The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn
Recently, it seems that the enemy is trying to introduce error into our thinking through fiction. He used the Davinci Code to tempt readers to deny the deity of Christ and The Shack to attack our understanding of the trinity and the masculine nature of the Father. Now, he is at it again aiming at our bibliology (study or doctrine of the Bible). The goal of my review is to expose the errors in this book and to call believers to exercise discernment in everything that they read, including this review.
The Bible exhorts us to be discerning in all that we encounter, even when it appears to come from spiritual sources: 1 John 4:1 (NIV) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. It concerns me greatly when the church of God quickly embraces books like this that are full of error. I believe God is calling believers to sharpen our spiritual insight so that we can more readily discern false teaching when we encounter it. Such discernment must be gained by thorough and regular study of God’s Word as the writer of Hebrews declares, Hebrews 5:14 (NIV) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Along with the discipline of eating the solid food of the Word of God, believers must cry out to God earnestly in prayer as our Lord taught us, “Lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from the evil one” (Matt. 6:13). Only by the enablement of the Lord will we be able to stand strong in the last days when false doctrine will be so prevalent (1 Tim. 4:1f).
Ironically in a book dedicated to revealing hidden mysteries, the error of this author’s primary argument is overtly revealed on the cover: there is something “hidden,” some “mystery” (repeated five times) or “secret” about America’s future, and it is found in the Bible. To Cahn, the Bible is a book of hidden messages, but fortunately for us, Cahn has the insight to reveal to us warnings for America that have been hidden for 3,000 years. The effect that this has on the reader is three-fold. One, it discourages us from taking the Bible at its face value because the meaning of the text is hidden. Two, it makes us dependent on prophets like Cahn who can interpret the Bible for us, thereby leading us to spend less time studying the Word on our own with less confidence that through the Holy Spirit’s teaching we can understand it. Finally, and most dangerous, it leaves us with the impression that God did not communicate to us with clear terminology calling us either to doubt His ability to communicate or to question His heart for not telling us clearly what we need to know.
The Bible is clear that God is not veiling His revelation from His children: 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 (NASB95) Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
These verses inform us that the Word was not written with secret messages, but to clearly reveal to us what God wants us to know. The Bible does not contain a code to be deciphered. It is clear revelation from a loving God. Theologians summarized it well a number of years ago in the Westminster Catechism: the Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. I would add to that only two words “and clearly”; “the Scriptures principally and clearly teach…” The Word teaches with easy to understand terminology, not with hidden messages.
There are other errors beyond the fundamental flaw of claiming that the Bible has hidden meaning. This book reads America into the Bible. While nearly all conservative eschatology books struggle with the non-mention of America in the prophetic timeline of our future, Cahn believes God hid a warning to us in Isaiah. I’m not surprised that a writer finds America in the Bible. It is a hard blow to our pride to think that we are not on the pages of Scripture. However, I agree with the majority of theologians today. America is not mentioned in the Bible, and we really do not know why. Perhaps, our nation becomes uninterested in foreign affairs or becomes unwilling to get involved. Maybe, we self-destruct or put ourselves in such debt that we are a non-factor. Or, maybe we become impotent because so many believers are raptured up to heaven. No matter the reason, the truth remains. The Bible talks of major players in the final days and there is no mention of any power from the West. The Bible just doesn’t mention America, not even in a hidden message. David Jeremiah declares dogmatically, and he is right, “Indeed, no specific mention of the United States can be found in the Bible.”[i]
Another error is Cahn’s claim that an OT prophecy, which was clearly given to Israel, has a second meaning for our nation today. Here is the dialog from the book: “So the Ninth Harbinger is a manifestation of Isaiah 9:10 in the form of a prophecy.” “As both a vow and a prophecy,” he said, “and given in such a way as to fall on the nation [of Israel].” “So then to fall on America.” “Yes.” For sure, there are OT passages that have a dual fulfillment, but these are revealed to us in the pages of Scripture. The New Testament can affirm that an Old Testament passage has a dual fulfillment, but Cahn and I cannot. If we open the door for interpreters today to see a second fulfillment of already fulfilled biblical passages, it will dilute the single, clear meaning of all Scripture.
