Needless to say, I’m late to the game. Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger was published in 2012 and since then, we’ve seen the claims of his latest book The Mystery of the Shemitah fall flat. But with so many believers reading his books, it seemed prudent to give this one a crack.
I’ll be honest up front. I was very skeptical going in and I expected to hate the book. However, in the end, I found it entertaining and interesting. One thing I was thankful for was Cahn’s presentation of the gospel in chapter 21, although it would have been stronger if he focused more on Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin. Give glory to Christ, I say. However, this wasn’t a huge problem.
FIRST, the underlying hermeneutical premise is flawed. In other words, the groundwork that is laid is not bedrock, but quicksand. On page 1, his main character declares that he has “an ancient mystery that holds the secret of America’s future.” Within a few pages, we know that he plans on using Old Testament Scripture as a key to unlocking America’s future.
However, this violates every law of interpretation under the sun! The worst thing a student of Scripture can do is read something into the biblical text that does not exist. It’s called eisegesis and it’s really, really bad!
His main text of reference is Isaiah 9:10, although he bounces around to other prophets. Now, off the bat, I’ll say that if it were possible for Isaiah to be writing about the United States of America, then the next 200 pages are feasible. But we must read the text and work to understand what it would have meant to its original listeners. Was Isaiah writing for the benefit of Americans? No. Now, Cahn’s main character, a journalist who receives prophetic revelation from a mystery “watchman”, flat-out says that the Isaiah 9:10 passage (which is referring to ancient Israel) functions as a sign concerning America (p. 49).
Question: Says who? We have absolutely no cues from Scripture or from any other rabbi or teacher in the last twenty-seven centuries who have supported this interpretation!
Further, Cahn has been on-record to say that this information, which he claims is real, was given to him via prophetic revelation. However, we understand that the canon of Scripture has been closed for 2,000 years and no new revelation has been given. Apparently, Jonathan Cahn is the only one in church history to have been given this revelation concerning Isaiah 9:10.
SECOND, in studying the Old Testament, it is imperative that we understand “covenant”. There are two kinds of covenants: conditional covenants and unconditional covenants. An example of a conditional covenant would be the Mosaic covenant (Exod. 19:5; 24:7-8; 34:27-28; Deut. 4:13), where God commands obedience from Israel and declares blessing for that obedience. In other words, “If you obey Me, I’ll bless you; if you disobey Me, I’ll curse you.” An example of an unconditional covenant would be the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-3, 12:6-7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-14; 22:15-18), where God declares that He will bless Abraham with no strings attached. Regardless of whether or not Abraham obeys, God will create a people through his line, give them a land, and crown a King.
So, what kind of covenant did God make with the founders of the United States? Answer: none.
Now, many of the first settlers who came to America were Christians—Puritans, actually. And part of Puritanical theology was centered on the notion of covenants with God. In truth, this is a noble and godly thing to do; to pledge yourself to obey the Lord. In fact, they believed that they were in covenant with God and built their lives around that belief.
But God didn’t enter into a conditional covenant with the first settlers. How do we know? Because God operates under a New Covenant, and it’s an unconditional covenant. The only covenant He maintains with believers is that of salvation and regeneration through faith in Jesus Christ (Matt. 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). To insist that the residents of America are somehow under an Old Testament-like conditional covenant is to, in effect, turn the clock back on salvation history! May it never be!!!
Regardless of how beautiful an image it is, America is not Israel. To claim that to be so not only violates every law of hermeneutics we have, but it undermines God’s future plans for national Israel. But even if you’re not Dispensational in your theology, then know that it undercuts “spiritual Israel”—the Church! To place America into a covenant with God violates every possible understanding we have of true, biblical Christianity.
THIRD, Jonathan Cahn, although he doesn’t come right out and say it, identifies with the main character of the book who claims that he’s the messenger of a great prophecy. The content of the prophecy is a dire warning for America to turn from sin and return to God.
What, however, has been the fruit of receiving this message? Are we seeing national repentance? No. Instead, we are seeing fear and anxiety. People are date-setting the apocalypse, emptying their bank accounts and pulling out of the stock market, building shelters, stock-piling food. And, wouldn’t cha know it: Jim Bakker has been right in the front of the line, selling survivalism food kits!
Whenever end times prophecy is given in the Bible, it effectively accomplishes two ends. It prompts self-examination and provides hope in the Lord. Read Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. Nowhere does he incite fear, using scare tactics. Rather, he tells them what’s coming, encourages self-examination, and gives them a message of comfort. Note Habakkuk’s prayer (Hab. 3:16-19). Peter’s exhortation to people, once he declared to them end times prophecy, was to call for them to live lives of “holy conduct and godliness” (2 Pet. 3:11).
This book has not produced holy conduct or godliness. All this book has produced is panic and fear. And lots of money in book sales for Jonathan Cahn.
FOURTH, Jonathan Cahn claims to be heralding a call for America to return to God. In fact, this has been his message when he’s made his rounds on the TV interview circuit. He’s been talking about the Founding Fathers, the harbingers, 9/11, the coming economic turmoil, etc. But I’ve yet to hear him give a clear gospel message on air. In fact, he barely mentions the name of Jesus at all. Yes, the gospel is presented in the book, but he abdicates his “prophetic” responsibility by making his PR campaign about saving America instead telling America about the Savior.
Friends, there will be absolutely no revival whatsoever apart from saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10).
Again, the message of this book (and The Mystery of the Shemitah) has not produced a hunger for deeper Bible study, increased holiness, or even love for neighbors. It has produced nothing but fear, which is not from the Lord (2 Tim. 1:7).
In the end, I fear that, while entertaining, The Harbinger is nothing more than a clever tale told by a self-proclaimed prophet who has strung a few obscure Bible verses together. In my opinion, however, Dan Brown is better at twisting Scripture into a story than Jonathan Cahn.
Title: The Harbinger
Author: Jonathan Cahn
Publisher: Frontline Pub Inc (January 3, 2012)
Purchase: Not recommended.