TIMBER TREES >> Knowledge of Righteous Principles
Fruit-trees correspond, as we have seen, to growing knowledge in regard to good uses of many kinds. The good work itself is the fruit; the trunk and branches and leaves are the planning and thinking with intellectual pleasure, which prepare for the good works. And as the trunk grows larger and stronger year by year, so the understanding of the principles relating to any use, and the ability to do the use, grow stronger with experience.
Are there some trees which are useful, but not for their fruit? The oaks and pines and spruces and many more bear fruit of little value, but still are among the most useful of trees, for their trunks give us timber, good especially for building houses to protect us from the weather. What must such trees represent? Not knowledge which leads to some useful work, but knowledge – intelligent understanding of one kind or another – which is useful in itself in helping us to live in safe and orderly ways. It is interesting to notice that many of the timber-trees are evergreen; for while the thought about useful works may be active for a season and then rest, there are some principles which regulate and protect our daily lives which cannot be allowed wholly to rest for a single day. (AC 102; AE 739)
The oak is a tree far more useful for its wood than its fruit. Like many Bible words, the name “oak ” is used in a somewhat general way, including other trees of similar character and appearance. The oak is a sturdy tree, with very deep and spreading roots, strong, wide-reaching branches, and wood which in a remarkable degree combines the qualities of strength, hardness, toughness, and durability. The oak stands in common speech as a type of strength and toughness. If we remember that all trees picture the human understanding, the oak suggests a mind not intent upon the most heavenly uses, not the most graceful nor orderly in its arrangement, but characterized by a firm and tenacious grasp, unyielding even in trifling details, almost to the point of obstinacy. This is not the quality of an interior perception of spiritual principles, which becomes yielding in external and unimportant details, but it is the quality of the grasp of the simpler, more natural principles of right in the mind of a child or of one in the first step of regeneration. In the Bible we find the oak used as a symbol of such a knowledge of simple, natural principles of right, held not with great intelligence, but with firmness. (AC 4552; AE 504, 514; CL 78)
When Abram journeyed at the Lord’s command from his eastern home, “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the oak of Moreh.” (Gen. xii. 5, 6) This journey describes childhood’s advance from a natural life to a spiritual life; and this oak, which marked the first camping place in the land, represents the first grasp of the principles of heavenly life, not yet with much intelligence, but with firm resolution. (AC 1442, 1443) Presently Abram journeying Southward, “moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron.” (Gen. xiii. I8) This tells of advance into a fuller and truer, but no less resolute, perception of the principles of heavenly life. (AC 1616) It will not surprise us to find the oak mentioned sometimes with words of rebuke; for how easily the first and natural understanding is deceived or becomes self-confident! (Isa. i. 29, 30, ii. 13; AC 4552; AE 410, 504, 514)
The noblest of the timber-trees mentioned in the Bible is the cedar of Lebanon, which still is found in groves in the ravines of the mountains from which it takes its name, but is not now so plenty nor does it grow so large as in the old time. The cedar of Lebanon is a fine evergreen tree with light but fragrant and enduring wood. The branches are large and spread out from the trunk in level floors, one above another. The tufts of short needles carpet these floors with a dense mat of green, from which rise the large cones. The cedars we remember were used in the building of Solomon’s temple.
A tree so majestic as the cedar, growing on the lofty mountains and used in building the temple of the Lord, must correspond to some power of understanding of a very noble kind. We have thought of the palm with its lofty, unbranched stem as picturing a knowledge which relates to the Lord alone; the spreading branches of the fig and the oak have suggested kinds of knowledge which reach out into the many relations of natural life. Here is a tree which is lofty and at the same time wide-spreading, but which is orderly in its arrangement, spreading its branches in distinct and separate planes one above another. It suggests an understanding which rises to the highest things and which clearly distinguishes the lower from the higher; which sees the distinctness and the true relation between natural things and spiritual, and the relation of all things to the Lord. “By Asshur, the cedar in Lebanon (Ezek. xxxi. 3-8) , is signified the rational mind, which is formed from natural knowledge on the one part, and from the influx of spiritual truth on the other.” (AE 650, 654; AR 875; Chapter xxxviii)
It is briefly stated by Swedenborg that the cedar of Lebanon signifies “a spiritual rational church, such as was the church among the ancients after the flood.” (AE 1100) We know that it was the delight of those people to see the relation of natural things and spiritual; to read in nature lessons of heavenly life, and to express spiritual truths in allegory and fable. (CL 76; AC 4288) This is a beautiful example of the knowledge which the cedar of Lebanon represents. We are ourselves, in our attempt to understand the correspondence between natural things and spiritual, planting and cultivating the cedar.
