What Do You Think of Rabbi Cahn’s book “Harbinger”?

This book was recommended to me by two people from church in the last few years, so I did finally pick it up.  I admit I was skeptical, since the title page tells me upfront this will be:  “the ancient mystery that will hold the secret to America’s future.”  I get very twitchy about Christians nailing down a message for one specific country (in this case America) from Scriptural prophesy.

Look, when people give warnings about America from biblical prophecy I think that’s fine as a generic application of God’s dealings with Israel for ANY culture/nation.  The Bible shows God’s good nature, his concern for law and justice and the prophetic parts show that he’s bringing world history to an epic conclusion.  Also, biblical prophecy overall shows how God uses all the nations to advance his will and that he cares about all the nations, even the ones that are not named Israel – yes even the ones that are in rebellion against him.

So, if Cahn would take these principles and apply them to America, to show how God judged and treated Nations that were like this or that nation in Scripture, in terms of their values and overall attitudes etc – then that’s a valid application, in my mind.  In that sense it might also be appropriate to say that as America carries on in the spirit of Ancient Israel (or Babylon, or Nineveh), not getting the gracious warning shots across our bow, we will suffer for our defiance and blindness in similar ways as they.

In Harbinger, Cahn has done some of this.  However, I think he takes it too far and misapplies Isaiah’s prophesy by making it far too specifically about this one country at this particular time.  Let me explain:

Cahn’s entire premise actually is borrowed (I’m not sure if he ever gives credit for this).  His book is essentially an expansion of a sermon I have in my files by David Wilkerson entitled “Towers Down, Message Missed.”  He preached this right after 911, and in his talk, Wilkerson gave a blistering critique of the American response to 911. The whole message was built on Isaiah 9:10 which says:

All the people will know it — Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria — who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 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.”

Isa 9:9-10

He felt that that great tragedy was God’s stirring call for America to repent.  And in the aftermath, he noted that there was no real repentance from America’s increasing hostility to the Christian faith, to Christian values and to the gospel overall.  In fact, he said (accurately I believe) that the response was the opposite of such repentance (the temporary spike in church attendance not withstanding).  It was rather to retrench ourselves in our current path of excess and immorality, and to pridefully defy any rebuke that God might have intended with that terrible slaughter, and instead commit ourselves to rebuild, recover, and be even greater than we were before.  Wilkerson cited this same passage as his text.

To give context, Isaiah is speaking to nations who are facing the onslaught of the expanding Assyrian empire around 750 BC.  The northern kingdom was always more cosmopolitan and urbane and wealthy than their hill dwelling brothers in Judah, but their connections to surrounding culture brought the corruption of excess and immorality.   One prophet calls Israel’s upper crust the “fat cows of Bashan”.

When Assyria made incursions into the northern kingdom of Israel, they did not at first obliterate the country.  They took the northern regions but left Samaria (the capital) alone (2 Kings 15:29).  It is likely these events that prompted the response Isaiah notes in 9:10.  “The bricks have fallen” – meaning, many of our towns may have been decimated by Tiglath-Pileser, but no matter, we’ll come back from all this – and better than ever.  That’s the meaning of “dressed stone” and “cedars”… the replacement items are of much better quality than the original.  Isaiah is saying their refusal to see God’s hand of discipline in the invasion constitutes unbelievable arrogance.  And he specifically criticizes their unbounded, blind optimism to be undeterred in the face of their immanent doom.

Well, it’s not hard to see how well the American experience after 911 fits with Isaiah 9:10.  We too we hit hard by an invading army.  And we too responded with an upbeat message of rebuilding.  We too mostly ignored the setback as any kind of Divine discipline or warning.  And of course now the Twin Towers have been replaced by the even taller, 1776 foot Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower World Trade Center NYC

Now here’s where it gets controversial.  Many saw the attack, not as a reason to turn to God, but as a reason to turn away from God, saying if God were real such evil things wouldn’t happen.  Others saw it as some sort of vindication of American values – if evil people hated us this much, we must be pretty good indeed!

Of course Christians did mostly adopt a simple view that there is evil in the world that resists good, and this resistance doesn’t always indicate divine discipline or God’s displeasure.  True.  Without a known prophet like Isaiah around to interpret such events, it’s hard to connect with any authority the evil actions of evil people with a good God.  But let us not forget that the prophets did in fact do this often.  God called the pagan and wicked king Nebuchadnezzar, “my servant” (Jeremiah 25:9).  Not because God wills evil, but because he allows it and USES it for good purposes.  So I have no problem in principle with associating the Isaiah passage with American responses to 911.  It could be just as applicable to Germany after WWII.

However, if the author treats America as a sort of “second Israel” and sees that we have a special tie to these prophecies because somehow America is uniquely “God’s country” as Israel was, then I think it’s off the tracks.  America is not God’s means of redemption, or his sole plan for getting the message of Christ out to the world, and America is not the special object of God’s affection.  The Church however, does fill all those roles – the Church stewards the hope of Christ, the hope of the world.  If America blows its moment on the world stage, that’s bad for America, people will suffer, but the Church lives on, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her.

Now, I would agree that America has its place in the history of nations, some more or less righteous than others, and like them, will receive from God her just desserts.  therefore, it’s good for America to broadly be friendly to godly values, and to have godly leaders etc.  But if she does not, this doesn’t defeat the Church or God’s End Times purposes.  No post-Christ nation has anywhere the role in God’s plan that pre-Christ Israel did.  That nation’s role was to show God to the nations and bring in the Christ.  Other nations sometimes helped God’s people (eg. the Persians under Cyrus), and sometimes persecuted them (eg. the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes).  Likewise America might be like Cyrus and that’s good for the Church.  But America itself is not the Church – like Persia it CONTAINS God’s people who live in her, in exile.

America will come and (if today’s events are an accurate harbinger) it will also someday, go.  If it repents, like Nineveh did, it might go a little longer.  If that’s the author’s point, I think it’s a good one.  If he’s suggesting America is the modern day Israel, I think he’s gone too far.