How did they make those ancient tents waterproof? With animal fat, which made for a very stinky domicile. Teepees and yurts were the next phase, and they were still stinky. Finally nylon was invented in the 1930s and that became the material of choice for a long time.
You can find all sorts of patents on tents, each claiming to be the next big step in comfort, ease in assembly, portability, size, whatever it is you want. For this topic I chose the patent that was published on August 4, 1959 because of this phrase: the said tent was "quite capable of standing up to any weather even without anchoring or reinforcement." Remember that for a few minutes.
Our first tent was a Camel dome. The box said 10 x 12, which I never really understood since it was a hexagon. It said “sleeps 6” so we thought two adults and two small children would fit just fine. We learned to look at the fine print. A diagram did indeed show six sleeping bags fitting in the tent floor—like sardines in a can, and the sleeping bags like mummy wrappings. The only place even I could stand up straight was the direct center of the tent, where you could never stand because of the sleeping bags covering the floor, so you always stood bent over.
Before long, the boys received a smaller dome as a gift and Keith and I had the larger one to ourselves. Now that we are alone, and camp “in style” as our boys accuse, we have a 16 x 10. A queen-size air mattress fits nicely and we can still stand up in more than one place inside.
But tents are not houses. The paper-thin walls mean you hear your neighbors all too well, and they would be absolutely no protection from wild animals. So far we have only had to deal with raccoons, but if a bear came along we might be in trouble.
Those walls also mean that in cold weather you are going to be cold too. We have learned that with a waterproof rainfly overhead, we can plug in a small space heater and raise the temperature as much as 15 degrees inside—but when the temperature outside is 30, that’s not a lot of relief.
Usually our tents are dry, but on our last trip we were suddenly leaking. When we got home we found out why. The seam sealer tape had come loose. Rainwater simply rolled down the fly till it found a place where the tape hung unfastened. Then it dripped through--on the floor, on the boxes we were trying to keep dry, and on our bed. So much for "standing up to any weather," as that 1959 patent claimed. As comfortable and advanced as they make them these days, there is no confusing a tent with a house.
The Bible has a whole lot to say about tents. Abraham and Sarah were called away from a comfortable home in a large city to live in tents for the rest of their lives. Though God promised them their descendants would someday own that land, they never owned one acre of it. But one of the tests of their faith was those very tents they lived in. Did they really believe God enough to stay in them? Yes, they did, the Hebrew writer makes it plain. They understood perfectly the temporary nature of those tents and the promise they stood for, Heb 11:8-16.
The Israelites lived in tents for 40 years. Their tents were punishment for a lack of faith. Yet even after they finally received their Promised Land, God insisted they remember those tents during the harvest feasts, to remind them who had given them the land and the bounty it produced, Lev 23:42,43. But the people refused, until once again they were punished for refusing to rely on God. That feast was not observed until the return from captivity. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. Neh 8:17.
Paul calls our bodies tents in 1 Cor 15. As amazing as the human body is because of its Creator, it is still a fragile thing compared to the immortal body we hope to receive. We are often too wrapped up in the physical life those tents represent to remember that. It seems like a long life. It seems like everything that happens here is important. It even seems like we can take care of ourselves. WE make the living that feeds us and houses us and clothes these bodies. We live on the retirement WE have carefully put away for the future. Just like Israel we forget who really supplies our needs.
On several occasions I have wakened in the middle of the night on a camping trip to a storm blowing outside. The wind billows the sides of the tent and the rain pours as if someone had upended huge buckets over our heads. The lightning flashes and you suddenly wish you hadn’t so carefully chosen the shady spot under the big tree.
Once, in the middle of one of those storms, I suddenly heard a loud crack followed by a WHUMP! The next morning, we crawled out of the tent and saw a huge limb lying on the ground about thirty feet away. If that limb had fallen on our tent, we might not have survived it. A tent would certainly not have stopped its fall.
What are you trusting in today, the feeble tents of this life, or the house that God will give you? A mortal body that, no matter how diligently you care for it, will eventually decay, or a celestial body that will last for eternity? The things that "tent" can do for you, or the protection that God’s house provides? From the beginning, God has meant a tent to symbolize instability and transience. He has always meant us to trust him to someday supply us with a permanent home, one we will share with him. Tents, even the Tabernacle itself, have always symbolized a glorious promise.
Don’t choose a tent when God has something so much better waiting for you.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, 2 Cor 5:1.\