A container used to hold such things as water, oil, milk, wine, butter, and cheese. Bottles of ancient times varied greatly in size and shape, some of them being leather bags and others narrow-necked containers with stoppers. The Egyptians had ornamented vases that served as bottles, and these were made out of alabaster, bone, bronze, glass, gold, ivory, porcelain, silver, or stone. Glass bottles were in use in ancient Assyria, and earthenware bottles were common in various Bible lands of antiquity. However, the ancients especially used skin bottles.
The common way to make a skin bottle was to kill an animal, cut off its head and feet, and then carefully draw it out of the hide in such a way that it was unnecessary to cut open the creature’s belly. The skin would be tanned, and then all openings but one would be sewed up. The neck or perhaps one of the projections for the legs would be left unsewn, and this served as the opening, which could be closed with a plug or a string. The hides of sheep, goats, and sometimes of cattle were used for this purpose, and in some instances, the hair was left on the skins used to hold milk, butter, cheese, and water. However, a more thorough tanning process was required when the skin bottles were to be used for oil and wine. Even in more recent times many skin bottles have been made similarly in the Middle East. When skin water bottles are not tanned, they impart an unpleasant taste to the water kept in them.
When dismissing Hagar, Abraham equipped her with a “skin bottle [Heb., cheʹmeth].” (Ge 21:14, 15, 19) The Gibeonites told Joshua: “These are the wine skin-bottles [Heb., noʼ·dhohthʹ] that we filled new, and, look! they have burst.” (Jos 9:13) Such a thing could happen in time because of pressure built up because of active fermentation of the wine. Elihu said: “Look! My belly is like wine that has no vent; like new skin bottles [Heb., ʼo·vohthʹ] it wants to burst open.” (Job 32:19) Generally, however, new wineskins would be able to withstand the internal pressure developed because of active fermentation of the wine. Yet, old wineskins would in time become hard and lose their elasticity, and they were then likely to burst. Hence, Jesus Christ fittingly said: “Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins; but if they do, then the wineskins burst and the wine spills out and the wineskins are ruined. But people put new wine into new wineskins, and both things are preserved.”—Mt 9:17.
David, a fugitive beleaguered by foes, referred to the skin bottle figuratively, saying: “Do put my tears in your skin bottle.” (Ps 56:8) Thus David requested God, in whom he placed his trust, to put his tears as if in a skin bottle in order to remember them.
Probably skins filled with wine were sometimes hung where they could be smoked in order to protect them from insects or to impart certain desired properties to the wine quickly. On the other hand, when not in use, skin bottles might be hung in a room without a chimney and thus become darkened by smoke from fires built there. These wineskins would soon lose their elasticity and shrivel up. Perhaps with this in mind, the psalmist who was beset with trials said: “For I have become like a skin bottle in the smoke.”—Ps 119:83; see POTTER; VESSELS; WINESKINS.