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M'Cheyne Poems

All the following were transcribed from "Memoirs & Remains" 1858 edition.

LEBANON - ITS SCENERY AND ALLUSIONS
[It will be interesting to many to see how his rich imagination used at times to revel amid the beautiful images and figures of the Divine Word. I insert two specimens, of which the first was written in his earlier days, when his taste for Scripture imagery was fresh, and his peculiar style just forming. It is a critical essay read in the Exegetical Society, while he was a student in the Divinity Hall.]

"O LORD God, I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon." Such was the prayer of Moses in the land of Moab. Whether he had heard by report of the glory of snow-capped Lebanon from Egyptian traffickers in balm and myrrh and spiceries, or knew of it only by finding it in the charter of Israel's promised inheritance; there is a peculiar beauty and fulness in the prayer, when, as descriptive of the good land, he asks to see the chief object of its moral beauty, and that of its chief natural beauty - Zion and Lebanon - the one the type of all spiritual, the other of all temporal blessings to Israel. What a refreshing sight to his eye, yet undimmed with age, after resting for forty years on the monotonous scenery of the desert, now to rest upon Zion1 , embosomed in olive-clad hill, and Lebanon with its vine-clad base, and overhanging forests, and towering peaks of snow! "I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon."

The same taste which inspired the wish of the venerable lawgiver, descended to the people whom he led to Canaan to such a degree, that Zion and Lebanon have afforded more materials for figure and allusion to the prophets and sweet singers of Israel than perhaps any other individual natural objects whatever. To consider the beauty and propriety of a few of these allusions to Lebanon is the object of my present investigation.


I. The first passage I mean to observe upon is the 29th Psalm - "a Psalm of David," in which the strength of Jehovah is celebrated; and the exemplification of it is evidently taken from a thunderstorm in Lebanon. The Psalm seems to be addressed to the angels; see Psa. lxxxix. 7. It thus begins -

"Render unto Jehovah, ye sons of the mighty, 
Render unto Jehovah glory and strength;
Render to Jehovah the glory of His name;
Bow down to Jehovah in the majesty of holiness!"

Immediately follows the description of the thunder-storm, in which it does not seem fanciful to observe the historical progression which is usual on such occasions. The first lines seem to describe only the noise of the thunder, the description growing more intense as the rumbling draws nearer.

"The voice of Jehovah is above the waters;
The God of Glory thundereth!
Jehovah is louder than many waters,
The voice of Jehovah in strength,
The voice of Jehovah in majesty!"

But now the effects become visible; the storm has descended on the mountains and forests:-

"The voice of Jehovah shivers the cedars,
Even shivers Jehovah the cedars of Lebanon;
And makes them to skip, like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion, like a young buffalo.
The voice of Jehovah forketh the lightning's flash!"

From the mountains the storm sweeps down into the plains, where, however, its effects are not so fearful as on the mountains.

"The voice of Jehovah causeth the desert to tremble -
The voice of Jehovah causeth to tremble the desert of Kadesh - 
The voice of Jehovah causeth the oaks to tremble,
And lays bare the forests!
Therefore, in His temple everyone speaks of His glory."

The description of the swollen torrents closes the scene -

"Jehovah upon the rain-torrent sitteth,
Yea, sitteth Jehovah a king forever."

And the moral or application of the whole is -

"Jehovah to His people will give strength;
Jehovah will bless His people with peace."

I have to remark several things in connection with Lebanon which may illustrate this beautiful Psalm. That thunder-storms are frequent in these mountains is a matter of historical fact; insomuch that Volney could not give a description of the magnificent view from the top of Lebanon without mentioning, "clouds rolling at your feet," as one ingredient in the scenery. As the Mediterranean stretches away from the very foot of Lebanon, we can be at no loss to find the "many waters," whose roaring was drowned in the voice of Jehovah's thunder. Or, of our interpretation of the article ("above") be thought not the usual one, we may imagine that the storm came over the sea, and that the spectator, standing on Lebanon, and watching its progress as it advances towards him says-

"The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters -
The God of Glory thundereth!
Jehovah is upon many waters!"

The increasing growling of the thunder when it reaches the mountains, and reverberates among the valleys, is well represented in the increasing power of the lines, -

"The voice of Jehovah is in strength,
The voice of Jehovah in majesty!"

