Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 2
2. Analysis of the verses
A. Verse 1
In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light
Where wisdom grows up in strife
My bewildering brain, toils in vain
Through the darkness on the pathways of life
Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air
Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die, we know not why
But I'll be with you when the deal goes down
We do not know if Dylan had the expression ‘’Ancient Lights” somewhere in the back of his mind when he wrote this first line. He could just be using a play upon the words here. Anyway, "Ancient Lights" is a colloquialism for the "right to light," guaranteed under English law, whereby windows that have seen twenty years' worth of "uninterrupted" daylight cannot be blocked by the construction of new buildings.
“In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light” takes our minds back to the early days after the creation of the world, to the time and place where wisdom was first born. ”Wisdom” is personified here. Wisdom has been defined to be “the quality of being wise; knowledge, and the capacity to make due use of it, is the use of the best means for attaining the best ends''. Wisdom therefore implies the selection of right ends as well as of right means.'' Hence, wisdom implies the union of high mental and moral excellence. ”Knowledge”, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive term; it signifies the simple apprehension of facts or relations. Wisdom, however, is so much more than knowledge, for wisdom it takes tossing and turning and often strife to come to the right decisions. Wisdom is such a precious gift that it can only grow up and thrive in the stillness of the night, in the world’s ancient light, when it all began. In the stillness of the night, when God alone was there in the flickering ancient light, he created the earth by wisdom, like we read in Proverbs 3:24 “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens”.
“Where wisdom grows up in strife”. When Dylan wrote this song he must have been inspired by the poetry of Henry Timrod (1826-1867). In this song we find a few lines which are very reminiscent of this poet. In his poem “Retirement” the poet Timrod writes: “There is a wisdom that grows up in strife and one - I like best – that sits at home and learns its lessons of a thoughtful ease”.
“Wisdom grows up in strife” means that, although there is a wisdom that is acquired easily like in Timrod’s poem, most of the time true wisdom is never acquired in an easy way. It takes a lot of pain, struggle and strife to find true wisdom. In the world’s ancient light, when God created the earth through wisdom, wisdom was incontestable and irrefutable but when man was corrupted, true wisdom can usually only be acquired through strife.
“My bewildering brain, toils in vain, through the darkness on the pathways of life” Although the poet will eventually find consolation when the deal will go down, he is still on his way. Darkness, misery and pain is all around him and no matter how hard he tortures his mind, he is unable to understand or to come to terms with all this misery and hardships he encounters in this world. He has no alternative but to walk that lonesome valley, the dark pathways of life which are so puzzling and uncertain.
“Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air”. It was Paul Simon who once wrote: “Prayers are the constant memory of God”. There is a constant flow of prayers to the throne of God, like a continuous flow of clouds through the air. Prayers are not visible but yet very powerful. They resemble clouds of incense. Clouds of incense are mingled with the prayers of all the saints and the smoke of the incense rises with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. (Revelations 8:3-4). Invisible prayers from the saints spark off a lot of heavenly action: peals of thunder and flashes of lightning coming down from the clouds and even earthquakes (Revelation 8:5).
“Tomorrow keeps turning around”. This line is also inspired by Henry Timrod’s poem “A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”: “I am so happy! That is all my thought. Tomorrow I will turn it round and round”. Things will take a turn for the better tomorrow. The effect of prayers is often invisible to the naked eye but yet behind the scenes these prayers are answered and they turn things around.
“Tomorrow keeps turning around” may also mean the same things keep on coming back over and over again. For everything there is a turn, for everything there is a time in a seemingly never ending cycles. That is what Dylan had in mind when he read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 from the Bible in his Theme Time Radio Hour Broadcast .
Everything and everybody seems to be trapped in fires of time when we read: “We live and we die, we know not why”. Also here the lyrics seem to lean heavily on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes 8:17:”Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the son. However a man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out”. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over beasts; for all is vanity”. Ecclesiastes 1:13: “And I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with”. When a man is left to himself he cannot find any purpose in all that happens under the sun. Left to himself a man is unable to look beyond the horizon to understand why he was born and why he will die. For the bewildered poet there is only one consolation left now: ‘all I have and all I know is this dream of You which keeps me living on’. The confidence that at the end of the trail, when the deal goes down, he will be with God, keeps him going on
B. Verse 2
We eat and we drink, we feel and we think
Far down the street we stray
I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by
Things I never meant nor wished to say
The midnight rain follows the train
We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul, our shadows roll
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down
The words “We eat and we drink” are reminiscent of what Dylan once wrote in ‘Standing in the Doorway’: ‘’I’ll eat when I’m hungry and I drink when I’m dry, and live my life on the square”.” We eat and we drink, we feel and we think” seems to demonstrate that every human being, no matter what higher calling he or she may or may not have, is tied up to the earth. Our earthly existence, demands that our material and physical needs are met. Nobody can live without eating or drinking. In this respect we are like any other living organism, including animals. Although animals can feel, they cannot think logically, in the same way as human beings do. Man was created as a rational being. This enables man to feel and to think and to make his own decisions, whether right or wrong. It also makes him responsible for his deeds and for the choices he makes. At the same time there is some tragic and painful in these words. Although man was created with this beautiful and pure gift of reason, he chose to use this gift against his Creator and Maker. Man fell into sin and dragged down all mankind in his fall. This is the biggest catastrophe that ever happened to mankind. Everything is broken. This may be the reason why the poet cries out: “Far down the street we stray”. Man is lost in dead and empty streets. Man is walking in the middle of nowhere in streets which are filled with people, who have lost all ray of hope. The call of the poet: ‘Look up, look up, seek your Maker before Gabriel blows his horn’ (Sugar Baby, see I Thessalonians 4:16) seems to sound hollow and empty in this desolate and forlorn world. The poet goes on to say:
“I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by things I never meant nor wished to say”. Whereas ‘feeling’ and ‘thinking’ may be predominantly inward human emotions, ‘laughing’ and ‘crying’ are more outward, extravert, emotions. As the poet grows older and wiser and comes closer and closer to the moment when the deal goes down, he is more and more marked by all the things he experiences in life. These may be joyful and humorous things: “I laugh”, even some sort of resignation or complacency, when you start to realize that there is no sense in trying to change the world all on your own and that it is no use bothering too much about it: “I used to care, but things have changed” shows this kind of resignation. But in life there is not only a time to laugh but also a time to cry. Like in the Broadcast we mentioned above, when Dylan read Ecclesiastes 3:4: “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”. Dylan’s songs are full of the pain and distress, the alienation and estrangement of his existence on earth; rolling and tumbling and crying all night long. Often he feels lost in the crowd, feeling wretched to such an extent that all his tears are gone.
As the poet comes closer to the moment when the deal will go down, he also becomes more and more aware of his own fragility, weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings. The urge and necessity to repent knocks on the door of his soul and shatters the broken mirror of innocence when he says: “I'm haunted by things I never meant nor wished to say”. ”Things which you neither meant nor wished to say” is taken from and inspired by Sonnet 13 of the poet Henry Timrod (1828-1867). In the context of this song these words sound like a penance. In the Bible this is called the process of inward renewal (Romans 12:2) which produces repentance, like it says in 2 Corinthians 7:10: ‘for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation”. At the same time there is something tragic in this. You cannot unring the bell. “You can’t turn back, sometimes you push too far” (Sugar baby). It is like Dylan says in Mississippi: “So many things that we never will undo, I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too”. If a man cannot make amends for the things he has done wrong, if he missed the mark and overstepped the line, the only thing he can take refuge to is the saving grace of God.
