While the verse “my father dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 2:15) is not only the shortest verse in the entire Book of Mormon, it is perhaps one of the most revealing. Take, as an example, for a Jew or Arab to use such a phrase, he is telling you a great deal about the person. Even today there are two types of Arabs or Jews, those that live in the cities and villages, and those that live in tents in the desert—those that live in durable buildings and those that do not, but live in tents. City dwelling Jews and Arabs are stationary, living in one place all their lives, carving out a living through farming or some other type of service, such as being a merchant in the city, selling and providing products and items from other places brought through on camel caravans, or produce bought from farmers and resold in the city.
Regarding occupations in the Old Testament time period as well as in the Book of Mormon, there were also stonemasons, metalsmiths, architects, builders, craftsmen, artisans, stonecutters, carpenters, woodcarvers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, glass workers, potters, leather workers, weavers, and fullers (the latter worked with both old and new cloth). And for those outside the city, but living in permanent houses, such as Lehi, were farmers, herders, shepherds, and fishermen. Many of these latter performed their roles at a distance, and traveled back to Jerusalem where they sold their products or food items in the local markets.
After all, Joseph, Mary’s husband, was a carpenter, and Paul, the Apostle, a tentmaker, while John, James and Andrew were fishermen, and Matthew a tax collector. In addition, many both bond and free were laborers, and others, like Zoram were slaves and servants—some of these were so highly valued they were called cupbearers. There were inn keepers, cooks and workers, and some women worked as midwives and nurses. In government there were diplomats, ambassadors, senators, governors, deputies, counselors, interpreters and messengers, as well as record-keepers, secretaries and lawyers. In the military there were officers, soldiers, and armor-bearers. There were also dancers, musicians, poets, advisors, astrologers, professional mourners and fortunetellers, while in religion there were priests, gatekeepers, temple workers and guards. Of course, there were unskilled workers who were often poor and did difficult jobs like mining, cutting rocks, digging wells, building roads, cleaning streets, training and driving camels, loading and unloading goods along trade routes, working as a crew member or rower on a boat, and tending and harvesting crops.
“My father dwelt in a tent,” is a quick, precise statement by Nephi to let the reader know that Lehi had changed his entire way of life from being a wealth merchant or trader or some other type of permanent businessman to becoming a nomad, living a mobile life of movement and change.
The fact that Lehi had tents at a time when no one would have had such items in Jerusalem—for the Jews traveled by spending nights in the shelter of caves along the way, in fact, the area from Galilee to Qumran and the Dead Sea is full of caves in Israel, with some 500 recently discovered in modern times, many of which were used during the time of refuge during the Nazi occupation of World War II (comprehensive survey conducted under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority). In fact, the ancient cult occupied caves at Qumran that became popular through the Dead Sea Scrolls.
At last count Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority claim Israel’s caves number in the thousands, and numerous ones are recommended even today for finding cool climes during the summer
As a wealthy man, Lehi would have traveled in style as the sheik of his domain. These tents were cool in the summer and warm and dry in the winter thanks to the fact that goat hair separates slightly in heat to allow breezes through and closes off in cold to form a waterproof outer covering.
Top: A sheik’s comfortable tent where one could spent days, weeks, even months comfortably equipped; Bottom: The women’s quarters of the tent, separated by rugs and blankets from the main section and usually a third section or room
If Lehi was a trader, meeting along the King’s highway the various Frankincense caravans that passed below Jerusalem as some historians believe, he would have had not only tents, but well equipped tents for lengthy stays while waiting for a caravan whose passing was periodical during certain times of the year, but not like some type of train schedule. In so doing, he would have had his sons with him and they, too, would have developed experience in living in the wilderness or desert for periods of time.
Lehi and his sons would have stopped the Frankincense caravans for trade. Such occupations were always profitable and it was to the desert that Jerusalem’s occupants always looked for wealth
This type of occupation, of course,would give reason for Lehi to be prepared to leave his home and move into the wilderness with a moment’s notice—in fact, he may already have been planning such a trip when the Lord commanded him to do so. It also would explain why he would have such equipment and supplies to enact such a quick evacuation, and why he would not be taking his riches since they would do him no good in the desert, and might even draw undue attention to him and his small group by thieves and marauders. And it certainly would explain why he knew Egyptian, dealing with the Egyptian traders along the Frankincense trail, and no doubt taking supplies and trade items into Egypt for his expanded trading enterprise, and also why he was well familiar with desert travel and the routes between Jerusalem and Egypt (as far as Ezion-Geber at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba).