Harbingers of…Misinterpretation, Part 2

If someone comes to a right conclusion about America’s need for repentance, but he builds his case for turning to God on a poor or even dangerous foundation, should he be praised or corrected? This is the question at the heart of any response to the “ministry” of Jonathan Cahn as represented by The Harbinger and The Mystery of the Shemitah, two books which claim to reveal a mystery hidden for more than 2,500 years from pretty much everyone. Only recently, in fact, only after the events of September 11, 2001 and the months and years following, has this mystery come into focus. Of course, the skeptic would immediately respond that anyone can find patterns in historical events which can be made to fit into some preconceived narrative, at least as long as one is willing to massage the details to make things fit together. But setting aside that kind of skepticism for a minute, I would like to consider the more fundamental question of the foundation for Cahn’s claim that he, and only he, has been able to decipher the mystery hidden in plain sight in the words of Isaiah 9:10.

The Harbinger is classified and sold as fiction, yet it begins with this preface: “What you are about to read is presented in the form of a story, but what is contained within the story is real.” It reminds me a little bit of the opening line from Dragnet, “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.” No one actually believes that Dragnet is anything more than an hour of television entertainment, but there are thousands, and possibly millions who have read Cahn’s book and come away thinking that they have just stumbled upon the answer to everything that is wrong with America. Is it possible that the attacks of 9/11, the subsequent economic downturn, and the crash of 2008 were predicted by the OT Scriptures? Cahn seems to think so, and there are many who have become his disciples in this game of “pin–the–cryptic–OT–phrase–on–the–current–event.” The overarching point of his books is that Isaiah 9:10 reveals a pattern of warning signs given to ancient Israel which is being repeated today in America, and that destruction will follow unless we repent.

The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.” – Isaiah 9:10

Isaiah 9:8-10:4 is a detailed prophecy concerning the coming destruction of the nation of Israel by the invading armies of Assyria, a prediction which was fulfilled in 722BC with the fall of the city of Samaria and the captivity of the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom. In it God promises to punish his people for their pride (9:9-12), their tolerance of dishonest and ungodly leaders (9:13-17), their self-centered wickedness and violence (9:18-21), and the injustice of their entire society (10:1-4). As is routinely the case in the OT prophetic Scriptures, the judgment of God in this passage is restorative in its ends, that is, he brings judgment on his people with the intention of causing them to repent and return to him.

This is why I say that Jonathan Cahn is correct about our need for repentance, even though he is woefully inadequate in proving his case from this particular passage, and careless even to the point of spreading a false and dangerous method of Biblical interpretation. On one hand, he is absolutely correct when he says, “…America is the nation is rapid departure from God’s will. And God likewise allowed…the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was, likewise, a wake-up call.” Anytime we see the face of evil, we ought to recognize that it is simply our reflection that we see, and we ought to turn to the Lord in repentance. Certainly, he is right about our need to humble ourselves and turn from our sins to a forgiving and gracious God, and we are reminded of that need every time tragedy strikes.

But Cahn goes too far when he links ancient Israel with the USA, as if the prophecies can be rightly applied to both, for there is nothing in Isaiah 9:10 or any of the surrounding context which justifies the conclusion that America is anywhere in view. In fact, the specific details of the text make it clear that this is a prophecy of judgment on the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrian empire, nothing more and nothing less. It is because of this misapplication of Scripture that Cahn so foolishly says, “According to the ancient mystery revealed in the Book of Isaiah, if after that first calamity and warning, the nation doesn’t return to God but responds in defiance, it will end up triggering a second calamity. It was because of this ancient key, that, seven years after 9/11, the American economy collapsed.” The Bible is not a book of mysteries to be solved by creative and imaginative men, it is the revelation of God to be understood by all men, and we would do well to avoid the kind of novelty that Jonathan Cahn has been preaching to those who are eager to know things God has not chosen to reveal.

In the next articles, I will deal more directly with the so-called “harbingers” that Cahn believes he has discovered.

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