Controversy Surrounds Jonathan Cahn's "The Harbinger"

by Lighthouse Trails Editors

Recently some of our readers have contacted us to ask why we have not posted a review on Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger, a New York Times best-selling book written in a narrative fictional format presenting a dire warning for America’s future. A companion documentary DVD titled The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment is also available wherein Cahn describes the happenings of 9/11 and subsequent events and unveils what he believes to be the prophetic significance of these events.

The book was brought to our attention a couple months ago when two of our authors each wrote about it, but with opposing views. One was defending The Harbinger and its message of judgment and repentance, while the other was pointing out some deep concerns regarding The Harbinger. Later, we read other critiques by other writers we knew–all of those also with concerns about Cahn’s book and DVD. In all these critiques, some very legitimate issues have been shared by ministries whom we have respected and often looked to for insights (i.e., Kjos Ministries, Herescope, and The Berean Call).

At first, we were tempted not to jump into the controversy. Given the condition of America today, we could understand why someone would defend Cahn’s message and warning. The nation is in serious trouble, and a call to repentance and warning of judgment is needed desperately. But after reading the various critiques, watching the film, reading the book, and praying about this, we felt there was something we had to say.

Both the book and the video presentation are quite remarkable and compelling insofar as the parallels Cahn found between the happenings of 9/11 and specifics drawn out of Isaiah 9:10 along with stock-market dips and bankruptcies aligning precisely with the Shemitah (the Sabbath Year on the Hebrew Calendar). Also, the number 7 keeps popping up – according to Cahn’s findings, the stock-market crash of September 2008 happening exactly 7 years after 9/11 – at a 700 billion dollar bailout sum – at a drop on the stock market of 7% — to the amount of 777 points – on the final day of the Hebrew 7th year. Like the legendary WWII graffiti on the wall, “Kilroy was here,” it would seem that God was possibly signifying to anyone who would notice that He is involved in the state of affairs of our nation.

Now, when we combine the harbingers (or signs) Cahn identifies in Isaiah 9:10 along with dates aligning perfectly with the Hebrew calendar and the consistent reappearance of the number 7, these things seem to say that, by all probabilities, we have compelling evidence that Cahn has uncovered something more than the mere product of chance or superstition.

Yet, compelling as this all may be, The Harbinger has created some upheaval among several ministries. Some feel that Cahn, being a messianic rabbi, should not be questioned due to his deep insight into the Scriptures, and any criticism is nothing less than blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Now while we at Lighthouse Trails have witnessed, to our great sorrow, anti-Semitic sentiments even among Christians, Jonathan Cahn’s being Jewish does not exempt him from godly discernment.

So, while Scripture urges us to “Despise not prophesyings” (1 Thessalonians 5:20), it also instructs us to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). However, forming a definite opinion on The Harbinger has been difficult. As we have thought about this, we have come to realize we are dealing with a subject loaded with conflicting issues; hence this book perhaps raises more questions than it answers, and it is difficult not to form more than a single opinion of the book.

For example, the subject of judgment and repentance, the underlying message of the book, has been the rallying call of many ministries for a very long time. In the 1970s, David Wilkerson became known as a prophet of doom because of his dire warnings of impending judgment on America. His book Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth speaks of Russia firing missiles on America over the North Pole. And, though he does not give any specifics, he indicates that America will be disabled in one hour. Today, it is not difficult to see how America could be disabled that quickly.

Considering how nearly everything in America (including our vehicles) is run by computer, the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) missile could bring business and transportation to a halt. Key populated cities could be leveled through a direct-hit nuclear warhead or brought to complete confusion and anarchy by the aerial burst of the EMP. Furthermore, America’s economy alone is so unstable now, it is like a stack of dominos teetering on collapse. With the gravity of what could transpire in America, we are cautious about pointing out trivial and perhaps benign problems with The Harbinger. If for instance, we should find ourselves rummaging through the ashes of America, will we be then worrying about things like the literary merit of the book as one critic expressed? Because The Harbinger has an overall message of judgment and repentance, picking apart The Harbinger for insignificant and irrelevant weaknesses or flaws seems unnecessary and unbeneficial.

America’s Covenant with God

Nevertheless, there are things about The Harbinger that are troubling. And while we do believe Cahn has built a strong case supporting the idea that there are too many things that happened signifying God’s judgment on America to be mere coincidence, there are a number of foregone premises and conclusions in the book based on assumptions rather than concrete facts and solid Scripture. One such premise is that God had a covenant with America similar to the one He made with Israel.

