The first book of Nephi mentions numerous times about Lehi dwelling in a tent. Is there any symbolism of this?
Lehi was a rich man. Not only did he live in Jerusalem, but he had a house out in the country where he apparently kept most of his wealth. Nephi writes of his father, Lehi, in 1 Nephi 1:7 that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem. So Lehi had a house in Jerusalem.
Because of the threats made on Lehi’s life (1 Nephi 2:1) we read that
And it came to pass that he [Lehi] departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:4).
We are to understand that his house would have been in one place and the land of his inheritance in another. When the four sons of Lehi were told to return to Jerusalem to get the historical record called The Brass Plates of Laban, they had some difficulty. First they requested them from Laban. He not only refused their request, but he threatened their lives (1 Nephi 3:13). So the boys sought to purchase them with the riches of their father that he had left behind in their country home. Nephi said—
let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches… (1 Nephi 3:16)
During this episode the four boys made several trips back and forth between their country home and Jerusalem and between their parent’s hideout in the desert and Jerusalem. These excursions are mentioned 25 times in chapters 2 to 7 of 1 Nephi. In each and every time, they went up to Jerusalem or down by the borders of the Red Sea, or down into the wilderness, or down to the land of their father’s inheritance, where he had his country home and all his riches (1 Nephi 3:16).
Every time they leave Jerusalem they go down, and every time they return the go up. Jerusalem was built on a series of seven hills. In fact, in the time of the Romans, it was known as the City of Seven Hills. This is consistent with ancient practice to build the cities on hills, as the elevated locations would be easier to protect from invading enemies.
But the fact that the sons of Lehi went down to the land of our father’s inheritance, indicates that their country home, with all its riches, was indeed out of Jerusalem. Now, what has all of this to do with the fact that Nephi repeats four times that his father dwelt in a tent? His father was rich! Living in a tent would have been a very singular thing for such a rich man to do. Nephi was undoubtedly impressed by the fact that his father would leave all his riches and take nothing into the desert with him save it were his family, and provisions, and tents (1 Nephi 2:4).