Home > Literalism, Promised land > Cooper’s golden rule and the army of locusts

Cooper’s golden rule and the army of locusts

February 5, 2011

David L. Cooper (1886-1965), founder of the Biblical Research Society, taught as his Golden Rule of Interpretation: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”

But, is this mantra scriptural, or merely a doctrine of man?

Cooper taught that the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 & 39 describes an attack by Russia and several other nations upon the Jewish state in Palestine. Ezekiel said these invaders all ride upon horses. When discussing the weapons and armor of the invaders, which seem quite primitive, and include spears, shields, bucklers, swords, and bows and arrows, Cooper wrote: [1]

When one speaks to another, he must use terms with which the latter is familiar. In an effort to impart knowledge concerning something that is novel or strange, one must either use familiar terms which are known to both speaker and hearer, or he must by comparison express his ideas. Even then such analogies must be within the realm of the knowledge of the listener. In view of this principle it becomes very evident that Ezekiel had to speak of the future weapons of warfare in terms of those with which his auditors were familiar. Had he spoken of airplanes or machine guns, he would have had to speak of them in known terms, comparing them with familiar objects, or the Lord would have had to coin names for them, which still would have been unintelligible. This He did not choose to do.

Cooper appears to transgress his own “Golden Rule of Interpretation.” He quoted Isaiah 2:1-4, a prophecy that the nations will “beat their swords into plowshares,” and commented as follows:

The prophet looked forward to the time of the coming of the Lord when he will cause all wars to cease. There will, therefore, be no need for weapons of warfare. But there will be a great demand for implements of agriculture. Hence Isaiah said that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Are we to infer from his statement that the processes of manufacturing agricultural implements will be abandoned and that a primitive method of beating the metal into the shape desired will be adopted? Such a thought is preposterous. In the millennium, of which the passage speaks, there will be no occasion for a reversion to primitive methods of manufacturing objects. To interpret this language literally and thus to infer that the methods of manufacturing implements of agriculture now employed will be laid aside and the primitive process of shaping by beating will be adopted is to reduce this sublime prophecy to an utter absurdity. The plain sense, therefore, of the wording of the passage makes nonsense. Hence we must accept that interpretation which will accord with all the facts known, not only of this context, but also of the general sweep of Scripture. Since one must use the language understood by those addressed, we must believe that Isaiah was speaking of the cessation of war and of converting the materials that had been employed in the manufacture of weapons into agricultural implements, putting his message into terms that his audience comprehended. In the same way we must understand Ezekiel to be employing his terms relating to weapons of warfare.

This conclusion is likewise confirmed by a careful study of Joel 2:3-11. When this paragraph is studied carefully, it is absolutely certain that the prophet was speaking of a modern mechanized army, such as is used at the present time or may be developed by military science and engineers.

Cooper said he was “absolutely certain” that Joel’s prophecy describes a modern mechanized army. But Joel’s prophecy alludes to the Israelites in the wilderness, who were accompanied by a pillar of fire during their sojourn in the wilderness, before they reached the promised land. And these are people whose destination is a land like the garden of Eden.

Joel 2:3
A fire devoureth before them; and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them.

The garden of Eden was where man had access to the tree of life. Cherubims, and a flaming sword that turned every way guarded it. [Genesis 3:24]

Joel’s prophecy of a great army of locusts alludes to the words of the spies who Moses had sent to investigate and report on the promised land.

Numbers 13:32-33
And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

When the people, discouraged by the report of the spies, refused to trust God, and take possession of their land, they identified themselves with grasshoppers or locusts. And in the day of the Lord, to which Joel’s prophecy refers, the church, like the Israelites of old, is in a spiritual wilderness, seeking to enter a promised rest. Their experience happened for our examples, Paul said. [1 Corinthians 10:1-11]

Cooper wrote:

At the time of the final restoration of Israel to the land of her fathers, dirigibles and aeroplanes will be in use, because Isaiah foretold this fact. “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” (Isa. 60:8). The prophet saw the children of Israel flying as a cloud and as a dove. The flying is literal. For the reason stated above, and others that might be given, I am of the firm conviction that one must take the language of Ezekiel as referring to the weapons that will be used in the future but he expressed his thought in terms with which his audience was familiar. In my opinion there is, therefore, no reference to, nor authority for, one’s interpreting this passage as a prediction that there will be a return to the use of primitive weapons.

Cooper claimed that the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 & 39, Joel 2:3-11, and Isaiah 60:8, all refer to modern weapons of warfare, depicted in symbolic language. But does not this negate his own mantra for interpreting prophecy, “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense”?

