What is the meaning of “world” in the Old Testament?

Let us clarify the meaning of the word “world” in Old Testament scriptures in order to understand how it should be used in different contexts. When Christ spoke of the end of the world, did He refer to the destruction of the physical structure or to the end of an era? The meaning of the end of the world is therefore critical to a correct interpretation of related prophecies.

This is the meaning of end of the world in the context in which it is used in the Old Testament:

a. In one context, the word world refers to the physical structure of the world, with the word earth used interchangeably as a synonym

Tebel (H 8398) is the physical structure of the world in Psalm 19: 4 and its cross references:

Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun – Psalm 19:4
Isaiah 62 prophesies about restoration of Israel as a place that is inhabited by God.  ‘Erets is used for world in the phrase end of the world in verse 11.  When crossed referenced in scripture, it is seen that  ‘erets refers to earth and land.  In this context, world therefore refers to the announcement of the restoration of Israel in the uttermost parts of the world or in distant nations.
The same interpretation is true of “all the ends of the world” in Psalm 22, a prophecy about Christ on the cross.  The psalmist prophesied that people of distant nations would remember the Cross, turn to the Lord and worship the Lamb that was slain:

Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him  –Isaiah 62:11

All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee – Psalm 22:27
Finally, here is another text in which the ends of the world refers to the gospel being preached in distant regions of the planet:

But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the worldRomans 10:18

 16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?”

17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.

18 But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have: “The message has gone throughout the earth, and the words to all the world”  – (Romans 10: 16 – 18/New Living Translation)

When used in the phrase “end of the world,” the word world in the Old Testament scriptures refers to the physical structure of the earth as seen in the synonyms Tebel (H 8398)  and ‘erets (H 776).  In the upcoming post, we will explore the meaning of “end of the world,” in the New Testament scriptures.


Bible references for the end of the world