tent ('ohel; skene; 'ohel is a derivative of 'ahal, "to be clear," "to shine"; hence, 'ohel, "to be conspicuous from a distance"):
In the great stretches of uncultivated lands in the interior of Syria or Arabia, which probably have much the same aspect today as in Abraham's time, it is an easy matter to espy an encampment of roving Bedouin, "a nation .... that dwelleth without care .... that have neither gates nor bars" (Jeremiah 49:31). The peaks of their black (compare Song of Solomon 1:5) goats' hair tents stand out in contrast against the lighter colors of the soil.
There seems to be little doubt about the antiquity of the Arab tent, and one can rightly believe that-the dwelling-places of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and their descendants were made on the same pattern and of the same materials (Genesis 4:20; 9:27; 12:8; 13:3; 18:6; 31:25,30; Psalms 78:55; Hebrews 11:9, etc.). Long after the children of Israel had given up their tents for houses they continued to worship in tents (2 Samuel 7:1-6; 2 Chronicles 1:3,4) (for the use of tents in connection with religious observances see TABERNACLE).
The Arab tents (called bait sha`r, "house of hair") are made of strips of black goats' hair cloth, sewed together into one large piece (see GOATS' HAIR; WEAVING). Poles are placed under this covering at intervals to hold it from the ground, and it is stretched over these poles by ropes of goats hair or hemp (compare Job 4:21; Isaiah 54:2; Jeremiah 10:20) "fastened to hard-wood pins driven into the ground (Isaiah 54:2; Judges 4:21; 5:26). A large wooden mallet for driving the pegs is part of the regular camp equipment (Judges 4:21; 5:26). The sides (curtains) of the tent (Isaiah 54:2) are made of strips of goats hair cloth or from mats woven from split cane or rushes (see Illustration, p. 2948). Where more than one family occupies the same tent or the animals are provided with shelter under the same roof (compare 2 Chronicles 14:15), curtains of the same materials mentioned above form the dividing walls. A corner of the matting where two ends meet is turned back to form the door of the tent (Genesis 18:1). In the summer time the walls are mostly removed. New tents are not water-proof, and the condition of the interior after a heavy rain is not far from squalid. The tent material becomes matted by use, especially if wool has been woven into the fabric, and is then a better protection against the rain. It is the women's duty to pitch the tents.
The poorer Arabs have no mats to cover the ground under their tents. Straw mats, goats' hair or woolen rugs (compare Judges 4:18), more or less elaborate as the taste and means of the family allow, are the usual coverings for the tent floor. The food supplies are usually kept in goats' hair bags, the liquids, as oil or milk products, in skins. One or two tinned copper cooking-vessels, a shallow tray of the same material, a coffee set consisting of roasting pan, mortar and pestle, boiling-pot and cups, make up the usual camp furniture. The more thrifty include bedding in their equipment, but this increases the difficulties of moving, since it might require more than the one animal, sometimes only a donkey, which carries all the earthly belongings of the family. A sheikh or chief has several tents, one for himself and guests, separate ones for his wives and female servants, and still others for his animals (compare Genesis 31:33).
Other Hebrew words translated "tent" are forms of chanah (Numbers 13:19; 1 Samuel 17:53; 2 Kings 7:16; 2 Chronicles 31:2; Zechariah 14:15); cukkah (2 Samuel 11:11; 22:12); mishkenoth (Song of Solomon 1:8).
"Neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there" typified utter desolation (Isaiah 13:20). "Enlarge the place of thy tent .... stretch forth the curtains .... lengthen thy cords .... strengthen thy stakes" prophesied an increase in numbers and prosperity of God's people (Isaiah 54:2; compare 33:20; Luke 16:9; 2 Corinthians 5:4). Tent cords plucked up denoted death. (Job 4:21). Jeremiah 10:20 is a picture of a destroyed household as applied to Judah. Hezekiah in his sickness bewails that his dwelling (life) had been carried away as easily as a shepherd's tent is plucked up (Isaiah 38:12). Isaiah compared the heavens to a tent spread out (Isaiah 40:22). "They shall pitch their tents against her" i.e. they shall make war (Jeremiah 6:3).
James A. Patch