“Then you will go on forward from there, and you will come to the oak of Tabor; and three men will meet you there going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three young goats and another carrying three loaves of bread and another carrying a skin-bottle of wine, Bible other translations

“skin-bottle.” The use of containers or “bottles” made from animal skins is a very ancient custom and was still practiced in the East until recent times. In 1875, when James Freeman wrote his book, Manners and Customs of the Bible, skin bottles were still being used. The most common material that was used for skin-bottles was the skin of a goat or young kid. Bottles made from goat skin were used to hold wine, water, milk, and such.

It was important that the skin would not leak, so usually the head of the animal was cut off, leaving as much neck as possible, and then the bones of the animal were sometimes broken so they would fit out the neck hole, and the animal was turned inside out with all the innards passing out through the neck hole. The animal was not cut open as is done when an animal is field dressed before being butchered. Once the animal was inside out, the skin was scraped so that the hide was clean. Also, the legs were cut off close to the hoof and then tied tight so fluid would not leak out through the leg hole, and the anus was sewn shut. Then usually the animal was turned hair-side out again, and would hold fluid. Sometimes the hair was left on the animal skin, and sometimes it was scraped and coated with oil or grease so that it was thoroughly watertight, and also would not tend to dry out.

It was common with the smaller skins that the neck hole served as both the opening from which the skin-bottle was filled, and the opening from which its contents were poured out. However, if a larger container was desired, even as large as a camel or ox, which were used as large containers and sometimes used on long journeys in the desert, often one leg was only tied shut and that leg would provide the opening through which the fluid was poured.

It was common to keep the skin-bottles upright by tying a rope under the upper thighs of the animal and hang it so it would not tip over, or a full skin could simply be set upright, neck up and tied. The rough and mobile life of many of the people of the East made skin-bottles a much better choice for liquids than earthenware pots, and they were much easier to seal. If a skin-bottle did get cut or tear, sometimes it could be repaired by sewing or tying it up (cp. Josh. 9:4).

When the skin-bottles were filled with wine, people had to be careful not to use old skin-bottles that had become hard and inflexible, because Eastern wine finished fermenting in the skin-bottles and would produce gasses that would cause the bottle to burst if it was sealed tightly. Jesus used that fact in his teachings (Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37).

Commentary for: 1 Samuel 10:3