God’s Purpose for Lebanon






Ian Shaw



(This is a summary of a message preached at a meeting of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony on 28th February, 2012. It was recorded and can be downloaded from the SGAT website; also cassettes and CDs are available. We would strongly recommend friends to listen to the recording of the whole message, as, in this brief article, it has not been possible to include all that was said).



In the series this year on the theme of Bible Lands in Bible Light, our subject is God’s Purpose for Lebanon.



Consider the words of a traveller.  In prose:-



The sun was about to set, but it was half smothered with clouds; and the quiet of the afternoon, though very acceptable in itself, was rather ominous.  It was strange to lie oppressed with heat in this low sheltered nook, and yet to see above us the un-melted snows of the mountain.  Down here all summer is around us, while winter sits up yonder!’ 



In poetry:-



Now upon Syria’s land of roses

Softly the light of Eve reposes,

And, like a glory, the broad sun

Hangs over sainted Lebanon;



Whose head in wintry grandeur towers,

And whitens with eternal sleet,

While summer, in a vale of flowers,

Is sleeping rosy at his feet.



So wrote Dr Horatius Bonar in the spring of 1857 while he was visiting Lebanon.  While being used to the constantly changing seasons of Scotland, he was captivated by the fact that summer in the valley in Lebanon was in direct and constant contrast to coexistence of winter on the mountains, evidenced by, not just pockets of snow as would be normal to him, but by an unrelenting covering of the same.



When people go to a country they return with photographs and enthusiasm concerning things seen and experienced.  I have never visited Lebanon, and until preparing for this message I have not considered Lebanon in any great depth.



Lebanon Today



In this day and age Lebanon is constantly in the news.  At present it is receiving refugees from neighbouring Syria, but there is no doubt that each of us could recount some story of unrest in Lebanon from over the past 30 years.



Lebanon is a country on the east coast of the Mediterranean.  It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and by Israel to the south.  Its location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean basin and the Arabian hinterland has dictated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.



Physically, Lebanon has four main areas, laid out like the fingers of a hand - (1) The Mediterranean coast, (2) The Lebanon mountains (West), (3) The Beqaa Valley, and (4) The Anti-Lebanon mountains (East).  Both mountain ranges run parallel to the sea, and the snow on both ranges can be seen from space, with the most famous mountain being Mount Herman at a height of 9232 feet.



The cities of Lebanon are both modem and ancient; the modem - Beirut (the capital and largest city) and Tripoli; and the ancient, with which we are probably more familiar ‑ Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Baalbek, Ugarit and Sarepta (or Zarephath).



Now officially known as the Republic of Lebanon, the country is divided into five provinces along ethnic and religious lines.  The name ‘Lebanon’ comes from the Semitic root meaning ‘white,’ which is a likely reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon; and in 47BC Julius Caesar proclaimed it ‘Lub Naan’ meaning white land.  Its triple-striped flag (white between red) features a green cedar tree in its centre - the biblical cedar of Lebanon.  It has three official languages: a Lebanese dialect of Arabic, French and Armenian.  In 2011 it had a population of 4.14 million covering an area of 4036 square miles, with 87% of the population living in urban areas.  It gained independence from France in 1943 and is rich financially, having the highest gold reserve in the Middle East.  Until recently it has had a strong Christian tradition and influence, with the two main religions known as Maronite and Druze.



The Civil War, which ranged from 1975 till 1990, has left the country ravaged in many ways, including physically, in its infrastructure; in its financial income – due to a lack of tourists; and morally, as the religious balance has changed.



Today it is not a peaceful country.  It is strongly influenced by Iran; has many terrorist groups; and south of the Litani river, it is understood that it has over 50,000 missiles aimed at Israel.  It is not a land of peace.



Lebanon in Scripture



Most of the references in the Bible to Lebanon have connections with King Solomon.  He had a life-long association with Lebanon.  Take, for example, the Song of Solomon 4: 1-16 in which the Beloved describes his love, a type of our Lord describing His bride.  In this portrayal a beautiful place is described to try to convey to us this glorious picture - the place Solomon is describing is Lebanon.  It is a place the Beloved desires to be (4:8).  It is a place He desires to share with His loved one (4:8).  It is a place of lofty grandeur with high mountains (4:8).  It is a place of freedom where wild animals roam (4:8).  It is a place where there are beautiful, rich, strong aromas (4:11).  It is a place like a fruitful garden (4: 12-14).  It is a place which has cool refreshing streams (4:15).



