I have to confess I never really knew who Jonathan Cahn was until recently. Before, I had just heard his name, as well as the book he wrote, The Harbinger, floated about here or there generally in critical contexts.
Then at Shepherd’s Conference this past March, me and my pal Squirrel were enjoying our coffee and bagels on the first day while waiting for the registration line to open. Squirrel started up a conversation with another attendee standing near us and during the course of our exchanged pleasantries, this other fellow asks if either one of us had read The Harbinger yet. We both replied “no” and this fellow proceeds to tell us what an awesome book it was.
Recalling that I had heard of this book in only negative contexts, my discernment alarm went off and I began wondering what this guy was gonna say. I think Squirrel may have probed with a general question asking what it was about and the fellow tells us it is about end-time prophecy stuff and how it relates to America or something along those lines.
A few weeks after that, while driving into work early one day, I happened to catch the repeat of the Coast to Coast radio program. The guy being interviewed was going on and on about warning signs, hidden codes, 911, terrorism, and Bible prophecy. Wackos like this are all the time on Coast to Coast, so I didn’t necessarily pay it any mind, but going into the news break, George Noory says, “We’ll be back with our guest, Jonathan Cahn, right after this…”
I thought to myself, That’s Jonathan Cahn and he believes such nonsense? His book is all about secret codes pertaining to 911 and the end-times? My scamgar started beeping.
Then, the very next day, a friend of my mother emailed asking me about Cahn’s book. Knowing I had just heard the author on Coast to Coast, a radio program that is like the TBN equivalent for ghost hunters, conspiracy theorists, and UFO abductees, I told her that after I heard what I heard on the radio, I had grave concerns if any Christian takes his material seriously.
A few days after that, I had a couple of other folks, completely independent of each other, contact me via email asking if I had read the book, to which I said no and I relayed to them about hearing him on Coast to Coast. Alarmingly, when they both replied back, they stated how his book was being passed around in their churches and earnestly read by Christians.
Now: I am pretty much isolated in my Grace Church bubble from goofy stuff like that book. Plus, I typically don’t seek out any of those Christianized fantasy, tin-foil hat pot-boilers for my personal reading. I tend to read high-end commentaries with itty-bitty print and lots of footnotes for my devotionals if you know what I mean.
However, seeing that there was a need to have someone perhaps read it and offer an opinion for individuals (and always on the look out for fun blog fodder), I thought I would put aside all my other personal reading for a few days and work my way through the book.
I then went down to the local library to pick up a copy. Annoyingly, all the copies were checked out; but the larger surprise for me was when I put my name in to hold it for later, I was like 47th in line! Oh man. Thankfully, people must have gotten bored with it, because I worked my way through the request line quickly and was able to read the book, so here we are.
I thought I would break up my review into two, more manageable posts. With this first part, I’ll lay out my initial impressions and provide a brief overview of the book. With the second part, I will outline the theological problems with the work and offer my criticisms.
So. Knowing I knew next to nothing about the author or his book when I got it, I turned it over and read the back cover blurb about Jonathan Cahn. The blurb told me he leads Hope of The World ministries and the Jerusalem Center/Beth Israel in Wayne, New Jersey. Okay. Basic stuff; but I was interested where the guy went to school. Did he attend a college or seminary? There was nothing there.
That omission sort of rubbed me wrong. I searched around on the websites related to his “ministries” and still couldn’t find anything regarding his educational or denominational background. In fact, I couldn’t really locate an official doctrinal statement anywhere on his church and ministry webpages. The only thing that came close was a statement about salvation that honestly is a squishy, feel-good statement about finding forgiveness and God’s purpose in your life. There is a minimal, if not any, discussion about God’s holiness, wrath, the need for atonement, and man’s sin against God, and his need for a savior. I found that telling coming from a supposed Messianic Jewish congregation.
Next I opened the book and read the endorsements. Endorsements can tell you a lot about the thrust of the book. Not so much from what is said in the endorsement itself, but whose name is on the endorsement, particularly if the person has a theological (or not so theological) reputation of sorts.
For instance, if I see Steve Lawson’s endorsement on a book, I can pretty much figure out the orthodoxy and theological direction the author will head and that the book will be more than likely a beneficial read. I also don’t expect to see Lawson endorsing a book written by Joel Osteen, for example.
Endorsing The Harbinger, you have Pat Robertson, Joseph Farah, Sid Roth, David Tyree, and John Paul Jackson. Of those five guys, I was only familiar with Robertson (for reasons that are not positive) and Joseph Farah who is editor of the World Nut … I mean “Net,” Daily. The other guys I never heard of before.
