Posted by: isaiahsfan | March 6, 2007

My Father Dwelt in a Tent

Posted by Isaiahsfan


Students of the Book of Mormon have wondered why Nephi so often repeats that “my father dwelt in a tent.”  The exact phrase is found four times in 1 Nephi–  2:15;  9:1;  10:16;  16:6.  Several theories have been advanced for why Nephi might find this fact so significant.


1. The phrase is a literary ending point.  The words are used to signal a culmination of one thought or story and the beginning of another.


2. Since Lehi was a well-to-do man of some importance in the land of Jerusalem, Nephi was impressed by the fact that he would leave his riches and take nothing into the desert except his family, provisions, and tents.  Living in a tent was a singular thing for a rich man to do.


3. It is a note to indicate that they have adopted a nomadic style of life.  This was not simply a temporary situation, but a commitment to leave their permanent home and travel into the unknown.


4. It is an expression of the father’s tent as the hub of everything.  It is the official center of all administration and authority and the center of their universe.  1 Nephi 3:1; 4:38; 5:7; 7:5; 7:21-22; 15:1 and 16:10 speak of the tent as the headquarters for all activities, discussions, and decisions.


The BoM Groupies have expressed the thought that Lehi’s tent might be symbolic of the temple.  An exploration of this theory reveals that it is quite plausible. 

We have already discussed that Lehi’s departure from the land of Jerusalem is a reenactment of the Exodus under Moses and symbolic of our journey through life and into the “promised land,” or the presence of God.  When Lehi left the things of the world behind, he took with him three things: his family, provisions, and tents.  In our own journey to eternal life, family associations are essential.  In fact, we are told that we may not progress to the farthest level possible without them.  Next, the necessity of fulfilling our basic needs is acknowledged.  We cannot spiritually progress unless our vital physical needs are met.  Lastly, there is the tent, which symbolizes the spiritual protection which is found in the temple.

As we discuss this tent as symbolic of the temple, we should keep in mind the purposes of the Old Testament temple.  The temple at the time of Moses’ exodus was the portable tabernacle.  The tabernacle was the center place of Israel’s worship activities during the wanderings and until the building of the temple in Solomon’s day (see point #4 above).  The LDS Bible Dictionary describes the tabernacle as following:

“Over the tabernacle the tent was spread. Its length was 40 cubits, or 10 cubits longer than the tabernacle. The entrance toward the east was closed by a screen of blue, purple, and scarlet and fine twined linen. Over the tent came the covering of the tent, which consisted of two parts: an inner covering of ramskins dyed red; a covering of badger skins over all (Ex. 26: 14).” 

Nephi mentions specifically that his father (Lehi) dwelt in a tent.  The only person who was designated to go into the most sacred places of the Old Testament temple was the High Priest.  Since Lehi and his people had committed to leave the Old World, they would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the priesthood at the Temple in Jerusalem.  As a group of the covenant people being led away by the Lord, they would need a Prophet and High Priest to guide them.  We will see that after their arrival in the Promised Land they set about building a temple.  Perhaps Lehi’s call as prophet in 1 Nephi 1 included an ordination as High Priest and even an endowment of sorts.


The passages in which we find the phrase “my father dwelt in a tent” lend themselves to temple symbolism.  1 Nephi 16 is especially interesting.  Verse 6 reads, “Now all these things were said and done as my father dwelt in a tent in the valley which he called Lemuel.”  Following this verse are four significant things which are reminiscent of temple imagery.  First in verse 8, Lehi fulfills with exactness and honor all the commandments of the Lord which are given unto him.  Next, in verse 10, the Liahona is found, a ball which points out the course that they should go into the wilderness.  Following this in verses 14-21, we are reminded of their need for constant nourishment as we read the story of obtaining food in the wilderness with bows and arrows, stones and slings.  Finally, those who murmur are chastened and humbled in verse 24 and Lehi bows his knee before the Lord and inquires of him once more.  At this time, there appears in the Liahona “a new writing…which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.”



  1. Note: I didn’t finish the references on this post, I wanted to get it up before you all rush over in the morning! Now we can put all the temple comments here. But feel free to continue to adding to the post on the Exodus. I think there is still more to be said on that subject!

  2. m&m
    March 6th, 2007 at 10:50 pm
    This is a fun discussion! (Thanks again for letting me know about this blog, Isaiahsfan! I do hope that I’m not intruding in discussions among longtime friends.)

