The Hebrew word עוֹלָם (olam) is widely misunderstood, but not by BDB which gives a good explanation. Let us notice very carefully how it is used in the OT. The word does not necessarily mean "for ever and ever" meaning unending time as illustrated by its use with a number of nouns which clearly do not last forever.
For example, it used of a slave serving his master forever: Deut 15:17, 1 Sam 27:12, Job 40:28, Ex 21:6, Lev 25:46, etc. That is, "forever" in these contexts is as long as the slave (or master) lives. Put another way, עוֹלָם (olam) means as long as the noun to which it is attached lasts, or, the situation does not change as long as the noun exists.
When applied to God/LORD. the sense become unambiguously "forever without end" because God is immortal and unending: Gen 21:33, Ex 15:18, etc.
In some cases, the word is used of things that clearly had a long but finite time span (eg, slaves of masters as above) -
- Isa 32:14 - the destruction of Jerusalem (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
- Jer 18:16 - the destruction of Jerusalem (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
- Eze 26:21, 27:36, 28:19 - the destruction of Tyre (rebuilt many years later and exists today)
- Isa 30:8 - Isaiah's tablet and scroll clearly did not last "forever"
- 1 Kings 1:31 - David live forever
- Neh 2:3 - the king of Persia live forever
- Ps 115:18 - I will praise forever (ie, as long as I live)
A number of times the word is applied to the earth - Ps 78:69, 104:5, also meaning as long as the earth exists.
The force of Eccl 1:4 is actually straight forward. Solomon is contrasting the relatively short life of a generation, with the much longer (but still finite) life of the earth. BDB expresses this idea as "continuous existence".
Thus, based on the Bible references here, עוֹלָם (olam) does NOT mean forever in the sense of unending time unless it is applied to God; it means continuous existence as long as the noun lasts.
Only God is truly immortal; His creation has a finite beginning - the new earth will last forever, but the current earth clearly will not!
A number of versions attempt to reflect this in the way they render עוֹלָם (olam):
- NLT: never changes
- CEV: never changes
- GNT: stays just the same
- NET: remains the same
- YLT: to the age is standing