A QUESTION OF DIVINE JUDGMENT
by Bob Wheeler
The Harbinger: The Ancient Mystery that Holds
the Secret of America’s Future
253 pp., pb.
Is America tottering on the brink of disaster? Author Jonathan Cahn thinks so, and in this thought-provoking book he presents disturbing evidence that America is, indeed, ripe for divine judgment.
Originally from a Jewish background, Cahn leads a mixed congregation of both Jews and Gentiles in Wayne, NJ. Thus it is perhaps only natural that he would be struck by the similarity between the events of 9/11 and Old Testament prophecy. As a result he has given us a fascinating and intriguing read.
The book reads like a Dan Brown novel, but Cahn insists that what he says in it about America is literally true. (I found the book in the Christian fiction section of our local Barnes & Noble.) His argument runs along three major lines. First, he notes the strong parallels between the events of 9/11 and an obscure prophecy found in Isaiah 9:10. The ancient (northern) kingdom of Israel, sometimes also known by the name of its capital city, Samaria, had long since fallen into religious apostasy and moral decay. Finally, around 733 B.C. it was invaded from the north by the powerful Assyrian army, which captured several districts around the Sea of Galilee. The Israelites apparently reacted to the situation in a spirit of defiance, and Isa. 9:10 summarizes their attitude this way:
“The bricks have fallen down,
But we will rebuild with hewn stones;
The sycamores are cut down,
But we will replace them with cedars.” (NKJV).
The northern kingdom of Israel was finally carried off into captivity in 722 B.C., and disappeared from the stage of history.
Cahn goes through this verse, word by word in the Hebrew original, and points out the astonishing similarities with the events of 9/11. Among other things it turns out that there actually was a sycamore tree at Ground Zero, which was subsequently moved and replaced by a conifer tree on the same site. (Cahn tells us that the Hebrew word ‘erez, usually translated “cedar” in our English versions, could refer to any member of the pine family, although this is debatable.)
More remarkably, however, on at least two occasions leading public officials actually quoted Isa. 9:10 as an expression of America’s own determination to rebuild. The day after 9/11 the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Tom Daschle, quoted the verse on the Senate floor. Three years later, on the anniversary of 9/11, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, speaking to a Congressional caucus, quoted the same verse again. Apparently neither man was aware that the verse, taken in its context, was actually a rebuke for the attitude thus represented!
The second line of evidence explored by Cahn has to do with the concept of “shemitah,” a Hebrew word that means “remission” or “release.” Under Old Testament law every seventh year was to be kept as a “Sabbath year,” in which the land was allowed to lie fallow. On the last day of the Sabbath year there was supposed to be a “shemitah,” a release of debts in which all the debts of poor people would be forgiven. The Hebrew calendar runs on a different system than our Gregorian calendar and the last day of the Hebrew year would, of course, be the day before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah generally falls sometime in September or early October on our calendar. As it happens, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack there was a major stock market crash on Sept. 17, 2001, which just happened to be the last day of the year on the Jewish calendar. Then, seven years later, on Sept. 28, 2008, which was the last day of the Jewish calendar for that year, the stock market crashed again, ushering in the Great Recession. On both days fortunes were lost. Was it just a coincidence?
The third line of evidence cited by Cahn involves the inauguration of George Washington as President, which took place in Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan on April 30, 1789. In his Inaugural Address Washington invoked the blessing of God on the newly formed government. Then, having delivered his speech, the newly sworn-in president led a procession to nearby St. Paul’s Chapel for an Episcopal prayer service. The chapel is, in fact, located adjacent to what is now Ground Zero. Cahn compares this to the ancient temple in Jerusalem, the focal point of worship in Israel, which was destroyed and rebuilt several times during its history.
Cahn does not presume to tell us what exactly will happen next, nor does he set dates. His main concern is to warn us that all the signs point to our being a nation under God’s judgement. He ends the book with an evangelistic appeal. Considering the fact that the book has already sold over 2 million copies and was on the New York Times best seller list, we certainly hope that it will make an impact.
Cahn has certainly given us something to think about, but I think that he may have overstated his case a bit. While the similarities between ancient Israel and modern America are striking, there are nonetheless important differences. Chief among them is the fact that America does not have the kind of formal covenant relationship with God that ancient Israel had (unless the language of the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence be construed as an implied covenant). Under the New Covenant, the people of God is the sum total of born-again believers, not a given nation-state. Likewise there is no covenantal obligation for America to practice “shemitah,” although there is a general moral obligation for every human society to relieve the distress of the poor among them. Moreover there is no state church here in the U.S., and hence to central shrine that serves as the focus for national worship. Thus, while the similarities with the shemitah and the temple are interesting, it is hard to know exactly what they prove.
And yet, having said that, there are several things that undoubtedly are true. God is in sovereign control of the universe, and nothing happens by accident. He is holy and righteous, and holds all men accountable for their actions, Jew and Gentile alike. God once destroyed the entire world with a flood because He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Gen. 6:5). On another occasion He rained down fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. Were not the San Francisco earthquake of 1984 and Hurricane Katrina (Aug. 29, 2005) awesome demonstrations of God’s power and judgment?
The fact of the matter is that we are a nation under God’s judgment, and we would do well to take the warning signs seriously. For that reason we can thank Jonathan Cahn for at least getting the conversation started.