    This discussion about Lehi’s tent brought to mind some things I had read a couple of years ago about the “axis mundi.” This reference will be long, but I hope it’s interesting to you as it was to me. (If this is too cumbersome, please let me know how it might be better to share information in the future.)

    I included more than just what relates to Lehi’s tent because I think it can possibly shed light on patterns in the OT as well (and also the ancient elements of the BoM). Might it also shed light on the importance of “centers” and temples in the latter days. ?? Food for thought, anyway.

    Ancient world civilizations believed that the perceived order of territorial environment, in its “natural” and built-up features, revealed the structure of a sacred universe. The epitome of this symbolic order was a capital city or ceremonial center. “In those religions which held that human order was brought into being at the creation of the world there was a pervasive tendency to dramatize the cosmogony by constructing on earth a reduced version of the cosmos, usually in the form of a state capital.”

    The specific features of this model of spatial organization vary from culture to culture but can be generally expressed in terms of three principles: centripetality, cardinality, and inductance. Centripetality is the notion that terrestrial space was created from and ordered by an “existentially centered point.” This center or “navel of the earth” was considered to be the point of contact between heaven and earth [this is a point that I find very interesting to this discussion], the most elevated place on earth and the point at which the creation of the earth began. The construction of a temple or other holy sanctuary celebrated the sacredness of the axis mundi. Rituals and other observances were performed in those holy places to preserve the parallelism of the macrocosmos (heaven) and the microcosmos (earth). Natural, political or social catastrophe often succeeded in dislocating the axis mundi. When this occurred, the holy of holies was likely relocated to another site declared auspicious by the ritual leader of the group.

    [This gives some historical background; the author’s purpose was largely to show the ancient roots of the BoM. Following is the connection with Lehi’s tent.]

    One of the recurring themes in the Book of Mormon is the establishment and maintenance of a centralized social and territorial order. The Book of Mormon narrative opens in Old Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah with the minor prophet Lehi preaching that the city of the Jews is about to be destroyed because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The citizens respond by trying to kill Lehi; consequently, he flees with his family into the wilderness. They do not leave, however, without first receiving the promise of being guided by God to another land of promise, “a land choice above all other lands,” to establish another axis mundi.

    Having abandoned their traditional, though profaned, sanctuary, Lehi’s company constructs a temporary axis in the wilderness: Lehi’s tent. That Lehi “dwelt in a tent” is mentioned fourteen times in the desert narrative and appears at critical events in the historical sequence: after Lehi reported his “dream of the tree of life” and after Nephi reported his vision of the promised land (1 Ne. 8:11-14); after Lehi’s sons acquired the Hebrew scriptures from a corrupt religious leader in Jerusalem and after additional refugees from Jerusalem joined Lehi’s company (1 Ne. 4; 7:1-5); and on the occasion of essential observances of the Mosaic law (1 Ne. 2:6-7; 6:7-9; 7:22). Lehi’s tent thus secured contact with the heavens, despite the nomadic existence of his following, and allowed him and his people to continue in confidence toward the promised land.
    Steven L. Olsen; BYU Studies Vol. 23, No. 1, pg.82

    Since we are in ch. 2, note what happened right after he pitched the tent:
    6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.
    7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

    A bit more on this as we look forward toward more readings in the BoM (from the same source, a couple of pages further on) :

    The image of the center as a holy mountain was also established early in and maintained throughout the Book of Mormon. In relation to the wilderness Jerusalem was always “up,” while the wilderness in relation to Jerusalem was either “down” or “into” (1 Ne. 3-7, passim). Once in the promised land, the people always went “up” to the temple and to the “lands of our first inheritance” (Jacob 2:11; Mosiah 1:18; 2:1-11; 7:2-4; 20:7; 28:1; 29:3; Alma 17:8; 20:2; 24:20; 26:23). Finally, the elevated status of the kingdom of God was emphasized in millennial imagery and ecstatic experiences, such as Nephi’s vision of the promised land (1 Ne. 11:21; 17:7). In the nearly thousand-year period that this civilization occupied the promised land, four successive centers were established–Lehi, Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful. Except for the land of Lehi, in which Lehi’s tent served as the axis mundi, a temple was established at each center. Ritual officials were appointed to perform the prescriptions of the Mosaic law, with major observances, such as renewal ceremonies, occurring at the temple. Important sermons were also delivered to the community from the temple (2 Ne. 5:10, 16; Mosiah 2:5; Jacob 2-5; 3 Nephi. 12-17).

