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What is a nomad?

what is a nomad

A nomad is a member of a people or tribe who do not have a fixed dwelling place but who wander from place to place within a given territory, moving all their belongings, including their homes, with them. Nomadic peoples usually move about seasonally, following the food supply or moving to meet the grazing needs of their herds. For this reason, they are usually hunters and gatherers rather than farmers who cultivate fields, vineyards, and orchards.

Soon after Adam and Eve, people quickly settled in cities. In Genesis 4:17, Cain began building a city for his clan. Quickly after the flood, Noah settled down and planted a vineyard, which indicates that he was not a nomad (Genesis 9:20). In Genesis 11, the people of the earth built a tower and a city.

Abraham is the first person in Scripture who seems to be specifically identified as living a nomadic lifestyle. He moved from place to place in a land that was not his own, living in tents. God had promised to give the land to his descendants, but at the time Abraham was still a visitor who did not own any property. Eventually, Abraham had to buy a plot of land for his wife’s tomb (Genesis 23:4).

When the people of Israel left Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years living as nomads. Even the tabernacle was mobile, so that it could be moved from place to place. However, when Canaan was finally conquered, the people quickly settled in cities, and those who did not live in cities still owned land with clear boundaries.

Some people groups in the Bible had nomadic tendencies, including the Midianites (Habakkuk 3:7) and the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:8–10). While some harsher environments like deserts seem to require a nomadic lifestyle (and many nomads still live in the Middle Eastern deserts), most people seem to prefer to settle down with permanent houses.

Christians are never specifically called nomads in Scripture; however, we are warned that this world is not our true home—we are foreigners and strangers on this earth (Hebrews 11:13), with our true citizenship in the kingdom of God. Nomads do not settle down or invest in “permanent” structures, knowing that they will be moving on soon. Many of the difficulties that Christians face are a result of forgetting where our true citizenship lies and getting too attached to the comforts of this world. We should be like the patriarchs, who lived “like a stranger in a foreign country,” all the while “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:9–10).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022