Dwelling in tents was very general in ancient times among Eastern nations, Ge 4:20; their way of life being pastoral, locomotion became necessary for pasturage, and dwellings adapted for such a life became indispensable, Isa 38:12. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt in tents, Ge 18:1; Heb 11:9; and on the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, throughout their peregrinations until they obtained the promised land, and to some extent afterwards, they adopted the same kind of habitation. See BOOTHS. Hence the expression. "Every man to his tents, O Israel," etc.,
Jg 7:8; 2Sa 20:1; 2Ki 8:21. Indeed, the people of the East, men, women, and children, lived very much in the open air, as is obvious from the New Testament narratives. And the same is true of them at the present day. The Midianites, the Philistines, the Syrains, the descendants of Ham, the Hagarites, and the Cushanites are mentioned in Scripture as living in tents. But the people most remarkable for this unsettled and wandering mode of life are the Arabs, who from the time of Ishmael to the present have continued the custom of dwelling in tents. Amid the revolutions which have transferred kingdoms from one possessor to another , these wandering tribes still dwell in tents, unsubdued and wild as was their progenitor. This kind of dwelling is not, however, confined to the Arabs, but is used throughout the continent of Asia. The word tent is formed from the Latin, "to stretch;" tents being usually made of canvas stretched out, and sustained by poles with cords secured to pegs driven into the ground. The "nail of the tent" with which Jael pierced the head of Sisera was such a tent-pin, Jg 4:21. See also Isa 33:20; 40:22; 54:2. The house of God, and heaven, are spoken of in Scripture as the tent or tabernacle of Jehovah, Ps 15:1; 61:4; 84:1; Heb 8:2; 9:11; and the body as the tabernacle of the soul, taken down by death, 2Co 5:1; 2Pe 1:13. Says Lord Lindsay, "There is something very melancholy in our morning flitting. The tent-pins are plucked up, and in a few minutes a dozen holes, a heap or two of ashes, and the marks of the camels' knees in the sand, soon to be obliterated, are the only traces left of what has been for a while our home." "Often," says M'Cheyne, "we found ourselves shelterless before being fully dressed. What a type of the tent of our body! Ah, how often is it taken down before the soul is made meet for the inheritance of he saints in light." A tent is also put for its inmates, Hab 3:7; Zec 12:7.
Tents are of various colors; black, as tents of Kedar, Ps 120:5; Song 1:5; red, as of scarlet cloth; yellow, as of gold shining brilliantly; white, as of canvas. They are also of various shapes; some circular, others of an oblong figure, not unlike the bottom of a ship turned upside down. In Syria, the tents are generally made of cloth of goats' hair, woven by women, Ex 35:26. Those of the Arabs are of black goats' hair. Some other nations adopt the same kind, but it is not common. The Egyptian and Moorish inhabitants of Askalon are said to use white tents; and D'Arvieux mentions that the tent of an Arab emir he visited was distinguished from the rest by its being of white cloth. An Arab sheikh will have a number of tents, of himself, his family, servants, and visitors; as in patriarchal times Jacob had separate tents for himself, for Leah, Rachel, and their maids, Ge 31:33; Jg 4:17. Usually, however, one tent suffices for a family; being divided, if large, into several apartments by curtains.
(1.) Heb 'ohel (Ge 9:21,27). This word is used also of a dwelling or habitation (1Ki 8:66; Isa 16:5; Jer 4:20), and of the temple (Eze 41:1). When used of the tabernacle, as in 1Ki 1:39, it denotes the covering of goat's hair which was placed over the mishcan.
(2.) Heb mishcan (Song 1:8), used also of a dwelling (Job 18:21; Ps 87:2), the grave (Isa 22:16; comp. Isa 14:18), the temple (Ps 46:4; 84:2; 132:5), and of the tabernacle (Ex 25:9; 26:1; 40:9; Nu 1:50,53; 10:11). When distinguished from 'ohel, it denotes the twelve interior curtains which lay upon the framework of the tabernacle (q.v.).
(3.) Heb kubbah (Nu 25:8), a dome-like tent devoted to the impure worship of Baal-peor.
Jubal was "the father of such as dwell in tents" (Ge 4:20). The patriarchs were "dwellers in tents" (Ge 9:21,27; 12:8; 13:12; 26:17); and during their wilderness wanderings all Israel dwelt in tents (Ex 16:16; De 33:18; Jos 7:24). Tents have always occupied a prominent place in Eastern life (1Sa 17:54; 2Ki 7:7; Ps 120:5; Song 1:5). Paul the apostle's occupation was that of a tent-maker (Ac 18:3); i.e., perhaps a maker of tent cloth.