    He goes on to talk about how the development and growth of cities (surrounding the center) corresponded to righteousness, and how destruction of cities (and ultimately no more civilization) was tied to wickedness. I think keeping an eye on this concept of “centers” and the role they played in Nephite civilization might be interesting as we move forward.

  3. M&M, That was perfect. I suspect a lot of our comments on this blog will be quite long. And that one was really worth it.
    We love having you here, and any others who care to comment.

  4. OK, so I was in the shower mulling over this (cuz that’s what I do…mull and muse!) 🙂 … and it struck me that this concept of axis mundi and the tent and what we are discussing relates directly to core (“central”) doctrines (many of which are covered by Isaiah):

    -a standard (In Bedouin life, “A white flag,” we are told, “is sometimes hoisted above his tent to guide strangers and visitors. All visitors are led directly to the tent of the [sheikh].” (Thanks, Hugh Nibley (anyone opposed to Hugh Nibley around here?)
    – gathering … the tent was a gathering place, a hub, especially for family but also for those invited to be with (to “have place” with) the family (this will be fun to discuss when we get to Zoram)
    – councils, talking, teaching — this is a place where a lot of discussion and decision takes place
    – Family — closely related to the previous two elements
    – revelation (this was discussed in that quote I included above, as well as in other comments already made)
    – temple-related elements (altars, sacrifice, teaching, ….that whole bridging the gap between heaven and earth)
    — and, of course, the purpose of temples is two-fold 1) to gather us to Christ and to teach of the Atonement and bring the saving and cleansing power of the Atonement into our lives and 2) to gather us as families, and as the family of God

    “And my father dwelt in a tent.” I’m beginning to think there is MUCH to learn from that little phrase. 🙂 (I also think this all ties into the comment about the three things Lehi brought with him…family, tents, provisions (gotta live in this mortal sphere even as we are on a spiritual journey, right?)) Lots to learn, methinks. So fun to mull over. 🙂

  5. Simply delightful.

  6. And to think that up until 4 days ago I was happy just to let Lehi dwell in a tent because he was in the wilderness without a house!!!!
    M&M –welcome. I’ve read thru your post twice now and still am trying to absorb and assimilate. Great info!
    Who is mistaben and jawi? Just like to try to put a face with the name if possible.

  7. loving this discussion. m&m so glad you are with us!
    your comments give me so much to think about. thank you!

  8. Jawi=the initials of one our original Isaiah ladies. Mistaben=someone who has joined us from the greater internet community. Good to have you here!

  9. One more thought on that list above:

    – refuge — the tent provided protection and refuge. Lots of potential symbolism there. 🙂

  10. I just came across your blog today.

    I particularly liked this post on Lehi dwelling in a tent. I’ve never considered your theory before … very interesting!

    I look forward to reading this blog!

  11. Interesting discussion. I do agree that the tent and exodus is very symbolic with temple/spiritual undertones. I guess my seminary teachers back in the day were right in comparing the scriptures to an onion with several layers. 🙂

  12. welcome to all those joining us.

  13. a few thoughts on the axis mundi, the Exodus pattern and Lehi’s tent. I really enjoyed m&m’s information about the axis mundi and was pondering the significance of Lehi’s tent in association to it. I do believe that this tent did serve as the axis mundi for Lehi’s party. We also know that the Exodus pattern comes into play here. It is my belief that Nephi knew very well that his family was following this pattern. Nephi prayed for understanding, his heart was softened and he tried to share this information with Sam and Laman and Lemuel. Notice Nephi tries to share his information with Laman and Lemuel after Lehi had talked with them and they were doing as commanded. Perhaps he was sharing with them his understanding that they were embarking on an Exodus pattern, but Laman and Lemuel weren’t buying it. The fact that Nephi prayed and shared information with his brothers comes directly after, “and my father dwelt in a tent.” If Nephi recognized the Exodus pattern, he also recognized that Lehi, just as Moses was serving as a type for Christ. The term “my father dwelt in a tent” then symbolizes that Christ was indeed in the midst of them, dwelling with them. That Christ was at the center “axis mundi” of everything they were doing. This would also then have temple significance as well. Did not Christ dwell with ancient Israel, as well, on their Exodus in the tabernacle(tent)? The importance of this phrase also becomes crucial to our own understanding of our “exodus” as we make Christ the center of all we understand and do.