“The midnight rain follows the train”. In Dylan’s “Chronicles” we read that from his earliest childhood Bob Dylan had been familiar with trains and the spectacle and the sound of trains had always given him a feeling of comfort and security. Dylan writes that in the place where he was born, you couldn’t go anywhere without having, at least for a part of the day, to wait at grades and crossings for long trains to pass by. The sound of trains in the distance made him feel more or less at home, as if wanted for nothing, as if he were on some sort of neutral terrain, freed from any danger and as if everything had settled down in the right place. However, if the midnight rain follows the train, the train too must be a midnight train. A midnight train however, has a negative connotation. The word has a connotation of loneliness and desolation. In a midnight train there are usually only few passengers, if any, on the train. The almost empty trains and deserted platforms at midnight may easily give you some kind of a spooky, unsafe feeling, like Dylan once said in “Standing in the Doorway”: “I’ve been riding the midnight train, got cold ice water in my vein”. With a few exceptions – e.g. “I fold my hands and pray for rain” in Maggies’s farm’-rain usually has a negative meaning in Dylan’s works and expresses pain and distress, e.g. ‘’Buckets of rain, buckets of tears”, I’m back in the rain and you are on dry land”.
“We all wear the same thorny crown”. ”Thorny crown” is a reference to a.o. Matthew 29:19 where it says :”And when they had platted a crown of thorns they put it on his (Jesus’s) head and a reed in his right hand and they bowed the knee before him and mocked Him saying Hail King of the Jews”. The Crown of Thorns was woven of thorn branches and forcefully placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion, to humiliate and to mock Him. According to the Bible Jesus now reigns as King over this world, (see e.g. I Corinthians 15:24,25).Seen from this point of view, Jesus was quite correctly referred to as “The Commander in Chief” by Dylan in his 2004 CBS interview.(Referring to Matthew 28:18). The Bible also says that accession to the throne of Jesus went through suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection (see e.g. Philippians 2:5-10). The thorny crown forms a part of the road of suffering, the Via Dolorosa, which would in the end bring Jesus from suffering to glory. In this sense the expression is related to “wisdom grows up in strife”. The road to true wisdom is paved with pain and struggle and strife.
The poet says:” “We all wear the same thorny crown”. Again, from a Biblical point of view this is a correct statement of the poet. Not only Jesus, but also his followers will, in a figurative sense, wear that same thorny crown. Romans 7:17 confirms this when it says that if we suffer with Him (that is Jesus) we will also be glorified with Him. 2 Corinthians 1:5 says “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ”. The Bible makes it clear that all the followers of Jesus will suffer and wear the same thorny crown as long as they live on this earth. The Bible also says that it will not stay that way .One day the thorns on the crown will not be longer there and from that day on they shall reign with Jesus (Revelation 22:5). ‘Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my King’, then I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down’.
“Soul to soul, our shadows roll”. I read somewhere that ‘the eyes of our souls only then begin to see, when our bodily eyes are closing’. The poet now takes us (like he also said in the 2004 CBS interview) to ‘a world we can’t see’, but which nevertheless does exist. When a man dies his soul is separated from his body. The Bible says that whereas the body of a man returns to dust, his soul is lifted up into heaven. In Revelation 6:9, 10 we read that souls rest under the altar, waiting anxiously for the Day of Judgment, the restoration of all things. Modern Times, more than any previous album, is heavily immersed in Biblical imagery taken from the Old Testament. Death is in the Old Testament referred to as a shadow. A ‘shadow’ in this sense means that it is not clear yet what exactly will happen after a man dies. In the Old Testament this is not as clearly expressed as in the New Testament. That is why the word ‘shadow’ is used in the Old Testament in connection with ‘death’. See e.g. Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil”.
Having said this, the best interpretation we can come with for “soul to soul, our shadows roll” is that the soul of the poet, together with the souls of fellow believers, drives, impels and rolls forward like a shadow, waiting anxiously, both in this life and in a world we can’t see, for the great day when the deal will finally go down.
Next time we will deal with verse 3 and 4. Your comments will be appreciated, please press the link ‘reacties’ below.
Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 2
Bob Dylan’s: ‘When the deal goes down’ – lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 1
1. What does ‘when the deal goes down’ mean?
This song was written by Bob Dylan in 2006 for the album ‘Modern Times’. The melody is reminiscent of Bing Crosby's staple hit, "Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.” The whole interpretation of the lyrics of this song very much depends on how you interpret the refrain of each of the 4 verses of the song: “I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down”. Before we can start analyzing the verses of this song in more detail, we first need to have more clarity on this key line in the song. Who is this ‘you’ that the poet will be with when this deal goes down? Is this some other person, a woman perhaps? Or even God? And what is this ‘deal’ exactly? Is this some sort of business deal, a deal with a woman, or some kind of obscure agreement? And what does it mean when a deal ‘goes down’?
First of all, I think that the 60 minutes CBS television interview Bob Dylan gave in 2004 might give us an important clue on how we should interpret this song. In this interview Dylan is asked why after so many years he still out there on stage, performing all of his songs on tour. After emphasizing that he doesn’t take any of it for granted, Dylan gives the following reply: ‘’It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I’m holding up my end’’. On the question what his bargain was Dylan answers: ‘‘to get where I am now”. And asked whom he made that bargain with he answers: “With the Chief Commander, in this earth and in a world we can’t see”.
How should we interpret this statement? From this statement, it seems obvious that the ‘Chief Commander’ must be Jesus or God. However, some people on the internet have argued that Dylan had sold his soul to Satan, and that he had Satan in mind when he talked about the Chief Commander. Some have even scrambled or distorted his 60 minutes interview to make it look that way. In Matthew 28: 18 Jesus says about Himself: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. So there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dylan meant Jesus or God with whom he made that deal with a long time ago.
Earlier in the interview it is said that he knew even then that he was destined to become a music legend. "I was heading for the fantastic lights," he wrote in the Chronicles. "Destiny was looking right at me and nobody else." How does Bob Dylan describe the word "destiny"? Dylan says: "It's a feeling you have that you know something about yourself - nobody else does - the picture you have in your mind of what you're about will come true,".
A ‘bargain’ is defined as ‘an agreement, especially one do to something in return for something else’. A ‘deal’ may be defined as ’an arrangement to the advantage of both sides, often in business’. In this sense these two words – ‘bargain’ and ’deal’ are quite synonymous.
We learn from this interview that Dylan once made a bargain, or a deal, with God. But one may ask the question if a human being – in this case Dylan himself – is in a position to make a ‘bargain’ or a ’deal’ with God? Usually a man makes a bargain or a deal with one’s peer, one who is equal to you. But does the Almighty God make a deal with a mortal human being?
To answer this question we first need to introduce another word here. This word is closely related to the word ‘bargain’ or ’deal’. It is the word ‘covenant’. A ‘covenant’ is defined as ‘a formal solemn agreement between two or more people or groups’. The word ‘covenant’ is often used in the Bible. In Genesis, Chapter 17, we read that God has made a ‘covenant’, a ‘deal’ with Abraham. Abraham’s part (obligation) of the covenant with God was to ‘’walk before me and be blameless’’ (Genesis 17:1). God from his end promised Abraham that he will be multiplied exceedingly and that Abraham will be the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4). A deal that has gone down, and has been put into effect. In the song ’Covenant Woman’ – released on the album ‘Saved’ – Dylan once said: “I’ve got a covenant too”.
‘To go down’ has various meanings. When used in combination with the word ‘deal’, ‘to go down’ means: ‘to put into effect’. Let me give an example to clarify this. One may say "When the deal goes down, I'll be waiting for the merchandise in the alley!” In this example drugs are exchanged for money. The drugs deal has been put into effect. Both parties can now separate from each other because what was agreed and promised has been delivered. The drugs deal has gone down.
Having said this, let us now try and apply this more specifically to what Dylan might have had in mind when he says: “I’ll be with you when the deal goes down”. When his deal with God will have been accomplished he will not be separated from God but he will stay with him: “I’ll be with you”. What was Dylan’s part of this ‘deal’’ exactly?
