Eternal Everlasting in the Ancient Texts

The Mesha Stele – Moabite Stone 930BC

When we read an ancient text we need to consider carefully the words we read and appreciate that the use of a word in the ancient text may have a different meaning to the reader at the time of its writing than the meaning we attribute to it today.

The word “everlasting” is today understood to mean “without end” but in the ancient texts this word can also mean “total or utter destruction”. A prime example is the Mesha Stele which uses the word “everlasting” to refer to the complete destruction of Israel in battle. Take a look at the translation below and consider the highlighted text.

The stele of King Mesha constitutes one of the most important direct accounts of the history of the world that is related in the Bible. The inscription pays tribute to the sovereign, celebrating his great building works and victories over the kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab, son of Omri. The mention of “Israel” is its earliest known written occurrence. Dhiban, ancient Dibon, where the stele was found, was the capital of this kingdom of Moab, located on the left bank of the Dead Sea.

There is a plaster cast of the stone located in the British Museum and the original sited in the Louvre in France.


am Méšaʿ son of Kemôš ? king of Mōʾaḇ the Daibonite. My father reigned over Mōʾaḇ thirty years and I reigned after my father. And I made this high place for Kemôš in Ḳrḥh. [High place of salvation, for he had saved me from all the assailants (?), and because he had caused me to look upon all my foes. ʿOmrî was king of Yisrāʾēl, and he afflicted Mōʾaḇ days many, for Kemôš was angry with his land. And his son succeeded him, and he too said I will afflict Mōʾaḇ. In my days he said s[o], and I looked upon him and upon his house. And Israel utterly perished everlastingly. And ʿOmrî possessed the [la-]

land of Mehēḏeḇā. And (Israel) dwelt therein, his days and half the days of his son, forty years; and ⁠Kemôš restored it in my days. And I built Báʿal-méôn and I made therein the reservoir (?), and I built ⁠Ḳiryāṯēn. Now the men of Gaḏ had dwelt in the land of ʿǎṭarôṯ from of old; and the king of Yi[srāʾēl  built for himself ṭarôṯ. And I fought against the city and took it. And I slew all the people [from] ⁠the city, a gazing-stock for Kemôš and for Mōʾāḇ. And I restored (or captured) from thence the altar-hearth (?) of Dāwḏôh (or its tutelary spirit?), and I dragged it before Kemôš in Ḳeriyyôṯ. And I placed therein the men of Šrn[3] and the men of Mḥrṯ. And Kemôš said unto me Go, seize Neḇôh against Yisrāʾēl. And went by night, and fought against it from dawn unto noon. And I seized it and slew all of it, 7000 men and men-sojourners[5] and women & [women-sojourners, and damsels; for to ʿaštar-Kemôš had I devoted it. And I took from thence the vessels of Yahweh, and dragged them before Kemôš. Now the king of Yisrāʾēl had built ⁠Yáhaṣ, and dwelt therein while he fought against me. And Kemôš drove him away from before me, and I took from Mōʾāḇ 200 men, all the head-men thereof; and I brought them up against Yáhaṣ, and seized it ⁠to add unto Daiḇôn. I built Ḳrḥh,[6] the wall of Yeʿarîn (or the woods), and the wall of ⁠ʿōpel (or the Aoropolis). And I built the gates thereof, and I built the towers thereof. And I built the king’s house, and I made the two reser[voirs? for wa]ter in the middle of ⁠the city. Now cistern there was none in the middle of the city, in Ḳrḥh. And I said to all the people, Make to ⁠you every man a cistern in his house. And I cut out the cutting for Ḳrḥh by means of the prisonercapturd from] Yisrāʾēl. I built ʿǎrōʿēr and I made the high-road by the Arnon. I built Bēṯ-bāmôṯ for it was destroyed. I built Béṣer for ruins ⁠[had it become. And the head-me]n of Daiḇôn were 50, for all Daiḇôn was loyal. And I reigned [over] 100 in the cities which I added to the land. And I built Mahēḏe[ā and Beṯ-diḇlāṯēn, and Beṯ-báʿal-meʿôn; and I brought thither the sheep-masters (?) sheep of the land. And Ḥôrōnēn, there dwelt therein [And] Kemôš said unto me, Go down, fight against Ḥôrōnēn. And I went down and Kemôš [resto]red it in my days. And . . . . . from thence And I . . . . .

The Biblical Text 

So what about the biblical text ….. we read in the book of Jude in the New Testament

Jude 1:7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

You can visit the land of Israel today and see the site of Sodom and Gomorrah and note the fact that an eternal or everlasting fire does not burn today!

We need to be careful when we consider the words eternal and everlasting and recognise that in some contexts it refers to complete or utter destruction rather than an eternal and everlasting event.

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