Disclaimer: this is a long blog about a controversial subject that a lot of people, Christian and non-Christian, are talking about. I didn’t know much about the subject, but started hearing predictions about dire things which will happen to America in September 2015. Anxiety levels were spiking. I decided to look into the subject, and here is what I found. This is a brief overview, not a comprehensive study. However if you persist and read all the way through, you will have a good base for discussing the subject.
It’s been seven years since the stock market took a serious drop, and in 2008/2009 it was really serious. Only twice this century has the market gone seven years without a serious drop. So the US market is due for a drop, which appears to have started this past month – August 2015. No big surprise here.
On the Hebrew calendar, the final day of the current Shemitah year is September 13, 2015 (called Elul 29). Every seventh year (this is where the word Sabbatical originates), Moses was instructed by God to cease sowing and harvesting and let the land lie fallow. In addition, the Israelites would have their debts canceled on the last day of the month, Elul 29.
Jonathan Cahn, who is a Jewish-Christian Rabbi, wrote a best-seller The Mystery of the Shemitah in which he argued that recent stock market collapses occurred in the Shemitah years of 1973, 1980, 1987, 2001 and 2008. Many videos carry his talks. One video presentation from October 2014 reveals a charismatic speaker who reports on seven year cycles, including financial crashes, wars, and world powers that rise or fall. For example, 9-11 was in 2001. The Great Recession was 2008. The Great Depression occurred on September 29, 1929 which was Elul 29. One curious note: the word Shemitah is pronounced “schmeeta”.
Initially it is a compelling story. However, to me as a physicist most of the correlations are qualitative, not statistically quantitative, and since Shemitah can mean fall or rise or shaking, it is much easier to find correlations. To say this in another way, you can always find a catastrophe or a success somewhere in the world during the Shemitah years. For the current Shemitah year which ends September 13, 2015 not too much has actually happened until now: the stock market is recently down more than 10% from its high in May (and is negative for 2015) but this is average behavior and expected. Greece stumbled but has steadied. I suppose ISIS may be classified as a catastrophe that began in the Shemitah year. China’s economy is a big question, as nobody seems to know how serious their retraction is. Note: although this blog is not intended to be a comprehensive study of these matters, it will point out that there are opinions by other Godly students of the Bible which offer different interpretations.
Since the period September 2014 – September 2015 is the current year of Shemitah, Cahn’s message draws immediate attention, and seems to induce fear of the unknown. I have talked with people who are putting large amounts of cash under their mattresses, storing food in mountain cabins, and buying guns. Fear can spread quickly and be magnified when the doom side of a story is accentuated. It happened just before we turned the calendar on the millennium year of 2000. Although it’s always wise to stash away extra cash and food and water for at least three weeks in case of natural disaster (earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc), the spiritual interpretation can lend extra fear to the prospect of a market crash, or worse, because we know what a powerful God could do if he wanted to punish America for its purported sins.
Rabbi Cahn ends the video presentation by admitting that catastrophe may or may not happen to the stock market or to America, because this is in God’s hands. But he urges followers to stay in the will of God, which is the safest place to be, and to take courage from this.
Inadvertently, I discovered two challenges to the books of Cahn, who also wrote The Harbinger, another best-seller in a prophetic vein. The challenges both address the quantitative statistical correlations, which was one of my concerns mentioned above.
^^ First: David James is Executive Director of Alliance for Biblical Integrity, an organization that addresses current events and their relation to the Bible. It looks to be a reputable website. The following bullets are excerpted from his writing on 9/2/2015 (you’ll need to scroll down to the Comments section of the link article):
• An in-depth analysis shows there is no statistical significance to the Shemitah years affecting the economy.
• In my two books** (the only ones that have addressed thoroughly Cahn’s claims as far as I know) I demonstrate unequivocally that Jonathan Cahn has mishandled Scripture, misrepresented historical facts, and manipulated data / statistics in order to build his case.
• I began doing Google searches on phrases found in The Mystery of the Shemitah in order to try to find the source of his information. The search results took me straight to Wikipedia and there are statements on Wikipedia that match almost word-for-word statements made in Cahn’s book. However Wikipedia warns that it should NOT be cited because it is not a recognized or reliable source.
• I have stated repeatedly and consistently that the US is ripe for judgment and that judgment could well be underway. We always need to be ready today and tomorrow – and not waiting for September 14 or 28.
^^ Second: Dr. Adrian Zenz, lecturer for empirical research and quantitative analysis, European School of Culture and Theology (Germany). Here again I have excerpted from his writing on 9/2/2015 (you’ll need to scroll down to the Comments section of the link article). For a full report click on this link.