ohel, "tabernacle "; mishkan, "dwelling"; sukkak, "booth"; qubbah, "recess" (Nu 25:8). The characteristic dwelling of the keepers of cattle, the nomadic races, of whom Jabal was the father (Ge 4:20). The stay of Israel in Egypt weaned them from tent life and trained them for their fixed home in Canaan. The pastoral tribes Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh, still in part retained the tent life E. of Jordan (Jos 22:8). The phrase "to your tents, O Israel," remained as a trace of the former nomadic state, when the nation was no longer so (1Ki 12:16). Agriculture was sometimes associated with tent life, as in Isaac's case (Ge 26:12), and probably in Heber's case (Jg 4:11-22). Hazerim (De 2:23) is not a proper name, but means nomadic "villages" or "enclosures," a piece of ground surrounded with a rude fence, in which tents were pitched and cattle tethered at night for safety from marauders; or as the Yezidee tent in Syria, a stone wall five feet high, roofed with goats' hair cloth raised on long poles.
So Hazar-adder in the S. and Hazar-erran in the N. (Nu 34:4,9.) Some tents are circular, resting on one central pole; others square on several poles. The better kind are oblong, and divided by a curtain into an outer apartment for the males and an inner one for the females. Hooks are fixed in the poles to hang articles on (Isa 22:23-24). To the rain-proof goats' hair covering a cloth is sewn or twisted round a stick, to the ends of which are tied leather loops.
To these loops one end of the tent ropes is fastened, the other being tied to a hooked sharp pin of wood which they drive into the ground with a mallet; such a nail and mallet Jael used (Jg 4:21). The patriarchs' wives had separate tents (Ge 24:67; 31:33). The beauty of Israel's orderly and wide encampment by the four parallel brooks running westward into Jordan is compared to trees in rows in beautiful gardens, such as Balaam had seen along his own river Euphrates (Nu 24:5-6). The quickness and ease with which tents can be struck, leaving their tenants without covering in the lonely desert, is Paul's image for the speedy dissolution of our mortal body, preparatory to our abiding resurrection home (2Co 5:1).
Apart from the traditions of the patriarchs as 'quiet' men, 'dwelling in tents' (Ge 25:27 Revised Version margin), the settled Hebrews preserved a reminder of their nomad ancestry in such phrases as 'going to one's tent' for to 'go home' (Jg 19:9), and in the recurring call, 'to thy tents (i.e. to your homes), O Israel' (1Ki 12:16 etc.). For an interesting case of adherence to the 'nomadic Ideal' on religious grounds, see Rechabites.
The Hebrew tent, even in later days, cannot have differed much from the simple Bedouin tent of to-day, made by sewing together strips of the native goats' hair cloth (cf. Song 1:5 'I am black as the tents of Kedar'). These 'curtains' (Jer 4:20; Ex 26:2 and oft.) are held up by poles, generally 9 in number, arranged in three rows of three, and 6
1. The word commonly translated 'tent' is ohel, but it is often translated in the A.V. 'tabernacle,' and is used also for 'dwelling' or 'habitation,' as in Job 8:22; Ps 91:10; etc. This word also shows that the goats' hair curtains formed 'the tent' of the tabernacle. See TABERNACLE. It was also 'a tent' that Moses pitched outside the camp, in Ex 33:7. See CAMP.
2. mishkan, rightly translated 'tabernacle' but is 'tent' in Cant. 1:8.
3. sukkah also translated 'tabernacle,' 'pavilion,' 'booth;' and only once 'tent.' 2Sa 11:11.
4. qubbah, occurring only in Nu 25:8. With the patriarchs their 'tent' was their dwelling place as far as they had any, easily moved from place to place as the cattle needed fresh pasture. On Israel entering the land the tents gave way to houses in the cities: as the Christian's 'tabernacle' will give place to the 'house' above. 2Co 5:1.
Among the leading characteristics of the nomad races, those two have always been numbered whose origin has been ascribed to Jabal the son of Lameth,
viz., to be tent-dwellers and keepers of cattle. The same may be said of the forefathers of the Hebrew race; nor was it until the return into Canaan from Egypt that the Hebrews became inhabitants of cities. An Arab tent is called beit, "house;" its covering consists of stuff, about three quarters of a yard broad, made of black goat's-hair,
laid parallel with the tent's length. This is sufficient to resist the heaviest rain. The tent-poles or columns are usually nine in number, placed in three groups; but many tents have only one pole, others two or three. The ropes which hold the tent in its place are fastened, not to the tent-cover itself, but to loops consisting of a leathern thong tied to the ends of a stick, round which is twisted a piece of old cloth, which is itself sewed to the tent-cover. The ends of the tent-ropes are fastened to short sticks or pins, which are driven into the ground with a mallet.
Round the back and sides of the tent runs a piece of stuff removable at pleasure to admit air. The tent is divided into two apartments, separated by a carpet partition drawn across the middle of the tent and fastened to the three middle posts. When the pasture near an encampment is exhausted, the tents are taken down, packed on camels and removed.
In choosing places for encampment, Arabs prefer the neighborhood of trees, for the sake of the shade and coolness which they afford.