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Peddling Prophetic Snake Oil

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In an April 2004 article, Hal Lindsey claimed that the Bible predicts that oil will be discovered in Israel. Now there is a book that attempts to make the same case: Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil.[1] 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.

Israel may in fact discover oil. This would not be surprising since the region is glutted with the liquid gold. But can a biblical case be made for the prophetic significance of oil?

Lindsey and the authors of Breaking the Treasure Code believe, for example, that Genesis 49:25 is about oil when it uses the phrase “blessings from the deep”: “From the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”If the “deep” refers to oil, then what are the “blessings of heaven above”? You can see that Genesis 49:25 is a classic example of Hebrew parallelism. “Blessings from heaven above,” Allen Ross of Dallas Theological Seminary writes, is a reference to “rain for crops,” while “from the deep” refers to “streams and wells for water”[2] (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 33:13). H. C. Leupold captures the meaning of the Hebrew imagery:

The following blessings are specialized: first “blessings of the heavens above”—those would be such blessings as the heavens hold within their grasp—rain, sunshine and pleasant breezes. Then follow “blessings of the deep,” i.e. tehom, the deep source of the subterranean waters, which is pictured as a being “that coucheth (or croucheth) beneath” the earth. This involves the waters stored in the earth that are so essential to all vegetable growth as well as the sources of the much needed streams and of the fountains.[3]

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. Henry Morris, a dispensationalist like Lindsey and a trained civil engineer, understands Genesis 49:25 as a description of how God would bless Joseph “with blessings of rain from the heavens, and with water from the deep, the water flowing through the pores of the ground beneath his feet.”[4] Lindsey is reading modern-day geo-politics into the text. He did the same thing in Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 when he came up with his famous “cobra helicopter” interpretation. Such interpretations are similar to the writer who claims that “horses” in Ezekiel 38:15 is a reference to modern-day “horse power.”[5]

Lindsey and the Spillmans also appeal to Deuteronomy 33:24 to support their 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 dispensational oriented 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] J. A. Thompson adds further insight to the meaning of passage:

The last phrase in verse 24, He dips (or, may he dip) his feet in oil is to be understood as a wish that Asher may enjoy prosperity. The Galilean highlands were famous for olives and both Josephus and one of the Jewish Midrashim refer to this fact. The latter contains the saying, “It is easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up a child in Palestine.”[8]

Did the prophecies for Asher come to pass? Throughout the Old Testament, Asher is identified as a tribe blessed by God (1 Chron. 7:40; 12:36) and a protector of the nation (Judges 6:1–8, 35; 7:23; 1 Sam. 11:7; 1 Chron. 12:23, 36). Asher is one of the few tribes even mentioned in the New Testament. While many Israelites were “dispersed abroad” (James 1:1), a descendant from the tribe of Asher was awaiting the promised Messiah in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36), a wonderful fulfillment of prophecy.

When the word “oil” appears in the Bible, it is never a reference to crude oil.[9] Oil-based 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 (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3) and mortar (Gen. 11:3). If God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 33:24, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew terms already in use to make that point.

Not only do Lindsey and the Spillmans make olive oil mean crude oil, they even find oil where none is even mentioned. Great oil deposits are said to be found, if Lindsey and his other prophetic speculators are to be believed, in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Even a quick reading of these two chapters will show that there is no mention of oil, olive or otherwise. What are Israel’s enemies after?: “cattle and goods . . . plunder . . . silver and gold” (Ezek. 38:12–13). These were common commodities of the time.

Dispensationalists like Hal Lindsey insist that they interpret the Bible literally, and everyone else is an allegorizer. Tim LaHaye tries to sell this point to his uninformed readers in the Introduction to Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice’s The Truth About Left Behind:

Jerry [Jenkins] and I have unashamedly taken the position that all prophecy should be interpreted literally whenever possible. We have been guided throughout by the golden rule of interpretation: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.[10]

If only it were so. Lindsey and the Spillmans, who follow the same “golden rule,” are certainly not applying the principle in Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:24, and other passages they claim refer to crude oil.

Endnotes:

[1] James R. Spillman and Steven M. Spillman, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil (Travelers Rest, SC: True Potential Publishing, Inc., 2005).
[2] Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books/Scripture Press, 1985), 99.
[3] H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1942), 1976), 2:1196.
[4] Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 660.
[5] Rob Linsted, The Next Move: Current Events in Bible Prophecy (Wichita, KS: Bible Truth, n.d.), 41.
[6] Deere, “Deuteronomy,” Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 322.
[7] Jan Ridderbos, Deuteronomy: The Bible Student’s Commentary, trans. Ed M. van der Maas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 311.
[8] J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 316.
[9] See entry of “Oil” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 603-604.
[10] Tim LaHaye, “Introduction,” Hitchcock and Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 7.

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