His answer to that question is a little enigmatic and typically Dylanesque: “to get where I am now”. I feel it as a missed opportunity that the 60 minutes interviewer Bradley did not dwell on this subject and asked Dylan in reply to this:” What do exactly you mean by that?”.
’To get where I am now’ in my opinion means that Dylan feels he follows the path, he walks the line. Apparently God has a plan for Dylan and Dylan sticks to the roadmap God has made for him. That is supposed to be Dylan’s part of the deal, the bargain. ’To get where I am now’ is as if Dylan says: “ So far I have followed the roadmap God has made for me a long time ago, and if I had not held up my end of the deal, I would not be here at this point, at this stage of my career. I do what I have to do. Being here proves that I am holding up my end of the deal. At the same time it implies that there is still a road ahead of me. Nobody knows how long this road is going to last, I take nothing for granted, but when I die the deal will have been fully accomplished, and then the deal will go down. And if that happens, at the end of the trail, I’ll be with You in heaven”.
It all seems to demonstrate that Dylan doesn’t do anything at random. He feels there is a divine purpose, a plan behind everything he does as an actor. He seems to believe that his songs, his shows, the set lists, the albums, all are a part of some sort of ‘a perfect finished plan’, a carefully selected process for which he has guidance from above. He feels that as an artist he officiates as ‘watchtower’ to warn people, in some sort of a way like the old biblical Prophets once did, that this world is doomed. This idea is supported by the fact that the song ‘All along the watchtower’ has run like a continuous thread through almost all of his shows for so many years. As per today’s date there have been more than 1900 performances of this song.
Also the fact that the background décor, - the all-seeing ’eye’- looms large on audiences all over the world, in the so-called Never Ending Tour, might give us an important clue. Somebody wrote: ‘the eye represents the watchful state of those who serve in constant vigil of a most pivotal event in earth history, and one that which must surely come to pass. The crown represents the regal countenance of the King who has been foretold by prophecy, and who is still yet to come. The lightning that is all about the symbol realizes the circumstance in which the King will be recognized, and as seen coming though the ethereal sky, and through that of time and space’.
To sum this up, I think that if you wish to understand what Dylan means when he says in this song: ‘When the deal goes down’ , you simply cannot ignore what Dylan said in the 60 minutes CBS Television interview in 2004 about destiny and about the bargain ,the deal, he said he made with the Commander in Chief, God. Next time we are going to take a further look at the individual verses of the song. Your comments will be appreciated. Please follow the link ‘reacties’ below.
Bob Dylan’s “Highlands” – lyric analysis – Part 4 (final part) by Kees de Graaf
5. The verses dealing with his pilgrimage to the Highlands – after the Boston Restaurant intermezzo.
‘Every day is the same thing out the door
Feel further away than ever before
Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
Well, I’m lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns ‘.
‘‘Every day is the same thing out the door’. Having left the Boston restaurant all of a sudden and thrown back into the busy streets, he is once again confronted with the seemingly purposelessness and monotony of every day’s life. In a live version of the song he adds: ‘Try to repair what went wrong the day before’. He is again disappointed as he expresses in ’Can’t wait’: ‘Skies are grey, I’m looking for anything that will bring a happy glow. Night or day it doesn’t matter anymore where I go’. Nobody in the busy streets seems to be going anywhere. Everything is again exactly the way that it seems. Those busy streets look like a giant ant-hill. A lot of criss-cross random activity, but what‘s the use of it all? Every day is like the day before. ’Feel further away than ever before’. It makes the poet feel more lost than ever before. The suffering feels as if it is unending. On his way to the Highlands every nook and cranny has its tears.
‘Some things in life, it gets too late to learn’. The high-tech cyber society demands you to catch up with any new development or hype but he knows that for some of these things you are just getting too old to learn. This is like he expresses in the song ‘Unbelievable’: ‘It is unbelievable like a lead balloon, it is impossible to even learn the tune. Every nerve is analyzed, everything is criticized’. Apart from this, it is hard to tackle some of the bad traits of character which have been grinded in his soul ever since early childhood. He concludes: ’Well, I’m lost somewhere; I must have made a few bad turns ‘. Deep down inside he knows that one of the preconditions to enter the Highlands is to admit that you are lost. To admit that you are in need for help to get there. You have made some bad turns and you are stuck. He feels lost in the rain, as once in Juarez, when it was Eastertime too.
‘I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They’re drinking and dancing wearing bright-colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I’d trade places with any of them, in a minute if I could’.
In this and the following verse he really feels like that stranger who was walking in the park in the song ‘Mississippi’. This stranger was walking through the leaves, falling from the trees and was feeling like a stranger nobody sees. All the laughter of those drinking and dancing people is just making him sad. He envies those people wearing bright-colored clothes, and all the young men and women looking so good. He just can’t live a life like that. For him, no bright colored clothes but only the cloak of misery is left and suffering, the frozen smile on his face that fits him like a glove. He knows he can’t trade places with those people. He is a stranger in a strange land, but he knows that is where he belongs. His utter misery is getting worse in the next verse:
‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat
Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’.
‘‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog’ The mangy dog reminds us of poor Lazarus in Luke 16:21 who, full of sores, desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs came and licked his sores. This is what happens if dogs run free. In ‘Meet me in the morning’’ the poet was able to outrun the hound dogs but here a mangy dog has the edge over him and compels him to cross the street to get away from this dog. A mangy dog, like flies to a rotten corpus, is attracted to a dirty ragged tramp that lives on the street. ‘Talking to myself in a monologue’ is what happens to a lonely homeless tramp, so alone, with no direction home, the only one left to talk to is himself. ‘I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat’ .The only thing a gambler needs is a suitcase and a trunk but this lonely homeless hobo needs a full-length leather coat to protect him from the cold and the rain.
‘Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’. Some states in the USA prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting. Some states prohibit voting when on parole and/or probation but allow voting after. Some states have a lifetime ban from voting for ex-convicts. One may register wherever one has an address. In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. The reason why the poet is asked if he is registered to vote is because he is out there on the street and looks like a homeless tramp without any address.
6. The turning point in the song.
“The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that it used to be
The party is over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes, everything looks far away”
‘The sun is beginning to shine on me’. Quite rightly this verse may be interpreted as the turning point of the song. For the pilgrim, at least up till now, there has been nothing but trouble and deep agony on his way to the Highlands, but suddenly the sun starts to shine on him. All of a sudden the future looks bright for him. ’But it’s not like the sun that it used to be’’ Those who interpret ‘the sun’ here not as the ordinary sun, the ecclesiastical body that shines on him, but as ‘The Son’, Jesus, may have good papers. Likewise, there are also good reasons to believe that the phrase in ‘Not Dark Yet’: ’I still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal’ may be read as: ‘I still got the scars that the Son (that is Jesus) didn’t heal’. Son instead of Sun. The sun cannot heal scars; on the contrary, prolonged exposure to sunlight makes scars worse instead of healing them. The poet wants to make it very clear that it’s not like the sun ‘that it used to be’. This ‘sun’, this light is different. This light is God, Jesus. God is a shining light like it says in Revelation 22:23: ‘And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb’. The ‘lamb’ stands for Jesus.
The poet is now on the brink of entering the Highlands, of entering Heaven. That is why he says: ‘The party is over and there’s less and less to say’. He has nearly reached the end of the trail. Whatever he had to say has been said. Like he says in ‘’Standing in the Doorway’: ‘I see nothing to be gained by any explanation, there’s no words that need to be said’ or like in ‘Thunder on the mountains’: ‘I’ve already confessed, no need to confess again’. From now on it is: ’Ain’t talking, just walking’. The book of Ecclesiastes says in Chapter 3:7: ‘There’s a time to keep silence, and a time to speak’. The game, the party, is now over. The camera zooms out; he is lifted up in heaven, as he ascends from the world, the earth moves ever further away from him, till he is clear out of sight.
