Friday, February 5, 2016

What Good am I? And What is the Chief End of Man?

What good am I if I’m like all the rest
If I just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed
If I shut myself off so I can’t hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I?

What good am I while you softly weep
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don’t try
What good am I?

What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

Oh, What can we say?  It’s a masterpiece.  You can’t analyze a masterpiece.  It is open to lots of interpretations.  You can’t break down the meaning of the Mona Lisa.   But can we at least provide some historical context?  Can we at least analyze the surrounding words?  Can we at least see how the song might fit with the rest of 1989 Oh Mercy Album?  Can we at least look at the way the artist uses these amazing five short verses to build to such powerful and masterful conclusion?   Yeah we can do all that.  So let’s get started.

Let’s start at the end.  Since this last verse seems to be the culmination and appears to contain the whole meaning of the song.

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Why would I want to say foolish things?     Popular culture, says foolish things all day long: 

The news of the day is on all the time
All the latest gossip all the latest rhyme

Reality TV and the Kardashians speak foolish things.  So much of life in our times is almost all about foolish things.  Ninety percent of what is on television is foolish things.   We don’t need any more foolish things!  Interviewers are constantly asking Bob Dylan foolish things.  He wants to get beyond foolish things.  How about getting into something significant and important?  How about something meaningful so that we can get an answer to that burning question that we all have continually bouncing around inside ourselves; it is really the question for all the ages, What Good Am I?  Or put another way,  Why am I here?   What is my Purpose?  Or turning it around, “What am I Good For?”  How can I find the Good?  And in my movement toward the Good, How can I stop this incessant problem that we all have of:

if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see

In these profound questions aren’t we really just asking for the singular and overriding end for which human beings were created, and for what purpose?  Isn’t this the same thing Plato and Aristotle sought after, the Summum bonum “the highest good”?  Or as it was so poignantly put in Seventeenth Century, “What is the Chief end of Man?”  We have got to get beyond the foolish things!   They won’t provide us with the answer to our deepest longing.  And If we never get to the answer of the critical question, What Good am I?, because we “freeze in the moment,” the moment for decisive action, like “the rest that don’t try” What Good are we?

What about laughing in the face of what sorrow brings?  In other words, pretending that we do not live in a sin laden, cursed and sorrow filled world with all the miseries of this life and always trying to put a happy face on it.  The problem with such an effort is that it is bound to fail because at bottom:

power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is

But now we come now to the hardest line in the entire song.   The last line:

And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?

Who is silently dying in this story?  We began in the second line by recognizing that we can’t just

just turn away, when I see how you’re dressed

to do that would be like

turning a deaf ear to the thundering sky

This is not an old woman on her death bed.  No! The way that she is dressed should turn our heads, not away but towards!   We need to respond in an appropriate way to this positive stimulus.

I think we can get some much needed help here from the other songs on this amazing Oh Mercy Album.  Another similar song that gets into the big questions, the questions about God and Man and Law is the very powerful Man In The Long Black Coat.   That one too has death as it focus, remember there  

was dust on the man
In the long black coat

The dust of death, and there’s also a soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry.  The woman in that story

She never said nothing, there was nothing she wrote
She gone with the man
In the long black coat

And it was not only because she was seduced, we should remember that she is the one who

she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance,

You’re telling me that she ran off with death personified?   Yeah, that is what he is telling us.   And similarly in our song we can’t let this happen, we can’t …

 just turn my back while you silently die

If we did, ….What good am I?

To do so would be to:

know and don’t do
to see and don’t say

These are called “Sins of Omission” and Freezing in the moment is just not going to cut it.  Nor will being like all the others, all the rest who don’t try.

So what do we need to do to stop turning our back on others while they silently die?   Or to get ourselves to stop Freezing in the moment? Or following all the rest who don’t try?

There is another important couplet in this oh-so-sparse, yet oh-so-dense song which is so filled with meaning:

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

This verse is critical to the meaning of the song.  With this verse, the song takes a critical turn and the musical key changes here too.   There is recognition that there is a problem with being “fast bound in sin and nature’s night” as the hymn writer put it.  The image used here is reminiscent of another great English writer, C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia and specifically the volume called The Silver Chair.   In the story, Prince Rilian is strapped into a Silver Chair each night because during a certain hour of the night he raves and raves crazy talk.   Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle are instructed that under no circumstances are they to pay any attention to what he is raving about in the middle of the night.