Cahn also made the grave mistake of giving a number of sources authority equal to that of the Bible, thereby stripping the Bible of its unique power. The author connects various sources to arrive at his interpretation of the warnings to America. He uses the Bible, commentaries, political figures, and his own fiction (a prophet, the seals and a dream). Together, the prophecy is revealed. It may be fun fiction to bring so many sources together, but the end result is that the Bible is placed on the same level with fully human inventions. Anything that downplays the power and uniqueness of the Bible has the potential to do untold harm to our respect of God’s Word.
Another error in the book is the claim that the office of prophet exists today. Cahn uses the character of a modern day prophet showing that he believes the prophetic office still operates in our day. This is not surprising because he obviously sees himself as one of these prophets. However, Scripture speaks of prophets and apostles being the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). The Bible makes it clear that apostles no longer exist today. Paul was the last of them (1 Cor. 15:7-9), and was the last one to meet the requirements for being one (signs, wonders, and miracles – 2 Cor. 12:12; seeing the resurrected Jesus – 1 Cor. 9:1). The need for prophets ceased when God’s Son completed His testimony to us, as recorded in the inspired Word of God (Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Cor. 13:8-12). Therefore, neither Cahn nor the fictitious prophet of his book holds a prophetic office.
Along this same line, the author purports to be writing a work of prophecy; whereas, in reality, he is giving us a book of history. Cahn does not give us clear warnings of what is going to happen based on the Bible or his own inventions. Instead, he ties together some loose threads of Scripture and fiction to tell us how we missed an obscure warning of the past. Nowhere in the Bible can we read of a single prophet unveiling warnings that were missed in the past. True biblical prophets give current warnings with specific instructions of what will occur in the future.
On the subject of clear warnings, there is something else to be added. Did God give America this Isaiah passage to warn us that we would be attacked on September 11 and that our economy would collapse? If so, He didn’t make it very clear. In great contrast, here is how He warned Israel of their impending doom: Isaiah 7:17-20 (NIV) The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.” 18 In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. 19 They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. 20 In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also. God gave similar warnings to the nation, each time naming Assyria as the attackers (Isa. 8:4; Hos. 9:3; 10:6; 11:5).
God gives an equally clear warning to Judah concerning Babylon: Jeremiah 21:4-7 (NIV)
‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am about to turn against you the weapons of war that are in your hands, which you are using to fight the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who are outside the wall besieging you. And I will gather them inside this city. 5 I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath. 6 I will strike down those who live in this city—both men and animals—and they will die of a terrible plague. 7 After that, declares the Lord, I will hand over Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the people in this city who survive the plague, sword and famine, to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and to their enemies who seek their lives. He will put them to the sword; he will show them no mercy or pity or compassion.’ God repeats this warning throughout the book of Jeremiah and at one point even tells Judah the length of their captivity (Jer. 25:8-11). In still another place, God tells Arabia that exact timing of their demise (Isa. 21:16).
God gave very specific and detailed prophecy to Israel, Judah, Arabia and other nations in the Bible, but here is how Cahn says God warned us: Isaiah 9:10 (NIV)“The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” Israel gets “Assyria is coming if you don’t straighten up”; Judah gets “Babylon is coming if you don’t repent”; but we in America get some vague verse that we should have known meant the Twin Towers would fall and we would strive to rebuild them? His research is interesting as are the facts that a huge dressed stone was brought to the site after 9/11 and that a sort of fig tree did fall in the attack and was replaced with a kind of cedar. But it’s mind-boggling that anyone would think that God would communicate to us in this way; moreover, it is stupefying that this person would put it in a book and mesmerize millions of Christians with his insight.
