Questions From Readers
● Ecclesiastes 1:4 says that the earth abides forever, but how do we know “forever” means throughout eternity, and not just to some future, indefinite, concealed time? The same was said of the law covenant, but it came to an end.—R. S., United States.
The Hebrew word translated “forever” in most translations, and “to time indefinite” in the New World Translation, is ʽolamʹ. Its basic meaning is “hidden” or “concealed” and relates to time. Hence it means “time indefinite.” It may mean many years or it may mean eternity. Exodus 31:16 and Leviticus 24:8 use it concerning a part of the law covenant and Isaiah 21:5 uses it concerning the entire law covenant, calling it “the everlasting covenant.” (AV) Numbers 25:13 uses it when speaking of “an everlasting priesthood.” (AV) But Galatians 3:24, 25 and Colossians 2:14 show the law covenant ended with Christ’s death and resurrection, and Hebrews chapter 7 shows an ending to the law and the “everlasting priesthood.” This time period was concealed, but it had an end.
ʽOlamʹ may mean eternity, as is apparent when it is used where Jehovah is called “the everlasting God,” and spoken of as being “from everlasting to everlasting.” (Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28; Ps. 90:2, AV) It is used to depict Jehovah as the “king of eternity.” (Jer. 10:10, Da; AV, margin) Hence, as Gesenius’ Hebrew and English Lexicon says, the word indicates “time future, ever, forever, evermore, in such a way that the terminus ad quem [end to which] as it is called is to be determined from the nature of the subject.”
So it is “from the nature of the subject” at Ecclesiastes 1:4 that we must determine whether ʽolamʹ as there used means to a concealed but limited time or to eternity. The text reads: “A generation is going and a generation is coming, but the earth is standing even to time indefinite.” Jehovah made the earth as man’s home. He made man to live, not die. Death was the penalty of disobedience. As long as the perfect man obeyed he would live, even forever if forever obedient. Even after sin and death entered, obedient men who exercise faith in Christ have the promise of everlasting life on earth: “The meek ones themselves will possess the earth.” Jesus said: “Everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.” To know Jehovah and Christ “means everlasting life.” (Ps. 37:11; John 11:26; 17:3) Jehovah God “formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.”—Isa. 45:18, AV.
He made the earth to be inhabited by obedient men who would live forever; so the earth must remain forever as their home, else its creation would be in vain. This is made sure by Psalm 104:5. For emphasis two Hebrew words are used, ʽolamʹ and ʽad. The latter means, according to Harkavy’s Students’ Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, “duration, everlastingness, eternity, for ever.” So by both these Hebrew words Psalm 104:5 makes doubly sure the earth’s permanence: “He has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, nor forever.”