But when they witness the beginning of the knight's transformation, the knight cries out, "I adjure you to set me free.  By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the Great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you!"  Once the name of Aslan, the Christ figure, is evoked they know what they must do.

The three cut him loose, and the knight is turned back to his normal princely self, and the new released prince then grabs his sword, and slashes the silver chair to pieces.

If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?

Isn’t this the same bondage describe in Dylan’s 1979 Precious Angel:

My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”

The songwriter encourages us to ask some hard questions.   Why are we also so “fast bound in sin and natures night” Why?   Why are we so prone to:

know and don’t do   (hypocrisy)
to see and don’t say  (failure to act on truth)
to look right through you  (centered on self)

But the good news of the gospel that Bob so fully embraced in 1979 is that while it is true that we are unable to save ourselves, we can’t escape the bondage by ourselves, but our hands can be untied, and an end can be made of our bondage to sin and nature’s night.  And when it is understood that God sent his only son to die in the place of His people, they see that they are of great value to him, and as Bob sang often during this period:
Jesus is coming
Coming back to gather his jewels

This too is the explanation why Christians are always so compelled to share their faith by reaching out in love to other sinners, telling them about the wonderful, absolutely free salvation that they have found and offering them that same grace that is to be found in Christ alone.   They simply can’t:

just turn their backs while you silently die

If they did, they would then have to ask themselves the hardest question?

What good am I?

And it is the gospel that makes this fundamental transformation in a person, so that they can finally at last know the answer to life's most pressing question, “What Good … Am I?”

And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you

I Believe In You, Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

By His truth I can be upright
By His strength I do endure
By His power I’ve been lifted
In His love I am secure
He bought me with a price
Freed me from the pit
Full of emptiness and wrath
And the fire that burns in it

Saved, Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

Monday, February 1, 2016

Entertaining Some Working Men in a Cabin in the North Country Fair 52 Years Ago

CBC TV Studios
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
1 February 1964
Produced by Daryl Duke.

Bob Dylan - Toronto by vicky7xthomas

 Dylan recorded a half-hour program as part of the CBC-TV series “Quest.” The half a dozen songs he sings: “Talkin’ World War III Blues,” “Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “Girl from the North Country,” “The Times They Are a-Chang in’,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” and “Restless Farewell”  are all performed within the most incongruous of settings, a log cabin filled with working men pretending to pay attention.

Clinton Heylin (Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995)

I have to disagree with English author Clinton Heylin in his Bob Dylan: A Life in Stolen Moments Day by Day 1941-1995 that this is “the most incongruous of settings, a log cabin filled with working men pretending to pay attention.”

Heylin, not being from the country that they called the Midwest, doesn’t have a reference for the cabin depicted in this great 1960’s video.
The Country that I come from is also called the Midwest, as I was raised in Wisconsin and we took many vacations in the early 60’s in Northern Wisconsin, in Upper Michigan, and in Northern Minnesota. Up in that forested wild country it was common to have a cabin such as this one for men who were working say in logging or trapping or hunting or just on a manly get-a-way from civilization with some other men, where they could make strong coffee, smoke their pipes, or roll their own tobacco cigarettes while they were maybe on a week long canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that divides Minnesota from Canada.
We used to also stay in a similarly appointed cabin and go skiing in that area in the winter. These cabins usually didn’t have any insulation but people could keep warm in them if they knew how to operate a wood-stove and these special places would be opportunities for great fellowship around the wood stove, feeding it with the abundant wood found around such a cabin, telling stories, singing songs, playing poker and sewing socks that had come apart during the day’s activities.
If there was a musician in the group, he would be encouraged to bring his instrument if it was portable enough, say an acoustic guitar and especially a lightweight harmonica was perfect for entertaining the group, as there was no television or other entertainment in those cabins without electricity.  Lit only by kerosene lanterns, the men would usually have a wonderful time passing those long winter nights, “a Laughin’ and a singin’ till the early hours of the morn.”
It was in a nostalgic moment remembering a cabin like this, that Bob wrote the 1963 Bob’s Dylan’s Dream remembering the good times with his friends in a cabin like this one in the North Country fair. Read these lyrics and listen for references to the scenes depicted in this great video:
While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had
With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn
By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside
With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one
As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split
How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that
Copyright © 1963, 1964

Monday, January 25, 2016

What inspired the Song: "In the Summer Time?"