In light of what I have written, one might wonder how this book came to be written at all, and further, how it has gained such attention. Amazingly, the appeal of the book hinges on two unrelated dots that Cahn connects. The first dot is the repetition of the same verse from the Bible (Isa. 9:10) by two different politicians (the Senate majority leader and the vice presidential candidate), who by quoting the verse are pronouncing judgment on America (p. 107) and in fact, are prophesying our destruction (p. 118). By the way, he claims our current president also referred to Isaiah 9:10 when he said “We will rebuild” one month after his inauguration (which numerous news organizations quoted afterwards, pp. 184-5), but like much of what Cahn claims, that connection is far-fetched at best (p. 182).
Cahn imagines the chances of three persons quoting this verse from the over 30,000 verses in the Bible. What is the likelihood? At first, it seems like he has a point. It does seem to be a random verse, and two different people quote it on two different occasions. But, on second glimpse, it’s not so strange after all. Many of us have noted how 1 Corinthians 13 is a passage often read at weddings. Why is that? What are the chances that out of the nearly 1200 chapters of the Bible, that this chapter would be quoted over and over. Actually, the chances are very good because it’s a chapter devoted to love and as such is quite fitting for weddings, more so than many of the other chapters in the Bible.
So, consider that the politicians choose to quote a verse from the Bible about America’s resolve to rebuild after 9/11. What are these two men likely to do? They are prone to do a simple word search in the Bible on “rebuild.” When they do this, what do they discover? There are only thirty-two verses that have the word “rebuild” in it. Of those thirty-two, all but one are quickly dismissed for various reasons. Some verses won’t fit the purpose because they mention specifically what is being rebuilt, and the objects are not towers: Ezra 2:68 addresses rebuilding the house of God (see also 5:2,3,9,11,13,15,17; 9:9; Matt. 26:61); Ezra 4:12 concerns rebuilding a wicked city; Nehemiah 2:5 and Isaiah 45:13 are about rebuilding a city (cities, Psa. 69:35; Amos 9:14; Zion, Psa. 102:16; Jerusalem, Dan. 9:25); Jeremiah 33:7 is about rebuilding the nations of Israel and Judah; Nehemiah 2:17 and 4:1,10 specify rebuilding the wall; Isaiah 58:12 and 61:4 are about rebuilding ancient ruins; Acts 15:16 is about rebuilding David’s fallen tent. Other verses won’t work for secular politicians because God is mentioned by name in the verse, making it too spiritual: Nehemiah 2:18,20. Malachi 1:4 won’t do because God is not only mentioned but promises to destroy what is rebuilt. Joshua 6:26 is counterproductive because it speaks of cursing for those who rebuild. Isaiah 60:10 won’t suffice because walls are the object of the rebuilding and foreigners are the rebuilders. Galatians 2:18 isn’t appropriate because it’s about a person rebuilding what he himself destroyed.
This brief overview makes it quite clear that if a person wanted to quote a generic verse on rebuilding, one that didn’t mention God and didn’t specify an object different than what was being rebuilt, he would not have 30,000 verses to choose from; he would have one: Isaiah 9:10, the very verse that both men quoted. Further, to maximize the impact of both of these politicians quoting the verse, Cahn would have to demonstrate the second man quoting it didn’t follow the lead of the first one, a fact that he doesn’t establish.
So, dot one becomes less amazing when one does a little research. The second dot that Cahn connects is the seven-year principle of cancelling debts in the Bible. To understand why he chooses to connect the dots of Isaiah 9:10 and the cancellation of debts, we must realize that he is trying to connect two other dots: 9/11 and the collapse of our economy. I have already shown that he believes the Isaiah passage warned us of 9/11. If that connection seemed a bit far-fetched, it’s quite tame compared to the argumentation for connecting the collapse of our economy to the passage. To make that connection, Cahn has to rely on quotes from commentaries, which appear to be as authoritative to him as the Word, in which various men suggest there is a second attack coming (p. 128). From there, he must show that the attack is economic, that it is connected to 9/11 and that it is all found somehow in Isaiah 9:10; all of this he strives valiantly to do: “Behind the collapse of Wall Street and the American economy was…” “Isaiah 9:10.” “Yes.” “So then the collapse of the economy and Wall Street would have to somehow go back to 9/11.” “And it all does go back to 9/11.” (p. 136).