Recall a few of the many passages in which cedars of Lebanon are mentioned in the Bible, and think of the trees as types of a noble, rational faculty. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.” (Ps. xcii. I2) It is a promise to those who do right, of increase in knowledge of the Lord’s saving power, and of rational understanding of spiritual subjects. (AE 458; AC 8369) “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive-tree, and his smell as Lebanon.” (Hos. xiv. 5, 6) The gradual development of rational powers under the gentle influence of the Lord’s truth is described, till the wise perception of truth is attained which is suggested by “the smell of Lebanon.” (AE 638) “The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests.” (Ps. civ. 16, 17) The birds building in the branches of the cedar give a beautiful picture of the multiplication of happy affections for spiritual thought as the rational faculty of the Lord’s planting gains in strength. (AC 776)
We all associate the cedars of Lebanon with the building of Solomon’s temple. Solomon directed Hiram: “Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar-trees out of Lebanon. . . . So Hiram gave Solomon cedar-trees and fir-trees according to all his desire. . . . And he covered the house with beams and planks of cedar. . . . And he built the walls of the house within with boards of cedar.” (1 Kings v. 6, 10, vi. 9, 15 ) We may think of the temple as a Divinely given picture of states of worship and religious life in which the Lord can dwell with us. How useful in ordering wisely a religious life and in establishing it securely, is a strong rational understanding of spiritual things and of their relation to nature on the one hand and to the Lord on the other! Beams and planks of cedar seem peculiarly appropriate as walls, helping to show the true relation between what is external in. religion and worship, and the holy states within. (AC 7918, 8369) Sometimes, as in the case of the oak, the cedar “high and lifted up” is mentioned with words of warning and rebuke; for this rational power is easily abused, making one proud and self-confident. (AE 514, 410)
The cypress and some other humbler evergreens are probably included in the general name “fir,” a wood used with the cedar in the building of the temple. The cypress rises in a slender, tapering spire of close, dark, evergreen foliage. Its wood is one of the most enduring, and even when exposed to the weather lasts for hundreds of years. The cypress has to us a somber, funereal look. But it was not a feeling of sadness which caused men in ancient times to plant cypress-trees in cemeteries. The upward-pointing spires led the thought to heaven and immortal life. The tree was an emblem of knowledge of immortality. Its straight and single aim, together with this ancient association of the tree with thoughts of immortality, suggests that it corresponds to a knowledge of eternal life. May not this tree well have been among those used for the floor and outer doors of the temple? “He covered the floor of the house with planks of fir. . . . And the two doors [the two leaves of the outer door] were of fir-tree.” (I Kings vi. 15, 34) How many of us enter into states of real worship and of nearness to the Lord, through learning of the eternal life when friends pass to the other world! Are we not entering into the temple by doors of “fir-tree,” and standing upon the floor of “fir”? (AC 1443; AE 654, 730; CL 77)
One other tree let us briefly consider, the “shittim wood” of the desert. It is an acacia, very thorny, and with close-grained, very enduring wood. From its branches gum-arabic is gathered. The shittah-tree, like the palm, is a tree of the desert; which suggests that it corresponds to some kind of knowledge which grows in times of temptation and spiritual distress. The thorns which cover the tree are another indication of its meaning. Thorns, where we look for leafy twigs and blossoms, in a bad sense correspond to thoughts not busy in preparing for kindly uses, but sharp and cruel, which wound and annoy. But thorns have a use in protecting a plant from harm. Such thorns are like thoughts in regard to protection and self-defense. This thorn-tree of the desert, sacred from association with the ark and tabernacle, corresponds to a knowledge of the Divine protection on which we must rely in seasons of temptation. It is a humbler knowledge than the palm, which is the exult-. ant sense of salvation when through the Lord’s power comes victory and a season of consolation. (AC 9715, 9486, 10178, 6832; AE 375)
It was a small species of this thorn-tree of the desert in which the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire. (Exod. iii. 2) And so, as we learn from experience how the Lord fights for us and protects us from evil, and as we learn to use His Word as a practical defense, our eyes are opened to perceive the greatness of the love from which He fights for us and which lies concealed within His Word. This is the holy flame in the thorny bush. (AC 6832-6834)
The walls of the tabernacle were made of this same wood (Exod. xxxvi. 20-34) , as also the ark for the commandments and other articles of sacred furniture, being covered with gold or brass. (Exod. xxxvii. 1, 2) So our knowledge of the Lord’s power continually protecting us from evil makes possible the holy states of life and worship which the tabernacle and its furniture represent. (AC 9486, 9490, 9634, 9635) Even when the desert journey was long passed and in Solomon’s peaceful reign the temple was built – even then, when the simple planks of the tabernacle walls gave place to stone, and to fir and cedar and olive, still the little ark of desert thorn-tree was set in the inmost shrine, containing the tables of the commandments. (I Kings viii. 4-9) So it will always be. However glorious and happy life may become in this world or in heaven, still that knowledge of the Lord’s protection which we gained in hours of temptation will ever lie nearest to the Lord and guard His presence in our inmost soul.
Author: WILLIAM WORCESTER 1897