On November 22nd, 2013, which was about two and half years ago now, Johan Connoway asks about the Song:  “In the Summer Time.”   He wants to know:  “What inspired this song?  One of my all-time Dylan favorites!”

I think I have an answer for Johan’s question.  The song has a copyright date of 1981 which follows closely on the heels of Dylan’s famous conversion to Christianity late in 1979.  So we have to consider his monumental conversion as one of the prime suspects in the case of just what inspired this song.   Much like the beautiful song, I Believe in You which was first played on November 1st, 1979, the song has dual referents.   Do they refer to a woman or to the Lord?  So there is a studied ambiguity here in both of these two songs.  The answer to this question of which of these two possible referents does this song single out, clearly has to be, “Yes.”  Both songs attempt to leave things a bit ambiguous.   But as the songs progress, the ambiguity begins to be left behind, as the meaning finally can only refer to the Lord.

It is a short song with only three verses separated by the refrain.  So there are not a whole lot of lyrics that we need to decipher here.   So let’s get started.

I was in your presence for an hour or so
Or was it a day? I truly don’t know

The idea of being in the presence of the Lord is a common Bible theme, as is its opposite, which is to flee from the presence of the Lord.  As in the Garden of Eden:
“and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”  Gen 3:8

“Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Gen 4:16

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Jonah 1:3

To be in the presence of the Lord is to be with the Lord in the garden or in heaven or in worship.   Some have been in this place of worship, or caught up to heaven and there is some serious mystery about what really went on:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”  II Cor 12:2

Where the sun never set, where the trees hung low
By that soft and shining sea

Where does the sun never set?  It’s in heaven of course:
“And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”  Rev  22:5

And to confirm that we are talking about heaven, the second line speaks about “that soft and shining sea”:
“and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.”  Rev 4:6  that is a pretty "soft and shining sea!"

Now the second half of verse 1 is more difficult:

Did you respect me for what I did
Or for what I didn’t do, or for keeping it hid?
Did I lose my mind when I tried to get rid
Of everything you see?

Surely the Lord is the One who is the all the seeing one.   Man tries to hide as Adam and Eve did in the garden, but it becomes apparent, that we can’t hide from God.  He sees all, even into the depths of the heart of men and women:
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7
Now as we move into Verse two things start become clearer:
I got the heart and you got the blood
We cut through iron and we cut through mud
Then came the warnin’ that was before the flood
That set everybody free
Bob has the heart…. that was transformed.   Jesus has the blood…. that made the transformation possible by atonement for his sin.   Together they cut through the iron and the mud.   The heart that was like iron, or as slippery as Mud.
The warning that came before the flood [of Noah] was the call of the preacher Noah to repent before the great and terrible day of judgement coming before the flood.   Bob heard the warning, as have many others, and this warning, that God’s judgement is real and really coming is a gracious gift from God that taught his heart “to fear and that grace that fear relieved.”  The warning led to the “setting free.”   What is the Freedom?   It is the Freedom from the bondage of sin.  Freedom to see the truth of God’s Word.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36
Fools they made a mock of sin
Our loyalty they tried to win
But you were closer to me than my next of kin
When they didn’t want to know or see
In this period, Bob doesn’t know what is happening to his companions. 
Can’t help but wonder what’s happenin’ to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it’ll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they’re gonna have to abandon?
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

Slow Train  Copyright © 1979
But you were closer to me than my next of kin
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Proverbs 18:24
Jesus is the one who is described as the friend who sticks close than a brother.  So Bob is saying that Jesus was closer to him than his “next of kin”… that is pretty close.
When they didn’t want to know or see
The Biblical teaching is clear on this, that man’s problem is not that He doesn’t know that there is a God.  The fact of the existence of God is clearly seen by simply looking out on the universe.  Every person knows that there is a God, because God has made it clear to all men and women.   But because we are sinners, we want to suppress this truth in unrighteousness.   So it is just as Bob says, “They don’t want to know or see.”
Strangers, they meddled in our affairs
Poverty and shame was theirs
But all that sufferin’ was not to be compared
With the glory that is to be
And I’m still carrying the gift you gave
It’s a part of me now, it’s been cherished and saved
It’ll be with me unto the grave
And then unto eternity
Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

So Bob has made it clear that it is a bit of a pain to be a famous person.   People have been “meddling in his affairs” since he first burst on the scene back in 1961. 

