I’ve been noticing an advertisement from Zion Oil and Gas, Inc. for Christians to invest in their company. The promotional video and offer for investment information are based on the claim that the Bible predicts that Israel will discover oil. The company is “drilling for the blessings of the deep” (Gen. 49:1, 25-28).
First, Genesis 49:1 is not a prophecy about the distant future and the discovery of oil; it’s about Israel’s future in “the days to come,” that is, the days to come for “the twelve sons of Jacob, and to the twelve tribes, as descending from them.” The King James Version translates the two Hebrew words used as “last days,” but more accurate translations translate them as “days to come” or “in the future,” “when they should be settled in the land of promise” after the exodus from captivity and their eventual entry into the land of Canaan.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about the claim of oil discovery in Israel based on out-of-context Bible passages. An article is out reporting that Israel has discovered oil. Good for Israel. The article carries this title: “Major Find of Oil in Israel? This Will Make the Muslims Angry!” It probably will since it doesn’t matter what Israel does, Muslims are always angry. But what does the discovery of oil in Israel have to do with Bible prophecy?
At the end of the above article, there was a statement about how this potential oil find could be a fulfillment of Bible prophecy by referencing Deuteronomy 32:1-13 and Job 29:6.
I posted a comment pointing out that the “oil out of the flinty rock” and “rivers of oil” are a reference to olive oil, not crude oil. Instead of people saying, “Thank you for pointing this out to me,” there were attempts to defend the crude oil interpretation.
The context makes it clear that what Moses is referencing in Deuteronomy is how God had provided the “increase of the fields” to His people. You know what’s coming next: “Yes, oil fields!” No, fields as in agricultural fields of wheat and grapes. There’s also mention of honey and other produce. Take a look at Deuteronomy 32:14. Context is important:
Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat—
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.
One Bible commentator wrote:
“Oil out of the flinty rocks — Olive-trees growing and bearing fruit best in rocky or hilly places. The expressions are proverbial, and denote a most fertile land.”
Here’s another one:
“‘The high places’ and ‘the fields’ are specially applicable to the tablelands of Gilead as are the allusions to the herds and flocks, the honey of the wild bees which hive in the crevices of the rocks, the oil from the olive as it grew singly or in small clumps on the tops of hills where scarcely anything else would grow, the finest wheat (Ps 81:16; 147:14), and the prolific vintage.”
Bible expositor John Gill’s comments are similar:
“[A]nd oil out of the flinty rock; that is, oil out of the olives, which grow on rocks, and these delight to grow on hills and mountains; hence we read of the mount of Olives [Matt. 21:1; 24:3], see Job 29:6; and so the Targum of Jonathan, ‘and oil out of the olives and suckers which grow on the strong rocks.”
This isn’t the first time that olive oil has been misidentified as crude oil. Hal Lindsey tried to make the connection.1 A book attempted to make the same case: Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil.2 The book’s description reads as follows:
“A treasure map was hidden in the Bible more than three thousand years ago. The treasure, a gift from God to Israel, was buried in the sands of the Promised Land to ensure her prosperity and protection. ‘Breaking the Treasure Code’ pieces the map together and reveals the clues that lead to a vast oil reserve; the source of Israel’s wealth and the key to her survival in the last days.”
That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news. Israel will be invaded because of this oil find. “The interesting thing is,” Lindsey writes, “that this invasion will be triggered by the enormous wealth that the nation accumulates in this time.”
Israel just can’t win. The Arab countries have been swimming in oil for decades and living the luxurious life from the accumulated revenue, but soon as Israel discovers the long-buried energy source, she’s going to be invaded! Bummer.
Israel may discover oil, but can a biblical case be made for the prophetic significance of oil as it relates to Israel and a future end-time scenario made popular by prophecy writers? We were told the moon was going to be turned into blood. Now we’re being told that olive oil is really crude oil.
Lindsey and the Zion Oil Company believe the phrase “the deep that lies beneath” (Gen. 49:25) is a reference to crude oil. If the “deep” refers to oil, then what are the “blessings of heaven above”? They don’t say. You can see that Genesis 49:25 is a classic example of Hebrew parallelism. How do more accomplished interpreters interpret the passage? “Blessings from heaven above” is a reference to “rain for crops,” while “from the deep” refers to “streams and wells for water”3 (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 33:13).
Contextually, this interpretation makes sense since the lack of rain and dry wells, especially for people living in a region not far from desert conditions, would invariably lead to failed crops and depleted livestock. There is nothing in all of Genesis 49 that would lead the interpreter to conclude that buried in the deep is a reference to crude oil. Lindsey and Zion are reading modern-day geo-politics and technology into the text.Lindsey did a similar thing in his 1973 book
Lindsey did a similar thing in his 1973 book There’s a New World Coming when he seems to accept the identification of the locusts that came up out of the pit in Revelation 9 as Vietnam-era “Cobra helicopters.”4
Similar exegetical claims can be found in passages like Ezekiel 38 and 39 where bows and arrows became missile launchers and missiles, chariots become tanks, and horses mean “horsepower.”5
Lindsey continues by appealing to Deuteronomy 33:24 to support his crude oil theory: “And of Asher he said, ‘More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil.’”
The “oil” of this verse is a reference to “olive oil.” Jack S. Deere, writing on Deuteronomy in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, states that “to bathe one’s feet in oil rather than simply to anoint them would be an extravagant act. Thus the tribe of Asher would experience abundant fertility and prosperity.”6
Jan Ridderbos makes a similar observation: “his land will be so rich in oil that it is possible, so to speak, to wade in it. Indeed, Galilee, Asher’s territory, was rich in olive trees.”7
Anyone familiar with the geography and history of Israel would know “The land of Asher was agriculturally rich, and is still known for its olive groves.”8
When the word “oil” appears in the Bible, it is never a reference to crude oil or petroleum but olive oil.9 Petroleum substances (bitumen) were known and used in Bible times, but they were not identified as “oil.” There were pools of an asphalt-like material often translated as “pitch” or “tar” (KJV: “slime”): “Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits. . .” (Gen. 11:14). The “pitch” or “tar” was used for waterproofing – Noah’s ark (Gen. 6:14), Noah’s wicker basket (Ex. 2:3), and the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:3).
If God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 33:13-14, 24 in prophetic terms, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew words already in use at that time to make the point so as not to confuse modern-day interpreters who read into the Bible what’s not there.
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