‘I got got new eyes’. Earthly eyes, they just tell you lies (as he said in ‘License to kill’) but these new eyes enable you to see what everybody in the world is up against (as in ‘Sugar Baby’’); enable you to lay down your weary tune and to trust your fate in the hands of God (as in ‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’’) . ‘Everything looks far away’ means that the poet has freed himself from the chains of his wretched earthly existence; he now looks from above, from an ever growing distance down to the earth and is less and less concerned and troubled with earthly matters and is more and more wrapped in heavenly peace and serenity.
7. The learning process of the poet as he progresses towards the Highlands.
There are five verses (verse 1, 4,7,15 and the final verse) in the song which dwell on the Highlands and they all start with: ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’. It is clear that his heart, his sympathy is not in this world and the poet has listened to what Colossians 3:2 says: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. Now as the song progresses the poet experiences a sort of learning process; he is getting more and more ready for life in the Highlands (Heaven).
In verse 1 it says: ‘I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go’. Mentally he is not ready to go yet at this point. He first needs to go through a process of inward renewal and purification a process which takes time. This is a process may even take a lifetime.
In verse 4 he feels sure that the Highlands (Heaven) is the only place where he belongs: ‘wherever I roam, that’s where I’ll be when I get called home’. Rambling and gambling for the one he loves, he yet finds no comfort in a world where beauty goes unrecognized. In fact he knows for sure that spiritually he lives another world, where life and death are memorized and where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls. You don’t determine yourself when you will go there. Born at the right time, God will call you home at the right time. The poet goes on to say that ‘you can only get there one step at a time’. This is again the learning process you have to walk through on this earth. To grow from childhood to maturity takes a lot of pain. Even Jesus suffered in the process as Hebrews 5: 8 says: ‘Although he was the Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’. We all wear the same thorny crown but deep down inside the poet knows that he needs all those hardships and sufferings, as necessary steps on his way to the Promised Land, the Highlands of Heaven. Step by step he is getting closer and closer.
In verse 7 he has made a lot of progress on his way to the Highlands. The night has passed and he finds himself now at the break of dawn. He sees the light of the dawning day on the horizon. And he realizes: ‘Behind the horizon, behind the sun, at the end of the rainbow, life has only just begun’. He is not there yet but the poet concludes that there are no other options left now; the Highlands is ‘the only place left to go’. In verse 15 he confirms this once again: ‘Can’t see any other way to go’.
In the final verse he has gone past the break of dawn, it is now the break of day. He feels a change coming on and the first part of the day is already gone. ’Over the hills and far away’. He has passed the hills and has mentally reached his destination: The Highlands. He is at almost the same stage as he is in the last verse of ‘Ain’t Talking’: ‘Up the road, around the bend. Heart burning, still yearning, in the last outback at the world’s end’. Peace and quiet is starting to fall down on him. For all those who have eyes and for all those who have ears he has the following message: ‘there a way to get there’. He does not explicitly say what that way to heaven is, but he is nevertheless absolutely sure that such a way exists.
’I’ll figure it out somehow’ means ‘I have already figured it out and if you want to, you can figure it out too’. The secret is in what Jesus says in Matthew 5:3,4,5: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Highlands), Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Those who suffer now will be blessed.
‘I’m already there in my mind, and that’s good enough for now’ wraps it all up. Still living on earth physically, spiritually he is already in heaven. His heart is already in the Highlands. Like it says in ‘When the deal goes down’: ‘I owe my heart to you (to God) and that’s saying it true, and I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down’’. That is the place where my heart is. Don’t throw this picture back at me and say: ‘ It don’t look a thing like me’’. Accept this please. ‘Ain’t talking, just walking’. That is all I have to say. ‘That is good enough for now’. Goodbye and fare thee well!
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4. The Boston Restaurant intermezzo.
‘I’m in Boston town in some restaurant’. Although there seems to be a restaurant in Boston called ‘Max and Dylan’s restaurant, this restaurant – at least as far as I know -has nothing to do with Bob Dylan or this song. It looks like we are drawn into a sudden detour, some side-path, off the main road leading to the Highlands. At first glance there seems to be no connection with the main theme of the song at all. But when you take a close look at it, this scene fits in well within the song. In fact, the whole scene is typically Dylanesque. The poet has some vague idea that – on his way to the Highlands - he has a mission to fulfill, going to this Boston restaurant: ‘I got no idea what I want, well maybe I do but I’m just really not sure’. It is as if some heavenly force has sent him to this restaurant but he has no clear idea yet why he is being drawn into it. On the other hand, he has some misgiving that he will be drawn into something which he just isn’t going to like at all. Especially when we read: ‘She studies me closely as I sat down’. He doesn’t like to be looked at and scrutinized. It resembles a little what he says in ‘Not Dark Yet’: ‘I don’t even remember what it was; I came here to get away from’. His saying to the waitress: ‘Tell me what I want’ (or ‘tell me what’s good today’ – in a live version) not only shows that he is unable to put his purpose of going to this restaurant into words. Maybe he silently hopes that the waitress will not ask him any nasty, inquisitive questions and that she will leave him alone. But as the conversation with the waitress progresses, it becomes apparent for him that there is no escaping and the story is getting more and more relief and purpose, ostensibly against the will of the poet.
‘Nobody in the place but me and her’ and ‘It must be a holiday, there’s nobody around’ sounds strange. During a holiday one would expect a crowded restaurant but this is obviously not the case. The section on the hard boiled eggs makes us believe that the Easter holidays are meant here. On his saying ‘Tell me what I want’ the waitress replies: ‘You probably want hard boiled eggs’. In some live versions he seems to sing ‘soft boiled eggs’ but here – on the official recording - it is clearly ‘hard boiled eggs’. Why does the waitress think he wants hard boiled eggs? Probably the waitress has some vague notion in her mind that the visitor in front of her is either a Jew or a Christian. Hard boiled eggs have a connection with both Easter and Passover. Both Easter and Passover revolve around the idea of rebirth. At Easter Christians celebrate that Jesus resurrected from the dead and the Jews celebrate at Passover that they were once freed from slavery in Egypt and reborn into freedom. Both holidays draw in the idea of birth or rebirth with Easter eggs and the hard boiled eggs served on Passover. Eggs are seen as the seed of life and are symbolic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
While the poet acknowledges the suggestion made by the waitress and says: ‘that’s right, bring me some’ she unexpectedly replies by saying: ‘We ain’t got any, you picked the wrong time to come’. How is this possible? It is Easter time and yet there are no (hard) boiled eggs on the menu. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. The reason may be that in this town there is nobody left who believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is a thing of the past in this town. It is also the reason why there is nobody around. Nobody celebrates Easter any more. It reminds you of what Dylan would later say in the song ‘Ain’t Talking’:’ I practice a faith that’s long been abandoned, ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road’. The whole scene exacerbates his pain and loneliness on his way to the Highlands.
