The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn, is about a series of signs, or omens, which he believes have manifested in America beginning with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The author believes that he has discovered an ancient mystery in Isaiah:9:10-11 that “explains everything from 9/11 to the collapse of the global economy.”
The overall purpose of The Harbingeris to call America to repent for turning her back on God and moving away from the foundations upon which the country was built. It is also to warn of the danger of God’s judgment that this represents. Not only is this a valid message but one that needs to be proclaimed.
However, because of serious flaws throughout the book, the potential dangers may well outweigh the benefits. Many of the author’s views and ideas as presented in The Harbingerare misguided, having both significant exegetical and theological problems. Additionally, the book could well leave its readers with serious misunderstandings about how to appropriately interpret and apply the Word of God. Not only does The Harbingerfail to reveal a mystery in Isaiah:9:10, but in spite of the much-needed call to repentance, the book presents a danger to believers and unbelievers alike.
The heart of a biblical hermeneutic is the commitment to understanding the literary context of a passage. This is where Cahn’s thesis first runs into trouble. Nothing in the context gives any indication that either Isaiah or the Lord intended for Isaiah:9:10 to be understood as having to do with anything other than the Northern Kingdom in the eighth century B.C.
Even though categorized as “fiction,” the story is prefaced by: “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.” In other words, the book conveys what Cahn considers to be biblically accurate and historically factual. However, the line between what is fact and what is fiction is not at all clear.
In The Harbinger, the nine seals are given over a period of time to journalist Nouriel Kaplan by a mysterious figure identified only as “the prophet.” Kaplan and the prophet are the primary characters in the book, along with a third, lesser character, Ana Goren, a Manhattan publishing executive to whom Kaplan tells the story of his encounters with the prophet.
The author denies that he is arguing for a direct connection between Israel and America….Yet in multiple places, the book gives the very clear impression that these are more than simply parallels and that a direct connection does exist. Based on what is clearly stated in the book, it is difficult to conclude that this is not precisely what Cahn intended to convey all the time. The following are just a few of numerous examples [from the book]:
[Ana Goren] “How could an ancient mystery have anything to do with September 11?”
[Nouriel Kaplan] “An ancient mystery behind everythingfrom 9/11 to the economy…to the housing boom…to the war in Iraq…to the collapse of Wall Street. Everything in precise detail.”
* * *
[The Prophet] “The Assyrians are the fathers of terrorism, and those who mercilessly pointed out the calamity on 9/11 were their spiritual children, another link to the mystery joining America to ancient Israel.”
* * *
[Kaplan] “So if the ancient mystery is joined to America, then somehow 9/11 has to be linked to the words ‘We will rebuild.’”
* * *
[The Prophet] “Well done, Nouriel. So what would we expect to find in Washington DC?”
[Kaplan] “Some link between this city and the ancient vow,” I said. “Somehow Isaiah:9:10 has to be be connected to Washington DC.”
* * *
[The Prophet] “And all referring to America’s campaign to defy the calamity of 9/11, as he links it all to the judgment of ancient Israel.”
* * *
[The Prophet] “Solomon was the king of Israel. Washington was the first president of the United States. There was something in the linking of ancient Israel and America, as with all the other mysteries.”
Cahn’s belief in a direct propheticlink between Isaiah:9:10 and the United States could not be more clear. As such, the author’s theory about this direct connection unambiguously forms the “factual” basis for the entire story.
[Referring to the third harbinger, Dave James contrasts Isaiah’s use of the term “bricks” (Isaiah:9:10) with what] fell from buildings when the World Trade Centers collapsed. Fallen bricks meant the Northern Kingdom lay in ruins. However, as tragic as they were, the 9/11 attacks involved only a few buildings, not an entire city, let alone the entire nation. And although there had been an airport security breach, this was not a breach of America’s military defenses, even when the attack on the Pentagon is considered. The pattern of forcing current events into the Isaiah:9:10 prophecy continues with the author’s discussion of the bricks themselves. The fallen bricks in ancient Israel were the ruins of a destroyed city, while fallen bricks were only incidental in the World Trade Center attacks.
[The author] rightly notes that national repentance can take place only at a personal level, when people individually turn to God. Because of this, chapter 21, “Eternity,” is arguably the most important one in the book. The challenge to be spiritually prepared for the day of judgment is quite clear as The Prophet states: “And no one is exempt. Each must stand before Him.”
Unfortunately, there are some issues that diminish the impact this chapter could have. A believer, or even an unbeliever who…understands the gospel, would understand what the author is talking about. However, there are a few things that either are not stated, are unclear, or require the reader to “connect the dots”—a difficult task without some prior exposure to Christianity….Cahn describes what someone must do to be saved: [The prophet:] “By receiving…by letting go…by letting the old life end and a new one begin. By choosing…by opening your heart to receive that which is beyond containing—the presence…the mercy…the forgiveness…the cleansing…the unending love of God.”
However, it is never explained that it is by simple faith that one “receives, lets go, chooses, or opens one’s heart.” Neither faith in Christ, nor believing in Christ, nor trusting in Christ for one’s salvation is ever discussed. Someone with no biblical backgroundwould not understand what the prophet means when he speaks of partaking in the infinite sacrifice. Unfortunately, the gospel is almost obscured in the midst of the many words, while things that could have made it much more clear are missing.
This is a condensed excerpt. The full article may be found here.