Q. What does the Hebrew word ‘olam mean in the Bible?
The Hebrew word ‘olam means “to indefinite futurity,” that is, “for as far into the future as anyone can imagine.” For example, when at the dedication of the ark in Jerusalem David tells the people to “remember [God’s] covenant for ever” and that it is an “everlasting covenant,” he is using the word in both cases. He wants the people to obey the covenant for as far into the future as anyone can imagine, and he is saying that God himself intends to keep the covenant for that long.
But the word can also indicate “from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine.” Wisdom says of herself in Proverbs, “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was.” In other words, “I was formed (or appointed) from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine.”
Sometimes the word is used in both senses at the same time. We see this usage in Psalm 90, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” In other words, “You have been God from from as long ago in the past as anyone can imagine, and you will continue to be God for as far into the future as anyone can imagine.”
In many English Bibles, ‘olam is thus understandably translated with adverbs such as “forever” and with adjectives such as “everlasting.” I certainly don’t see a sense in ‘olam that the time period is finite or expected ever to end.