In reciprocal fashion when the Lover describes her beloved, she also refers to Lebanon.  It is a place of beauty (5:15).  It is a place which is home to the excellent cedars (5:15).  It is a place which had a famous tower (7:4).



The name of ‘Lebanon’ is mentioned 70 times in the Bible in 16 different books, but if places like Tyre and Sidon are included there would be over 150 references in the Scriptures.



Lebanon was part of the land promised to Israel for their inheritance – Deuteronomy 1:7; 3:25; 11:24; Joshua 1: 4.  It was described as That goodly mountain, and Lebanon’ (3: 25).



Lebanon joined in a northern confederacy against Joshua and the people of Israel - Joshua 9: 1; 12: 7.  As worshippers of Baal, they were opposed to Jehovah and His people.  The name of the ancient city, Baalbek suggests that the people were worshippers of the god, Baal, and, in fact, we read in Joshua 12: 7 of ‘Baal gad in the valley of Lebanon.’  One of the defeated groups was that of the ‘Hivites’ who actually dwelt in Mount Lebanon living in ‘Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath’ (Judges 13).



Lebanon was a place concerning which God promised He would drive out the inhabitants (Joshua 13: 6).



Lebanon is mentioned in two parables of the Old Testament.  In Judges 9:15 - ‘And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’  Then in 2 Kings 14: 9, ‘And Jehoash the King of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle.’



As we have already seen, Solomon had a strong tie with Lebanon.  He spoke of the cedars of Lebanon (1 Kings 4: 33).  He removed the cedars of Lebanon for his own use in his home and in the Temple (1 Kings 5: 6), even using the wood for his chariot (Song of Solomon 19).  He spoke of the skill of the Sidonians as workers of timber (1 Kings 5: 6).  He used the coastal route from Lebanon to float the timber to Israel (1 Kings 5: 9). Solomon had his own workers in Lebanon on shift work; 10,000 men a month, working one month on, two months off (1 Kings 5: 14).  He also built ‘The House of the Forest of Lebanon’ (1 Kings 7: 2).  He put 200 shields of gold in this house (1 Kings 10: 17).  He also put in an elaborate ivory throne, the like of which had not been seen in any kingdom, and had all the vessels of this house made of pure gold (1 Kings 10: 18-21). He used fragrances of Lebanon (Song of Solomon 4:11; Hosea 14: 6-7).  He spoke of the streams of Lebanon (Song of Solomon 4: 15) being cool because of melted snow (Jeremiah 18: 14).  He had the masts of ships made from the cedars of Lebanon (Ezekiel 27: 5).  He drank wine from Lebanon (Hosea 14: 7) Solomon had a long association with Hiram king of Tyre as a good part of inland Lebanon was in fact part of David and Solomon’s kingdom.



There are some interesting references to Lebanon in the Psalms.  The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon’ (29: 5).  However strong these cedars are, we are reminded that there is greater power in the Lord’s voice.  There shall be an 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’ (72: 16). This psalm is not only about Solomon but it speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a millennial psalm and reminds us of God's power bringing blessing to the earth when the Saviour will manifestly reign.  The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon’ (92: 12). These cedars are tall and distinctive with branches going out straight, so here is encouragement for every believer.  The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted’ (104: 16).  This verse emphasises the fact of the power of God bringing blessing to His people.



In the Prophetical Books, there are many references, some of which we shall consider later.



When we turn to the New Testament, we find, in Mark 7: 24-30, the story of the exorcism of the Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter in Tyre and Sidon.  She was of Syrian and Phoenician extraction, but although she was not an Israelite, when she spoke to the Lord about the crumbs falling from the master’s table, it brought forth this commendation, ‘0 woman, great is thy faith’ (Matthew 15: 21-28).



