From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

They serve our practical needs at almost any given moment in our daily lives. Often, they gratify our sense of beauty as well. The common people of biblical times had no such luxuries, and very few “necessities.” Their homes would seem almost empty to us.

Sacred Furniture Biblical interest in furniture focuses on the sacred furnishings of the tabernacle and the Temple. We have in  Exodus 25-27;  Exodus 30:1;  Exodus 37-38 a full description of the tabernacle with all its objects of furniture. Lovingly detailed accounts of the ark of the covenant, the altar of incense, and other furnishings are so clear that we can easily visualize and reconstruct them in the form of models. Likewise,   1 Kings 6-7 provides similar data about the Temple of Solomon. See   1 Kings 6-7;  1 Kings 6-7 .

Common Furniture But this is not the case regarding the furniture of the common people living out their daily lives in their tents and houses. The Bible occasionally refers to basic furniture items such as beds, chairs, etc. But we have virtually nothing about manufacturers, building materials, designs, or appearances.

Biblical terminology illustrates the problem. Old Testament Hebrew has no word equivalent to the English terms “furniture” or “furnishings.” The Hebrew word keli is so translated in passages such as   Exodus 31:7 , but in this very same context the very same word ( keli ) is also rendered as “utensils,” “articles,” or “accessories.” In fact, the word keli is so fluid that it may refer to any humanly manufactured material object. As a result, we find in the Old Testament translations of keli as arms (weapons), bag or baggage, clothing, equipment, implement, instrument, object, ornament, receptacle, tool, and vessel. Thus, this word will not be of much help with a study of furniture in the Old Testament. To the contrary, this term suggests that the Israelites of Old Testament times were not especially interested in their furniture beyond its practical value. Their common furniture was merely functional, and nothing more.

Similarly, the New Testament carries us no further, for it uses no word which could be translated as “furniture” in the English versions.

Sources of Data The Bible remains a source of data, however, at least to the degree that it refers to such items as beds and chairs. Beyond the Bible itself we must resort to artifacts recovered by archaeology.

Palestine, however, does not enjoy the climate which would have saved wooden furnishings for study today. Only a few such objects have survived, and even these have greatly disintegrated over time. This being the case, we must resort to secondary artifacts such as written records, seals, sculpture, ivories, and tombs.

Individual Objects of Furniture Domestically, Israelite furniture reflected the simplicity of the ordinary household dwelling. Some Israelites preferred to live in tents ( Jeremiah 35:1 ), preserving the traditions of nomadic and wilderness days. The furnishings of such a living place would have to be readily portable and as light as possible. Chests of some sort would be used when the family or clan was settled then double as carriage crates when on the move. A few simple rugs covered the ground floor. The tent itself and all its paraphernalia—pegs, ropes, interior curtains for separating the “rooms” inside—along with a few sleeping mats, might be all the “furniture” such a family owned. The same would apply to those living in small shelters.

A more permanent home would be furnished according to the family's relative wealth or poverty. Like the tent-dwellers mentioned above, a poorer family would own, at the minimum, simple bedding and kitchen equipment. Reed mats would be rolled out on the floor for resting and sleeping. In some cases these mats would have to serve as tables and chairs, as well, since real ones were probably beyond the means of poorer families. All homes needed interior lighting, of course, so even the poor would own, in all probability, several lamps, i.e., saucer-shaped bowls with a pinch in the rim for a wick fueled by a pool of olive oil; such a lamp often sat on a supporting stand. Wide-mouth jars for food and water were essential, as were also some sort of stone and clay oven, and a grinding mill for preparing grain. A few of these houses might also have stone or wooden benches, some covered with cloth or carpet material around the inner walls; but this was likely the exception among the poor rather than the rule. Since most homes of biblical days had few windows, they would also have had few—if any—curtains.

Even the homes of the comfortable and the wealthy would also seem all but bare in contrast to the homes of any socioeconomic class in a developed nation of the West today. Consider the home of the “wealthy woman” of Shunem (in lower northern Palestine about five miles east of Megiddo), found in  2 Kings 4:8-37 . Because of her special concern for the prophet Elisha, she and her husband built “a small room on the roof” ( 2 Kings 4:10 NIV) of their house for him to use when he was passing through their vicinity. They furnished it with “a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp” (  2 Kings 4:10 NIV), for which he was sincerely grateful. In so doing, this prosperous couple displayed exceptional hospitality, even though the furniture they supplied seems minimal to us. We infer that the bed, the table, the chair, and the lamp represented most, if not all, the variety of furniture in their house (not counting the kitchen equipment). If this is correct, then we may more readily imagine how little furniture would have been found in the homes of the middle and lower classes.

Only a century later Amos (760-750 B.C.) condemned the decadent prosperity of the wealthy class in his day. He spoke of the mansions of Samaria ( Amos 3:15;  Amos 5:11;  Amos 6:11 ) and their opulent beds and couches encrusted with ivory ( Amos 3:12 ,  Amos 3:15;  Amos 6:4 ). By then the gap between the relatively poor and the relatively rich had grown to scandalous proportions, as evidenced by the quality of their furniture (compare  Esther 1:6 ). It seems most likely that apart from the highly ornamented furniture mentioned in Amos, the household furniture of the vast majority of Israelites was merely functional, rather than aesthetic.