It is not getting any better when the waitress turns things around. Instead of receiving orders she gives him an order: ‘I know you’re an artist, draw a picture of me!’ The poet does not deny that he is an artist but he is very reluctant to consent to the demand of the waitress. He comes up with a number of apparently lousy -and at the same time humorous -excuses not to make a drawing of the waitress: ‘I would if I could, but I don’t do sketches from memory, I don’t have my drawing book, I don’t know where my pencil is at’. Why does the waitress insist on having Dylan drawn a picture of her? Out of vanity? Could be. She has something to show. She has a ’pretty face and long white shiny legs’. She knows she is pretty and does she want some confirmation from him? I think that there is more to it. She seems to live in – what Dylan elsewhere calls - a world of steel-eyed death. A world where hunger pays a heavy price to the falling gods of speed and steel. A world of the end times where wickedness is multiplied and were most men’s love has grown cold (Matthew 24:12). The waitress has some faint hope that this weird, spiritual stranger has something to offer, that he is able to give her some comfort, some self-confirmation, something that is missing in this desolate world, something that has been has long been abandoned but is yet of great value. She wants him to draw a picture of her and the world she lives in that might give her some sort of consolation. At the same time, it must be a picture she likes. She wants reassurance from him but certainly no appeal for repentance or even self-criticism. But the poet is not willing to consent. He knows that she is not going to like the picture he has in mind. Therefore, like Jonah once, he wants to get away from it all, he feels very uncomfortable about the whole thing but in spite of all his efforts he just can’t escape from her.
When at last, he very reluctantly draws a few lines on a napkin and shows it for her to see, she is very disappointed. She takes the napkin and throws it back and says: ‘That don’t look a thing like me’. It is not so much that in the picture Dylan has drawn she does not recognize herself and the world she lives in but she actually says: ‘I do not accept the way you look upon me and the world I live in. Your world view as an artist and as shown on this picture is completely unacceptable to me. Accepting and recognizing him as an artist is one thing, but accepting his deepest motives and beliefs is another thing. She wants him to be like her and the world she lives in. Like Dylan says in Maggie’s farm: ‘I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them’. There can be no doubt in my mind that Dylan’s moral principles heavily draw upon on Biblical principles and as a result of this, the Bible has had a huge impact on his works to this very day. Large numbers of fans – like this waitress - recognize him as a great artist – one of the most powerful and creative artists of our times –but at the same time reject and throw back the Biblical picture he draws of them and the world and say: ‘That don’t look a thing like me’.
Having drawn this picture, the poet is not willing to pull back. He has drawn this picture against his will. But once he has drawn it, he is not prepared to modify the picture and persists in his stance: ‘Oh kind Miss, it most certainly does. She says: ‘You must be joking’ I say: “I wish I was”. For the waitress there is only one resort left now. She either acknowledges and respects him, and the message he stands for, and asks no further questions and leaves him alone, or she puts him away as a backwards man, as somebody behind the times, as an unworldly stranger, having old fashioned world views which have not been emancipated.
She chooses to do the latter and does so by accusing him of not being emancipated. She says: ‘You don’t read women authors do you?’ He rejects her retort as completely irrelevant: ‘How would you know and what would it matter anyway?’ Is reading women authors really a must and does it change anything? She makes one last attempt and retorts: ‘You just don’t seem like you do’. She sees a contrast in him. It looks as if the way he is, his character, is in contrast with what he does. His act, his gestures are quite secular but it does not reflect what he is deep down inside. Deep down he is not secular at all but deeply dedicated to the moral principles he believes in. Again he denies: ‘you’re way wrong’. It is as if she now says: ‘prove to me that I am wrong’. She is not willing to give in: ‘which ones have you read then?’ Dylan is now more or less forced to prove to her that her argument is wrong and irrelevant and says: ‘I read Erica Jong’. Jong as a novelist is the icon of the sexual emancipation of women .It is now clear that Dylan has read Erica Jong. In fact, from his song writing it is quite apparent that Dylan has a broad based knowledge of all sorts of modern literature.
The Boston restaurant conversation appears as suddenly as it disappears: ‘She goes away for a minute and I slide out of my chair; I step outside back to the busy street but nobody’s going anywhere’. He now has a chance to escape from her without any fuss and immediately takes this chance. The conversation and the whole scene ends abruptly and unfinished. Yet, all that needs to be said has been said. It is the only time the poet enters into contact with the outside world. He has made his point. From now on it is going to be: ‘Ain’t talking, just walking’. He steps back to the busy streets, back to his lonely pilgrimage to the Highlands. Ostensibly nothing has changed. Everything seems as irrelevant and as purposeless as it was before: ‘I step back to the busy street but nobody is going anywhere’.
At the beginning of this article we argued that this Boston restaurant scene is typically Dylanesque. Why is this? One of the reasons – in my opinion – may be that Dylan has never regarded himself as the spokesman for whatever culture or movement. He never wanted to be a spokesman for the sixties counter culture or for whatever later religious or non -religious movement, organization or church. But that does not mean that Dylan doesn’t have a set of moral and religious rules by which he abides. He certainly has that set of rules. He once said that it is all in the songs. He wants to be recognized for his works – as an artist - but as a person he wants to remain at a distance, you simply cannot annex him for your own private purposes or moral principles. The waitress in the Boston restaurant tried to do this and to draw him out of his comfort zone and make him her spokesman and that of her generation: ‘Draw a picture of me’. His reluctance to do this might have given her a clue, not to attempt this. But she wouldn’t listen. Therefore the outcome for the waitress and for a lot of fans cannot be anything but disappointing. Next time we’ll continue to follow the path of the pilgrim on his way to the Highlands. Your comments on this article will be appreciated. To respond click on the link below.
Bob Dylan’s “Highlands” – Lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 2.
3. The verses dealing with his pilgrimage to the Highlands – before the Boston Restaurant intermezzo.
‘Windows are shaking all night in my dreams
Everything is exactly the way that it seems
Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page
Same old rat race, life in the same old cage’.
‘Windows are shaking all night in my dreams’. It is obvious that here on earth the poet is locked in tight, locked in this earthly domain full of disappointment and pain. Life is like a bad night’s sleep when some distant shaking windows nag you and irritate you all night long and prevent you from coming to rest. Like in a bad dream one would like to scream: ‘is there anybody around who can close that rotten window’? This feeling represents something which lingers deep down inside of almost every human being. A remote feeling that something is just not right. It may be the memory of decay. You can’t do anything about it, yet it keeps on haunting you. ‘Everything is exactly the way that it seems’; he is caught in the ever turning wheels of predictability and monotony of every day’s life. When everything becomes the same, life loses its challenge and surprise. Few unexpected things happen. A man needs new challenges, something new to look forward to.
‘Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page’. The deception is big, when he wakes up in the morning and finds himself looking at the same old page. Nothing has changed: ‘You’re trained to take what looks like the easy way out’. But you can get no relief; you are forced to participate in a rat race; ’same old rat race, life in the same old cage’. A rat race is a race which is exhausting and unremitting, where the competition is keen, where the city is just a jungle; you either eat or are eaten. The rat race triggers off a warning: ‘All the sweethearts you can hold, that don’t come back with stories untold, are hanging on a tree’. He is caught in a cage which he cannot leave. We are all boxed in, nowhere to escape.
I don’t want nothing from any one, ain’t that much to take
Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake
Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery
I wish someone would come and push back the clock for me
‘I don’t want nothing from anyone’. It is true, the poet has been a highly gifted artist all of his life, so he doesn’t need anything from anyone; he is indeed completely self-sufficient and independent. However, it is sour and cynical to say: ‘Ain’t that much to take’. It insinuates that there is nothing you can learn from other people and implicitly puts you on a higher level than other people. On the other hand, in the song ‘Mississippi the poet confesses that he himself has not much to share with mankind.’: ‘Got nothing for you, I had nothing before; don’t even have anything for myself anymore’ The same idea of feigned modesty we find in ‘Born in time’: ‘In the hills of mystery, in the foggy web of destiny, you can have what’s left of me’.
’Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake’’ Not knowing the difference between a real blond and a fake is a typical example of self-mockery and humor. This statement is quite contrary to his feeling in the song ‘Most of the time’: ‘I can follow the path, I can read the signs, stay with it when the road unwinds’. But here he is so far off the road that he feigns to have forgotten the difference between his right and left hand. ’Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery’. As if he participates in some sort of mysterious Nintendo game. He is locked in so tight; he is so far out of range and completely isolated that he feels like a prisoner in a world that has gone wrong and does not seem to have a meaningful purpose at all. ’I wish someone would come and push back the clock for me’, is only wishful thinking, some sort of nostalgia as if things were any better in a long forgotten past. As if you would do things better and differently if only you could start all over again. But he knows like he said in ‘Sugar Baby’’: ‘you can’t turn back, sometimes you push too far’, you can’t unring the bell; such an attempt is as fruitless as what he wished in ‘Shelter from the storm when he said: ‘If only I could turn back the clock to when God and her were born’.
I’m listening to Neil Young; I gotta turn up the sound
Someone’s always yelling turn it down
Feel like I’m drifting from scene to scene
I’m wondering what in the devil could it all possibly mean
The Neil Young verse is a humorous excursion within the song. Excursions to all sorts of topics within songs are common practice in Dylan’s work; a lot is said in odd moments. The sad bluesy, melancholy timbre of most of Neil Young’s music boosts the sad mood of the poet himself. By turning up the sound he unconsciously attempts to hammer his own dark mood into the ears of anyone listening; to such an extent that people get irritated and frustrated and urge him to turn the music down and to stop moaning. ’Feel like I’m drifting from scene to scene’: The poet has no control over what happens in his life and all around him. He seems to float on an endless ocean ‘Time is like an ocean and it ends at the shore’. Seemingly there is no purpose in what happens in this world. Here it seems that Dylan has been inspired by the of the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, All is vanity (Ecc. 1:2) and in 8:17: ‘then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out; even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out’. A man, drifting from scene to scene wonders in great despair: ’what in the devil could it all possibly mean’. What evil force is behind this all? Is the devil obliterating my view so that I cannot see the purpose behind it all? Is there not some kind of perfect finished plan behind all that seems so purposeless at first glance? And if there is: why can’t I see it? But his mood is getting darker when in the next verse Dylan writes:
‘Insanity is smashing up against my soul
You can say I was on anything but a roll
If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top
What would I do with it anyway
Maybe take it to the pawn shop’
‘Insanity is smashing up against my soul’. Solitary confinement may easily drive a man to insanity. Likewise, a man of genius has a tendency for insanity. One may even say that sometimes genius comes close to insanity. A man of genius may be on such high levels that it may be pretty lonely up there. The poet has to deal with that. This insanity smashes up against his soul. It tries to destroy his soul. It prevents him from functioning ‘normally’, on a social level. In some ways his genius stands in the way. Therefore he says: ‘I was on anything but a roll’. ‘To be on a roll’ may be defined as: ‘To be engaged in any activity with success and ease and in any activity which is taking up your attention at the time of the activity’.
‘If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top’ His self-esteem is on such a low level that it even obliterates his conscience. In fact his soul is so vacant and numb that it feels as if he has no conscience left at all, let alone that he would be capable of ‘blowing his top’, to show any emotion at all. ‘To blow one’s top’ means ‘to lose one’s temper or composure’. The whole scene reminds you of the feeling he once had when he felt like he was stuck inside a painting that’s hanging in the Louvre, his throat starts to tickle and his nose itches but he knows that he can’t move.
’What would I do with it anyway. Maybe take it to the pawn shop’ He values his conscience so low that the only place to take it to, as a last resort, might be a pawn shop. A pawn shop is place where you take something valuable you own and trade it in for cash. You don't sell it there, the idea is they keep it for a certain amount of time, and if you acquire enough money to pay the sum you got from them (+ interest), you "buy" your property back. If not, they sell it. If somebody would say: ‘What pawn shop would take my conscience? , then the speaker means that his conscience has so little value that no pawn shop would give you any cash money for it. That is exactly how the poet values his own conscience, his whole existence as a human being, at least at this point and at this stage on his way to the Highlands.
Next time we will discuss the Boston Restaurant intermezzo in detail. For more analyses of Dylan songs, please press the Bob Dylan button on the left. Feedback to this article will be very much appreciated. Please respond by clicking on the link down below here and write your response.
Dylan’s ‘Highlands’ – Lyric analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 1
‘Highlands’ is one of Dylan’s masterpieces, recorded in 1997 for the album ‘Time out of Mind’. The main theme of the album ‘Time Out of Mind’’ is movement. On the album the poet is constantly on the move to some destination. A destination which is sometimes undefined: ’I’m walking through the summer nights, the jukebox playing low’; ‘I’m walking through the middle of nowhere’. Sometimes this destination is more defined: ‘I’m trying to get to heaven’ or ‘’My heart’s in the Highlands’. It is all about movement. The album starts with ‘Love Sick’’:’’ I’m walking though streets that are dead’. The album ends when the poet has finally reaches his destination in the Highlands: I’m already there in my mind’. Physically he is still on his way, he is still in the flesh, but his mind is already in the Highlands, the place where he belongs, the only place left to go.
The song is in some sort of a way related to ‘Trying to get to Heaven’. There can be no doubt that ‘Highlands’ is a metaphor for heaven. Whereas in ‘Trying to get to heaven’ the poet is trying to deal with the troubles and woes of his wretched existence on earth – walking that lonesome valley, feeling bad – and only tries to reach heaven as an ultimate consolation, in ‘Highlands’ however, there is a much more positive notion. In ‘Highlands’ the poet is equally dissatisfied with his earthly existence but the prospect of his forthcoming life in the Highlands makes the song much more joyful and complacent.
‘Highlands’ may be regarded as Dylan’s final testimony. Dylan’s final testimony, not only of the album ‘Time out of Mind’ but of his entire works. When ‘Time out of Mind’ was released in 1997, seven years had passed since his last release of original material in 1990 when the album ‘Under the Red Sky was released. At the time in 1997 there was a strong sense that ‘this was it’ – it might be Dylan’s last album. ‘Highlands’ itself contributes to this feeling when Dylan states: ‘The party is over and there’s less and less to say’, apparently not taking it for granted that at least 3 albums would follow.
Although there is an outtake of the song which is even much longer than the final version which ended up on the album, the song is the longest Dylan ever recorded (16:31). The song’s title is borrowed from the poem ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’ by the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
The song is based on a simple blues riff. The riff is played the whole way through the song, creating a sort of hypnotic effect. It has no traditional chorus or a bridge. The song has 20 verses, five of which – including the first and the final verse – start with: ‘Well my heart’s in the Highlands’.
As said the Highlands is a metaphor for Heaven. Each of the five verses verse starting with ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’ first draws a picture of what sort of a serene beauty you may find in the Highlands and ends with the personal attitude of the poet towards the Highlands (Heaven) . As the songs progresses the poet gets closer and closer to the Highlands (Heaven) both physically and mentally. Below we will delve deeper into this.
The other 15 verses shoved in between deal with a lonesome, ragged, cynical, pessimistic, sometimes even whimsical pilgrim on his way to the Promised Land. He is a worried man with a worried mind. He is a man of constant sorrow, who is sick and tired of this life on earth and is longing for the end to come. His sense of humanity has really gone down the drain. Within these 15 verses there is a sort of intermezzo of seven verses. In these seven verses the poet finds himself in some Boston restaurant. These verses constitute a separate category within the song. We will talk about this later.
2. ‘The Highlands’ in more detail.
Let’s first discuss the Highland verses in more detail. The Scottish Highlands are famous for their beautiful, unspoiled, natural scenery. The Highlands offer a pristine flora and fauna, beautiful hills and mountains, canyons which are formed through a mixture of waterfalls. There is an abundance of wildlife: Otters, eagles, rabbits, swans deer etc. You are treated to breathtaking views of ancient pine forests, lochs, rivers and moorlands. This is reflected in the song: ‘Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air, bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow. The wind, it whispers to the buckeyed trees in rhyme, by the beautiful lake of the Black Swan. Big white clouds like chariots swing down low’.