The ones who “fly as a cloud,” in Isaiah 60:8, and who are compared to doves, are not warplanes of the Israeli air force, or any other military force, but represent the saints. Jesus said to his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” [Matthew 10:16] Dispensationalists deny that Isaiah could have written about the New Testament saints, as their doctrine says the age of the church was unknown to the prophets.

Clouds bring rain, which Moses identified with his doctrine. He said:

Deuteronomy 32:2
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.

Isaiah compared the word of God to rain and snow, [Isaiah 55:10-11] which are brought by clouds, so the clouds bringing rain represent those who teach the word of God. While some clouds bring rain, others don’t. The false teachers are represented by clouds without rain.

Proverbs 25:14
Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.

If Cooper had looked in scripture for the identification of the symbol “clouds,” he could easily have found it. There is no merit in his claim that they represent “dirigibles and aeroplanes.” Jude wrote:

Jude 1:12
These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots;

IMO, the clouds without water metaphor applies to Cooper, and his doctrine!  His “literalism” is utterly void of the living waters of the spirit of truth. Peter wrote:

2 Peter 2:17
These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.

To the locusts who lack the faith needed to enter the land of promise, “giants” occupy the land. For dispensationalists, the “giants” include John N. Darby, William Kelly, C. I. Scofield, and other dispensationalists. They tend to see themselves as mere “locusts” in comparison to those men.

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the hordes of Gog and Magog were like a cloud covering the land.

Ezekiel 38:9
Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.

This suggests the invaders of Ezekiel’s prophecy represent false teachers. Dispensationalists often claim that a non-literal approach to prophecy would lead to diverse opinions, but when we look at the amazing range of views amongst dispensationalists for particular prophecies, this argument becomes comical. For example, the locusts of Revelation 9:1-12 were famously interpreted by Hal Lindsey as “attack helicopters.” According to him, in this prophecy, ‘horses prepared for battle’ are heavily armed attack helicopters, ‘crowns of gold’ are the helmets worn by pilots, and the ‘sound of their wings’ are the ‘thunderous sound of many attack helicopters flying overhead.’ The same locusts were interpreted by another dispensationalist, H. A. Ironside, as “Eddyism, Spiritism, and Theosophy,” or the Mormons. And J. Dwight Pentecost said they are “marching armies that torment reprobate Jews.” John N. Darby said the locusts represent “crowds of moral locusts with the sting of false doctrine in their tail. But it was not to destroy temporal prosperity on the earth, but to torment the ungodly Jews; not to kill, but to harass and vex them.” John F. Walvoord claimed they represent “demons who appear in the form of locusts.” Tim Lahey, in the “Left Behind” books, interprets the locusts of Revelation 9:1-12 as “insectlike creatures with human faces and long hair, riding horses.” How can these dispensationalist interpretations all be literal? And what does it say about their mantra of “literalism”?

The problem is that every one of the dispensationalist writers cited above fails to follow the advice of the apostle Peter, who said “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” [2 Peter 1:20] They all offer their own private interpretations or opinions in their publications.

Isaiah said that God would speak to his people in “another tongue.” And the language of prophecy is indeed another tongue or language; it is the language of metaphor, allegory, and parable. [Isaiah 28:9-11; Hosea 12:10]

The prophets used figures of speech, such as simile, and metaphor, and parable, and the New Testament tells us that when Jesus taught the people about the kingdom of God, he invariably spoke to them in parables. [Matthew 13:34-35]

If we believe Isaiah, and Hosea, and follow the examples in the New Testament, Old Testament prophecy was generally not intended to be understood literally as Cooper stated. It was intended to be interpreted. A literal reading will thus lead to wrong conclusions, and confusion. And we can read about several occasions in the NT where the disciples, before they received the spirit of God, were mystified by the sayings of Jesus, and misunderstood him, because they did not interpret his words, but took him literally.

What did the apostle Peter mean by private interpretation? His comment implies that prophecy needs to be interpreted. He did not say they that prophecy should be taken literally. He said no prophecy is of any private interpretation. Beneath the superficial and obvious sense, there is a deeper meaning, one that is hidden, and might be missed. But it is not left to us to make up interpretations of biblical symbols; the interpretations are provided in other scriptures.