Furniture and Artifacts Archaeology has shed some (but not much) light on ancient Palestinian furniture. The excavation of ancient Jericho in the 1950s discovered a series of tombs containing both the skeletal remains of the dead and practical provisions to serve their needs in the afterlife. The pertinent finds date to about 1600 B.C. Furniture styles were slow to change, and the artifacts found at Jericho were probably like those used by the Israelites long after.

One body had been laid on a wooden bed consisting of a rectangular frame enclosing wooden crosspieces tenoned to the rails. The crosspieces and rails enclosed five panels of woven rush. The bed probably supported a mattress about six inches above the floor.

Beside the bed was a table measuring about fifty-eight inches by sixteen inches, supported by only three legs about ten inches above the floor. Each leg tenoned into a rounded corner extension below the underside of the table. Survivors left a wooden platter of mutton on the table.

Two cylinder seals from Tell es-Sa'idiyeh on the Jordan River and dated to about 750 B.C. show simple chairs in their impressions. One has a tall straight back and, apparently, a seat of woven rush. Further details are unclear. The other chair has a curved, ladder-back design with four cross-slats.

A few other artifacts from Jericho and from only a few other sites in Palestine depict other common furniture objects such as benches and stools and bronze objects.

Perhaps further discoveries will someday broaden our knowledge of biblical furniture, but excavations to this point suggest that we have found most, if not all, of such artifacts we will ever see.

Tony M. Martin

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( v. t.) Builders' hardware such as locks, door and window trimmings.

(2): ( v. t.) A mixed or compound stop in an organ; - sometimes called mixture.

(3): ( v. t.) Pieces of wood or metal of a lesser height than the type, placed around the pages or other matter in a form, and, with the quoins, serving to secure the form in its place in the chase.

(4): ( v. t.) The masts and rigging of a ship.

(5): ( v. t.) The mountings of a gun.

(6): ( v. t.) That with which anything is furnished or supplied; supplies; outfit; equipment.

(7): ( v. t.) Articles used for convenience or decoration in a house or apartment, as tables, chairs, bedsteads, sofas, carpets, curtains, pictures, vases, etc.

(8): ( v. t.) The necessary appendages to anything, as to a machine, a carriage, a ship, etc.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

Furniture . In the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘furniture’ is used in the general sense of furnishings, just as Bunyan speaks of ‘soldiers and their furniture’ ( Holy War , p. 112). 1. For the details of house furniture, see House, § 8 . In this sense we read also of ‘the furniture of the tabernacle’ (  Exodus 31:7 ,   Numbers 3:8 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , for AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘instruments,’ and elsewhere). For the less appropriate ‘furniture’ of the table of shewbread and of ‘the candlestick’ (  Exodus 31:8 ), RV [Note: Revised Version.] has ‘vessels.’

2. The ‘camel’s furniture’ of   Genesis 31:34 was a ‘camel-palankeen’ ( Oxf. Heb. Lex . p. 1124), ‘a crated frame, with cushions and carpets inside, and protected by an awning above, fastened to the camel’s saddle’ (Driver, Genesis, in loc. ), still used by women travellers in the East.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

King James Dictionary [4]


1. Goods, vessels, utensils and other appendages necessary or convenient for housekeeping whatever is added to the interior of a house or apartment, for use or convenience. 2. Appendages that which is added for use or ornament as the earth with all its furniture. 3. Equipage ornaments decorations in a very general sense.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [5]

is the rendering in the Auth. Vers. in one passage of כִּר , Kar , a camel's litter or canopied saddle, in which females are accustomed to travel in the East, Genesis 32:34, elsewhere a lamb, etc.; also in a few passages of כְּלַי , a general term for Vessels, utensils, or implements of any sort. The manufacture of all kinds of furniture is represented on the Egyptian monuments with great minuteness. The recent excavations among the Assvrian mounds have also disclosed a high degree of refinement among the people of that age. See Wilkinson's Anc. Egypt, Rosellini's Illustra. , and Layard and Botta's works on ancient Nineveh and Babylon; also the various articles of household furniture in their alphabetical order. (See Carpenter). It appears that the furniture of Oriental dwellings, in the earliest ages, was generally very simple; that of the poorer classes consisted of but few articles, and those such only as were absolutely necessary. (See House).

