JUNIPER >> Knowledge of Truth attained through hardship

juniper1 Abundant upon Mt. Lebanon is a tall juniper, akin to our red cedar, which so nearly resembles the cypress as to be mistaken for it by some writers.  (See Bible Dictionary,  Article: “Cypress.”) The juniper appears to have been used for sacred purposes from remote antiquity. “That under the name of kedros it was burned for the sake of its perfume, or as incense, by the ancient Greeks, appears from Homer’s account of the island abode of Calypso (Od. v. 60), and it would appear to be the same to which Pliny refers when he says that ‘the wood lasts forever,’ and that ‘it has long been employed for making statues of the gods’ (xiii. 11)” (Grindon). “The red heartwood of the tall, fragrant juniper of Lebanon was no doubt extensively used in the building of the temple,” says the Bible Dictionary, supporting its assertion by the Septuagint adoption of the juniper, instead of the fir of our English Bible.

The family is so important that, as I can find no full description of the tall juniper of Palestine, I will quote at some length from Mr. Emerson’s description of our red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) which probably is equally applicable to the other in its general statements. “This is usually,” he says, “a ragged-looking tree. . . . Surrounded by other trees in a wood, it has a smooth, clear trunk for twelve or fifteen feet and a handsome spiry head. On the rocks it assumes every variety of form, round-headed, irregular, or cone-shaped, sometimes not without beauty.” “From the exposed situations in which the red cedar grows, it often has to assume fantastic shapes.”

Mr. Emerson describes a tree exposed to winds from the sea, with the trunk “much bent, and all the branches violently twisted landward”; and another near the same place, which “lies prostrate on the rock from beneath which it springs. It has a circumference of five feet three inches as near the root as it can be measured, and six feet eight inches at the largest part free from branches. These, numerous, crowded, and matted, bend down like a penthouse over the side of the rock. Others are seen on the same road as if crouching behind walls, rising higher and higher as they recede from the walls, and forming protected, sunny spots for sheep to lie in.”  

He endorses the statement by Dr. Elliot that “those which grow along the sea coast, with their roots partially immersed in salt water, though smaller in their dimensions, are much more durable than those which inhabit the forests.  Often when surrounded and finally destroyed by the encroachments of the salt water, their bodies remain in the marshes for an indefinite period, . . . and seem to molder away like rocks, rather than decay like a vegetable product.” “The wood is light, close-grained, smooth and compact, and possessed of great durability.  The agreeable and permanent odor recommends it for certain uses, as that of making pencils, and the bottoms of small boxes and drawers, the aroma making it a safeguard against insects. The sapwood is white, but the heartwood of a beautiful red, whence is derived its name.”

The cone which we should expect to find for its fruit is transformed by the union of its small, fleshy scales into a little berry, which is a favorite winter food of some birds, especially our robins, or domestic thrushes. “The barren and fertile flowers are on different trees, rarely on the same” (Emerson). The tree “has a geographical range equal, perhaps superior, to that of any other tree known.”

Young junipers growing in favorable places are scarcely distinguishable in general appearance from young cypresses. They have a similar upward tendency of every twig, the slender topmost shoot, though tossed by every breath, yet pointing straight heavenward as fast as it gathers strength; their close, fine foliage is similar in effect, and also the reddish, stringy bark. The juniper, however, has more tendency to spread than the cypress, and is much more affected in its form by circumstances. If the cypress represents our knowledge of immortal life with God in heaven, the juniper seems to represent a knowledge of His providence upon earth. It flourishes, if permitted, and becomes a handsome tree, in favored soils and climates; but more frequently it springs from barren hills and broken cliffs, into the crevices of which it pushes its roots deep, submitting them to a degree of compression which flattens and knots them almost beyond recognition as roots; and under these hard circumstances, its red, fragrant heart only grows the redder and sweeter. Scraggy the patient tree often is to the last degree, and of great variety of form (could a  knowledge of the ways of Providence in such a world as this be always symmetrical and uniform?), but it all the more perfectly represents those lives, broken by toil and hardship, which contain the sweet recognition of a kind Father’s hand always with them, providing better things than they would have sought for themselves.  Especially touching in this light are those bent and deformed watchers by the sea, which, almost prostrate from long-continued yielding to the storms, yet more than others attain strong hearts and patient endurance.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of Jehovah, and His wonders in the deep. (Psalm 107:23, 24) Returning now to the question of the trees mentioned in the Bible, we read in 2 Samuel 6:5 that when the Ark was brought up from Baale of Judah, where it had long remained after its captivity in Philistia, “David and all the house of Israel played before Jehovah on all manner of fir wood, even on harps and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals.” The wood of trees represents the goodness acquired by thinking the truth to which the trees correspond, whence comes the power and affection for perceiving more. The music expresses the sentiments of the players, which in this instance were those of thankfulness for the manifest presence of the Lord once more among them, and for deliverance and safety from their enemies.  Admitting, then, the probability that the “fir” of Scripture includes several trees, in this instance the juniper seems to represent the experience from which sprang the music, better even than the cypress.

As to the outer doors and the floor of Solomon’s Temple, which are said to have been made of “fir,” the walls being lined with cedar—the temple, as has been said, represents a state of spiritual wisdom and charity; and, in the uncertainty as to the kind of wood intended, it seems necessary to inquire through which, if either, of the kinds of knowledge that have been described, we are introduced into such a state of spiritual intelligence.

I would not confirm an opinion without more thorough information; but it may be safe to admit that the eyes of many are opened to the reality of spiritual things when their friends pass into the spiritual world, and the certainty of their immortal existence comes home to them. It is also true that many, perhaps most, persons are brought to perceive spiritual things clearly through a sense of the presence of the Lord with them, caring for them, protecting them, and leading them out of evil to good. The two kinds of knowledge, though distinct, are parts of one group, which is the knowledge of the omnipresent providence of the Lord; and though one relates especially to the future life, and the other to the present life, neither is complete without the other. It may, therefore, be allowable, until we have further information, to rest in the idea that the general Hebrew term includes both trees, and possibly others that are nearly related.  It is interesting to note in relation to the doors and walls of the temple, that upon them were carved “cherubim and palm trees, and opening flowers”; the cherubim to represent good love from the Lord, the palms to represent salvation by Him from evil, and the opening flowers to represent the new delight in the perception of spiritual truth; all of which seem just the appropriate ornaments of the state and of the knowledge which have been described.

There is another species of juniper, the Juniperus Communis, which lies close to the ground, spreading in a thick mat sometimes twenty feet in diameter, and multiplying so greatly as to be a serious injury to the pastures, at the same time that it is almost useless in itself. This appears to represent a knowledge of Divine Providence applied to outward events without interior elevation or intelligence. It says that things are as they are because Providence so wills, and there is nothing to be done about it. It is a fatalism which discourages effort and profitable thought.


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