Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Crackpot or Hand of God?

I came upon this news article yesterday. [link changed on 8/30/05 to compensate for dead link] It tells of an evangelical who started an oil company specifically because he believes that a passage of Genesis predicts vast oil reserves in Israel. He hopes to find these reserves in order that Israel might become energy-independent.

My first reaction to such news, and such interpretations of the Bible in general, is "this guy's bonkers!" The passage in question is in Genesis 49:25, as Jacob blesses Joseph. Among other things, Jacob tells Joseph that God has blessed him with "blessings of the deep that couches beneath" (I'm not sure what translation this is from. Certainly not the TNIV or NIV translations I use for reference. This is the exact quote from the news article.). The now-oil baron has, following the words of an evangelical preacher some years earlier, interpreted this passage as referring to oil ("blessings of the deep") "beneath" Israel (Joseph's legacy). While I can bend my mind enough to see how one might get to this interpretation from the text, it is by no means intuitive or obvious, and certainly fails to look at the passage in relation to any of the other blessings in the chapter. In fact, I can suggest any number of better possibilities, and generally lampoon interpretations that sound more like something out of Left Behind than the Word of God (oooh, now I've made the fundamentalists mad).

It is worth noting that scientists apparently say that there is some possibility of find a fair amount of untapped oil in Israel, although virtually no one suggests that there will be enough to grant Israel total energy independence.

Which causes me to take a step back for a moment. What would it mean if it turns out that there is a huge oil resource underneath Israel? The Gospel of Matthew contains lots of examples of "prophecy fulfilled" that follow the most appalling exegetical standards. Yet we accept this as the Word of God. And what would it mean if Israel did suddenly become "energy independent"? I confess to a bit of fear and trepedation here, not because my interpretive conclusions about the Genesis passage would be proven wrong so much as because it would be seen as an affirmation of Israel's anti-Palestinian human rights atrocities. This, in turn, would call into question my assumptions that, although Palestinians are not (yet) Christian, God still loves them, and hopes to save them (as opposed to using the nation of Israel to wipe them off the face of the earth).

But would the existence of oil really prove that this interpretation was correct, or would it be just a coincidence? It has long been assumed that no amount of "proof" is ever absolute, and that some level of faith must enter into the equation. I certainly don't want to be on the wrong side of God. But at the end of the day, I just can't accept that this passage of Genesis is God's way of telling Israel that, in the 21st century, they would come upon "blessings of the deep" in the form of oil. It's simply not consistent with my understanding of the revelation of God.

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