• Basically no statistically significant correlations between Shemitah time periods and GDP downturns. Most Shemitah years or Elul-Tishri quarters had actually positive GDP growth.
• Even though Shemitah years or time periods showed on average slightly more negative stock market changes, there is a lot of random variation in the data that cannot be explained by a month or quarter being in the Shemitah or not. 99 percent of stock market variation must be attributed to other explanatory factors.
• Also, it makes you see how potentially deceptive Cahn’s book is: selectively pushing confirming facts, and deliberately omitting a whole host of disconfirming facts.
• This does not mean that God will not bring judgment, but it severely undermines Cahn’s claims of a 7 year Shemitah mechanism of judgment.
To be complete, a Florida mathematician and educator called Thomas Pound has also studied the biblical Shemitah cycle as it applies to financial markets.
• Applying the ANOVA statistical test to the Shemitah cycle, Pound’s research revealed that the sabbatical years were the only group of years in which the market cycle averages consistent significant losses since 1871.
• “Statistically, it appears that the calendar years in which the Sabbatical year ends are worse than the other six years, and that difference is significant based on the data I have,” Pound told Breaking Israel News.
The market collapse prophesied by Cahn, and the heavy drop in the dollar some people associate with this and the Blood Moons, are unlikely according to some financial brokers I have talked with. They point out that the US economy has been and is still growing steadily (last quarter GDP was 3.7% which is pretty good), and the US Dollar Index is close to its five-year high (for example, I know from my brother that the Australian dollar is now worth only 70% of the US dollar). It’s hard to see a sudden collapse of the US economy – China, as large as its economy is, receives only 5% of exports from the US. Unless China’s economy were to collapse. Or perhaps a nuclear bomb was to be set off somewhere in the US by a terrorist.
However I ran across one other critique of Mystery of the Shemitah in what also seems a reputable website.
Here is a direct quote from an interesting article by Jack Kelley:
“What this means is that the author has transformed a regularly scheduled religious observance, meant for one nation only, into a prophetic sign that can manifest itself in judgment at any time upon any nation. In the process, a year of freedom from work, the cancelation of all personal debt, and the release of indentured servants were redefined as economic downturns, recessions, and depressions. From the book, it appears he did this completely on his own authority. No similar conclusions by any other Biblical scholar were cited in support.”
I admit I haven’t read the Shemitah or the Blood Moon books, nor have I read the books by David James on the same topics. But the challenges to the Shemitah book summarized above, seem to offer an alternative interpretation: that if the market does continue declining in September 2015, it will have to do with the terrific run-up of stocks for six years since March of 2009, and the inevitable fall….rather than spiritual events and timings and God’s punishment on America. Note that bull markets last 4.5 years with a gain of 130% on average, while bear markets (a 20% loss) last 15 months with a loss of 32% on average. Whatever happens in September 2015, it’s healthy that other reliable Godly people have done an independent and conscientious review on the statements in best-seller books like The Mystery of the Shemitah.
What all of these students of the Bible do agree on is that Christian morals are being slowly squeezed out of America, and this may portend God’s judgement and the return of Jesus as indicated in the Bible. I myself have argued that there are five signs (very different from what’s described above) that may warn of Jesus’ imminent return.
Finally, a larger perspective on all this. While we do tend to worry about a potential tribulation period in America, do we care about actual tribulation in other countries of the world, where Christians are also involved? For example, the tsunami that killed 230,000 Indonesian and Indian people in 2004 (not a Shemitah year). Or the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 where 250,000 people died (also not a Shemitah year). Or the current civil war in Syria which has led to over 220,000 deaths and 4 million refugees that have left Syria (and as I write some are striving to get to Germany where they can get a job to feed their children). Could the Shemitah and such books be a wakeup call for us in America to help people in other countries who are already suffering and disenfranchised? A few dollars each month sent to NGO’s such as World Vision or Doctors without Borders or Life Outreach International can provide tangible assistance to real people in real tribulations existing right now around the world.
Reader: what is your opinion of all this? I welcome any and all comments on this blog, but please post them in the Comment box at the bottom of the blog.
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The Gray Nomad
Probing the practice of Christian believers……
** (1) The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction. (2) Biblical Guide to the Shemitah and Blood Moons. Click on this link to access these books .
Thanks to Garland Ray who sent me an article that triggered this blog.
Six days you shall sow your land and reap its yield. But the seventh year you shall release it and let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat what the land yields…..In like manner you shall deal with your vineyard and oliveyard. (Book of Exodus, chapter 23).
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release that which he has lent to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother; for the Lord’s release is proclaimed. (Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 15).
Blessed is he who considers the weak and the poor; the Lord will deliver him in the time of evil and trouble. The Lord will protect him, and keep him alive. (Book of Psalms, chapter 41).
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