While God hand-picked Israel beginning with the promise he made to Abraham, we have no historical record that God initiated a covenant with America. Cahn alludes to the Pilgrim founders, then skips over to George Washington as making the actual covenant when he was sworn in as our first president. Yet, at best, this was a covenant initiated by man (unlike the covenant with Israel initiated by God when He picked one nation from all the other nations). Then when George Washington was sworn in, thereby sealing the “covenant,” it was with his hand on a Masonic Lodge Bible while Freemason Robert Livingston performed the ceremony. Contrary to what many think, George Washington was not a “prophet” of God (e.g. a latter day Moses) in so much that whatever he did was binding with God.

When we sat down to watch The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment video, we did it with the intention of having a humble heart and an open mind, and we certainly felt the overall message of the video–that America would be judged if she didn’t repent—was a good message, but, at the same time, we could not help but wonder at the unqualified assumptions on Cahn’s part and the questions that came to mind: Did God choose to ignore our government’s connection with Freemasonry, and did He really have a covenant with America just as He did with Israel? Then, too, supposing that God had such a covenant with America, why is it that all of the same signs (or harbingers) extracted from Isaiah 9:10 had to be found at “ground zero” where the twin towers fell? This turns ground zero into some kind of a mystical sacred location set apart by God–but would God do that with a “covenant” made under the auspices of Freemasonry (a pluralistic secret society whose members must believe in a supreme being but not necessarily the God of the Bible). With Freemasonry, beliefs from many different religions are accepted. This was a foundational factor when the United States government was being formed. Under those circumstances, how could God have made a covenant that could be likened to the covenant He made with Israel?

While we are sure that some of those forming the government did embrace the biblical God, there were also those who did not and who hoped to form a government that would embrace all religious beliefs. What’s more, leaders of piety have dedicated all sorts of countries to God (e.g., England, Canada, Australia, etc), but that doesn’t mean that God is bound by covenant in these countries. What God is doing now is looking for individual hearts whose souls can be saved out of a fallen world for His kingdom. Please consider the reality of this.

In one respect, there was a covenant, but it wasn’t one between America and God—it wasbetween the church in America and God. The real covenant is with all born-again believers in Jesus Christ throughout the world as they partake of the covenant with God that started with Abraham and eventually included the church, which has been grafted into the tree that is Israel. The covenant with God now is not with governments but rather with individuals who have become partakers of this covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.

National Repentance

The similarities and numerical signs that Cahn has identified seem too numerous to be mere coincidence, but, at the same time, how these “signs” or harbingers are interpreted is another thing. For instance, perhaps some of the nine harbingers extracted from Isaiah 9:10 should be more rightfully seen as signs from man rather than signs from God. Isaiah 9:10 is a symbol of the nation of Israel’s defiance to the calamities that befell her and rather than repenting before God, Israelite leaders boasted that they would rebuild to where they would be stronger than before.

Consequently, this defiance and boasting can only be seen as a “sign” in the sense that America is making the same mistake that Israel made (i.e., boasting of their resolve to rebuild rather than repenting before God). What’s more, Cahn sees the harbingers of Isaiah 9:10 as a call to national repentance, but if we read further, we find that Isaiah declares, “For the people turneth not unto him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 9:13). In other words, God is declaring through Isaiah His acknowledgment that Israel has not and will not repent, consequently just as judgment has already arrived, there is more to come.

Jonathan Cahn

And although Cahn is right in assuming that God in His great mercy always gives opportunities for individual repentance, chapter 9 of Isaiah is being mistakenly connected with being a call to national repentance when in fact it is a declaration of God’s coming judgment. In the case for America and the church in America, the call to repentance has already gone out throughout the land. Many watchmen have issued the call to repentance for years now. We, ourselves, at Lighthouse Trails have issued warnings over the last ten years as we have pleaded with Bible colleges, churches, pastors, and organizations to flee from apostasy. For the most part, such warnings have been met with ridicule, mockery, and disparagement.

And in spite of the many who have called the church and America to repentance over the years, the decline in the spiritual condition of our Christian churches and institutions has only accelerated in pace. We say, therefore, that the door to individual repentance is always open (as God is a merciful God), but at the same time, the coming judgment is sure and certain.

A Sure Word of Prophecy or A Mere Warning

Oftentimes, what we find today is a mismatching of a sure word of prophecy with a dire warning from God. For example, we often hear today (from New Agers and emergents) that the prophecies of the Book of Revelation are merely warnings of what could happen rather than what really will happen – that we can alter the course of the future just like the Ninevites were able to stem the tide of judgment when they heeded Jonah’s warning of judgment through national repentance.

