Reformation Thought: Olam!
I distinctly remember a gathering in late November of 2011 at Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell’s home right up the road from us. It was a balmy Sunday afternoon with a short but torrential thunderstorm that threatened to dampen the jovial occasion until the low sun in the west broke through and chased the dark clouds from the sky.
As it did so, a brilliant rainbow was emblazoned on the dark receding clouds across Newberry Road capped with a fainter, but very visible, second rainbow. As most parents have at one time or another, I grabbed the teachable moment and draped my arm across the shoulders of one of my growing boys.
“That’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he responded. We just soaked in the moment and the incredible contrast of storm and rainbow. Certainly, it was one of the prettier ones I have seen.
“You know what that means, right?” Of course he knew, but the question gets asked every time we see a rainbow. How can it not be asked? It is one of those ‘forever’ promises that we have from our Father in heaven, and every time He displays a rainbow it is intended to remind both Him and us that His promise to Noah is forever.
In fact, Yahweh (God) tells Noah ‘Olam!’ twice in the Genesis 9 recounting. Verse 12 says, “God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for everlasting (olam) generations;’” Verse 16 says, “When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting (olam) covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Recently, I woke in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Olam!’ No kidding!
I got out of bed and slipped into the quiet den so I could consider some of the uses of this Hebrew word of promise.
Strongs Concordance points to more than 430 uses of olam in the Old Testament with a variety of translational words including ‘ages, always, continual, eternal, long, never’ and ‘permanently,’ though most uses fall into three words: ‘everlasting (112), forever (206) and perpetual (29).’
There are so many great promises that, like the covenant of the rainbow, are olam! Forever! Everlasting!!
From last week’s Reformation Thought: Exodus 3:15 “God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘Yahweh,…is My name forever (olam), and this is my memorial name to all generations.’”
Psalm 136 tells us 26 times that ‘His lovingkindness is everlasting (olam).’
In Isaiah 63:12 speaking of the lovingkindness of Yahweh (v.7) Isaiah says, “Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting (olam) name,”
2 Chronicles 7:14-16 Yahweh’s name is in/on Jerusalem forever. Olam!
You get the picture. There are dozens and dozens of similar references.
But, what if olam suddenly didn’t mean everlasting or forever? What if Yahweh doesn’t really mean olam? What if we could decide what is olam and what isn’t? Can we? Some doctrines and traditions try. Let’s compare to the olam (eternal/everlasting) Word.
Leviticus 23:14, 21, 31, 41 “It shall be a perpetual (olam) statute throughout your generations…”
Numbers 15:15-16 “As for the assembly (qahal: congregation/church see Acts 7:38) there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual (olam) statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before Yahweh. There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.” (Compare with Eph. 4:4-6)
Exodus 31:16-17 “So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual (olam) covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever (olam); for in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased and was refreshed.”
Psalm 119:44-45 “So I will keep Your Torah (law) continually, forever (olam) and ever, and I will walk at liberty for I seek Your precepts.”
Psalm 119:111-112 “I have inherited Your testimonies forever (olam), for they are the joy of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever (olam), to the end.”
Hmmm… Suddenly the warm fuzzies of the rainbow are gone and olam doesn’t seem like such an easy word to grapple with.
Does Yahweh really mean forever? His Word seems to indicate that He does. Consider:
Sabbaths in the Millennium: See in context, Isaiah 66:23. “’And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says Yahweh.”
Feasts in the Millennium: See in context, Zechariah 14:16. “Then it will come about that any who are left of all nations that went up against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, Yahweh Sabbaoth, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.” (Feast of Booths also mentioned in verses 18 & 19!!)
Eating unclean in the Millennium: See in context, Isaiah 66:16-17 “For Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by Yahweh will be many. ‘Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens, following one in the center (pagan rituals?) who eat swine’s flesh, detestable things and mice, will come to an end altogether,’ declares Yahweh.” (see also Is. 65:1-7. Esp. v. 4)
Please understand, I KNOW this is rough sailing in turbulent waters. Doctrines and traditions can become sacred if not held with an open hand. The Word of our God must be the final authority. This trip will get smoother, but we have to address a few more challenging questions.
The Reformation is only beginning. We must seek to worship in spirit and truth.
The next Reformation Thought: Grafting.