Mark 3:8 tells us that, after the Pharisees and Herodians had a counsel to destroy our Lord (verse 6), Jesus withdrew Himself with His disciples and great multitudes followed them, of whom were they from Tyre and Sidon.  Then Luke 6:13-17 states that after the Lord chose the twelve apostles great multitudes again followed Him, of whom were those ‘from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon’ who ‘came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases.’  So there were obviously believing people in this country.



Acts 12: 20-22 says, ‘And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon.’  His displeasure brought his demise.



It was not a land of peace but had a season of peaceful visits during the ministry of our Lord.



Lebanon in History



There is clear evidence of a very early civilisation in Lebanon dating back 6000 years.



The city of Byblos on the northern coast is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.



Due to its mountainous topography Lebanon was not suitable for agricultural use.  This being the case, the indigenous peoples became a seafaring nation.  The Phoenicians were the most successful of these maritime cultures and, as a civilisation, they flourished for 2500 years between 3000 and 539 BC.  They became renowned throughout the Mediterranean as ship builders, seamen and, more specifically, merchants.  They established trade centres all across Northern Africa, each of these being approximately 30 miles apart, the distance of a comfortable day’s sailing, as they preferred to disembark and spend the night on land.  The most famous of their centres was at Carthage, where one of their most famous sons was Hannibal Barka, the scourge of Rome.



One of the most prominent settlements in Lebanon was the island state of Tyre, which successfully held out against Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army for thirteen years.  Some time later they succumbed to Alexander the Great after his eight month siege, and he then made the island into part of the mainland by building a causeway.



The location and size of Lebanon meant that, throughout history, it was continuously being attacked by and absorbed into all of the empires of the world, such as Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Arabia, Seljuk, Mamluk, Crusader and Ottoman. It was not a land of peace.



Lebanon in Prophecy



This brings us to the ultimate purpose of the Lord.  The Scriptures at which we now look are prophecies yet to be fulfilled.



A Sinister Aim: Satan, whose aims have always been directly opposed to the Lord’s will, is seen in Isaiah 10:34.  The antichrist will seek to destroy Lebanonin that day’ - and previous verses in the chapter (3, 12, 17, 20, 27) make clear which day that will be.  Verse 5 refers to the antichrist, described as the ‘Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger.’  This chapter has rightly been called ‘history in advance.’



A Time of Judgment:-



After the Second Advent of the Lord there will be a judgment, in which certain cities which did not repent at the mighty works of the Lord, will be judged with greater judgment than the two named cities of Lebanon (Tyre and Sidon) in Matthew 11: 20-22.  Surely a timely warning for all today to take heed!



Millennial Glories of the Land:-



As in the days of Joshua the land was divided amongst the twelve tribes of Israel, so our Greater Joshua will give the land of Lebanon to His redeemed and restored people Israel.  We read in Hosea 14: 4-7, that Israel will enjoy the glories of Lebanon and the rest of the people within Israel shall enjoy their inheritance in a similar manner.  Then from Zechariah 10:10, we learn that Israel will be restored to her own land, the northern part of which will be Lebanon.  The land will be divided at this northern extreme as stated in Ezekiel 48. During the Millennium Lebanon will rightly take her place as part of the inheritance of Israel, and will be home to, at least, the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naphtali.



When the King comes to receive His Kingdom and to reign in righteousness (Psalm 72) then ‘The righteous shall grow like Lebanon,’ (Psalm 92:12).  This psalm has been called the Righteous One’s Sabbath of Song, anticipating final rest and prosperity.  In the Talmud, this psalm is entitled ‘For the Future Age, all of which shall be a Sabbath.’  Also for the land itself, The LORD shall turn Lebanon into a fruitful field and the deaf, the blind and the meek shall increase their joy (Isaiah 29: 17-19).



The earth with all of its unproductive areas will then produce her increase as the glory of Lebanon will be given to all the desert places and above all they shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God. ‘The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God’ (Isaiah 35: 1-2; see also Isaiah 60: 12-13).



The whole earth is at rest and is quiet.  They break forth into singing, yea the fir trees rejoice at thee and the cedars of Lebanon (Isaiah 14:7-8).



Then, Lebanon will be a land of peace enjoying the ultimate purpose of the Lord.