At this time of year many people take their vacation trips. Some go camping. It may be in a recreational vehicle, a camper, or perhaps even a tent. For modern Americans, this is only a temporary situation away from the many comforts of home. Those who "rough it" in tents are glad it is only for a few days out of the year.
Can you imagine living in tents year after year even though you could live in a nice house that is heated in the winter and cooled in the warm weather? Yet, this is exactly what Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did. Speaking of the patriarch, the Bible says - "By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Heb 11:9). Archaeologists have learned that even in the time of Abraham (about 4,000 years ago) houses in Ur of the Chaldeans had a form of central heating. Air ducts in the floor warmed the house with hot air from the fireplace. Yes, they even had cooling with what we would call a swamp cooler. It functioned through evaporation to cool the air though it did not reduce the humidity like modern air conditioners.
Knowing that Abraham could have returned to the comforts of home makes it even more amazing that he chose to dwell in tents (Heb. 11:15). Why did he and his sons do this? The book of Hebrews tells us it was because they "desire[d] a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:16). They understood that this world is not the eternal dwelling place for man. Instead, it is just a short sojourn in this life. Death is not the end of life; it is just an exit to the next world.
Dwelling in tents also gives us a great object lesson that illustrates the relationship between the soul of man and his body. When we see a person inside a tent we do not confuse the person with the tent. We understand the two are vastly different. The tent serves a temporary purpose and will be put away when we get home because it is not then needed. We also realize the person inside a tent continues to live when the tent is taken down for storage. We do not confuse the tent with its contents!
However, when it comes to the human body and the soul of man, people often get confused about the proper relationship which they have to each other. Our bodies are much like tents--temporary dwelling places for the person who lives within. One day the body will be taken down but the real person continues to exist having left the tent. Paul showed this distinction in his second letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, "Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day" (II Cor. 4:16). The outward man refers to the physical body and the inward man is the spiritual component that survives death.
In the fifth chapter, he continued discussing the contrast between the physical body and its decay with the spiritual body that will dwell forever in heaven. Notice he said - "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven...For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life... So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord" (II Cor. 5:1-6).
We can be certain this is speaking of the relationship between the physical and eternal spiritual body for at least two reasons. First, Paul had already told the Corinthians about the spiritual body and the resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15). Second, Peter also spoke of the human body as a tent. He said, "I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you" (II Pet. 1:13). Peter expressed the truth that he was in his tent (i.e., his physical body) "knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me" (II Pet. 1:14). What a wonderful thought to know God will give us an eternal spiritual body to replace our present "tent" that decays day by day. How we ought to long for the day when we can stop dwelling in our earthly tents!