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The Harbinger: a review

The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds the Secret of America's Future by Jonathan CahnJonathan Cahn's The Harbinger is one of the bestselling Christian books of 2012. The subtitle reveals Cahn's thesis: "The ancient mystery that holds the secret of America's future." This "ancient mystery" supposedly is contained in Isaiah 9:10: "The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars." To Cahn, this verse explains 9/11, the Great Recession and the future of our nation.

His logic: America was founded by Christians who dedicated this nation to God. In return, he placed a "hedge" of protection around us. Cahn believes we removed God from our classrooms and courtrooms in the 1960s, and he views the legalization of abortion as a further step away from the Lord. In response, God removed his protection from our nation, allowing the 9/11 terrorists to attack our country.

"The bricks have fallen down" describes the collapse of the World Trade Center; "we will rebuild with dressed stone" refers to a 20-ton stone used as the cornerstone of the structure that would replace the fallen Twin Towers. The "fig trees" that were felled is connected to a sycamore tree that was destroyed on 9/11; the "cedars" that replaced it refers to a pine tree that was put in place of the sycamore. As the Isaiah passage describes a nation whose prideful self-reliance spurred God to further punishment, so our nation's refusal to return to God after 9/11 has led to ongoing judgment.

Cahn links 9/11 to the Great Recession, as our government used means to stimulate the economy that led to financial collapse seven years later. He connects this collapse to the biblical "Sabbath year" (Deuteronomy 15:1-2), whereby every seventh year debts would be forgiven. In his view, the seven years between 9/11 and the fall of Lehman Brothers demonstrates the biblical import of the recession. If we do not return to the Lord, further judgments will come.

I find numerous problems with Cahn's logic. For example, if God removed his "hedge" on 9/11, how are we to understand Pearl Harbor? Washington, D.C. was burned in the War of 1812. The World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. Radical Muslims have been attacking America since 1979.

He likens the Great Recession to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, but 1929 was a far worse economic collapse. And his method of biblical interpretation is more allegorical than exegetical. It reminds me of Jewish pesher: a passage is read for its surface meaning as well as a deeper mystical message not conveyed by the literal text.

At the same time, I am grateful Cahn calls America's Christians to repentance and spiritual renewal for the sake of our nation. However we view his argument, there can be no question his burden is biblical: "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). Self-reliance is spiritual suicide. Our nation's great need is for a great moral and spiritual awakening. May it begin with me—and with you.

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