He connects 9/11 to the economic collapse by quoting various “observers” (p. 142). But connecting the collapse to Isaiah 9:10 takes a bit more work. Cahn brings in two other prophecies (one from Ezekiel and one from Jeremiah) that “follow a similar pattern” of breaking down “fallen bricks” and uprooting “the sycamore” [fig tree in the NIV of Isaiah 9:10]. Then, he makes the leap of demonstrating that Wall Street was established with the “Buttonwood” agreement, named for the tree under which it all began, a tree that just happens to be in the family of the sycamore. So, there you have it. Wall Street was formed under a sycamore, Isaiah 9:10 talks of the sycamore, and 9/11 saw the fall of a tree, which was a sycamore. It’s all connected, and all of it is God’s prophecy to us of what would happen on 9/11 and in the immediately following years.
It is here that Cahn brings in the second dot of the seven years. Leviticus 25 commanded Israel to give the land a rest every seven years. Further, Deuteronomy 15 commanded them to cancel debts every seven years. He suggests: “Behind the collapse of Wall Street and the implosion of the American and world economy, behind all of it lies the mystery of the Shemitah [the seventh year law of Israel] (p. 159).
How, you ask. Well we know that 9/11 took place on September 11, but also 7 years later on September 11, 2008 the Lehman Brothers’ stock took a second “precipitous plunge” and this represents “seven years – the biblical period of time that concerns a nation’s financial and economic realms” ((p. 161)). Shortly after on September 29, 2008 the stock market took its greatest plunge ever, and this just happened to be on the Hebrew calendar, the last day of month six, Elul 29th, which is the crowning day or final day of the Hebrew Shemitah.
The Dow also lost “seven percent” that day and “seven hundred seventy-seven points.” And if all that doesn’t floor you, you can go back seven years to the same day on the Hebrew calendar and you will see that on Elul 29 of 2001 the stock market took another big fall; two plummets on the same day seven years apart – can you hear the Twilight Zone music playing? All very interesting stuff, but a warning to America from God, from the Bible, and connected to Isaiah 9:10? No.
To further impress us, Cahn goes back and notices that a year before 2008 on exactly the first day of Tisrhi (month seven in the Hebrew calendar), Northern Rock fell thereby marking the beginning of the Shemitah. Just because something happened in America on these dates in no way connects it to the Bible and to a prophecy for our nation. It’s interesting, for sure, and makes great fiction. But it’s not from the Bible some hidden warning for America.
The only way that Cahn can think to somehow connect the seventh year principle directly to Isaiah 9:10 is to place a symbol on one of his fictitious seals that has seven stalks of wheat on it. Here again, he takes a purely human invention and gives it the authority of Scripture. Certainly, he is correct in recognizing that Israel did not keep its seventh year Sabbaths, and for that and other lawbreaking, God sent them into captivity. However, that has no specific application or prophetic import for America other than serving as an example that we will either obey God or face His judgment.
Lest you think I am taking this work of fiction far too seriously, I will quote you what Cahn says of his work, somewhat veiled through the fiction he writes: “The message has to become a book…a book revealing the mystery behind something…behind the news…behind the economy…behind the collapse…behind world history…the future…an ancient mystery on which the future of a nation hangs…” (p. 247).
So, there you have it. I must say as I conclude that Cahn is right in observing a similarity between our nation and that of Israel. Israel turned from God and God judged them. We are turning from God also, and He has and will continue to judge us. The author and I are in agreement with the similarity, and I wish he had simply written that.
[i] Jeremiah, What in the World is Going on? p. 130.