“Well, performers feel that.., they don’t feel they’re adversaries, but they do feel that…they feel a lot of times that their points are not taken the right way or they feel imposed upon to answer questions that have really little to do with why they fill halls or sell records.”
~Bob Dylan (to Dave Herman, July 1981)

But this suffering is not worth to be compared with the glory that is coming.  As the Apostle Paul puts it:

Rom 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

This is the hope of the Christian, that there is a better world coming, this is what makes suffering in the current life not worthy of comparison of what is coming for the believer.  So if you are enslaved, persecuted for your faith in Christ, maybe someone want to cut off your head simply because you believe in Jesus, all of this suffering is not worthy of comparison of “the Glory that is to be.”

Bob confesses that he is “still carrying the gift you gave.”   It is “a part of him now and it is cherished and saved; it will be with him unto the grave, and unto eternity.”  What is the gift that God gave him?   The greatest gift ever given is the free gift of eternal life offered in the Gospel.

Rom 6:23  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When da foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back

Foot Of Pride
Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

You can listen to this great song here:

So there is this really amazing song called Foot of Pride which was written way back in 1983 and only released and buried in the massive release known as The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991 about 12 years later in 1991.  It is a very difficult song to interpret and requires a fully devoted and honest Dylanologist to help understand all that is going on.   This is high level graduate work for all those Bob Dylan interpreters and enthusiasts out there.   I don’t recommend this song for the weak or the young or for those being introducing to Bob Dylan for the first time.  This is not milk, this is strong drink.  And as the song says, “and drinks can be fixed.”  The words come fast and furious and they bite down hard and it is really difficult to drink them all in, and then there is the really important question of  "What do all these words actually mean anyway?"   This could be one of the toughest songs in the entire Dylan catalog to work through.   But this challenge is what makes listening to Dylan so entertaining!   You might listen to a song like this many times over the course of many years before something finally clicks and starts to make sense….. “Oh I see what he is getting at now” in a particularly difficult phrase or verse.  So here, 24 years after the first official release, which came 8 years, thus 32 years after the song was originally written, I am ready to boldly declare that I believe that I have put together some of the pieces of where this song is intended to be going. Quite a claim I know, but let me try to back it up.
The difficulty in the song was recognized with the first official release even in the liner notes by the late British journalist John Bauldie, who is a recognized expert on the work of Bob Dylan.  Here are his liner notes reproduced with some parts emphasized: 

Foot of Pride," from the liner notes of THE BOOTLEG SERIES - VOLUMES 1-3 by John Bauldie, 1991

As this collection has gone some way towards proving, there are many wonderful unreleased Bob Dylan songs, but at no time since the early 1960s was he so prolific as he was in 1982-1983 when he was preparing material for Infidels. As impressive a record as Infidels undoubtedly is, a handful of exceptional songs didn't make it on to the LP. Two of the outtakes were, it seems, at one time originally intended for inclusion. "Foot of Pride" is one of them, a lyrically enigmatic song in which Dylan shows once again just what a great singer he is, coping with the song's metrical complexities with impressive ease. Only one commentator has ever been bold (or foolhardy) enough to tackle an appreciation of "Foot of Pride." Writing in The Telegraph, Terry Gans fully admitted the difficulties that face the listener who hopes to come to terms with what's going on in the song. Nevertheless, he observed that "Foot of Pride" comes across as another of Dylan's "The wicked are gonna get it; propaganda all is phony; and those who allow themselves to be manipulated by those who would manipulate deserve what they get" songs.

Well please put me down as a second commentator willing to boldly go where few have dared go before…..but surely we can certainly do a little better than this short summary of Terry Gans in the Telegraph can’t we?
I first got really interested in this song after hearing Lou Reed perform it at the 30th Anniversary Bob Fest held in Madison Square Garden back on October 16, 1992.  Because he could not sing it quite as fast as Dylan could, I was able to hear more of the fascinating lyrics a little more clearly for the first time.  Reed also performed it with it such passion and verve.  Check out his really unusual choice for a Dylan cover and his masterful performance here:

To me the late Lou Reed really gets the urgency of this song.  This was because, as he reported afterwards, that he had "been listening to it almost every day for two months."  He puts the emphasis on all the right phrases as he performs the song, and he understands the critical place played by the refrain, "Well there ain't no coming back when da Foot of Pride come down.... Ain't a no coming back!"  and most importantly, when he shouts, "Struck Down the ...strength of the Will!"  

