The Harbinger: A Review in Two Parts [Part 2]

harbingerThe Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America’s Future Jonathan Cahn

See Part 1 here

I’ll work from the assumption that most readers of this second part have read the first part in which I provide a brief overview of the book, so I won’t go over old ground. Let me just provide a summary statement:

Jonathan Cahn believes Isaiah 9:10 is a prophecy directly applied to specific events following 911, particularly the defiant attitude of Americans to rebuild in the face of calamity instead of returning to God’s ways.

I’ll also note that there are a number of online “discernment” ministry style websites that have probably given a much more thorough response to Cahn’s work than what I will offer here. In fact, there is one guy who published a book length treatment reviewing and critiquing The Harbinger. and I would even recommend checking out his on-line material if you want more analysis. He supposedly “debated” Cahn on the nature of his book as well, and a video or audio is available somewhere.

With that said, I’ve intentionally stayed away from reading any negative reviews because I wanted to draw my own conclusion about the work, even though I probably share many of their opinions about it.  My goal is to merely hit on the main problems I have with the book and if people want more, I’ll leave it with them to search around on the web for it.

Review and Analysis

I’ll center my criticism around four problem areas I had with the book. There are certainly more, but I want to keep this review brief and focused, so I’ll hit these key four.

Mystical view of prophets and revelation. One of the two main character in The Harbinger is a mysterious, unnamed “prophet” who reveals the “harbingers” to the protagonist narrating the story. The prophet is presented as being some magical being who appears and disappears at “just the right time.”

Additionally, the prophet presents the “harbingers” in a Yoda-like, riddle fashion for the narrator to decipher. He gives the narrator a set of “seals,” the kind you dip in wax and seal a document, each one containing a picture that “illustrates” the particular harbinger. When the narrator is given the next “seal” in the set, he is then left alone to unlock the mystery of the riddle reminiscent of Nicholas Cage’s character in National Treasure [if you saw that movie] in order to move to the next harbinger in the series.

The problem with this view of “prophets” and “revelation” is that it is basic Gnosticism. In other words, it gives the reader the impression that God has a special, hidden knowledge that if uncovered, will bring the person into deeper levels of special revelation from God. That is not how prophets and revelation operated in the Bible.

When the narrator asks the prophet how it is we can even know the message is “from God,” the prophet replies, “It would contain the mark, the fingerprint of the one who sent it.” [10, (references are from the paperback edition)]. But that is not what God told Israel how they could authenticate the message of a prophet.

Though it is true some prophets performed “signs and wonders,” the primary mark of their message is what they taught the people about God. Even if he could do miraculous signs, if his message did not bring the people to covenant faithfulness or introduced revelation that contradicted what had already been revealed by God, that prophet was to be executed (Deuteronomy 13).

Furthermore, God didn’t give revelation secretly in some piecemeal fashion using wax seals. When a prophet spoke, the entire community knew what he was about and what he was proclaiming. It was a public ministry and message. Take for example Samuel, who, apart from Moses, was the first judge-prophet recognized nationally (from Dan to Beersheba) as a prophet who was a mouthpiece for God and spoke revelation to all of Israel (1 Samuel 3:19-4:1).

The bizarre, mystical Gnostic like “prophet” of The Harbinger in no way reflects the biblical truth of what a prophet was to be and the message that prophet was to proclaim.

Applying OT prophecy to America. In my opinion, this point is the Achilles heel of Cahn’s entire prophetic thesis. Because if it can be shown that Isaiah 9:10 has no prophetic application to America, then his book is a fraud and he is a false prophet with a false message, as it were.

Cahn takes the view that America has a special, unique relationship with God in the same fashion that OT Israel had. In a manner of speaking, it is the similar view that David Barton has about the United States and the founding of our country. In The Harbinger, during the first meeting between the narrator character and the “mysterious” prophet, the prophet says, “Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as a “new Israel,” an Israel of the New World. And as with ancient Israel, they saw it as in covenant with God.” [19].

