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.”

1 comment:

  1. Doug, the explanation of the song lyrics, tied in with the truth of God's Word, is enjoyable to read and sheds light on worthwhile thoughts. I enjoy a poet's words that have layers of meaning (Bob Dylan in this case), and I find a means of echoing basic questions in my own life, and of any person. Thanks for posting what you do, and I look forward to another post if you choose. Since Bob Dylan was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature, I have begun to learn more about him. I was born in the 80's. I'm Chris. May you have a good day, and may He bless you.