As to what the guys write in their endorsements, Pat Robertson’s was the most disappointing with the one word comment, “Extraordinary!” with an exclamation point. I thought old Pat would give us more, but alas… And bringing all the spiritual discernment a former NY Giants wide receiver can to a book on secret end-times Bible codes, David Tyree, who is never known for hyperbole, exclaims (in all caps mind you), THE HARBINGER IS THE MOST PRECISE SCRIPTURAL REVELATION OF GOD’S PASSION FOR AMERICA. It just makes you want to duct tape the book to the back cover of your Bible.
For all you folks who will be wandering over here to my place for the first time just to read these reviews, let me give you a rule of thumb for the future. If people you’ve never really heard of before with questionable theological credentials (if any at all) tell you the book you are about to read is “the most precise scriptural revelation of God” 10 times out of 10 you’re being taken for a ride.
Basic Premise of the Book
Let me wrap up this overview by outlining the basic premise of The Harbinger. Cahn believes Isaiah 9:10 is a direct warning to America calling us back to following God. Isaiah 9:10 reads, in the NASB, The bricks have fallen down, But we will rebuild with smooth stones; The sycamores have been cut down, But we will replace them with cedars. Cahn supplies his own translation which reads, The bricks have fallen, but we will rebuild with hewn stone: the sycamores have been cut down, but we will plant cedars in their place.
Isaiah’s words are a series of harbingers, or warnings, connected to the events following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 911 (too bad 911 didn’t happen on 910, then the symbols would really be striking!). The book lists 9 harbingers, each one having a chapter dedicated to its description, the breach, the terrorist, the fallen bricks, the tower, the gazit stone (the “hewn stone” in the verse), the sycamore, the erez tree (the “cedars” mention in the verse), the utterance, and the prophecy.
Isaiah’s words are a warning and a rebuke to the attitude America had after the attacks and the collapse of the two towers. The terrorists attacks were a judgment by God on America because we have turned away from Him, just like the Assyrians in Isaiah’s day were sent to be a judgment against Israel for turning away from the LORD. Whereas we should have turned back to our godly heritage that is the foundation of America, Americans instead became prideful and arrogant like the ancient Jews after their attack by the Assyrians.
The harbingers are the “signs” confirming the message of Isaiah 9:10 connecting to America. The “breach” is how God left our defenses unguarded, the “terrorists” are related to the ancient Assyrians who also practiced “terrorist” techniques to strike fear in the hearts of their victims, the “bricks” that fell are of course the wreckage of the two towers, the “tower” is the new Freedom tower that is being built in their place, the “hewn” stone is the cornerstone built into the foundation of the new Freedom tower, the “sycamore” is the tree that was toppled over at St. Paul’s Chapel when debris from the towers fell on top of it, and the “cedar” is the new tree that replaced the fallen sycamore.
As to the 8th and 9th harbingers, the utterance” was when then vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards, cited Isaiah 9:10 in a speech in 2004 and the “prophecy” is when various elected officials, particularly President Obama, claimed over and over that “we will rebuild.”
If you are still tracking with me, Cahn then provides a further fulfillment of Isaiah 9:10 to the events leading up to the financial collapse in 2008. In a complex and convoluted description, Cahn claims the events of the financial collapse are 7 years to the date from the events of the world trade towers. The number “7” being the number of years between the Sabbath rests of the land in ancient Israel, which I am not really sure why it is important, but is in Cahn’s scheme in order to maintain the symbolism of everything he’s revealed so far.
The book is written in a narrative style. The opening page tells us that the information contained in the book is presented in the form of a story, but the facts are real. I personally thought the story was a bit lame, but it did get me through the material quickly by allowing me to skim unnecessary portions.
There are two main characters: a journalist writer named Nouriel Kaplan and a mysterious, unnamed prophet (they are always “unnamed” and “mysterious,” right?). Kaplan relays his story (the part we are reading regarding the harbingers) to a publisher with the intentions of having it published. He tells how this prophet person sought him out, and over a period of a few years during a number of serendipitous encounters, gave him a set of “seals” with images carved onto them that illustrated each one of the harbingers. Kaplan now has the responsibility of being a “watchman on the wall” who will tell his story and present these harbingers to the American people.
Thus, the harbingers are unique symbols found in Isaiah 9:10 that apply to America’s turning away from God and His ways and God attempting to call America back to Himself.
Now I’ll pause here, and with this background in mind, I’ll take up my particular criticisms in the next post.