If I may digress a moment, considering that citation, I have to wonder what Cahn’s eschatology is. Being a charismatic “Messianic Jew” I would think he would be one of those sensationalized Dispensational premillennialists like John Hagee.  Yet him using the term “new Israel” to describe America seems to bring his views under a replacement theology umbrella.  I hunted around looking for any clear statement as to what eschatological position he holds, but I could not find one. But moving along…

Cahn further insists the “founders” believed, at least according to the prophet character, that America’s rising and falling is dependent upon its relationship with God. America was called to fulfill the role as an “instrument of redemption” that stands against tyranny, oppression, and to be a beacon of hope for those in need, and hence the reason we have been so prosperous as a nation. The prophet even claims the “founders” are said to have “prophesied” the greatness of America [ibid]

The problem with this assertion is that no “founder” suggested such a thing. Historically, the “founders” are the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Cahn tries to redefine “founders” as being the puritans who fled to New England during the reign of King James 1st. But the puritans were one group of colonists among many from different countries and religious backgrounds. There were colonists from Spain, France, Holland, as well as England. Plus there were Catholic, Quaker, and other dissenting protestant colonists along side the classic pilgrim puritans of Plymouth Rock fame.

Many of them were here before the puritans that Cahn suggests are “the founders.” The Dutch, for example, had a presence that predates the pilgrims in what is now modern day Manhattan  that was not necessarily religious at all, but only for the purposes of making money. Why aren’t they considered “founders?”

Now, it may be true that the Massachusetts Bay colony saw themselves as being in some covenant with God and being a “New Israel,” but that is their theonomic romanticism bubbling out and doesn’t at all reflect the truth of things.  Israel was much different in that God specifically called Abraham and personally made a covenant with him and his people. God personally delivered the nation Israel from bondage in Egypt, and God personally gave Moses the 10 commandments and the law.  God did none of that with the colonists at Boston, or any other religious colonists for that matter.

That is not to say America hasn’t been blessed over the centuries due in part to the great awakenings and the proclamation of biblical truth throughout the country. And I would argue that America is a “Christian” nation. But it is a significant stretch to claim such blessing proves some parallel relationship between OT Israel and America. In my opinion, this is where Cahn’s entire work falls to pieces.

A few of the so-called “harbingers” from Isaiah 9:10 do not correspond to the events following 911.  Throughout the story, the mysterious, unnamed prophet, when he reveals another harbinger, gives the narrator a new seal that illustrates one of the harbingers identified with Isaiah’s 9:10 prophecy.

However, when you consider the so-called harbingers and their relationship to the events following 911, any amount of research will reveal that they are significantly exaggerated by Cahn for the purposes of his book.

Allow me to provide the two biggest examples,

– The 6th harbinger is a prophecy about how the sycamore trees are cut down. In the book, the prophet character explains how the Assyrians came into Israel and cut down the sycamore trees that dotted the land of Israel. “Sycamores” is better translated fig tree as Cahn correctly notes in his book and he points out that fig trees are a common tree found throughout Israel. The word “sycamore” can also be any number of a variety of trees found throughout the world, not just fig trees in Israel.

When the towers fell on 911 the debris rained down upon the property of St. Paul’s Chapel near the World Trade Center.  A large sycamore tree shielded the debris from damaging the chapel and its property. The tree came to be called the “miracle” tree because of how it protected the building from damage.

The problem with this “harbinger” is that it was not a fig tree. What Cahn brushes by quickly in his book is the fact that there are at least three very different variety of tree around the world that are called “sycamores.” The one thing that somewhat connects them is a similar leaf shape. The sycamore in front of St. Paul’s Chapel was an American sycamore and is in no way related to the fig tree variety in Israel. It is a contrived stretch to connect it to Isaiah 9:10 as fulfilling some prophetic “sign.”

