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.


5 comments:

  1. Doug - I really like what you are doing here. Please keep it up. Bob never turned his back on The Lord.

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  2. ----what on earth do you mean by: "Bob never turned his back on the lord--" ???-- what are talking about here?--Byron?----Darth Vader?---what can you possibly know about what Bob does,or thinks??!----(see a doctor)

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  3. I've never interpreted the singer's longing for the "sweet day I'll stand beside my King" as anything other than an allusion to the afterlife, and when he says "I've already confessed, don't need to confess again," there are obvious echoes of Romans 10 and 1 Timothy 6.

    I would never disagree that the song repreatedly addresses a desire for God. But you do no service to the song by waving your hands at the bulk of the lyrics, dismissing them as ambiguous and unclear.

    How can you ignore the decidedly ungodly observation "I got the pork chop she got the pie/she ain't no angel and neither am I"? And surely he is not obsessing about Alicia Keys out of a desire to sing hymns with her.

    The song's unrepentant declarations of sexual lust and experience confound your theory of an orthodox Christian narrator. He gives equal priority to religious and sexual impulses. By ignoring this dissonance, your essay can't say much more than "Christian imagery is Christian."

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  4. The song possibly has as much references to Satan as God

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  5. Hi Barry, Thanks for responding to my post. You bring out some interesting observations about the song. One of the things that believers are often accused of is their lack of sinless perfection. When in actuality, the only way to enter in the Kingdom of God, and stand beside your king, is by acknowledging that you are a sinner and that you are in desperate need the righteousness of Christ applied to you.

    The early leader of the Christian church, the apostle Paul, got his start as a young man by being involved with the killing of believers like Stephen as described in Acts 7:58 when Paul was known as Saul. Much later in his life, when writing to another early leader of the church Timothy he writes:

    “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Tim 1:15

    So believers are not without sin, and I think Bob Dylan has been quick to acknowledge that, even in this song: “She ain’t no angel, and neither am I.”

    As far as he name check of Alicia Keys goes, first of all let’s all acknowledge that she is a beautiful woman and has many desirable attributes. I have seen her comments in an interview with the Observer on this name check and she said she found it “pretty exciting” and was pleased that Dylan thinks about her. “I like it” she says in the interview. I can testify as a Christian man, that once you have joined the kingdom of God, you do not lose all of your interest in beautiful women.

    Thanks again for your response!

    Doug

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