  14. Very thought-provoking comment, Cheryl. Thank you! I particularly like the concept of Christ being the center. I think, indeed, that is the ultimate symbolism of the axis mundi, and of the temple and other ordinances and elements of the gospel in our modern-day life.

  15. This is bringing back so many happy memories. Cheryl and Cheryl exercising their talents for delving and digging and coming up with wonderful things to ponder. Kelly giving the practical application, etc. This gives me a chance to excerise my talent again. Here goes: “YES, YOU ARE RIGHT!!!!!” I’m really good at that, and don’t forget, you need my talent, too.

    I was pondering all the excellent comments, especially about the Exodus, and I was thinking, Isaiah usually was referring to the same prophesy happening in three separate time periods. Isaiah referred to Ancient Israel, the Meridian of Time, and Latter Days. Could the record of the exodus of Lehi refer to 1) Lehi, 2) exodus of pioneers to Utah, and 3) exodus of saints to the New Jerusalem? We can learn from the symbolism of the tent as well as all the other symbols in the story, things we can prepare for if we are ever called on to participate in an exodus – either temporally or spiritually.

    I miss you all so much. Thanks for being patient with me and my busy life and cluttered mind.

  16. Marilyn!!! I’m so glad you’re here. I love your validation _and_ your gospel knowledge. Your comment was profound. Lehi & co., as the portion of the covenant people who were led to the New Jerusalem may indeed have had the responsibility to prophesy for the three groups you mentioned. I’ve never read the Book of Mormon with that particular view. Now that we have become adept at reading Isaiah as he relates to several different time periods and groups of people, let’s try it as we go along in the BoM and see if it’s a viable theory! Great work, Marilyn.

  17. wow Marilyn!! yes, applying the Exodus pattern quite literally to a temporal Exodus as well as the symbolic everyday implications is something to really think about! Wow, again! You are so good!
    I’ve been waiting and waiting to hear from you! Cheryl, if Debra doesn’t post her comment here you need to copy and paste it over here. Loved her take on “Lehi dwelt in a tent”, too. soooooooooooo much to think and ponder about and we’re only on 1 Nephi Chapter 2! I’m lovin’ this!!

  18. […] (Notice that these things were done “as my father dwelt in a tent,” a phrase we have already discussed as being symbolic of the Temple; also that the ordinance of marriage was performed at this […]

  19. […] in a tent than meets the eye: Blogger of Jared Blog Archive And My Father Dwelt in a Tent My Father Dwelt in a Tent BoM Groupies I posted this on my blog, but I also wanted to share it here for discussion. Has anyone else found […]

  20. […] in a tent than meets the eye: Blogger of Jared Blog Archive And My Father Dwelt in a Tent My Father Dwelt in a Tent BoM Groupies I posted this on my blog, but I also wanted to share it here for discussion. Has anyone else found […]

  21. Wow, I am glad I typed “and my father dwelt in a tent” in google. I’m glad there are people out there concerned about stuff like this. The reason I stopped reading to look this phrase up was because I know that Nephi says that he is only writing the most important things. So, clearly this is very important. The part I found interesting is that instead of Nephi stating that Lehi dwelt in HIS tent he said, A tent. Meaning that it isn’t his tent to be dwelled in. And dwelt doesn’t just mean sleep, it means to abide in, or be established, and many others. I used to just think that this was referring to him sleeping in his own tent but the previous posts really opened my eyes, thanks. I don’t know if this post is closed because the last post was in 2008 and now it is 2009. Anyways, I just wanted to share my thoughts on that sentence. Thanks for reading!

  22. Truly “dwelt in a tent” has taken on additional layers of understanding as I’ve read through this blog.
    Has anyone heard of a ‘tent’ be referred to as a ‘mansion’ to this early mideastern culture. And how the John 14:2-3 might give additional insight to the ‘mansions that our Savior was going to prepare a place for us to dwell with him’. So that our Tent or Mansion may be a wing of His Mansion where we might dwell with Him and our families.
    I would appreciate any further development on this concept from anyone. Thank you in advance.

  23. These are great comments. Thanks for the insight on this phrase that we have all heard a million times. Its amazing how the scriptures can open up when you really have a desire to understand its words. Keep up the with the great work. Its refreshing to find a blog that is worthwile to read.

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