Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why Did Lehi Have Tents?

The tents of Lehi's day were not simple pup tents or camper tents of our time, as was shown in a drawing in the Ensign Magazine a while back, but large, roomy tents weighing around 500 pounds and requiring three donkeys to carry. One animal to carry the roof, one the walls, and another the partitions. These tents were laborious to make, requiring a time-consuming process of weaving the fabric out of durable goats' hair. In addition, the Israelites were not tent dwellers, and when traveling throughout Palestine they camped in caves—-tents were generally found only among desert dwellers like the Arabs.

So why did Lehi have tents? Possession of such tents would have to serve some particular and reoccurring purpose for Lehi to justify their cost and size. Nor would he have purchased these tents, even if they were available in Jerusalem which is doubtful, since he would have not wanted anyone to know his plans. Some time later, after reaching the Valley of Lemuel and the sons returned for the brass plates, Nephi, after overcoming Zoram and convincing him to join the colony, makes this secrecy clear. "We were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us." (1 Nephi 4:36)
Obviously, This supports the fact that the provisions they took with them, including tents, animals and seeds, were not purchased in Jerusalem, but were on hand in the Lehi household. Lehi would have left Jerusalem with no one the wiser. When sending the brothers back for the plates, Lehi obviously warned Nephi not to let the Jews know of his whereabouts or destination. Despite the colony being two hundred miles from Jerusalem, separated by two kingdoms and numerous sheikdoms, Lehi still must have felt insecure.

If Lehi had his home a few miles from Jerusalem, living on the “lands of his inheritance” (1 Nephi 2:4), he would have to provide for his own food and sustenance. This would probably mean raising goats, sheep, fruits and "all manner of grains." This could have led to his supplying goods to one of the “sugs” or markets, in the old, walled city of Jerusalem, including grapes or wine, since planting vineyards and producing wine was considered part of a settled life at the time. Such merchandising, added to his broker-merchant business from Arab caravans, would have been profitable and could account for his being a wealthy man. It would also account for why Lehi had seeds of every kind on hand when told to flee the city (1 Nephi 16:11; 18:24).

When Lehi was told by the Lord to flee into the wilderness, he not only had tents, donkeys, seeds and other equipment at his disposal for such a journey, he also knew exactly where to go, what was needed to survive there, and how to travel in the wilderness. Later, before their extended journey after Ishmael's family joined them, the Lord gave Lehi a compass called the Liahona to show him the way (1 Nephi 16:10). However, there is no mention of any aid in finding his way to that first camp along the Red Sea, which he called the valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 2:14). Thus, it can be assumed that Lehi knew where he was going and had an understanding of the routes available to him. If, indeed, Lehi was a broker-merchant, he would have, 1) known the trails into the desert, 2) acquired knowledge in the past from passing caravans about their routes up from the Red Sea, 3) had a knowledge of water holes and campsites, and 4) had sons who knew how to handle the large tents and travel in the wilderness.

Today, of course, we just jump in a car and point the hood toward our destination. If we need gas, food, shelter or directions, we know they can be found along the way. But in 600 B.C., one's very life depended upon knowledge of terrain, water holes, oases, etc., and there are few reasons why someone who "lived at Jerusalem all his days" would have known such things, unless he was traveling down to meet the Arab caravans as stated in an earlier post.
Nephi describes his father receiving his calling while away from home, then returning exhausted after the experience (1 Nephi 5:7). While on one of these trips into the desert, encamped along a trail awaiting the caravan, Lehi might have been engaged in mighty prayer to the Lord. Here he would have had time on his hands and his concerns over the people of Jerusalem must have weighed heavily on his mind, for many prophets had been sent among the people to warn them of their evil ways (1 Nephi 1:13). Here Lehi might have had his vision of the pillar of fire and saw many things that made him "quake and tremble" (1 Nephi 1:6). After this experience and, perhaps, after the caravan passed by and he concluded his business, “he returned to his own house at Jerusalem” where he cast himself on his bed in exhaustion from the trip and the spiritual experience (1 Nephi 5:7). From then on he was involved in his prophetic ministry.


  1. That Lehi possessed tents should be no more remarkable than a General Authority of today having a Winnebago parked on the side of his home. No one said that a prophet has to travel light!

  2. Doug: tents were not needed in Palestine in Lehi's day, particularly by those living in Jerusalem, a small and heavily crowded city with very limited space. Tents were large, heavy (made of goat skins), and space consuming. They were needed for extensive journeys and for journeys where someone needed to spend some time in one place along the way--Palestine is honeycombed with caves, and people traveling stayed overnight in caves. The entire country is about 90 miles north to south and 30 miles east to west. The ownership of tents would have been very unusual for someone at that time. Read your history on the matter.