since we are only here on this earth for a few short years at most, why should we live to the flesh, and thus materialise our souls?
III. A NATURAL ALARM. "Howl, fir tree." The howl, not of rage, not of sympathy, but of alarm. When the higher falls, the lower may well take the alarm. If the cedar gives way, let the cypress look out. This principle may apply to —
1. Communities. Amongst the kingdoms of the earth there are the "cedar" and the "fir tree." The same may be said of markets. There are the cedars of the commercial world; great houses regulating almost the merchandise of the world.
2. Individuals. When men who are physically strong fall, let weaker men beware. When men who are moral cedars — majestic in character, and mighty in beneficent influences — fall, let the less useful take the alarm, and still more the useless.
Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen
The prophecy, of which these words are a part, had its fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews by the Romans. The text would become applicable at a time of great national calamity. By the cedar tree the chief men of a country are represented, those who occupy the more prominent positions, and are, conspicuous by station and influence. When the cedar tree falls, when the princes of a land are brought down by disaster and death, men of inferior rank. who, in comparison with these princes, are but as the fir tree compared with the cedar, may well tremble and fear, as knowing that their own day of trial must be rapidly approaching. These words, then, are universally applicable whenever calamity falls on those better or more exalted than ourselves, and such calamity may serve as a warning, teaching us to expect our own share of trouble. "Howl, fir tree" —tremble, and be afraid, ye sinful and careless ones, who, though planted in the garden of the Lord, bring not forth the fruits of righteousness. "The cedar is fallen," — shall, then, the fir tree escape? "If judgment first begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of Christ?" Take the text as setting forth the sufferings of the righteous as an evidence or token of the far greater which, in due time, must be the portion of the wicked. If the wicked were to ponder God's dealings with the righteous, if the fir tree would observe what was done to the cedar, it could hardly be that future and everlasting punishment would be denied by any, or by any be practically disregarded. Let our blessed Saviour Himself be the first cedar tree on which we gaze. "Smitten of God and afflicted." "A Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." His sufferings only then assume their most striking character when they are seen as demonstrations of the evil of sin. The atonement alone shows me what sin is in God's sight. The Captain of our salvation was "made perfect through sufferings," but the same discipline has been employed, from the first, in regard of all those whom God has conducted to glory. Under all dispensations affliction is an instrument of purification. The nearer we approach the times of the Gospel, the intenser becomes the discipline of suffering; as though God has designed to prepare men for an increase in tribulation, with an increase of privilege. The fact is undisputed, that, through much tribulation, men enter the kingdom of heaven. No fact should be more startling to those who are living without God, and perhaps secretly hoping for impunity at the last. They cannot deny that the cedar has been bent and blighted by the hurricane, whilst, comparatively, sunshine and calm have been around the fir. And from this they are bound to conclude the great fact of a judgment to come. Suppose it to be for purposes of discipline that God employs suffering — what does this prove but that human nature is thoroughly corrupt, requiring to be purged so as by fire, ere it can be fitted for happiness? And if there must be this fiery purification, what is the inference which ungodly men should draw, if not that they will be given up hereafter to the unquenchable flame, given up to it when that flame can neither annihilate their being, nor eradicate their corruption? It is probable enough that the wicked may be disposed to congratulate themselves on their superior prosperity, and to look with pity, if not with contempt, on the righteous, as the God whom they serve seems to reward them with nothing but trouble. But this can only be through want of consideration. It may certainly be inferred from these words, when applied in the modes indicated, that the present afflictions of the righteous shall be vastly exceeded by the future of the wicked. The "cedar is fallen," and the fir tree is called upon to "howl," as though it were about to be rent and shivered, as by the tempest and the thunder. The sufferings of the righteous might save the wicked from future torments, and that which prepares a good man for heaven might snatch a bad one from hell.
This word "cedar" applies to Jerusalem, to the temple, to Lebanon. It is a general and symbolic term. It applies to all great characters, to all noble institutions, all sublime purposes. There was an abundance of cedar wood in the temple, so the temple was often called The Cedar, and what the temple was Jerusalem was. One element sometimes gives its character to everything into which it enters. The eternal doctrine of the text is that when the strong go down the weak should lay that significant circumstance to heart. How can the fir tree stand when the cedar is blown down? How can the weak defend the city when the mighty men have failed? What can the poor do after the kings of wealth? And if God can smite the mighty, can He not overwhelm the weak and the little? if He can rend the stars, and hurl the constellations out of their places, what about our clay walls and huts of dust? — surely He could sweep them away as with the tempestuous wind. And yet the weak have a place of their own. Trees have been blown down whilst daisies have been left undisturbed. There is a strength of littleness, there is a majesty of weakness, there is a charter of immunity granted to things that are very frail. The whirlwind does not destroy the flower that bends before its fury, but it often destroys the mighty tree that dares it to wrestle. How much we depend upon the cedar in all life, in all society, in all institutions! What is done by one man may be comparatively insignificant and may never be heard of, and that self-same thing done by another quality of man fills the world with amazement. How is that? Simply because of the quality. There are people who burrow in the earth, and what they do no man cares for, no man inquires; there are persons who have lived themselves down to the vanishing point of influence, that it is of no consequence whatsoever what they think or do. Other men can hardly breathe without the fact being noted and commented upon; the pulse cannot be unsteady without the whole journalism of the empire being filled with the tidings. The difference is the difference between the cedar and the fir tree. What is impossible in nature is possible in humanity: the fir tree can become the cedar, and the cedar can become the fir tree, and these continual changes constitute the very tragedy of human experience. Let it be known that some person has committed a theft in the city, and the theft will be reported in very small type, it is really of no consequence to cruel society what that person has done; but let a man of another sort do that very self-same thing, and there is no type large enough in which to announce the fact. It is not always so with the good deeds — "the good is oft interred with men's bones." There is no printer that cares to report charity, nobleness, meekness, forgiveness, great exercises of patience and forbearance. The printer was not made to intermeddle with that sacred fame. Such reputation is registered in heaven, is watched and guarded by the angels, and carries with itself its own guarantee of immortality. Yet this doctrine might easily be abused. A man might be fool enough to say that it is of no consequence what he does. But it is in reality of consequence, according to the circle within which he moves. Every man can make his home unhappy, every man can lay a burden upon the back of his child which the child is unable to sustain. That is the consummation of cruelty. If the man could but put a dagger into himself, and cause his own life continual agony, he might be doing an act of justice, he might be trying to compensate for the wrongs he has done to others: but when it is felt that everything that man does tells upon the child to the third and fourth generation, so that the child cannot get rid of the blood which the great-grandfather shed, then every man becomes of importance in his own sphere and in relation to the line of life which he touches. We apply this text personally and nationally, founding upon it our lamentations over fallen greatness. The great statesman dies, and the Church at once becomes filled with the eloquence of this text — "Howl, fir tree; for the cedar is fallen," — the lesson being, that the great man has gone, the great strength has vanished, and now weakness is exposed to a thousand attacks; weakness feels its defencelessness. Nor ought such eulogy be limited. Sentiment has to play a very serious part and a very useful part in the education of life. When men cease to revere greatness they cease to cultivate it. There is a philistinism that is near akin to impiety and profanity. All men are not alike, all men are not of one value; some men have the genius of insight and foresight, and some have it not; and when men who can see the coming time, and interpret the time that now is into its largest significances, are taken away from us, then those of us who occupy positions of commonplace may well feel that some tremendous bankruptcy has supervened in history, and the world is made poor forever. Yet this is not the spirit of the Gospel, which is always a spirit of good cheer and stimulus and hopefulness. We are not dependent now upon men, except in a secondary sense; we are dependent upon God alone: —The battle is not yours, but God's; they that be for us are more than all that can be against us; our cedar is the Cross, and the Cross has never failed. Rome boasted that it had obliterated the Christian name. but Rome boasted too soon. Ten persecutions followed one another in rapid and devastating succession; yet there were Christians still praying in secret, temples unknown and unnamed were frequented by ardent and passionate worshippers.
Mr. Jay was generally chaste and dignified in his composition, but occasionally used a quaintness of expression which in our day would be called "sensational." The selection of his texts was sometimes ingenious — e.g.
, on two occasions, after the death of Robert Hall and Rowland Hill, his text was, "Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen." He always took advantage of public events, and thus brought nature and providence to his aid in instructing the people.
The cedar is the most useful when dead. It is the most productive when its place knows it no more. There is no timber like it. Firm in grain, and capable of the finest polish, the tooth of no insect will touch it, and time himself can hardly destroy it. Diffusing a perpetual fragrance through the chamber which it ceils, the worm will not corrode the book which it protects, nor the moth corrupt the garment which it guards — all but immortal itself, it transfuses its amaranthine qualities into the objects around it. Every Christian is useful in his fife, but the goodly cedars are the most useful afterwards. Luther is dead, but the Reformation fives.
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