The only remark which I make upon the cedars at present is, that, by the testimony of all travellers, "These noble trees grow amongst the snow, near the highest peak of Lebanon." - (See Maundrell.) This fact gives peculiar significancy to their being placed first in the work of devastation: and also their great size. "The old ones which remain," says Maundrell, "are of a prodigious bulk. I measured one of the largest, and found it twelve yards six inches in girth, and yet sound, and thirty-seven yards in the spread of its boughs. At about five or six yards from the ground, it was divided into five limbs, each of which was equal to a great tree." The testimony of Pococke, in 1738, is very similar. The testimony of another traveller, quoted by Rosenmuller, is also interesting, showing well the intensiveness of the parallelism. "We saw others, indeed," says he, "on the confines of Judea and Samaria, but no where so lofty as in Lebanon."

"The voice of Jehovah shivers the cedars,
Jehovah shivers even the cedars of Lebanon!"

These mighty trees of God, which for ages have stood the force of the tempest, roaring their ever-green colossal boughs in the region of everlasting snow, are the first objects of the fury of the lightning, which is well know to visit first the highest objects.

The sixth verse presents rather more difficulty. The original is,

"And makes them skip like a young calf,
Lebanon and Sirion, like a young buffalo."

At first sight it might appear that the cedars were still meant, and that Lebanon and Sirion were used by metonymy for the cedars which grew upon them. But, 1. We never hear of cedars growing upon Sirion, or Shemir, or Hermon, for it has all these names; and , 2. There is a parallel passage where this interpretation will hardly answer in Psa. cxiv. Describing the exodus of Israel, it says,

"The mountains skipt like rams,
And the little hills like rams."

The same verb2 skipping of the mountains:" -

"When the traveller," says he, " penetrates the interior of these mountains, the ruggedness of the roads, the steepness of the declivities, the depth of the precipices, have at first a terrific effect: but the sagacity of the mules which bear him soon inspires him with confidence, and enables him to examine at his ease the picturesque scenes which succeed one another, so as almost to bewilder him. There, as in the Alps, he sometimes travels whole days to arrive at a spot which was in sight when he set out. He turns, he descends, he winds round, he climbs; and under this perpetual change of position, one is ready to think that a magical power is varying at every step the beauties of the landscapes. Sometimes villages are seen, ready as it were to slide down the steep declivities, and so disposed that the roofs of the one row of houses serve as a street to the row above. At another time, you see a convent seated on an isolated cone, like Marshaia in the valley of Tigré. Here a rock is pierced by a torrent, forming a natural cascade, as at Nahr-el-Leban; there another rock assumes the appearance of a natural wall. Often on the sides, ledges of stones, washed down and left by the waters, resemble ruins disposed by art. In some places, the waters, meeting with inclined beds, have undermined the intermediate earth, and have formed caverns, as at Nahr-el-Kelb, near Antoura. In other places, they have worn for themselves subterranean channels, through which flow little rivulets during part of the year, as at Mar Harna. Sometimes these picturesque circumstances have become tragical ones. Rocks loosened or thrown off their equilibrium by thaw or earthquake, have been known to precipitate themselves on the adjacent dwellings, and crush the inhabitants. An incident of this kind, about twenty years ago, buried a whole village near Mar Djordos, so as to leave no trace of its existence. More recently, and near the same spot, the soil of a hill, planted with mulberry trees and vines, detached itself by a sudden thaw, and, sliding over the surface of the rock which it had covered, like a vessel launched from the stocks, established itself entire in the valley below.

In the next line, the storm has forced its way to the unenclosed plains, or to the Arabian desert, according to Rosenmuller.

"The voice of Jehovah causeth the desert to tremble,
The voice of Jehovah causeth to tremble the desert of Kadesh."

That Kadesh-Naphtali is meant, the geographical position of Lebanon would make us believe; though this is not necessary. And although Syria is much exposed to earthquakes - as, for example, that of Aleppo in 1822, which was sensibly felt in Damascus - yet it does not seem necessary to imagine anything farther than the usual effects of a thunder-storm.