– The 8th harbinger, according to the prophet in Cahn’s story, is the public declaration of defiance by the national leaders. In order for that harbinger to work, you have to back up to the last clause in Isaiah 9:9 that speaks against the defiance of the Samaritan leaders during Isaiah’s day “who say in pride and arrogance of heart…” The point is that in the exact way, America’s prominent national leaders, with a heart of “pride and arrogance,” were declaring that America will rebuild after the terrorist attacks.

The one example Cahn points to is then vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards, citing Isaiah 9:10 at a DC prayer breakfast for the black caucus on the anniversary of 911 in 2004 [106]. The problem with this “harbinger” is that John Edward can hardly be called a “prominent leader” as is suggested by the prophet in the book. No one would seriously suggest that he was a “prominent leader” speaking for America.

Edwards is a disgraced, former state senator who just so happened to be a one-time vice-presidential candidate.  The fact that he more than likely had a speech writer ignorantly chose to take Isaiah 9:10 out of context as “words of comfort” offered to a small, minority caucus group on the 3rd anniversary of 911 demonstrates a profound lack of biblical literacy on Edwards part, not that he is providentially citing an ancient, prophetic text of judgment.

I’ll also point out that Cahn’s Isaiah9:10 website only lists 8 harbingers connected to Isaiah’s prophecy, whereas the book lists a 9th harbinger, what Cahn claims is “a prophecy of arrogance” uttered by our national leaders that says “we will rebuild.”

I am not sure when the author’s website went up in regards to his book being published, but I wonder if the 8th harbinger, which both the website and the book ties to the prayer breakfast speech by John Edwards, was a tad discredited by his later antics that ruined his career.  So a 9th harbinger was thought up for the book that puts the “vow of arrogance” in the mouths of other governmental officials, including President Obama, about rebuilding.

How America is “disregarding God’s ways” is extremely vague.  The entire point of the harbingers is to be a warning for America to turn from such things as “arrogance,” “defiance,” “pride,” and “disregarding God’s ways,” and returning to following God and His ways. Yet what would be considered turning from “God’s ways” is never truly defined. Moreover, Cahn never really uses the word “sin” until maybe the last chapter of the book where he presents an anemic Gospel presentation. Even then “sin” is left unidentified and vague.

I would think that if the sole purpose of Cahn’s book is to narrate a warning to Americans as to their need to return to God, he would explain what it is exactly Americans are to turn away from. I can provide a whole passel of “sins” that incur God’s judgment on our society, like legalized infanticide, coddling sodomite perversion, and rampant pornographic depravity. Additionally, and aimed more toward the Church of God, the man-child flippancy of modern day “pastors” in the church, the compromise of biblical authority, and turning every Sunday morning worship service into a junior high retreat camp. Yet Cahn doesn’t even name one thing that would be considered “sin.”

The reason why that is important is simple: In our postmodern, post-Christian society, what God clearly proclaims in His Word as sin and what apostates like Rob Bell and Jim Wallis say are “sins” are entirely different. If pressed, I’d imagine Jim Wallis would say America needs to return to God, too, but it will be in the matters pertaining to his twisted, leftist social justice worldview. Because Cahn’s isn’t direct or specific as to what “sin” needs to be turned away from, the reader is sort of left guessing and reading that into the story. Certainly that wasn’t Cahn’s intention?

Concluding thoughts

I will say that The Harbinger truly displays how detrimental charismatic “God-still-speaks-revelation-today” exegesis can be upon not only the Bible, but in the hearts and minds of people who refuse to exercise any true discernment.

In fact, the sad truth of this book is how Christians are so easily caught up in the sensational, newspaper style eisigesis that Cahn presents. Honestly, it is in the popularity of this book among men and women who supposedly name Christ as their Lord and Savior where true judgment is imminent.

