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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Tent

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'Ôhel (אֹהֶל, Strong's #168), “tent; home; dwelling; habitation.” Cognates of this word appear in Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Arabic. It appears about 343 times in biblical Hebrew and in all periods.

First, this word refers to the mobile structure called a “tent.” This is its meaning in Gen. 4:20: “And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle.” These are what nomadic Bedouins normally live in. “Tents” can also be used as housing for animals: “They smote also the tents of cattle [NASB, “those who owned”], and carried away sheep and camels in abundance …” (2 Chron. 14:15). Soldiers lived in “tents” during military campaigns (1 Sam. 17:54). A “tent” was pitched on top of a house so everyone could see that Absalom went in to his father’s concubines (2 Sam. 16:22). This constituted an open rejection of David’s dominion and a declaration that he (Absalom) was claiming the throne.

Second, the word is a synonym for “home, dwelling,” and “habitation.” This emphasis is especially evident in Judg. 19:9: “… Behold, the day groweth to an end, lodge here, that thine heart may be merry; and tomorrow get you early on your way, that thou mayest go home.” This meaning appears in the phrase “to your tents”: “We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel” (2 Sam. 20:1). The “tabernacle” (“tent”) of David, therefore, is his dwelling place or palace (Isa. 16:5). Similarly, the “tabernacle” (“tent”) of the daughter of Zion is Israel’s capital, or what Israel inhabits— Jerusalem (Lam. 2:4).

Third, 'ôhel may represent those who dwell in the dwellings of a given area or who form a unit of people. Thus the “tents” of Judah are her inhabitants: “The Lord also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah” (Zech. 12:7; cf. Ps. 83:6).

Bedouin “tents” today (as in the past) are constructed of strong black cloth of woven goat’s hair. They are shaped variously. The women pitch them by stretching the cloth over poles and tying it down with cords of goat’s hair or hemp. Wooden mallets are used to drive the tent pegs into the ground (Judg. 4:21). Sometimes the structure is divided in order to separate families or to separate animals from people (2 Chron. 14:15). The back of the “tent” is closed and the front open. The door is made by turning back the fold where the two ends of the cloth meet (Gen. 18:1). The “tent” and all its contents are transported on the back of a single pack animal. Richer people cover the floor with mats of various materials. A chief or sheikh may have several “tents”—one for himself and his guest(s), another for his wives and other females in his immediate family, and still another for the animals (Gen. 31:33).

Before the construction of the tabernacle Moses pitched a “tent” outside the camp (Exod. 33:7). There he met with God. The “tent” outside the camp persisted as a living institution for only a short period after the construction of the tabernacle and before the departure from Sinai (Num. 11:16ff.; 12:4ff.). Eventually the ark of the covenant was moved into the tabernacle (Exod. 40:21) where the Lord met with Moses and spoke to Israel (Exod. 29:42). This structure is called the tent of meeting inasmuch as it contained the ark of the covenant and the tables of testimony (Num. 9:15). As the tent of meeting it was the place where God met with His people through Moses (or the high priest) and revealed His will to them (1 Sam. 2:22).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Tent'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/t/tent.html. 1940.

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