Perhaps it is not always easy to tell when a passage of Scripture is a sure word of prophecy in contrast to a mere warning, but one of the things we have noticed is that with sure words of prophecy, specifics are often given. For example, when God brought judgment upon Egypt through the words of Moses, specific details were given on what each phase of judgment would be. God knew that Egypt would not repent even with multiple judgments because He knew the condition of men’s hearts. In like manner, the Book of Revelation is more than just a threat or warning in that it gives specific details of what will happen in the future. Similarly, when we look at chapter 9 of Isaiah, we can see that it depicts specifics of things that later came upon Israel making this a sure word of prophecy. And God gave Israel this sure word of prophecy because He had already warned the nation and given them the opportunity to repent – and they in their pride had rejected it.

Today, America is following the same pattern by rejecting the call to repentance and boasting the same words of defiance that Israel had said in her pride. we think, therefore, if Cahn is correct in uncovering signs (harbingers) of judgment on America, his fault is that of not discerning the certainty of things to come.

What Would “National Repentance” Look Like?

This is not to say that America won’t have some type of “revival” or national “repentance.” But just as Pharaoh “repented” before Moses, America’s repentance will not be sincere and from the heart. We were trying to picture what America’s repentance might look like. We got a taste of it right after 9/11 when we witnessed a rallying call to an ecumenical interfaith patriotism; and as a result, America remained proud but there was no true repentance. So, given the state of the nation today, here is a list of what we can envision our national repentance might look like:

A Purpose Driven 40 Days of Repentance or . . .
The Jonah Plan: Repent in 40 Days — with invitations for New Age speakers to come and instruct the church on how to repent.
A National Day of Mourning over our “Sins” as a Nation — where Buddhist monks, Muslims, Evangelicals, and Catholics will flock together to ask God for forgiveness for not being more united to the universal God.
A World-Wide Contemplative-Prayer Repentance Day — where all the major Christian leaders now promoting contemplative prayer will rally together with New Agers and Buddhists alike to meditate world-wide on that day, in “vibrationally sympathetic harmony,” in order to experience true “Oneness” with mankind, creation, and the god in all.

St. Paul's Chapel at Ground Zero

America has lost its way so far as repentance goes, and the church at large has become too apostate to lead the way. How can church leaders, who don’t even discern that contemplative spirituality is a gateway to occultism and interspirituality, show Americans how to repent? After all, a large number of Christian leaders today (and countless pastors and professors) are promoting or advocating contemplative spirituality. If you think our examples we gave above about what national repentance might look like sound outrageous, consider Rick Warren’s Daniel Plan where he brought in practitioners and advocates of Reiki, tantric sex, and TM to lead people to greater health.

A few years ago, if we had suggested such a thing, people would have thought it beyond possibility. But today it is a reality. Ironically, even the Episcopalian St. Paul’s Chapel (located at ground zero and protected by the sycamore tree as indicated in The Harbinger), the site of George Washington’s inauguration and the signing of the supposed “covenant” with God, embraces the contemplative prayer movement today with its ecumenism, labyrinth, lectio divina, and interfaith/interspiritual activities.

And, consider this: How many people repenting would it take to stave off God’s judgment on America anyway? The fundamental factor is that Israel was a theocracy (they only had one God to turn to), and the United States is not a theocracy. Israel was solidly under the embrace of Judaism whereas the United States is a plethora of various religious and spiritual outlooks. Most people who actually would repent would repent within the context of their own spiritual paradigms, not necessarily the biblical one (e.g., what if a Mormon repented and became a more devote Mormon or a Catholic repented and showed greater devotion to the Virgin Mary).

In order for The Harbinger to work, every one in the U.S. would have to become a born-again Christian, and that isn’t going to happen. Today the number of born-again Christians is relatively low (as few as 26% are in the evangelical camp according to some statistics). We believe our perception of this controversy is logical and not based on any kind of prejudice either for or against Cahn.

This is not to say that Cahn’s intentions of blowing the trumpet call for national repentance are not a noble endeavor, and we hope there will be some genuine repentance by many individuals. We have also witnessed some churches, though a relatively few, taking a stand against the tide of apostasy. Those who see the problem should be in prayer for America and that out of American soil, we will witness a remnant who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

Signs to Change the Hearts of Men?

While it would certainly be wonderful if The Harbinger could stir many to true repentance, we don’t believe it will be nearly as effective in doing so as Cahn hopes. In the book, the character identified as “the prophet” commissions Nouriel (to whom the harbingers have been revealed) to be a “watchman on the wall.”