In the Highlands the natural scenery is untouched by the hand of man. Way up in the border country, far from the industrial towns and cities, there is no pollution and smog caused by heavy industries. The twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow are reminiscent of ancient times, when there were no shotguns, and life was much less complicated and spontaneous.
In the mind of the poet, it is not far from the crystal clear fountains and rivers in the Highlands to the heavenly river as pointed out in Revelation 22:1,2: ‘Then He showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations’. The reason why the poet uses the notion of the Highlands as a metaphor for Heaven is that in Heaven, he is sure to find the same peace, serenity and purity, you may find in the Highlands.
Next time we will take a closer look at a number of verses portraying the poet’s estrangement and alienation on his way to the Highlands. Please leave your response to this article by pushing the button ‘reacties’ below and write your response.
Van die dag en dat uur weet niemand, ook de Zoon niet…….
Dylan: ‘He unleashes his power at an unknown hour that no one knows’.
In mijn vorige weblog verteld ik iets over de Amerikaanse dominee Harold Camping (89) die voorspelde dat de dag van het laatste oordeel zou aanbreken op 21 mei jl. De krant de Oakland Tribune heeft afgelopen donderdag gemeld dat Harold Camping een beroerte heeft gehad en inmiddels in het ziekenhuis is opgenomen. De radiozender van Camping besteedde de afgelopen 7 jaar meer dan 70 miljoen Euro om de aankondiging van de dags des oordeels op 21 mei jl. te verspreiden. Hoewel hij ‘Mea culpa’ heeft beleden is hij desondanks met een nieuwe datum gekomen, nl. 21 oktober a.s.
In onze vorige weblog stelden we dat niemand de dag en het uur van de wederkomst van Jezus weet, ook de Zoon van God zelf niet, alleen de Vader. Waar het ons nu om gaat is dat de tekst waar we de vorige keer naar verwezen nogal wat vragen oproept. Daar willen we nu wat nader op ingaan. Het gaat om deze tekst die we vinden in o.a. Marcus 13:32: ‘Niemand weet wanneer die dag of dat moment zal aanbreken, de engelen in de hemel niet en de Zoon niet, alleen de Vader’.
Voor stromingen die de Godheid van Christus ontkennen (o.a. de Jehova getuigen) is dit geen moeilijke tekst. Men zegt: ‘Zie je wel, Christus is geen God. Want God is alwetend. Hij weet niet alleen alles uit het verleden en heden maar ook alles wat er in de toekomst zal gaan gebeuren. De Zoon weet niet van de dag en het uur van de wederkomst, dus staat Hij niet op dezelfde goddelijke hoogte als God de Vader’.
Toch geloven we dat deze vlieger van de Jehova getuigen e.a. niet opgaat. Laat het volgende voorbeeld dat duidelijk maken. Stel je hebt twee directeuren die samen een onderneming runnen. Ze hebben in de onderneming beiden even veel kapitaal ingebracht en hebben evenveel zeggenschap. Ze zijn voor de volle 100% elkaars gelijken. Ze spreken af dat de ene directeur zich zal bezig houden met de financiën en de administratie en de andere directeur met de verkoop en PR activiteiten. Ze hebben ook het volgende afgesproken: De directeur die verantwoordelijk is voor de PR activiteiten is geheel vrij om een reclame campagne te starten op een dag en een tijdstip dat hij zelf uitkiest. Om het verassingseffect veilig te stellen spreken ze af dat alleen de ene directeur het tijdstip kent waarop de campagne begint. De andere directeur weet daar niets van. Is die andere directeur daardoor nu de mindere geworden omdat hij dat tijdstip niet kent? Welnee, ze blijven volkomen elkaars gelijken. Ze handelen alleen volgens afspraak.
Zo hebben de Vader en de Zoon en de Heilige Geest ook afspraken gemaakt. Je zou haast zeggen een soort van taak verdeling. Bijv. Afspraken hoe de mens uit de zonde verlost zou gaan worden. Volgens het dogma van de ‘Vrederaad’ (Pactum salutis) hebben Vader Zoon en Geest deze afspraken al gemaakt vóór de grondlegging van de wereld. (Zie o.a. Matteüs 13:35; 25:34, Efeziërs 1:4,5 ). We gaan daar in detail nu niet verder op in.
Eén van die afspraken was dat de Eeuwige Zoon van God mens zou worden. Dit terwijl Hijzelf God is. Hij heeft zich ‘ontledigd’ (zie Filippenzen 2:7 e.v.). Dat betekent: Hij hield niet vast aan Zijn gelijkheid aan God, maar Hij deed er geheel vrijwillig afstand van. Hij nam de gestalte van een slaaf aan en werd gelijk aan een mens. Als mens heeft Hij zich vernederd en werd gehoorzaam tot in de dood van het kruis. Je zou dit kunnen aanduiden met een woord dat vandaag een beetje uit de mode is: het ’ambt’ van Christus. Een ambt is altijd een officiële aanstelling voor een bepaalde taak.
Binnen het kader van die taak – dat ambt – is Christus, als gezondene van de Vader, geheel afhankelijk van de Vader boven. De evangeliën zijn vol van een biddende en gehoorzame Zoon, die in alles opziet naar Vader boven en Zich geheel aan Vader onderwerpt. De Jehova getuigen e.a. gebruiken de vele teksten, die daarvan getuigen, om af te dingen op de Godheid van Christus. Maar men realiseert zich niet dat die gehoorzaamheid en onderwerping van Christus, binnen de kaders valt van de gemaakte afspraken. Ook het feit dat de Zoon niet weet van het tijdstip van Zijn eigen wederkomst valt binnen deze kaders. Maar dit hoeft niets af te doen van Zijn goddelijke natuur.
E.P. Gould heeft geen ongelijk wanneer hij stelt dat het spreken van Jezus op dit punt afhankelijk is van Gods inspiratie en geen eigen bron heeft in Zijn Goddelijke natuur.
We gaan nog even terug naar het voorbeeld van de twee directeuren. De directeuren hebben een afspraak gemaakt dat ze niet alles van elkaar hoeven te weten. Maar de directeuren blijven wel elkaars gelijken. In ons voorbeeld is het echter zo dat het gaat om twee directeuren met gescheiden bevoegdheden. Het ‘probleem’ bij de Zoon van God is echter dat Zijn Goddelijke en Zijn menselijke natuur geen twee personen zijn. Integendeel. Zijn Goddelijke natuur en Zijn menselijke natuur vormen samen de ene persoon van de Zoon van God. Dat maakt het erg lastig om de precieze verhouding tussen zijn Goddelijke en menselijke natuur in kaart te brengen. Daar zijn al veel pogingen toe ondernomen. Maar niemand is daar ooit in geslaagd en daar zal ook niemand in slagen. Het is en blijft een groot mysterie.
Hetzelfde kan gezegd worden van de Drie-eenheid. Het woord Drie-eenheid komt in de Bijbel niet voor. Het concept van de Drie-eenheid van de Vader en de Zoon en de Heilige Geest is een conclusie die de gelovige Bijbellezer trekt als hij alle gegevens over de Vader en de Zoon en de Heilige Geest naast elkaar legt. Maar het is en blijft een groot mysterie. Binnen dat kader is het gemakkelijker om te formuleren hoe de Drie-eenheid niet in elkaar steekt dan om aan te geven hoe het wel in elkaar steekt.
