Zion Oil & Gas Profiled by Portfolio

Stock down from to

Hal Lindsey still a shareholder

Brown claims some evangelicals “a little crazy”

Staying with Israel, Portfolio magazine has an interview with John Brown, CEO of Zion Oil & Gas:

Between sips of Diet Coke, he begins to tell me his story, occasionally interrupting our conversation to leaf through his Bible, which is embossed with Zion Oil’s logo.

Brown describes his early life in business, his past alocohism and failed marriage, and his conversion to Christianity at the age of 41:

In 1981, with his alcoholism worsening, Brown’s marriage began to dissolve, and he moved into a one-bedroom apartment across town. The mover Brown had hired, a laid-off autoworker, began preaching Christ’s salvation as he unpacked Brown’s belongings. He invited Brown to accept Jesus into his heart.

…Soon all vestiges of Brown’s former life fell away. He began attending a nondenominational church after his divorce became final. A few months later, he sat in on a lecture by Jim Spillman, a journeyman minister who was traveling the country preaching that the Bible documented undiscovered oil reserves in Israel. Brown listened with rapt attention to Spillman’s exotic tales. On his first visit to Israel two years later, Brown decided he would quit G.T.E. Valeron to fulfill Spillman’s vision. Two years after that, in his resignation letter, Brown wrote that “it is with deep regret that I must resign…However, I am involved in an oil project that God blessed me with in Israel, and will now devote all my time to the oil business and doing God’s work.” Brown says he spent his life’s savings in his effort to launch his oil company. By the 1990s, he didn’t have enough money to visit a dentist, and he even worked as a fitness-club janitor for a while.

This is actually a story which this blog has been following for a while, and I looked at Spillman’s ideas here. But although Spillman’s reasoning was somewhat dubious (Deut 33:24, “Let Asher be blessed … and let him dip his foot in oil” supposedly refers to a geographical feature where the oil is waiting to be found), there are some more rational reasons to be optimistic:

In 1962, Lewis Weeks, Exxon’s former chief geologist, issued a report commissioned by the Israeli government that estimated that as many as 2 billion barrels could be recovered. A 1979 study conducted by a Shell Oil geologist, reached a similar conclusion. (Israel says it can only confirm proven reserves of 2 million barrels.)

Indeed, some Israeli geologists say the nation hasn’t had a fair test of its onshore oil potential, because only two dozen wells have probed as far down as the Permian layer, a stratum of rock 250 million years old located more than three miles below the earth’s surface.

On the other hand, Zvi Alexander, who used to direct Israel’s state-owned oil company, says that “no oilman in his right mind would put money into the business”. According to the report,

Zion Oil stock, which topped $12 a share on its first day of trading, in January, had slipped to below $6 by July.

Portfolio also tells us that

Shareholders include Christian leaders such as Hal Lindsey, a bestselling evangelical author…In March, four chartered coach buses pulled up to Zion Oil’s white-stucco office building in an industrial park a few miles from the drilling site. In the unyielding glare of the midday sun, Hal Lindsey, author of the prophecy book The Late Great Planet Earth, discharged the 200 evangelical Christians traveling on his nine-day tour of Israel. As part of an itinerary that included visits to Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the Mount of Olives, this unusual, secular-seeming detour was especially thrilling. For Lindsey’s followers and Zion Oil’s evangelical backers, the company is not just a business to invest in. Rather, Zion Oil is evidence that the Bible’s prophecy is actually being fulfilled.

That is particularly interesting, since – as I exclusively blogged in 2005 – one of Zion Oil’s major shareholders used to be a certain Ralph DeVore, a cousin of Lindsey who also helps to run Hal Lindsey Ministries. DeVore and Brown had a spectacular falling-out: DeVore accused Zion Oil of “syncretism” for its close links with Jews, while Brown suggested DeVore was anti-Jewish. I always wondered how this had played out with Lindsey himself.

According to a SEC document, Lindsey himself became a shareholder in 2002:

In October 2002, we gave Hal Lindsey 50,000 shares of common stock upon the recommendation of our chairman, John Brown. Mr. Lindsey has been a supporter of Israeli development for more than forty years through the Hal Lindsey ministries and we wanted to recognize that support in our gift. The gift was recorded in our books as a $50,000 general and administrative expense.

The issuance of securities above were made in reliance upon Section 4(2) of the Securities Act, which provide exemptions for transactions not involving a public offering. We determined that Mr. Lindsey accepted the gift for his own account and not with a view to any distribution thereof to the public. The certificate evidencing the securities bears a legend stating that the shares are not to be offered, sold or transferred other than pursuant to an effective registration statement under the Securities Act or an exemption from such registration requirements.

In 2004, Lindsey, who is regarded by a substantial number of American Christians as a Bible expert, used his column in WorldNetDaily to promote Zion Oil, which, in his opinion, had a good chance of success:

Investment in oil exploration is always a big gamble. But, I believe this is a gamble worth taking for the sake of Israel. Besides, I believe God’s Word is giving some pretty good clues here.

For some reason, the gift of 50,000 shares and his cousin’s then-involvement in the company isn’t included in the article. However, there are many who apparently agree that “this is a gamble worth taking”:

During its I.P.O., Zion received letters from evangelical shareholders who said they had taken second jobs and worked midnight shifts to earn enough money to make the minimum $700 stock purchase…[Anson] O’Connor invested $30,000—almost 10 percent of his life’s savings—in Brown’s company. Despite the fact that no oil has yet been pulled from the earth, O’Connor isn’t worried about losing his money. “It was an act of faith. I needed to do it,” he says. “I wouldn’t risk $30,000 if I didn’t believe.”

But despite this, and despite Brown’s close link with Hal Lindsey, Portfolio includes the following paragraph:

Rapture fantasy has become a multibillion-dollar business, and for a certain type of Christian, Zion Oil provides proof that a global confrontation will soon unfold on the battlefields of Armageddon, as prophesied in Revelations (according to evangelicals’ literal interpretation). For his part, Brown bristles at the apocalypse mania. “I don’t see us as people that are in Israel trying to get this oil because that’s going to make the Messiah come. Some of these evangelical people—they get a little crazy,” he says. “You know I just don’t buy into it. Is he going to come back? Yeah. When? I don’t know.”

A slightly unlikely statement from a man who believes that “a stranger” from “a far country” who comes to help Israel mentioned in 1 Kings 8 is actually a prophetic reference to himself.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

One Response

  1. Richard, great piece !

    So, Brown thinks Bible prophecy applies directly to him, eh ?

    How interesting.

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