So the first question we should ask about this incredibly cool, complex and beautifully performed song is:  Where does the inspiration for the name of the song come from?   Well that question has a very straight forward answer:   In the Bible of course!  And it comes from the following passage:

Psalm 36:11  New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the Bible version is significant here.
11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

The second stanza in the Psalm lets us know that this song, and the Infidels album generally, is not a repudiation of Dylan’s embrace of Christianity.  A song like Man of Peace, properly understood, should put this false rumor to bed immediately.
We learn from the exact words that Dylan has used here precisely from what version of the Bible that Bob was reading at this time of composition which was 1983.   Further confirmation comes from another song written a few years earlier during the time of his conversion.

When You Gonna Wake Up
Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
Now compare Rev 3:2 (NASB)
Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 

Now interestingly when we compare the King James Version (KJV) or any other versions, we do not get the exact rendering that Dylan has used in the song.
“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die”

So we can be fairly certain in saying that Bob was reading from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which was very popular with Evangelicals during the late 1970’s and early 1980s, which was of course was when Dylan told us plainly, that he was “Saved by the Blood of the Lamb.”
Now let us go back to our sermon text Psalm 36:11from which Bob will be preaching today.

The symmetrical arrangement of parallel lines in this Psalm is typical of the Hebrew Bible where we often find lines that are about the same length often called “cola” or “stichs” and this is called Parallelism.   These lines in their meaning, grammar, syntax, and form, are designed to stress, balance and reinforce one another and this phenomenon constitutes the parallelism.  The cadence of the Psalms even in translation comes from these overlapping ideas which are semantic, syntactic, morphological and prosodic statements.  
In synthetic parallelism the second or third lines of the unit are not like other forms of parallelism such as synonymous or antithetic to the first line, but in synthetic parallelism, as we have here, they advance the thought that is being conveyed  in a variety of other ways.   As they do in Bob’s text for this sermon:

11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
So the second line would suit well the fella named Red and his side kick Delilah, who is a very early biblical femme fatale, in the song:

There’s a retired businessman named Red
Cast down from heaven and he’s out of his head
He feeds off of everyone that he can touch
He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash
He’s not somebody that you play around with much
Miss Delilah is his, a Philistine is what she is
She’ll do wondrous works with your fate, feed you coconut bread,
spice buns in your bed
If you don’t mind sleepin’ with your head face down in a grave
What an amazing torrent of words and pictures that come spewing of Bob’s mouth here.    Red is clearly a picture of the devil and "Miss Delilah is his," and what a lovely couple they are!   They epitomize the hand of the wicked in the Psalm which is the text for our sermon.    These promoters, these Albert Grossman, Col Tom Parker types who would sell tickets to a plane crash -- if they could -- these are some of the ones that you gotta look out for.   After all, just like Satan and his messengers in the Biblical account, they were cast down from heaven:

Rev 12: 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
I think we have all met people like this.  We heard about one recently in Donald Trump’s, hatchet man attorney, Michael Cohen who threatened the Daily Beast reporter:

"You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it."

Mr. Cohen is trying to be one of those guys that “you don’t mess around with much.”  I think we have all met people like this.

These guys are the same group that Dylan lashes out at in his song 1979 song Slow Train:

"Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition." 

Now spending time with “Miss Delilah” – and notice that she isn’t married – is not any safer, and in fact, messing with her can be even more as dangerous.  Be especially mindful of her “spiced buns in bed” which is an extraordinary double entendre going on here!  This sexual siren will pull you down (Main Route) and mess with you as much as Red, to whom she belongs.  

We learn from National Geographic that burying the dead face down in ancient times didn't mean RIP, according to new research that says the practice was both deliberate and widespread. Experts have assumed such burials were either unusual or accidental. But the first global study on the facedown burials suggests that it was a custom used across societies to disrespect or humiliate the dead.

But being disrespected and humiliated in death is not the only thing that the lovely Miss Delilah can do to you!   She can also “do wondrous works with your [eternal] fate.”   At first you think there has been some misprint in the lyrics, is “fate” the right word to be used here?  But if you see that Dylan is focusing on heaven and hell and one's eternal destiny in this song, then I guess this is the right word after all.  “When da Foot of Pride comes down, Ain’t no coming back!”