The oaks and forests of verse 9 suit well with the description given of the lower limbs of Lebanon, which abound in "thickets of myrtle, woods of fir, walnut-trees, carob-trees, and Turkish oaks." And the rain-torrent of verse 10 is admirably descriptive of the sudden swell of the thousand streams which flow from Lebanon. According to modern travellers, the number of water-courses descending from Lebanon is immense; and the suddenness of the rise of these streams may be gathered from the contradictions in their accounts. The Nahr-el-Sazib is described by one as "a rivulet, though crossed by a bridge of six arches;" by another it is called "a large river." The Damour (the ancient Tamyrus), which flows immediately from Lebanon, is "a river," says Maundrell, "apt to swell much upon sudden rains; in which case, precipitating itself from the mountains with great rapidity, it has been fatal to many a passenger." He mentions a French gentleman, M. Spon, who, a few years before, in attempting to ford it, was hurried down by the stream, and perished in the sea. This is one instance of very many in the mountains of Lebanon where the brook, which is usually very dry, becomes all at once an impossible torrent. When Volney looked upon the rivers of Syria in summer, he doubted whether they could be called rivers. But as he ventured to cross them after a thunder-storm, his scepticism would no longer have had room or time to exercise itself, and he would have felt the propriety of the Psalmist's painting, when he says -

"Jehovah sitteth on the rain-torrents,
Jehovah sitteth a King forever."

But the imagery of this Psalm is more beautiful and appropriate than is the moral application. To what end this painting of fearful power - of strength able to break through all obstacles, shiver the cedars and shake the mountains? All this might, so fearfully exemplified in the thunder, is exercised by Jehovah for His people. Every attribute of Jehovah is on their side. And the sweet calm which follows upon the thunder-storm - when the sun breaks through the dusky clouds and makes all nature smile again with renewed and heightened brightness - is not more brilliant and delightful than the pace with which Jehovah blesses those for whose sakes He has displayed the might of His arm.

"Jehovah to His people will give strength;"

Or,

"Jehovah for His people will display strength; 
Jehovah will bless His people with peace." 


II. The next passage wherein I shall attempt to examine the allusion to Jehovah, is in Psalm lxxii. 16, rendered in our version thus:-

"There shall be a handful of corn in the earth, 
Upon the top of the mountains;
The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon;
And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth."

The original words for "handful of corn" are rendered by Gesenius, "Abundance of corn" - deriving the word from the Arabic verb "to disperse," compared with a similar root in Chaldee and Hebrew. Though the Septuagint and Syriac are both obscure, they yet manifestly favour this rendering. And this being the meaning, I would understand the whole as a species of introverted parallelism, where the outside lines answer to one another, and the inside lines form a sort of parenthesis.

"There shall be abundance of corn in the earth,

Upon the top of the mountains;
The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon;

And they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth."

The earth is to be so thoroughly cultivated in Messiah's day, that there shall be corn on the very tops of the mountains, for "His fruit shall shake like Lebanon." It is, however, altogether worthy of enquiry, with what propriety Lebanon can be brought in to paint the extreme fertility and productiveness of the very tops of the hill, which is to signalize Messiah's day. The following passage of Volney may perhaps throw some light upon the subject:- "By dint of skill and labour, they have compelled a rocky soil to become fertile. Sometimes, to avail themselves of the waters, they have made a channel for them by means of a thousand windings, on the declivities, or have arrested them in the valleys by embankments. At other times, they have propped up the earth that was ready to roll down, by means of terraces and walls. Almost all the mountains being thus husbanded, present the appearance of a staircase, or of an amphitheatre, each tier of which is a row of vines or mulberry-trees. I have counted upon one declivity as many as a hundred, or a hundred and twenty tiers from the bottom of the valley to the top of the hill. I forgot for the moment that I was in Turkey."

The evidence of Volney is unexceptionable. For confirmation, however, I may add a sentence from another excellent observer: "We passed through a beautiful and romantic country, inhabited by the Maronites. The road was along the route of Libanus. The sides of the mountains are interspersed with numerous villages, around which the ground is highly cultivate, either with corn, vines, olive or mulberry-trees, the earth being supported by terraces, formed of dry masonry, having the appearance of the seats of an amphitheatre."

To understand the images taken from Mount Lebanon, it is necessary to remark, that four enclosures of mountains are described as rising one upon another. The first and lowest of these is described as rich in grain and fruits. The second is barren, being covered only with thorns, rocks, and flints. The third, though higher still, is blessed with a perpetual spring; the trees are always green. There are innumerable orchards laden with fruit, and it forms altogether a terrestrial paradise,

"Where fruits and blossoms blush,
In social sweetness, on the self-same bough."