Daniel was told by an angel, the words of his prophecies were sealed. Daniel said he did not understand his prophecies. If even Daniel did not understand them, how are we to take them literally? That would make little sense, as if they were meant to be taken literally Daniel would have no trouble understanding them. Daniel said the wicked will not understand the prophecies, but the “wise” will. [Daniel 12:9-10]

If we want to understand prophecy, we need to look in scripture itself for the interpretation of its symbols, and avoid introducing our own interpretations. And do not trust those teachers who insist on always taking prophecy literally, as that is not what Jesus taught his disciples. Joseph said, “do not interpretations belong to God?” [Genesis 40:8]

William Lindsay Alexander wrote in 1880: [2]

Whatever obscurity may surround a prophecy from the terms in which it is couched, a genuine prophecy must be free from ambiguity; i.e., it must not be so expressed that it is equally susceptible of two interpretations, one or other of which cannot but come to pass. That a certain degree of obscurity may attach to a prophecy is presumed; nay, more than this,–it must be obvious that, from the nature of the case, no genuine prophecy can be other than more or less obscure when first enunciated. For as St. Peter says, “No prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation,”–which may mean either that no prophecy interprets itself, but remains obscure until it is explained by the event, or that no prophecy is of the prophet’s own interpretation, so that though he gave the prediction he could not also give the explanation of it; and the reason he assigns for this is, that “prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake being moved (or borne along) by the Holy Ghost.” It thus appears that of a genuine prophecy it is characteristic that it should be obscure, and not carry its own interpretation in itself, or receive this from the man who utters it; and the reason assigned for this by the Apostle is an obviously valid one; for had the prophet spoken out of his own mind, he would, either from inability to do otherwise, or for the sake of finding acceptance for what he uttered from those to whom he uttered it, have spoken in a manner which mere human intelligence would have found no difficulty in interpreting, or would himself at least have been able to interpret what he uttered. Whereas, as the organ of the Divine Spirit, he had to announce what he himself understood not, and what could not be interpreted till the fulfilment of the prediction cast back on it a revealing light. It must be obvious also that were any prophecy to be enunciated in terms so clear and distinct, and with such exactitude of detail, that any person could at once perceive how it was to be fulfilled, its evidential value would be thereby, if not destroyed, greatly invalidated; for it might then be said that the fulfilment had come to pass through the artifice and collusion of those who for sinister ends desired to see it fulfilled. Whilst, then, on the one hand, there must not be in prophecy such obscurity as would render it impossible with any certainty to show the correspondence between the prediction and the fulfilment, it is on the other hand necessary and desirable that the prophecy should not be set forth so plainly that it should be subjected to the suspicion that, being self-interpreting, it had fulfilled itself. But whilst prophecy is thus properly and necessarily obscure, it must not be ambiguous. And by this it stands distinguished from the utterances of the Delphic and other oracles of heathen antiquity. These, when they assumed the form of predictions, and were not mere pieces of prudential counsel, were studiously ambiguous, and this was so notorious that it provoked alike the censure of the sage and the ridicule of the satirist.  The response of the oracle to Croesus, when consulted by him as to the issue of the war in which he purposed to engage with the Persians, as reported by Herodotus, is well known: in this the oracle informed the king that if he crossed the Halys he should destroy a great empire; which might mean either the empire he was about to attack or his own, one or other of which was pretty sure to be the result of his enterprise. Equally well known is the still more ambiguous answer of the oracle to Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, when purposing to engage in war with the Romans: this was conveyed in two hexameter lines, which might with equal accuracy be rendered either, “I say, O son of AEacus, that thou canst conquer the Romans; thou wilt go, wilt return, never in war shalt thou perish;” or, “I say, O son of AEacus, that the Romans can conquer thee; thou wilt go, wilt return never, in war shalt thou perish.” Such an oracle is a mere piece of equivocation, and has no claim to be regarded as prophecy.


1. David L. Cooper, When Gog’s armies meet the Almighty in the land of Israel, an exposition of Ezekiel thirty eight and thirty nine, p. 533. http://www.biblicalresearch.info/page533.html

2. William Lindsay Alexander, The evidence to the truth of Christianity supplied by prophecy. In: Credentials of Christianity, a course of lectures delivered at the request of the Christian Evidence Society. Hodder and Stoughton, London. 1880. pp. 41-83.

  1. December 4, 2014 at 7:18 am

    This is really getting too complicated. As an ordinary person trying to make a good go of following Jesus I thought believers were to trust scripture as God inspired & live out its teachings, which are love God with all your heart & your neighbour as yourself. If its this difficult to divide the word of truth then Jesus must only want Hebrew or Greek scholars as disciples. As regards David L Cooper, Jesus said by their fruits you shall know them. He seems to have good fruit to me.

    Editor’s note: Moved from https://creationconcept.wordpress.com/about/

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