“How to enter into the gates of paradise
No, how to carry a burden too heavy to be yours”

When Lou Reed performed it, he understood that you need to shout the word “No!”
This thing about “carrying a burden too heavy to be yours” this is an important idea in Christian literature taking its most classic form in the book Pilgrims Progress where Christian, is carrying this heavy load around until he comes to the place where it is finally cut off and the burden rolls down the hill and is buried.   Christian is finally released from the burden, which somebody else loaded on his back, and he can then fully enter into the joy of his salvation.  I think we can all understand this was the great crime that the Pharisees were inflicting on the common people in Jesus’ day, these religious leaders were requiring all sorts of extra-biblical religious observance, things that they were not doing themselves." 

But we get to the crux of the song when we try to understand What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

“Yes, I guess I loved him, too,
I can still see him in my mind, climbing that hill,
Did he make it to the top, well, he probably did and dropped,

Struck down by the strength of the will.”
This is the heart of the Christian message that most people fail to fully grasp.   That Jesus was struck down by …..   The strength of the will of God.  So it is the cross itself that must be understood in terms of God’s wrath against sin, of his imputation of our sin to Christ, and of the Old Testament sacrificial system of which the cross is the fulfillment

The prophet Isaiah spoke prophetically of this in the 7th Century BC, hundreds of years before the coming of Christ:

Isaiah 53:4-5Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

This is what Peter is declaring on the very first day of the first Christian Church when he preaches the very first Christian sermon, Peter declares:
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,…

God loved the world and gave His only son as the substitute for the sins of the “chosen few who will judge the many when the game is through.”
But for Red, Delilah and all those who follow in their ways….. and some of them pass the hat after preaching a false gospel and “put all that money from sin, into Swiss banks and build big universities to study in."  This is not the first time Dylan has gone after this crowd, again from the song Slow Train:

"But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers
talkin’ in the name of religion
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend"
for all of these…

“Your time will come; let hot iron blow as He raised the shade,”
Where does the hot iron blow?   Surely it is the fiery furnace of hell reserved as a place of punishment and torment for sinners like the ones described in this song.  

"God knows there’s gonna be no more water
But fire next time."

Now a furnace, in order to keep it nice and hot is always inside a container and to access it you have to open the door or lift a shade, so this is a reference to the land of endless torment "from now on this will be where you're from" for those who haven’t lived for Christ and instead spent their time scoffing at God and loving the pleasures of Red, Delilah and their ilk.  To these, the preacher [i.e. Dylan] warns……. “Your time will come.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some Sweet Day Bob Dylan (73) will stand beside his King

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Copyright © 2006 by Special Rider Music

When Bob Dylan says that “some sweet day he will stand beside his king” he must be referring to going to see Elvis right?   After all, when he was recovering from the life threating illness known as histoplasmosis in 1997, Dylan famously told the world, “I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon.”

Sorry No, I don’t think that this is a reference to Elvis here, because that was a joke back in 1997.  Elvis will also not work in the context of this couplet because in the next line he promises, “I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing.”    So while Elvis did cover a few Dylan songs like “Tomorrow is a Long Time, Don’t Think Twice , It’s All Right,” Blowin’ in the Wind’ and “I Shall be Released” there is no evidence that he harbored any great love for Dylan.  Dylan early on in his career showed some interest in Elvis, telling Ed Bradley that he never saw himself as a prophet, a Messiah figure or the spokesman of a generation, but “Elvis maybe.”   He later clarified his relationship with Elvis in a 2009 Rolling Stone’s interview with Douglas Brinkley, “I never met Elvis, because I didn’t want to meet Elvis.”  Later in the interview he says, “Elvis was truly some sort of American king.  Two or three times we were up in Hollywood and he had sent some of the Memphis Mafia down to where we were to bring us up to see Elvis.  But none of us went…. I don’t know if I would have wanted to see Elvis like that.  I wanted to see the powerful mystical Elvis that crash-landed from a burning star onto American Soil.”

So it is pretty clear that Elvis won’t work, so who else he can he be referring to when he says, “Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my king?” 