The fourth, or highest ridge of all, is the region of perpetual snow. Now, the imagery in the 72nd Psalm is evidently taken from the first of these ridges of Lebanon, where (most probably following the ancient mode of cultivating) the monks of Lebanon, for they were the chief cultivators of the terraced soil, industriously husband every particle of productive earth. In the expressive words of Burckhardt, ""Every inch of ground is cultivated," - so that no image could have been more singularly expressive of the universal cultivation under Messiah's reign, than to say, that "His fruit shall shake like Lebanon;" or, understanding the psalmist to speak more figuratively, what moral landscape could those be painted more richly than he does when he intimates that those barren mountains of our world, which at present yield no fruit unto God, shall be cultivated in that day so industriously and so fully, that the fruit shall wave like the terraced corn-fields, or shake like the hanging mulberry-trees on the terraced heights of Lebanon.


III. My only other allusion from the Psalms is in Psalm xcii. 12, 14 -

"The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; 
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;
They shall be fat and flourishing."

Laying aside any inquiry as to the palm-tree, and laying aside the difficulty contained in the 13th verse, I have only to compare this description of the cedar in Lebanon with the accounts of those who have visited them in modern days. Without believing (as the Maronites or Christian inhabitants of the mountains do) that the seven very ancient cedars which yet remain in the neighbourhood of the village of Eden in Lebanon are the remains of the identical forest which furnished Solomon with timber for the temple, full three thousand years ago, they can yet be proved to be of very great antiquity. These very cedars were visited by Belonius in 1550, nearly three hundred years ago, who found them twenty-eight in number. Rawolf, in 1575, makes them twenty-four. Dandini, in 1600, and Thevenot about fifty years after, make them twenty-three. Maundrell, in 1696, found them reduced to sixteen. Pococke, in 1738, found fifteen standing, and a sixteenth recently blown down, or (may we not conjecture?) shivered by the voice of God. In 1810, Burckhardt counted eleven or twelve; and Dr Richardson, in 1818, states them to be no more than seven. There cannot be a doubt, then, that these cedars, which were esteemed ancient nearly three hundred years ago, must be of a very great antiquity; and yet they are described by the last of these travellers as "large, and tall, and beautiful, the most picturesque productions of the vegetable world that we had seen." The oldest are large and massy, rearing their heads to an enormous height, and spreading their branches afar. Pococke also remarks, that "the young cedars are not easily known from pines. I observed, they bear a greater quantity of fruit than the large ones." This shows that the old ones still bear fruit, though not so abundantly as the young cedars, which, according to Richardson, are very productive, and cast many seeds annually. How very appropriate, then, and full of meaning, is the imagery of the Psalmist -

"The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; 
He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They shall still bring forth fruit in old age;
They shall be fat and flourishing." 


IV. In the Song of Songs the allusions to Lebanon are very many, and of exquisite beauty. I am sorry that my time will suffer me only to glance at one in chap. iv. 8-15 :-

"Come with me from Lebanon, 
My spouse with me from Lebanon:
Look from the top of Amana,
from the top of Shenir and Hermon,
From the lion's dens,
From the mountains of the leopards."

It is evident here that the bridegroom is pressing the bride to quit Lebanon along with him, because of the dangers to be apprehended from the beasts of prey. He seems to bid her look from these dangerous heights down into the secure and pleasant vallies below, where many a delicious wilderness of flowers and fruits was visible. In the mountains above Canobin, tigers are said to be frequently met with. I suppose, says Burckhardt, ounces are meant. Speaking of some sepulchres cut in the limestone mountains opposite Saide (ancient Sidon), Hasselquist says, a great part of them are now open, and serve for huts form shepherds, or dens for wild beasts. And, lastly, we have the story of Thammuz -

"Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate
In amorous ditties all a summer's day:
While smooth Adonis, from his native rock,
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded."

These testimonies show the propriety with which Lebanon is described as dangerous from wild beasts. Looking from the summits of the hills, the view, as described by travellers, is exquisite in the extreme. Every valley seems cultivated like a garden, watered by numberless fountains and rivulets, such as the scene to which the bridegroom points the eye of the spouse. By a fine turn of thought, he immediately breaks out into a comparison of his beloved to one of these gardens :-

"A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse - 
A spring shut up - a fountain sealed.
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates,
With pleasant fruits, camphire, and spikenard,
Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
With all trees of frankincense;
Myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices;
A fountain of gardens,
A well of living waters,
And streams from Lebanon."

