The Bible as oil prospector

A man believes that a Bible verse teaches that there is oil in Israel.  So he started Zion Oil & Gas Co. to find it.  And apparently he has.

Ask John Brown why he’s spent three decades looking for oil and natural gas reserves in Israel, and he has a simple answer: The Bible told him to.

That sounds a bit crazy, the chairman of Zion Oil and Gas Co. admits, especially because no one had ever found much oil there.

“In the first years, it was sort of bizarre to talk about oil and gas in Israel because there was none,” Brown said. “There’s an old joke that, when he came to the Promised Land, Moses should have turned left and gone to Saudi Arabia instead.”

These days, it looks like Brown, who will be in Nashville this weekend for the National Religious Broadcasters convention, may be on to something. Two years ago, a major natural gas field was found off the coast of Israel. And the rising price of oil and new technology have made oil shale, which Israel has in abundance, financially viable. Billionaire investors like Rupert Murdoch and George Soros are putting money into companies looking for oil in Israel.

Brown, whose company’s U.S. base is in Dallas, sees these new developments as signs of God fulfilling his promises in the Bible.

“I think it’s God’s blessing for the nation of Israel,” he said.

Zion Oil and Gas Co. was inspired by a passage in the Old Testament, Genesis 49:25: “Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under.”

Brown says the passage refers to oil. Biblical scholars aren’t so sure.

via Bible inspires hunt for oil in Israel | The Tennessean | tennessean.com.

So what do you think the verse is referring to?  Is this “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Context: Jacob’s parting words of blessing to his sons at the end of his life. The blessings from above and below likely refer, in an arid land, to water: rain from the sky and springs from the ground. Some translations, in fact, refer to “deep springs”. Oil deposits were of no great value to anyone prior to the advent of mass production of the internal combustion engine.
    This guy gets a zero on the “rightly-dividing” scale.

  • Pete

    Context: Jacob’s parting words of blessing to his sons at the end of his life. The blessings from above and below likely refer, in an arid land, to water: rain from the sky and springs from the ground. Some translations, in fact, refer to “deep springs”. Oil deposits were of no great value to anyone prior to the advent of mass production of the internal combustion engine.
    This guy gets a zero on the “rightly-dividing” scale.

  • Dan Kempin

    Having spent a semester in Israel back in 1990, I can tell you that among the Zionist Christians, that interpretation has been around for a long time. It is, more or less, an article of faith.

  • Dan Kempin

    Having spent a semester in Israel back in 1990, I can tell you that among the Zionist Christians, that interpretation has been around for a long time. It is, more or less, an article of faith.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Ugh… will somebody PLEASE teach Christians better hermeneutics!? There is too much of this type of drivel passing for Biblical understanding as it is!

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Ugh… will somebody PLEASE teach Christians better hermeneutics!? There is too much of this type of drivel passing for Biblical understanding as it is!

  • WebMonk

    They’ve known about the oil shale for quite a while, and “oil shale, which Israel has in abundance” is a bit misleading. They have a little bit of oil shale, and it is low quality.

    If God had intended to bless Israel with oil on the scale which Brown seems to suggest, I think He would have done a better job of it than a tiny bit of low quality oil which is hard to extract.

  • WebMonk

    They’ve known about the oil shale for quite a while, and “oil shale, which Israel has in abundance” is a bit misleading. They have a little bit of oil shale, and it is low quality.

    If God had intended to bless Israel with oil on the scale which Brown seems to suggest, I think He would have done a better job of it than a tiny bit of low quality oil which is hard to extract.

  • Jonathan

    Well then, by his hermeneutic, what are the blessings from above? That must mean that Israel should develop a manned space program which will lead to their discovery of a wealth of resources on Mars, including space tourism. Maybe Sir Richard Branson should start investing.

  • Jonathan

    Well then, by his hermeneutic, what are the blessings from above? That must mean that Israel should develop a manned space program which will lead to their discovery of a wealth of resources on Mars, including space tourism. Maybe Sir Richard Branson should start investing.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Agreed on the hermeneutics. I read years ago, though (I don’t know how authentic the story was), that the man who discovered the Egyptian oil fields was an English military officer, who read in his Bible that Moses’ mother smeared his basket with pitch. Since pitch is a bituminous product, he decided there must be oil in Egypt, and went out to look for it, with rather successful results.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Agreed on the hermeneutics. I read years ago, though (I don’t know how authentic the story was), that the man who discovered the Egyptian oil fields was an English military officer, who read in his Bible that Moses’ mother smeared his basket with pitch. Since pitch is a bituminous product, he decided there must be oil in Egypt, and went out to look for it, with rather successful results.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Consider that having lots of oil would be a curse. Rich man going through the eye of a needle etc.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Consider that having lots of oil would be a curse. Rich man going through the eye of a needle etc.

  • trotk

    I wonder if he is looking for the blessings that are listed immediately after the reference to the oil.

