Rabbi and Pastor Jonathan Cahn’s book “The Harbinger” rocketed onto the New York Times Best Seller list last year, and garnered Cahn some national attention and several appearances on television and radio. The book, which is written in the form of a conversation between a writer and publisher, AND the same writer and a mysterious prophet, suggests that an ancient prophecy in the book of Isaiah is repeating itself in the United States beginning with the attacks of 9/11. It suggests there are nine harbingers of God’s judgment on the United States and all nine have already happened through events during and since those attacks. In the book, Cahn warns that unless the United States returns to God and repents, that a much larger judgment is inevitable.
Speaking along the same lines at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last January, Cahn brought up many of the same points he made in his book, portraying America as a nation that had fallen away from God and was in danger of judgment. It should be noted that President Obama was not a part of the prayer breakfast, and judging by the reaction of those in attendance, the audience was largely of the same mind as Rabbi/Pastor Cahn. Early in the sermon he said, “A thousand apostate ministers swearing on a thousand Bibles will not change one jot or tittle of the word of God,” and the audience erupted with approval. Once again, the words that Cahn spoke received media attention again, and the video of the sermon landed on Youtube.
So what of the book and the claims that were made in it? For many Christians who study the Bible and Bible prophecy in particular, there is nothing new or radical in the Harbinger’s conclusions. The idea that the nation is falling away from God as it pursues agendas such as same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and forces faith-based organizations to comply with these values- is a conclusion shared by many. The problems of materialism, carnality, and immorality are also seen by most Christians as rampant and getting worse, mirroring the prophecy of II Timothy 3:1-4. The idea that God may be threatening the nation with judgment, is a common opinion and worry.
Therein lies my view of what reading the Harbinger is like. It’s the claims, the information, and the conclusions that grab your attention. They will cause discussions at church or at work, and occasionally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. No matter how skeptical you go into it, there are several points he brings up and several instances of events that have occurred since the tragedy of 9/11 that are at least somewhat eerie. And once you get to those parts of the book it becomes hard to put down.
Getting there might be your battle. Michael Crichton was one of the best at using a fictional story to convey information, and many others including the Harbinger have tried the same idea. Crichton, however, was a master storyteller who included lots of action and story to go with his information. His books often became movie blockbusters as a result. The Harbinger, while borrowing from the idea, doesn’t include much of an actual story with action and drama, but instead reads as a conversation between a writer and a publisher at the publisher’s office. Even then, the writer named Nouriel is recounting in great detail other conversations he had with a mysterious figure who he calls “the prophet.”
The book, therefore, reads as one giant dialogue between two people, alternating between Nouriel and the publisher, and Nouriel and the prophet. As a piece of literature, I often found the dialogue to be tedious, and the characters weren’t always believable. The publisher for instance, seemed too accepting of a Christian worldview which isn’t very common in this culture anymore, especially in the media. Likewise I thought the main character Nouriel would have had more objections to what he was being told by the prophet since he was not a believer in Jesus. (He did become one at the end. Don’t they always?) Nevertheless, you don’t read this book for the story the way you might a Michael Crichton novel. You read this book because of the message. You read it to discover, just like Nouriel did, what exactly those 9 Harbingers are and what they mean.
Without spoiling the book for you, the Harbingers center around a passage from Isaiah 9. It reads like this in the King James Version: ”The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. -Isaiah 9:10″ The Bible described this as a statement made by Israel “with pride and arrogance of heart,” in verse 9. Instead of repenting, in other words, the northern nation of Israel was making bold proclamations of rebuilding after an attack.
Cahn applies this to America, correlating the Assyrians who came against Israel with the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, and making several other correlations as well. The bricks that had fallen down represented the destruction of the Twin Towers, the hewn stones represented the memorial stone that was laid at Ground Zero several years later, the sycomores represented the sycamore tree that was cut down next to Ground Zero by the church where George Washington and others had prayed for our nation in 1789. The rebuilding with cedars was represented by the large pine that replaced the sycamore at that site.
For most of us, correlations like this are a bit of a stretch because you can almost always manufacture a correlation, at least a vague one, with a poetically written Scripture like Isaiah 9:10. Isaiah 9:10 was a rather obscure sentence in the midst of the entire Bible, and as some have said, there’s nothing in the Bible to indicate God was talking to anyone there besides Israel. Cahn however, makes the case that this follows a pattern of how God calls a nation to repentance, and what God does in leading up to judgment. He goes on to show some hair-raising “signs” that have happened since, such as the stock market crashing 7 years later, on the last day of the 7th Jewish month, and dropping 7 percent, or 777 points in one day. That particular Jewish Day also happened to be the day of reconciling debts, and naturally it was our debt problem that crashed the stock market after the Congress initially rejected a 700 billion dollar bailout deal. Yep, there’s that number 7 again.
That IS a little curious, but if there is a pattern this precise every time God judges a nation, one would expect a sycamore tree to be cut down somewhere every single time. We should expect memorial stones to replace buildings made out of bricks, and cedar trees to replace the sycamores. It’s hard to believe that God always does it this way, with this much detail, such as the idea that terrorism always comes first, or someone related to the Assyrians always starts things off. It seems more reasonable to believe that the circumstances of God judging a nation, may change, depending on a host of different conditions and different times. So a bit of skepticism is in order. Having said that, there are… well…. eerie things.
Cahn brings up some instances that correlate so well, that you are left with the thought that history may be repeating itself. Remember, that’s not a good thing. For instance, while it is true that the Bible was talking to Israel in Isaiah 9:10 and describing what Israel said in the arrogance of their hearts, as it turns out, leaders of the United States said the exact same things after 9/11. In fact, they didn’t just say similar things, they QUOTED Isaiah 9:10 as if it was a good thing.
On the morning after 9/11, Tom Daschle began a speech by saying “there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that I think speaks to all of us at times like this… “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the …...” You get the picture. Three years later, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards gave a speech in remembrance of 9/11 and began with the exact same Scripture. Then he tailored his entire speech around the words of that verse. Generally, if someone wants to apply a verse to themselves or their country in a good way, they don’t use a verse of the Bible that was proclaiming judgment and condemnation.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that Cahn is right, or that the verse really applies to the United States. It’s just spooky. Obviously the verse applied to Israel when it was first spoken, but many other prophecies have come true in more than one time period, in more than one set of circumstances as well. The virgin birth for instance, or the abomination that causes desolation, or the destruction of Jerusalem, etc… It is certainly possible in other words, for history to repeat itself. It’s happened before, and the fact that leaders of the United States quoted the words of Israel when they were in direct rebellion to God, hmmmm…. poor choice of words. Those were famous LAST words for the Israelites, we probably shouldn’t repeat them verbatim. Just saying.
The conclusion of the Harbinger as I mentioned, leads us back to the same message that many others have spoken concerning our nation. It’s a call to repent and turn to Christ. The apologetics and salvation message in the closing chapter were strained, almost like Cahn’s character, the prophet, was afraid to be too blunt and turn people off. I wish Cahn would have been as straightforward and blunt in those pages, as he was when speaking at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. The gospel isn’t complicated, it’s Jesus. He died to pay for the sins of the world, so that we might have forgiveness. For those who turn to God, Jesus is the reason we are forgiven, and the Lord who we follow from that day forward. Cahn would have been well-served to have quoted the apostle Paul:
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” -Acts 17:30-31
Easy for me to say, though. I didn’t go to all the work to write a book.
The Harbinger. It’s an interesting read once you get going.