The Christian is to have a renewed mind, a mind that can discern spiritual truth and can distinguish between light and darkness. However, so many gravitate to what really amounts to nothing more than the whimsical musings of a fantasy writer as if it were God speaking. They represent the ones who no longer endure sound doctrine, but draw to themselves false teachers who will scratch the ears of their own desires as Paul warned Timothy (2 Timothy 4:3,4).

Rather than God calling Americans back to His ways, a warning must go out to call Christians back to God’s ways. His ways that are built upon a fear and trembling before His holiness, the authority and sufficiency of His Word in our lives, and the teaching of, and listening to, sound doctrine.

Cahn’s book is the Church’s true harbinger. Because the book has the ability to lead so many Christians astray, it is a warning to us that so many have turned away from God by abandoning sound doctrine and we need to repent or be given over to real judgment.


14 thoughts on “The Harbinger: A Review in Two Parts [Part 2]

  1. I have not read the book, but I am a little confused. Is the mysterious prophet just a fictional character used in a fictitious story to make Cahn’s point or is he saying there is a real but unnamed prophet who is expounding on Isa. 9:10 with further prophetic revelations (i.e. the harbingers)? IOW, is the book supposed to be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction?

  2. Yes. The prophet is meant to be a fictionalized character who imparts the so-called mystery behind Isaiah 9:10 to the other character who is narrating the story (and thus us, the reader). The book has a brief comment at the front saying that though the story contained in its pages is fictional, the truths presented in the story are very real. I take it that in these characters, we get a picture of how Cahn understands revelation and prophesy which is extremely problematic and deviates greatly from Scripture.


  3. When I read your review I was thinking…with all the things wrong with America, the harbinger is a speech by John Edwards? Then you addressed what I was thinking in the next paragraph.

    A lot of these styled books seem to imply that if America gives up X,Y, Z sins (makes abortion illegal, outlaws homosexuality) then we’ll be ok. The truth is that the sins are a symptom of the hearts of the people. If people turn to Christ, then these sins will decrease.

  4. Good review in a summary fashion of the methodological problem of this book. I’m surprise someone would use John Edwards to make their point…though not totally related it makes me think about the time Billy Graham said Richard Nixon was a great spiritual man.

  5. My pastor was so smitten by his book and it’s details, he invited Jonathon Cahn to our church for a special evening. He encouraged all of us to attend. He even said he felt like a father to Cahn, thought of him like one of his own sons. I am discouraged by churches that cannot seem to be content with God’s word and His word alone. The need to embellish everything from the music to youth groups to hidden mysterious prophesies bothers me. The lack of discernment really bothers me. It’s like we need this adrenaline rush and can’t seem to get that from the Bible? Should this be a reason for one to question his church and it’s leadership? That’s what I am doing. Am I making too big a deal out of this?

  6. Hey Rebecca,
    Honestly, if your pastor was that overwhelmed by Cahn’s work that he had him come and speak to your all’s church, I would encourage you to find another church. I hesitate to say that, because what I am proposing will completely disrupt your life. If you are serious when you say this bothered you, and I agree that it should bother you, and you want some direction find another local assembly, I’ll be happy to help you as much as I can off line. Go to my “about” page at the top and shoot me an email. I’ll see what I can do.

  7. Fred, two digesses from me:

    “I have to wonder what Cahn’s eschatology is. Being a charismatic “Messianic Jew” I would think he would be one of those sensationalized Dispensational premillennialists like John Hagee.”

    Dispensationalists have openly denounced John Hagee’s teachings. I know of no popular dispensationalists who endorse Hagee (certainly not John Ankerberg or even Hal Lindsey), let alone the more theological ones.

    “Yet him using the term “new Israel” to describe America seems to bring his views under a replacement theology umbrella. I hunted around looking for any clear statement as to what eschatological position he holds, but I could not find one.”

