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Forever (Heb. olam): Does it Really Mean Forever?

By Chuck Henry
chuck.henry@sbcglobal.net
http://www.halleluyahfellowship.com
rev. 12/6/2012

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Introduction

Definition

Observation of a Problem

Deducing an Answer from Scripture

Occasional Contexts Referring to a Person’s Lifetime or Some Other Time Period

Conclusion

 

 

 

Most of the time, the word “forever” (or, as it appears in the KJV, two words: “for ever”) in the older writings, commonly called the “Old Testament,” is translated from the Hebrew word olam (H5769).

 

 

 

Strong’s Dictionary definition uses various words to describe olam. Following, is the definition portion of the entry in Strong’s Dictionary

 

From H5956; prop. concealed, i.e. the vanishing point; gen. time out of mind (past or fut.), i.e. (practically) eternity; freq. adv. (espec. with prep. pref.) always.

 

The Hebrew word olam was also translated many times as “everlasting” and “perpetual.”

 

 

 

Forever (olam) has been arbitrarily interpreted by many to fit whatever it is that they want to believe as to how long something lasts. For example, the Feasts (Leviticus 23) – it has been said that even though they were forever, they have reached their “vanishing point” in Messiah, and thus the days are no longer to be kept, except as they are understood to be “kept in Him.” However, this creates an interpretational nightmare for other passages. Case in point: Zechariah 14:16-19, which speaks of the Feast of Tabernacles being kept yet in the future, “And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, on them there will be no rain” (Zec 14:17).

 

Besides “vanishing point,” how about considering the other portions of the definition? —

 

  • “time out of mind”

 

  • “eternity”

 

  • “always”

 

 

 

Does “forever” really mean forever? I believe we can deduce the answer from Scripture. There are numerous examples. Here are several:

 

Gen 9:16

The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting (olam H5769) covenant between the Mighty One and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

 

-- Comment: We can see for ourselves that this covenant is still in effect when we see a rainbow in the sky.

 

Exo 3:15

Moreover the Mighty One said to Moses, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: Yahweh the Mighty One of your fathers, the Mighty One of Abraham, the Mighty One of Isaac, and the Mighty One of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever (olam H5769), and this is My memorial to all generations.

 

Exo 14:13

And Moses said to the people, Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever (olam H5769).

 

Deu 32:40

For I [Yahweh] raise My hand to heaven, and say, As I live forever (olam H5769).

 

Psa 72:17

His name shall endure forever (olam H5769); His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed.

 

Psa 104:5

You who laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever (olam H5769).

 

Psa 119:89

Forever (olam H5769), O Yahweh, Your word is settled in heaven.

 

Isa 55:3

Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting (olam H5769) covenant with you —  The sure mercies of David.

 

Isa 56:1-8

1 Thus says Yahweh: Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.

2 Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.

3 Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to Yahweh speak, saying, Yahweh has utterly separated me from His people; nor let the eunuch say, Here I am, a dry tree.

4 For thus says Yahweh: To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant,

5 Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting (olam H5769) name that shall not be cut off.

6 Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to Yahweh, to serve Him, and to love the name of Yahweh, to be His servants — Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant —

7 Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.

8 The Master Yahweh, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.

 

Joel 3:20

But Judah shall abide forever (olam H5769), and Jerusalem from generation to generation.

 

Furthermore, the Messiah’s position on “forever” seems to be clear—

 

Mat 5:18

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

 

Here we have a vanishing point mentioned, but please notice it is not until “heaven and earth pass away.” According to the Messiah, not even one jot or tittle of the Torah has been or will be cancelled until “all is fulfilled.”

 

To say that forever means until the “vanishing point” or “until conditions change” might reflect a proper understanding if it is within the framework that this will not come to pass until the end of the age (that may even extend to the end of the Millennial Reign, when the Eternal Kingdom is ushered in).

 

 

 

We have just seen several examples of how the Hebrew word olam, translated forever, actually means forever. In general, this is how the word is used. However, there are occasional contexts where the word forever is indicative of a person’s lifetime. If you stop and think, though, this really is not an understanding that is foreign and unusual. For example, let’s say you went on a cruise and got sick. After arriving back home, you might say that you never intend to go on a cruise again. Or, put another way, you do not intend to go on a cruise again forever. Obviously, this refers to a time period which covers the rest of your lifetime.

 

We find such a usage in Exodus 21:6, having to do with the case of a slave who desires to stay with his master for the rest of his life—

 

Exo 21:6

Then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever [olam H5769].

 

We also find such a usage in 1 Samuel 1. In verse 22, Hannah states her intention to take Samuel to Shiloh after he is weaned and leave him there forever (olam)—

 

1 Sam 1:22

But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, Not until the child is weaned; then I will take him, that he may appear before Yahweh and remain there forever [olam H5769].

 

In verse 28, she also states—

 

1 Sam 1:28

Therefore I also have lent him to Yahweh; as long as he lives he shall be lent to Yahweh. So they worshiped Yahweh there.

 

In Jonah 2:6, we find Jonah rejoicing that, even though he was swallowed by the big fish, and it was as though he was in the grave and his life was over, Yahweh brought him up from the pit—

 

Jon 2:6

I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever [olam H5769]; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Yahweh, my Mighty One.

 

There is also a usage in Deuteronomy 23:3 where forever includes an entire time period, described as “even to the tenth generation” –

 

Deu 23:3

An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of Yahweh; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of Yahweh forever [olam].

 

Evidently, olam, as it is used in this context, emphasizes a period throughout (i.e., not at all cut short) the time period of “even to the tenth generation.”

 

 

 

We have examined the Hebrew word olam and looked at many examples of its usage in Scripture. It is generally used in the normal way we would think of forever, that is, it really does mean forever.

 

Let us not forget the commentary we heard from the Messiah regarding the vanishing point:

 

Mat 5:18

For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

 

The foregoing evidence points us to the conclusion that Yahweh really did mean what He said when He said “forever.”

 

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