The prophet tells Nouriel that “only a sound as jarring as [a trumpet] could save them” (p.252). In other words, the prophet is telling Nouriel that if he shares these signs (harbingers) with the people, they will listen because these signs will be so striking and remarkable. This argument of “the prophet” is reminiscent of the parable Jesus told of Lazarus (the beggar) and the rich man. You may recall that in this parable when the rich man ends up in Hell, he calls out to Abraham, who is now in Heaven, and pleads with him to send Lazarus from the dead to plead with his brothers “lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:28). The following discourse between Abraham and the rich man is noteworthy:

Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he [the rich man] said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he [Abraham] said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.( Luke 16:29-31)

Ironically enough, Jesus fulfilled the words of His own parable because after He rose from the dead, the religious leaders remained in unbelief. What’s more, after His resurrection, Jesus did not appear to the religious leaders to prove that he was the Messiah because He knew that their hearts were set in unbelief. So, while Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a sign to the people, at the same time, during His ministry years, Jesus discouraged the seeking of signs:

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:38-41)

Jesus in comparing Himself with the rebellious prophet Jonah recognized He would not be more effective in changing the minds of these religious leaders – even if He performed signs. What is especially commendable about the Ninevites is that they repented at the preaching of Jonah without his doing signs and wonders as Moses did with Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. It seems, therefore, that signs do little good to those whose hearts are set on unbelief. Consequently, we have a bit of a problem with the words of “the prophet” in The Harbinger when he tells Nouriel, “Only a sound as jarring as [a trumpet] could save them” (p.252) when what is being referred to is signs (or harbingers). Granted a relative few may respond, and we can be glad about that.

Secrets, Codes, and Mysteries

Another concern worth mentioning is that The Harbinger does create a lot of mystery and suspense over the signs noted in the book. In fact, the front cover of the book alone bears the words “mystery” and “secret” in the subtitle, which understandably were used as a marketing tool. But, as a general rule, we should be cautious about deploying such words, because catchy as they may be, they have often been used in a harmful (if not occultic) way; we have, for instance, the video titled The Secret which teaches that our thoughts and attitudes have a special power in shaping our destiny. One thing we must remember, Christianity is not a mystery religion. With the Bible, what you see is what you get. But books have been written (e.g., The Da Vinci Code and a host of other books) suggesting that the Bible has hidden messages totally different from what you see on the surface and what has been taught as the fundamentals of the faith.

Now, Cahn has witnessed things embedded in Scripture that he refers to as “mysteries” or “secrets,” and while they may be difficult to find, they are, at the same time, unaltering to the meaning of Scripture. For instance, someone attending a messianic church once told us that the Hebrew word rendered in the King James Old Testament as Lord or Jehovah is depicted by our consonants YHWH, but the actual Hebrew characters are meaningful and pictorial – one being the shape of a nail, another of a hand, and the repeated consonant meaning “behold.” When spelled out in that fashion the word Jehovah (or Yahweh) renders the meaning “behold the nail; behold the hand” or “behold the nail in the hand.” Now we might call this a “secret” or a “code” signifying that the “Lord” of the Old Testament is the crucified Jesus of the New Testament.

But this is not a secret in that it does not alter the message of the Gospel, which proclaims that Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross, is Savior and Lord. And this was never a message to be kept a secret but rather to be proclaimed from the rooftops. So, while Cahn may be technically right in referring to harbingers as secrets, he should be cautious of the implicitness of these words that could suggest that these findings offer new revelation contrary to what has been laid down in Scripture. Though we think Cahn must know this, there are a great many people who would be delighted to learn that the Bible is really nothing more than a code book to be deciphered, and when the deciphering is done, Jesus is no longer God come in the flesh to die for our sins.

While God can and does give signs and we can find examples of them in the Bible, Jesus told the people that they should not seek after signs. Signs can come from God, but they can also come from man or from the Devil. According to Scripture, the Antichrist, for example, will be a great worker of lying signs and wonders, and he will have the world duped into believing him. What we need to do is be grounded in the Word and only go along with what agrees with Scripture. Second Thessalonians 2 says explicitly that there will be a falling away before the day of the Lord. This means that while there may be individuals repenting to the Lord Jesus Christ, there is not going to be a general turning to God. On the contrary, the spiritual condition of the world is going to grow darker. So in other words, if what Cahn says should happen–national repentance–does indeed happen, and if we are indeed living in the end times, it would actually refute what Paul says in Scripture.

To sum up, a national repentance where emphasis is put on a man-initiated “covenant,” where “repentance” will take place in the context of each person’s own religious (or non-religious) paradigm, and where 2 Thessalonians 2 is contradicted is not a repentance worth going after. But rather, let believers in Christ seek the God of the Bible wholeheartedly, and let us share His Gospel message to all with the hope that many will repent of their sins and turn their hearts toward Jesus Christ Who will, in turn, open their eyes and give them salvation and eternal life by His grace.

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)