SPECIAL TOPIC: FOREVER ('olam)

The etymology of the Hebrew term 'olam, עולם (BDB 761, KB 798) is uncertain (NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 345).  It is used in several senses (usually determined by context). The following are only selected examples.

1. ancient things

a. peoples, Gen. 6:4; 1 Sam. 27:8; Jer. 5:15; 28:8

b. places, Isa. 58:12; 61:4

c. God, Ps. 93:2; Pro. 8:23; Isa. 63:16

d. things, Gen. 49:26; Job 22:15; Ps. 24:7,9; Isa. 46:9

e. time, Deut. 32:7; Isa. 51:9; 63:9,11

2. future time

a. one's life, Exod. 21:6; Deut. 15:17; 1 Sam. 1:22; 27:12

b. hyperbole of respect for a king, 1 Kgs. 1:31; Ps. 61:7; Neh. 2:3

c. continuous existence

(1) earth, Ps. 78:69; 104:5; Eccl. 1:4

(2) heavens, Ps. 148:5

d. existence of God

(1) Gen. 21:33

(2) Exod. 15:18

(3) Deut. 32:40

(4) Ps. 93:2

(5) Isa. 40:28

(6) Jer. 10:10

(7) Dan. 12:7

e. the covenant

(1) Gen. 9:12,16; 17:7,13,19

(2) Exod. 31:16

(3) Lev. 24:8

(4) Num. 18:19

(5) 2 Sam. 23:5

(6) Ps. 105:10

(7) Isa. 24:5; 55:3; 61:8

(8) Jer. 32:40; 50:5

f. special covenant with David

(1) 2 Sam. 7:13,16,25,29; 22:51; 23:5

(2) 1 Kgs. 2:33,45; 9:5

(3) 2 Chr. 13:5

(4) Ps. 18:50; 89:4,28,36,37

(5) Isa. 9:7; 55:3

g. God's Messiah

(1) Ps. 45:2; 72:17; 89:35-36; 110:4

(2) Isa. 9:6

h. God's laws

(1) Exod. 29:28; 30:21

(2) Lev. 6:18,22; 7:34; 10:15; 24:9

(3) Num. 18:8,11,19

(4) Ps. 119:89,160

i. God's promises

(1) 2 Sam. 7:13,16,25; 22:51 

(2) 1 Kgs. 9:5

(3) Ps. 18:50

(4) Isa. 40:8

j. Abraham's descendants and the Promised Land

(1) Gen. 13:15; 17:19; 48:4

(2) Exod. 32:13

(3) 1 Chr. 16:17

k. covenantal feasts

(1) Exod. 12:14,17,24

(2) Lev. 23:14,21,41

(3) Num. 10:8

l. eternity, everlasting

 (1) 1 Kgs. 8:13

 (2) Ps. 61:7-8; 77:8; 90:2; 103:17; 145:13

 (3) Isa. 26:4; 45:17

 (4) Dan. 9:24

m. what the Psalms say believers will do forever

(1) give thanks, Ps. 30:12; 79:13

(2) abide in His presence, Ps. 41:12; 61:4,7

(3) trust in His mercy, Ps. 52:8

(4) praise the Lord, Ps. 52:9

(5) sing praises, Ps. 61:8; 89:1

(6) declare His justice, Ps. 75:7-9

(7) glorify His name, Ps. 86:12; 145:2

(8) bless His name, Ps. 145:1

n. used in Isaiah to describe the new age

(1) everlasting covenant, Isa. 24:5; 55:3; 61:8

(2) YHWH an everlasting Rock, Isa. 26:4

(3) everlasting joy, Isa. 35:10; 51:11; 61:7

(4) the Everlasting God, Isa. 40:28

(5) an everlasting salvation, Isa. 45:17

(6) everlasting lovingkindness (Hesed), Isa. 54:8

(7) everlasting sign, Isa. 55:13

(8) an everlasting name, Isa. 56:5; 63:12,16

(9) an everlasting light, Isa. 60:19,20
A negative-oriented use related to the eternal punishment of the wicked is found in Isa. 33:14, "an everlasting burning." Isaiah often uses "fire" to describe God’s wrath (cf. Isa. 9:18,19; 10:16; 47:14), but only in Isa. 33:14 is it described as "everlasting."

3. both backward and forward in time ("from everlasting to everlasting")

a. Ps. 41:13 (praise to God)

b. Ps. 90:2 (God Himself)

c. Ps. 103:17 (the lovingkindness of the Lord)

Remember, context determines the extent of the term's meaning. The everlasting covenants and promises are conditional (i.e., Jeremiah 7, see Special Topic: Covenant).  Be careful of reading your modern view of time or your NT systematic theology into every OT usage of this very fluid word.  Remember, too, the NT universalized OT promises (see Special Topic: Old Testament Predictions of the Future vs. New Testament Predictions).

 

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