Is there anything else in the song that could help us?  Overall this is a pretty vague song as far as Bob Dylan songs go.   It seems to be full of the typical studied ambiguity, some double entendre and so forth and it is not really a lot of clarity on the face of things concerning what is going on in this tune.   But the line that we have highlighted certainly stands out as some sort of important clue:

“Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king”

Thunder on the mountain, rolling like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

Maybe this will help us crack open the meaning of this song by asking, Who is the song addressed to?   Who is Bob Dylan a servant to both night and day?  Well clearly every night he is performing somewhere on the Never Ending Tour, so he is a servant to his audience.   The Never Ending Tour is the popular name for Bob Dylan's endless touring schedule that has been going on pretty much nonstop since June 7, 1988.  But that works for the night, but the reference says that he claims to be “your servant both night and day.”   I think the only person who Bob Dylan can be referring  is the same person he refers to as “The Chief Commander” at the 14:13 mark in his important Sixty Minutes interview with Ed Bradley.  In the very last question of this revealing interview, where it is clear that Dylan is pretty much  playing it straight, Bradley wants to know who the Chief Commander is, so he asks, “On this earth?’  and Bob answers, “On this Earth and on the World we can’t see.”     After you have listened to Dylan awhile you know what he is talking about when he references “the world we can’t see.”   He has continually chided man because “All his believes are his eyes, and his eyes they just tell him lies.”

But who is this mysterious Commander that he references in the interview.   Well the book of Joshua in the Bible at Chapter 5 explains who the Commander is:

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

There are several interesting things in this passage.  One is the way the Commander of the army of the Lord responds to the question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  He answers in a way reminiscent to a Bob Dylan interview.   He refuses to answer the either/or question, thus in the process denying the premise of the question.  But he does however reveal Himself as the commander of the army of the Lord.  Now when Joshua falls on his face to worship Him, we don’t get the usual protestation that we find elsewhere in the Bible when a man bows down to worship another man or even an angel:

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” Acts 10:25 

When the people of Lystra in Asia Minor wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas because they were healing people, Paul sets them straight:

 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.  Acts 14:15 

Finally the conversation with Joshua and the Commander of the army of the Lord indicates that the request for Joshua to take off his sandals comes because this is Holy Ground, indicating that this, like Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, is another divine encounter.   No wonder there is no protestation when Joshua offers the Commander his worship, this is clearly a divine personage and therefore worship is totally appropriate in this circumstance.

So I think it is starting to become clear who the Commander of the LORD is.  Notice that the Commander of the Lord, is someone different than the person signified by the tetragrammaton.   I have been using the designation Lord (note the small capitals in bold) to distinguish it from other words translated as "Lord".   So we need to explain how someone can be a divine personage and yet not be the LORD (note the small caps).

The Apostle John begins his magisterial gospel account wrestling with the same truths as are being expressed in this passage in Joshua 5:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… John 1:1 

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John is telling us, Jesus is “God with us.”

The situation is that the divine personage, here called “The Word” who existed before “the beginning” and He had fellowship with God and He is in fact God, but he is a different person than God.  So this person, became flesh (i.e. became a man) and lived along side of the apostle John and the other disciples and they saw His glory, glory as of the only son from the Father.

So we finally have our answer.   One sweet day Bob Dylan will stand next to his King, who is the Commander of the LORD.  He is also known as “the Word,” and his name is Jesus.
Bob Dylan promises his King and Commander:

“I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing.”   

Jesus did make a clear claim to be a king in his interview before Pilate in John 18:36.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
So he has a kingdom, so He must be a king.
Bob Dylan turned 73 a couple of weeks ago on May 24th.   The sweet day when he stands beside his king is drawing nearer. 

The following is a very well made retrospective video on the career of Bob Dylan in this song “Thunder on the Mountain.”  The thesis of the video seems to be this song kind of sums up Bob Dylan’s career.  Unlike a video put together by some fan, this one is very professional and once resided on the official Bob Dylan website.  It seems to carry the blessing of the artist himself.  Notice how at the 3:10 mark we are taken to the Saved Concerts when the song says, "I've already confessed – no need to confess again."  He is looking forward to a sweet day ahead!

Here is another version of the song by Wanda Jackson produced by Jack White.  There are some typical lyric changes.  But the most important one comes at the 3:14 mark when Wanda sings, "Some sweet day I will stand beside the king."   That is an earth shattering lyric change.  Bob Dylan is going to stand next to my king.   Wanda is unable to provide the personal pronoun!  She needs to stand next to her king.   Hopefully, one day soon, before she "walks the hard road down," she will yet reach out and find her king.