    Cahn is post-trib i.e. historic premillennialist. His belief is increasingly popular within the wider charismatic movement, which also links them to the likes of the Vineyard Church. They are taking cues from the historic premillennialism from George E. Ladd and don’t distinguish between Israle and the Church. Indeed this is what Michael Brown, a popular Arminian and messianic Jewish teacher, believes. In a twisted way, their eschatology is identical to that of D.A. Caron (if he is premillennial), James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper’s eschatology except they don’t hold to replacement theology that they believe Israel (as a physical nation) will be restored along the way of the Second Coming.

  8. Do you have any documentation on Cahn being a post-trib historic premillennialist? I couldn’t find anything and was wondering where you got that information.


  9. Pingback: Reviews | hipandthigh

  10. In my moderated debate / discussion with Jonathan Cahn last April, he would not identify his eschatalogical position specifically – though I sensed he might be mid-trib (or “pre-wrath” as developed by Marv Rosenthal 25 years ago). However, he could well be post-trib.

    And he publicly renounced replacement theology as a Messianic Jew – but then introduces sort of his own version similar to British Israelism (which he also denies, although Mormon historians have cited his book in defense of precisely their view on this issue).

    The confusion surrounding this and countless other issues, due to the way he expresses himself in the book has made it virtually impossible to nail down exactly what he believes about many things. His ambiguity on virtually everything allows him to say just about whatever he wants on any topic in any venue, whether it be when he is being challenged by a concerned interviewer or playing to a receptive audience.

    This is actually an excellent review – and even brings up some very good points that I wish I had thought of highlighting when I was writing my book.

    David James
    Author of The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction?
    Director, The Alliance for Biblical Integrity

  11. I’m not defending the Harbinger, though it might seem that way. That said . . .

    Will we, or will we not, be judged by God according to the words we say? Of course we will. And even though God never made a covenant with America (which Cahn makes clear), have we not throughout our history cited Him as our source of truth and guidance, almost as if we’ve made a pact of our own to follow His ways?

    Might we not, then, be surprised that a similar judgment would fall on us (similar to that of the northern kingdom) AS IF we were a true covenant nation?

    Personally, if I were to discover these correlations for myself, I think I would almost HAVE to share them with somebody. What I would NOT do, however, is call it prophecy. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say, “God is using this to draw us to repent”. What I might be inclined to ask myself is this: “Is this the American downfall unfolding before our eyes?”

    Here’s two potentially dubious things about The Harbinger I don’t feel comfortable with: First, Cahn doesn’t make it clear (to me) whether he thinks this is prophecy or a simple heeding. The character known as “the prophet” blurs this line for me. Second, the other character, Ana (the publisher), behaves like those interviewers you see in infomercials who nod at all the right times, ask all the right questions, and make all the right remarks and give all the perfect answers that might persuade an uninitiated, non-discerning audience to buy a product. Cahn may or may not have intended to employ manipulative techniques: I don’t know Jonathan Cahn and I have no discernment on him, personally. That’s why, if I were devoted to discernment ministry, I would really want to talk to him personally.

    Ultimately, I think we who are in Christ (no matter what we take from The Harbinger) need to keep in mind that our Kingdom is not of this earth and that our mission is not to save nations but to bring individuals to repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ.

    On a side note, your slogan: “Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter” sounds a little arrogant. Notice, however, that I’m not calling YOU arrogant. But do consider how the wording might impress on both believers and non-believers.

    Thank you for reading.

  12. Also, I’d like to bring something I’ve heard from John Piper on calling out apostates (I pray I get this right)–Instead of focusing on calling them out by name, he tries, instead, to focus on teaching Biblical doctrine and Christ’s teachings so thoroughly that his congregation will be able to discern truth from lies themselves. I see potential dangers in dedicating oneself to pure discernment ministry. Remember how when Christ’s disciples were bragging about casting out demons, but Jesus encouraged them instead to rejoice that their names were written in the Book of Life? Even believers can become proud of their accomplishments (this goes back to my concerns with your slogan).

    Again, thank you for the opportunity to post here.

  13. Pingback: Books I Heard or Read in 2013 | hipandthigh

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