Question:

Does the word "forever" in Ecclesiastes 1:4 means "everlasting?"


Answer:

"One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

The Hebrew word 'owlam refers to something that is of a long, indefinite period. It is a period of time which you cannot say for certainty when it comes to an end. To see this, look a few verses later to Ecclesiastes 1:10, "Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us." The same word, 'owlam is translated as "ancient times." The writer is not stating that the world has been in existence for an infinite amount of time, but that it has been around so long that it is hard to say precisely when it began.

God stated in Isaiah 42:14, "I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once." The same word, 'owlam, is translated at "a long time." In this verse God is not saying He would never speak. In fact, He states that now He would cry out. He had held His peace for a long, indefinite time, but that time came to an end. Therefore, we see that something "forever" can come to an end.

This is also seen in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, "And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute" (Leviticus 24:9). (The word 'owlam, is translated as "perpetual.") Though perpetual, those sacrifices came to an end (Hebrews 9:25-28).

In the same way, the temple was built to stand forever (II Chronicles 2:4), but that temple no longer stands.