  • trotk

    I wonder if he is looking for the blessings that are listed immediately after the reference to the oil.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    If we’re to use a consistent hermeneutic, it would appear that the oil would be found only in the regions inhabited by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, and would be manifested somehow (per trotk’s comment) in childbearing.

    Bad hermeneutic, but the man’s life has been turned around. Looks like even weird exegesis can be used of God to bless a man.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    If we’re to use a consistent hermeneutic, it would appear that the oil would be found only in the regions inhabited by the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, and would be manifested somehow (per trotk’s comment) in childbearing.

    Bad hermeneutic, but the man’s life has been turned around. Looks like even weird exegesis can be used of God to bless a man.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Hmm… a crackpot gets lucky?

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    Hmm… a crackpot gets lucky?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, so has anybody considered exploring “the skies above” Israel for oil, as well? Might there be oil in them thar clouds?

    I’m kidding, of course. This is silly. Doesn’t the very next verse suggest that this is about something other than natural resources?

    Your father’s blessings are greater
    than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
    than the bounty of the age-old hills.

    Though, I suppose if I were given to reading the Bible like John Brown, I would interpret verse 26 to mean that the oil with which Israel is blessed (?) is worth more than gold?

    Anyhow, Bubba said (@9), “Looks like even weird exegesis can be used of God to bless a man.” That would be an … interesting take on things. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous? That God blesses men not through their lousy exegesis, but in spite of it? Or else we could find ourselves saying bizarre things like “Looks like even murder can be used of God to bless a man.”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, so has anybody considered exploring “the skies above” Israel for oil, as well? Might there be oil in them thar clouds?

    I’m kidding, of course. This is silly. Doesn’t the very next verse suggest that this is about something other than natural resources?

    Your father’s blessings are greater
    than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
    than the bounty of the age-old hills.

    Though, I suppose if I were given to reading the Bible like John Brown, I would interpret verse 26 to mean that the oil with which Israel is blessed (?) is worth more than gold?

    Anyhow, Bubba said (@9), “Looks like even weird exegesis can be used of God to bless a man.” That would be an … interesting take on things. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous? That God blesses men not through their lousy exegesis, but in spite of it? Or else we could find ourselves saying bizarre things like “Looks like even murder can be used of God to bless a man.”

  • SKPeterson

    I like Jonathan’s comment on the blessings from above. My reading is that this refers to regional satellite telecommunications superiority leading me to invest all of my income here: http://www.gilat.net/

  • SKPeterson

    I like Jonathan’s comment on the blessings from above. My reading is that this refers to regional satellite telecommunications superiority leading me to invest all of my income here: http://www.gilat.net/

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    This may be crude (sorry about that Chief) on my part, but does the Bible say anything on where to look for Gold in Alaska?

    I’m gonna start reading a bit more carefully.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    This may be crude (sorry about that Chief) on my part, but does the Bible say anything on where to look for Gold in Alaska?

    I’m gonna start reading a bit more carefully.

  • Orianna Laun

    Maybe he forgot that more comes out of the ground than “a-bubblin’ crude.” Deuteronomy 8:9b–”. . .a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
    People who read the Bible in this manner, namely, a book of how-to (follow a bunch of rules, get rich quick, have a best life now) miss the point.

  • Orianna Laun

    Maybe he forgot that more comes out of the ground than “a-bubblin’ crude.” Deuteronomy 8:9b–”. . .a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.”
    People who read the Bible in this manner, namely, a book of how-to (follow a bunch of rules, get rich quick, have a best life now) miss the point.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    If John Brown had said the Prayer of Jabez properly, wouldn’t he already be rich, without needing to muck around with all that shale?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    If John Brown had said the Prayer of Jabez properly, wouldn’t he already be rich, without needing to muck around with all that shale?

  • Jesse Yow

    What about the tar pits in the Valley of Siddim (Gen 14:10)?

  • Jesse Yow

    What about the tar pits in the Valley of Siddim (Gen 14:10)?

  • Christopher

    Not only is this a bad way to read the Bible and very speculative but he needs to read Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 that laid out what Israel was supposed to do in order to be blessed by the Lord and if they failed to live up to the Law that the Lord gave them they as a country would be under a curse.

    Thus, Israel rejected their God and Messiah over 2,000 years ago so they are still in rebellion towards God, falling under a curse rather than a blessing.

    Israel must repent before it can be restored unto God and begin to receive the blessings of the Lord. Though I still don’t know that those blessings will mean oil (they might but probably not based from the verses that are mentioned).

  • Christopher

    Not only is this a bad way to read the Bible and very speculative but he needs to read Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 that laid out what Israel was supposed to do in order to be blessed by the Lord and if they failed to live up to the Law that the Lord gave them they as a country would be under a curse.

    Thus, Israel rejected their God and Messiah over 2,000 years ago so they are still in rebellion towards God, falling under a curse rather than a blessing.

    Israel must repent before it can be restored unto God and begin to receive the blessings of the Lord. Though I still don’t know that those blessings will mean oil (they might but probably not based from the verses that are mentioned).