Zo is het ook als het gaat over de verhouding tussen de Goddelijke en menselijke natuur in de ene persoon van Christus. Ook hier heeft de kerk alleen op formule kunnen brengen hoe de verhouding tussen de beide naturen van Christus niet is. Niet hoe het wel is. We denken daarbij aan het Concilie van Chalcedon (451). Dit Concilie beleed ten aanzien van de twee naturen in de ene Persoon van Christus dat deze ‘Onvermengd, Onveranderd, Ongedeeld, en Ongescheiden’ zijn.
‘Onvermengd’ betekent dat Christus geen nieuwe Persoon is geworden waarbij een soort van mix is ontstaan tussen zijn Goddelijke en menselijke natuur.
‘Onveranderd’ betekent dat de menselijke natuur geen verandering heeft ondergaan om zich aan te passen aan de goddelijke natuur. Hetzelfde kan gezegd worden van de Goddelijke natuur. Die heeft geen verandering ondergaan om zich te kunnen aanpassen aan de menselijke natuur.
‘Ongedeeld’ betekent dat de Persoon van de Zoon niet voor een deel Goddelijk is en voor een gedeelte menselijk.
‘Ongescheiden’ betekent dat er in de Persoon van God geen twee van elkaar gescheiden compartimenten zijn die los van elkaar functioneren.
Welke conclusie kunnen we nu uit Marcus 13:32 trekken? Deze: Het feit dat Jezus niet van de dag en het tijdstip van Zijn eigen wederkomst kent past bij zijn ambt van Middelaar. In dit ambt van Middelaar is Hij gehoorzaam aan en onderwerpt Hij zich aan de instructies van Zijn Vader. Dit gegeven verhindert Hem om voor de kennis van de dag van Zijn Wederkomst te kunnen putten uit Zijn Goddelijke natuur. En waarom is dit? De enige reden die we hiervoor kunnen geven is dat de Vader en de Zoon en de Heilige Geest het zó vrijwillig hebben afgesproken, als iets dat past bij het ambt van Christus.
De dag van het oordeel
De bekende Amerikaanse predikant en radio presentator Harold Camping voorspelde dat 'Judgment Day’ –de dag van het laatste oordeel - zou plaatsvinden op 21 mei 2011. Het is niet de eerste keer dat Camping er naast zat. Eerder had hij al ten onrechte voorspeld dat de Dag van het Oordeel in 1994 zou aanbreken. Je zou verwachten dat hij na het zoveelste debacle zijn excuus zou aanbieden om vervolgens met zijn volgelingen in de zee van de vergetelheid te verdwijnen. Maar niets is minder waar. De weg terug is kennelijk te pijnlijk. Dus moest er een verklaring komen, en die kwam er ook.
Hij gaf toe dat hij een rekenfout had gemaakt. Maar geen nood…. De Dag des oordeels zal nu gaan plaats vinden op 21 oktober 2011. Hij schrijft het toe aan Gods geduld met de mensen dat de Apocalyps nu vijf maanden later begint. In de VS zijn al duizenden reclameborden met de gewijzigde datum neergezet. Camping voorspelt nog steeds dat 200 miljoen mensen gered zullen worden en waarschuwt de achterblijvers dat ze zullen sterven door aardbevingen, plagen en andere rampspoed, totdat de hele aarde op 21 oktober 2011 door een vuurbal verteerd zal worden.
Wat moeten we hier nu mee aan? In Europa hebben wij er lang niet zo veel van gemerkt als in de VS. In de VS heeft het nogal wat impact gehad. Er is daar een heel media circus op gang gekomen. Het heeft voor de volgelingen van dergelijke goeroes nogal wat gevolgen. Er zijn een hoop persoonlijke drama’s aan verbonden. Hele groepen mensen hebben alles op de kaart van 21 mei gezet; hun baan opgezegd die ze niet zo maar weer terug krijgen, en zich terug getrokken uit het sociale leven enz.
Verbijsterd vraag je jezelf af of een Harold Camping en zo velen anderen vóór hem de Bijbel niet gelezen hebben. Er staat toch heel nadrukkelijk in Matteüs 24:36 over de jongste dag dat ‘Niemand weet wanneer die dag en dat moment zullen aanbreken, ook de hemelse engelen en de Zoon niet, alleen de Vader weet het’. Wie haalt het in vredesnaam in zijn hoofd om te beweren wijzer en beter geïnformeerd te zijn dan de Zoon van God zelf?
Moeten we nu maar – zoals zovelen- zeggen over Harold Camping en zijn volgelingen: het zijn een stelletje malloten waar we verder maar niet te veel woorden aan vuil moeten maken? Ik denk dat dat veel te kort door de bocht zou zijn. Hoe komt het toch dat er in de hele nieuw testamentische periode zo veel mensen zijn opgestaan en nog steeds opstaan, die zich toch gewaagd hebben aan een exacte voorspelling van de dag van de Wederkomst van Gods Zoon?
Ik denk dat er geen andere verklaring voor is dan dat satan hier achter zit. Daar heeft de apostel Petrus ons al voor gewaarschuwd. De satan gaat tekeer als een briesende leeuw. We lezen in 2 Petrus 3:3 en 4: ‘Vergeet niet dat er aan het einde van de tijd spotters zullen komen, die hun eigen begeerte volgen en smalend vragen: ‘Waar blijft hij nu? Hij had toch beloofd te komen?
Voor de spotters in onze dagen zijn de profetieën van Harold Camping koren op de molen van het ongeloof. De gehele christenheid wordt zodoende in één klap worden weg gezet als een stelletje wereldvreemde achterlijken die een boodschap verkondigen die keer op keer door de feiten wordt achterhaald.
Nu is het hoon gelach van de spotters wel heel vervelend maar in het licht van het evangelie niet iets om vreemd van op te kijken. Het punt is dat als de spotters naar Camping c.s. kijken ze een ‘punt’ lijken te hebben. Wat veel erger is, is het feit dat de spotters met het badwater ook het hele kind weg gooien.
Want de draak steken met Harold Camping’s profetieën over de dag van de wederkomst is één, maar tegelijkertijd daarmee óók het apostolisch getuigenis over de Opstanding van Christus én van Zijn wederkomst van zijn kracht beroven, is een andere zaak. Want door die herhaalde valse profetieën wordt de voortgang van dat apostolisch getuigenis gehinderd, geblokkeerd en geridiculiseerd.
Dit is nl. wel betrouwbare informatie: a. Dat Christus werkelijk uit de doden is opgestaan en nu op Zijn troon zit in de hemel en b. dat Hij zal wederkomen op de wolken om te oordelen de levenden en de doden. Dat Hij zal wederkomen staat vast. Maar wanneer, dat weet alleen de Vader.
Als het over de wederkomst gaat dan lijkt er haast sprake van een hemels dilemma, waarbij het lijkt of gekozen moet worden tussen spoed en geduld. We lezen in 2 Petrus 3:9 dat de Heer niet traag is met het nakomen van Zijn belofte over de wederkomst. Hij heeft alleen maar geduld omdat hij wil dat iedereen tot inkeer komt en niemand verloren gaat. Geduldig zijn betekent dat je soms lang moet wachten. Door het lange wachten haken velen af. De Heer roept ons daarom op om waakzaam te blijven zodat we niet onaangenaam verrast worden, ook als de grote dag nog op zich laat wachten. Tegelijkertijd zegt Hij: ‘Ik kom spoedig’ (Openbaring 22:20). Maar als Hij te snel komt dan zijn sommigen er nog niet klaar voor. Gelukkig lost de Heer dit dilemma zelf op: ‘voor de Heer is één dag als duizend jaar en duizend jaar als één dag’ (2 Petrus 3:8). Zo valt alles op zijn plaats.
Voor ons geldt dat we altijd moeten klaar staan want zegt Matteüs 24:44: ‘de Mensenzoon komt op een tijdstip waarop je het niet verwacht’. Of zoals Bob Dylan zegt: ‘You always got to be prepared, but you never know for what’.