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עולם

o-lawm’

The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the

everlasting (o-lawm’) arms.” - Duet. 33:27

 

By: David Deschesne

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down.”1

That cute little story helps us to understand how impossible it is to envision a bottomless pit. In space, how far down is “down?” It’s forever.

Now, if you were to look down a proverbial bottomless pit, you would notice there will be a point - like any large, deep hole - that seems to vanish into nothingness. That is the vanishing point. It is quite likely the hole goes down further, still, but you simply are not able to see past it. It’s that vanishing point - or beyond it - that encompasses the rich meaning of the Hebrew word עולם (o-lawm’).

עולם is translated by the King James translators in numerous verses as: “everlasting,” and once as “eternal.”2

The essence of עולם is the vanishing point of a bottomless pit. It is also used poetically to refer to the horizon at dawn, just before the sun rises. It also means eternity, forever, perpetual, and time out of mind.

Though o-lawm’ is used more than three hundred times to indicate indefinite continuance into the very distant future, the meaning of the word is not confined to the future. There are at least twenty instances where it clearly refers to the past. Such usages generally point to something that seems long ago, but rarely if ever refer to a limitless past...The LXX generally translates o-lawm’ by aion which has essentially the same range of meaning. That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contains the idea of endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fac that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “forever,” but “forever and ever.”3

It has been shown that time goes slower when near a large massive object (such as the earth) and as one moves away from the mass, time moves more quickly. When we sleep, the perceptive side of our “self” - the soul, if you will, is temporarily disentangled from the mass that is our body, and that of the earth. Being away from mass, time seems to travel much more quickly, that is why eight hours of sleep sometimes is only perceived as a very short time once you awaken, as compared to the same amount of time if you were sitting in a room wide awake.

Being separated from mass, God operates in that non-time arena, the עולם. Hence, no matter how far you fall down the bottomless pit of your troubles and torments in life, God’s “everlasting” arms will be underneath the vanishing point. As you continue to fall, continue to mire yourself in the quicksand of your troubles, the vanishing point seems elusive; it seems to keep moving ahead of you, never allowing you to reach the end. It is when you cry out to the Lord of O-Lawm’ to save you that He reaches out his arms and catches you.

Because God exists outside of the material realm, and is not affected by the forces mass exert on each other called gravity, He is not subjected to time. As the above citation indicates, עולם usually means a point in the distant future, but can also mean, at times, the past. God was there at the beginning and the end, but to Him it is happening all at once; a paradox our material-based brains are not equipped to understand.

Notes

1. cited from A Brief History of Time, © 1988 Stephen Hawking, p. 1

2. Isa 60:15

3. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Vol. II, ©1980 Moody Bible Institute, pp. 672-673.