The interior of the more common and useful apartments was furnished with sets of large nails with square heads, like dice, and bent at them head, so as to make them cramp-irons: a specimen of these may be seen in the British Museum. In modern Palestine the plan is to fix nails or pins of wood in the walls, while they are still soft, in order to suspend such domestic articles as are required; since, consisting altogether of clay, they are too frail to admit of the operation of the hammer. To this custom there is an allusion in  Ezra 9:8, and  Isaiah 22:23. On these nails were hung their kitchen utensils or other articles. Instead of chairs, they sat on mats or skins; and the same articles on which they laid a mattress, served them instead of bedsteads, while their upper garment was used for a covering. (See Chair). Sovereigns had chairs of state, or thrones with footstools ( Exodus 22:26-27;  Deuteronomy 24:12). The opulent had (as those in the East still have) fine carpets, couches, or divans and sofas, on which they sat, lay, and slept ( 2 Samuel 17:28;  2 Kings 4:10). They have also a great variety of pillows and bolsters, with which they support themselves when they wish to take their ease, and there is an allusion to these in  Ezekiel 13:18. In later times these couches were splendid, and the frames in-laid with ivory ( Amos 6:4), which is plentiful in the East; they were-also richly carved and perfumed ( Proverbs 7:16-17). (See Bed). On these sofas, in the latter ages of the Jewish state, for before the time of Moses it appears to have been the custom to sit at table ( Genesis 43:33), they universally reclined when taking their meals ( Amos 6:4;  Luke 7:36-38). (See Accubation).

Anciently splendid hangings were used in the palaces of the Eastern monarchs, embroidered with needle-work, and ample draperies wane asspeadad over the openings in the sides of the apartments, for the twofold purpose of affording air, and of shielding them from the sun. Of this description were the costly hangings of the Persian sovereigns mentioned in  Esther 1:6, which passage is confirmed by the statements of Quintius Curtius relating to their msuperb palace at Persepolis. (See Embroidery). In the more ancient periods other articles of necessary furniture were both few and simple. Among these were a hand-mill, a kneading-trough, and an oven. (See Bread). Besides kneadding-troughs and ovens they must have heed various kinds of earthen-ware vessels, especially pots to bold water for their several ablutions. In later times baskets formed an indispensable article of furniture to the Jews. (See Basket). Large sacks are still, as they anciently were ( Genesis 44:1-3;  John 9:11), employed for carrying provision and baggage of every description. The domestic utensils of the Orientals in the present day are nearly always of brass; those of the ancient Egyptians were chiefly of bronze or iron. Bowls, cups, and drinking-vessels of gold and silver were used in the courts of princes and great men ( Genesis 44:2;  Genesis 44:5;  1 Kings 10:21). Some elegant specinens of these are given in the paintings of the tombs of Egypt. (See Bowl). Bottles were made of skins, which are chiefly of a red color ( Exodus 25:5). (See Bottle). Apartments were lighted by means of lamps, which were fed with olive-oil, and were commonly placed upon elevated stands ( Matthew 5:15). Those of the wise and foolish virgins ( Matthew 25:1-10) were of a different sort; they were a kind of torch or flam-beau, made of iron or earthen-ware, wrapped about with old linen, moistened from time to time with oil, and were suitable for being carried out of doors. (See Lamp).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [6]

fûr´ni - t̬ūr ( כּר , kār , כּלים , kēlı̄m  ; σκευή , skeuḗ ): In  Genesis 31:34 kār is translated "furniture" in the King James Version, but "saddle" in the American Standard Revised Version. The latter is decidedly preferable. It was the "camel-basket," or the basket-saddle of the camel, which was a sort of palanquin bound upon the saddle. Upon this saddle-basket Rachel sat with the teraphim hidden beneath, and her wily father did not suspect the presence of his gods in such a place. In other places the word kēlı̄m is used, and is generally rendered "vessels," though sometimes "furniture." It may have many other renderings also (see BDB ).  Exodus 31:7;  Exodus 39:33 mention the furniture of the Tent, which is specified in other places. Moses is instructed (  Exodus 25:9 ) to make a sanctuary or tabernacle and the furniture thereof according to the pattern showed him in the Mount. The furniture of the Court consisted of the brazen altar and laver ( Exodus 40:29 ,  Exodus 40:30 ); that of the Holy Place, of the table of showbread, the golden lampstand and altar of incense ( Exodus 39:36;  Exodus 40:22-26;  Hebrews 9:2 ); that of the Holy of Holies, of the ark and mercy-seat overshadowed by the cherubim. The tribe of Levi was set apart by Yahweh to "keep all the furniture of the tent of meeting" ( Numbers 3:8 ). When David organized the tabernacle-worship in Jerusalem and assigned the Levites their separate duties, certain men "were appointed over the furniture, and over all the vessels of the sanctuary" ( 1 Chronicles 9:29 ). In  Nahum 2:9 the singular form of the word kelı̄ is used, and is rendered "furniture." The prophet refers to the abundant, costly, luxurious furniture and raiment, largely the results of their conquests and plunder in many countries.

In  Acts 27:19 the word skeuē is translated in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "tackling," with "furniture" in the Revised Version, margin.

By way of information regarding the general furniture of the house little is said directly in the Scriptures. The chamber built for Elisha upon the wall contained a bed, a table, a seat, and lampstand. This was doubtless the furnishing of most bedrooms when it could be afforded. The prophet Amos had a supreme contempt for the luxurious furniture of the grandees of Samaria ( Amos 3:12;  Amos 6:4 ). For full particulars see House; Tabernacle; Temple .