As is our present custom, we take the second Sunday night of the
month to answer questions. If you have a question, you may either
e-mail it to me indicating that you want it to be a second Sunday
night question or fill out one of the forms in the foyer and drop
it in the box by my office. In this lesson we have time to cover
two completely dissimilar questions.
What is the length of time conveyed by “forever” and
“everlasting” in verses such as Genesis
13:15; 17:7 and Ezra 9:12?
First, understand why this is an important question.
Premillennialists and Jehovah’s Witnesses both find passages
that use the term “forever” as a basis for their teachings.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses use it to support their doctrine that
the earth will remain eternally and only 144,000 will go to
heaven. The Premillennialists use it to proclaim that the Jews
should live in the Promised Land and be God’s chosen people
until the end of time. However, both doctrines mistake how the
Bible uses the term.
The word that is translated “forever” or
“everlasting” in these passages is the Hebrew word “olam.”
This word can certainly mean “eternal” in the most literal
sense, as in Genesis
21:33 when Abraham called on the “Everlasting God” (cf.
44:6). However, it does not always mean that. In fact, by
examining its usage we find it is actually a relative term. Just
as we today may use the words “forever” and “always”
relatively, so did the Old Testament. The term is used to mean a
long time, but long time is relative to the circumstance
Consider several examples:
17:10-13, God said circumcision would be an “everlasting
(olam) covenant.” However, Galatians
5:3-4 says that we will fall from grace if we are
circumcised as an issue of having a saving covenant with God.
and other passages say the Passover is a “permanent (olam)
ordinance.” Additionally, Exodus
31:16 said the Sabbath was a “perpetual (olam)
covenant.” However, Colossians
2:16-17 demonstrates that the Sabbaths and feasts are no
says the law belongs to the Jews “forever (olam)” that they
may observe it. Further, many passages like Exodus
27:21 and Numbers 25:12-13 provide promises of
“perpetual (olam) priesthood” for the descendents of Aaron and
then Phinehas. However, Hebrews
7:12 says there has been a change both of the law and the
says the annual Day of Atonement sacrifice was a “permanent (olam)
statute.” However, the ultimate atoning sacrifice of Jesus
Christ brought that statute to an end, as Hebrews
10:1-4, 10-14 demonstrates.
says the descendents of Moab or Ammon should not enter the
assembly of Israel “forever (olam, KJV)” but limits the time
to “ten generations.”
A Hebrew slave could elect to serve his master
“permanently (olam)” in Exodus
21:5-6. Also I
Samuel 1:22 in which Hannah said Samuel would stay in the
tabernacle “forever (olam)”. However, both circumstances are
limited to the life times of the individuals.
6:4 spoke of men “who were of old (olam),” and Joshua
24:2 spoke of the “ancient times (olam)” in which the
Jews’ fathers, namely Terah, lived in Ur of the Chaldees.
Neither of these passages mean “forever ago” literally, but
simply “a long time ago.”
The Hebrew term “olam,” translated “forever”,
“eternal”, “everlasting”, “permanent”,
“perpetual”, etc. does not always literally mean eternal.
Rather, it represents a long period of time. Depending on the
context, it may mean literally eternally, until the end of time or
the end of the world, until the end of the age (or covenant),
until the end of someone’s life, or simply just an undetermined
long period of time. In the passages in our question (Genesis
13:15; 17:7 and Ezra 9:12), the context is a
reference to the length of time for Abraham’s covenant with God
and the period of the Law. When the law and covenant changed these
promises were fulfilled.
2:44-45; 4:34-35 the Christians sold their possessions to
help those in need. With all the needs across the world today, how
accountable are we going to be in regards to all the material
blessings we have?
First, neither of these were instances of general
benevolence. Both were issues of providing material relief to
Christians. While we are individually commanded to do good to all
as we have opportunity (Galatians
6:10), the command is not that we have to sell all that we
have and dole it out to the unlimited list of international
charities. However, there are plenty of needs among our brethren
around the world as well.
5:4 demonstrates these early donations were not a matter
of communism, in which every member is obligated to sell their
possessions. Ananias and Sapphira were in control of their
finances. This demonstrates that no one can dictate an amount or
percentage that we must give to support the work of the church or
the relief of the saints.
Third, the material blessings God has provided are
initially to support ourselves and our family (I
Timothy 5:8). Do not construe anything else I say as
meaning we are required to give so much to others that we become
needy for material relief ourselves. Further, God certainly allows
us to enjoy the material blessings He has given us (Ecclesiastes
5:18-19). Do not construe anything I say to mean we should
feel guilty for having any enjoyments, entertainments or
possessions beyond the strictest of bare essentials.
Having provided these caveats, examine how accountable we
will be based on our blessings. We need to recognize the new
creature we Christians are to become according to Ephesians
4:28. As Christians, the material blessings with which God
blesses us are not for us to hoard, but to share. While we must
take care of ourselves, we must balance our own enjoyment with the
needs of others. If we have starving brethren that we can help but
are not, we should certainly feel guilty for eating extravagantly.
If we have brethren who are naked and destitute that we can help
but are not, we should certainly feel guilty when we wear our
designer clothes and drive our luxury vehicles. God has blessed us
so we can be a blessing to others.
Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul claimed we must give as we have
been prospered. God holds us accountable regarding our giving and
our good works based on the resources with which He has prospered
us. The principle of Luke
12:48 applies here. To whom much has been given, much will
be expected. Further in I
Timothy 6:17-19, Paul explained that those who are rich in
this world’s goods must not fix their hope on the uncertainty of
riches but to store up treasures in heaven by sharing. While we
may all be at various levels of wealth in comparison to each
other, we are all among the richest on the face of the earth. Let
us not trust our riches, but share.
Finally, remember Paul’s further statement to the
Corinthians in II
Corinthians 9:5-8. Paul said we must not be affected by
covetousness, but be willing to give bountifully. He goes on to
say God will provide His grace such that we have abundance for
good deeds. In other words, when we trust God and allow His
blessings to us to become blessings to others, God will continue
to bless us that we might be a further vehicle for His blessing to
The end of the matter is, I cannot provide a number or
percentage for your giving or charitable work for brethren and I
believe God has good reasons for not providing those kinds of
lines. I can tell you that we are responsible to share God’s
blessings with others and our governing principle is Matthew
6:33. As we decide how we will use the financial blessings
God has given us, we must be certain that we are seeking first His
kingdom and righteousness.
I hope these answers are helpful. As always, if you believe
I have missed it on some issue. Feel free to let me know and
let’s discuss it biblically. I believe we can understand what
the will of the Lord is (Ephesians
5:17). Let’s study together and help one another serve
the Lord and go to heaven.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