I have not now leisure to show, from modern travellers, the immense variety of fruit, and flower, and aromatic shrubs, with which the vales of Lebanon are enriched. The village of Eden and the Convent of Canobin might alone give illustration of this remarkable passage. On the last verse alone do I offer a remark. The spouse is compared to three kinds of fountains - (1.) To a fountain of gardens; an artificial fountain, so distributed that it supplies more than one garden, or different parts of the same garden. (2.) To a well of living waters; a fresh springing well to supply the fountain. And (3.) To streams from Lebanon, rivulets constantly descending from the snow of Lebanon, and subterraneously supplying the well of living waters. This is a most precise and accurate description of a great number of the garden-fountains at the foot of Mount Libanus. Of the first, the garden of Fahkr-el-din, near Tyre, gives a good example. "The walls are shaded with orange-trees of a large spreading size, and all of so fine a growth that one cannot imagine anything more perfect in their kind. Every one of these lesser squares was bordered with stone; and in the stone work were troughs, very artificially contrived, for conveying the water all over the garden, there being little outlets at every tree for all the stream as it passes by to flow out and water it." Ras-el-ayin, where are Solomon's cisterns, may illustrate the whole passage. "There are three cisterns entire at this day; one about a furlong and a half from the sea, the other two a little further up. The former is of an octagonal figure, twenty-two yards in diameter. Upon the brink of it you have a walk round, eight feet broad, from which, descending, you have another walk twenty feet broad. The whole vessel contains a vast body of excellent water, and is so well supplied from its fountain, that, though there issues from it a stream like a brook during four miles, yet it is always brimful. On the east side of this cistern was the ancient outlet of the water by an aqueduct, raised about sixty yards from the ground, and containing a channel one yard wide.

"The fountain of these waters is as unknown as the author of them. It is certain, from their rising so high, that they must be brought from some part of the mountains, which are about a league distant; and it is as certain that the work was well done at first, seeing it performs its office at so great a distance of time. Hasselquist is probably right in concluding that the water which fills these reservoirs comes from subterranean springs, and rises in their bottoms, as it does in the birkets, or reservoirs, in the road from Damascus to Jacob's Bridge. Are we to suppose the source fictitious, and formed by a subterranean canal drawn from the mountains? But why not have brought the cistern to the rock itself? It is a more simple explanation to suppose it natural, and to conclude that advantage has been taken of one of these ancient or subterranean rivers, of which Syria presents numerous instances. The idea of imprisoning this stream to make it re-ascend and gain its level, is worthy of the Phoenicians." (Modern Travels in Syria, p. 36.)

Such, then, in some degree, is the image by which the bridegroom portrays the bride; and in reflecting upon it, it is hardly possible to resist the risings of imagination when we remember that the bridegroom is the Saviour, and the bride the Church of the Redeemed. The subterranean streams from Lebanon answer so well to the unseen supplies of grace, and the well of living waters to the living water which is in the believer springing up unto everlasting life, and the fountain of gardens to the fertilizing stream of love and of good works wherewith He nourishes and diffuses His good things to all around, that we may be pardoned for thus laying aside for a moment the severity of sober criticism to indulge the dream of a not unholy imagination.


Footnotes

1. That Zion was known to the Israelites before they reached Canaan, if not by name, at least as a holy mountain, see passages as Exod. xv. 17. "Thou shalt bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place which Thou has made for them to dwell in, in the sanctuary which Thy hands have established.

2. The original Hebrew words are given in the M.S. throughout.


HTML transcription copyright © 1997-1998 David Frank Haslam

Page last updated 2002-06-10

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  • Lebanon in the Bible is a very nice web-page posted by Michael Antoun, an engineering graduate from the Oklahoma State University.
    This includes a couple of quotations taken from this exegetical essay by M'Cheyne.

Sermon Title Text
The Impressions of Natural Men Hosea 6:2
The Good Way of Coming Before the Lord Micah 6:6-8
Why is God a Stranger in the Land? Jeremiah 14:8,9.
What have I to do any more with idols? Hosea 14:8.
A Castaway 1 Corinthians 9:26-27
Our duty to Israel Romans 1:16
Songs of Zion (14 M'Cheyne Poems) Poems
Though Baxter's Lips Poem
Lebanon - its scenery and allusions Essay