In this part we take a detailed look at the verses 2 and 3 of this song.
Hello Mary Lou - Hello Miss Pearl
My fleet footed guides from the underworld
No stars in the sky shine brighter than you
You girls mean business and I do too
In the first verse we have seen that the deceptive influence of the False Prophet crept into the body and soul of the ancient Egyptian culture, but the story does not end there. The False Prophet is a trickster of all times and ages who is also active in our modern times, and even more so because he knows that soon his active days on earth days will come to an end. Therefore, when the False Prophet goes on to say: “Hello Mary Lou - Hello Miss Pearl” the camara is focussed on our modern times. When “My fleet footed guides from the underworld” is added, it seems that a sardonic and sinister game is played with these two ladies. “Fleet footed” means nimble and fast on one’s feet , something one might expect from juveniles like Miss Mary Lou and Miss Pearl. “The underworld” represents this luminal world, the abode of the dead and imagined as being under the earth. “The underworld” is also the place, the pit, where the fallen angels are kept until judgement day (2 Peter 2:4). The underworld is the Sheol of Ezekiel 32:17-32, where Egypt and her allies, slain by the sword, lay.
The False Prophet is a trickster by profession and a master of distortion and has the habit of twisting and turning things round. Therefore, the sardonic irony in the words “My fleet footed guides from the underworld” show that the False Prophet knows that he is not guided by Miss Mary Lou and Miss Pearl but it is the other way round, Miss Mary Lou and Miss Pearl are guided by him.
Now “Hello Mary Lou - Hello Miss Pearl” seems an obvious reference to “Hello Mary Lou”, a love song from Ricky Nelson, and to “Miss Pearl” a song by Jimmy Wages. However, to call these two ladies “My fleet footed guides from the underworld” and to describe the intention of these two ladies as “You girls mean business and I do too” seems problematic and in the case of Mary Lou -when you examine the innocent lyrics of the song “Hello Mary Lou” - even farfetched. It requires no stretch of imagination to picture where the words “You girls mean business” refer to. “Business” in this context brings to mind the world of prostitution, red-light districts or some escort service. Now when you examine the lyrics of “Miss Pearl” an allusion to wantonness, if not prostitution, seems by no means farfetched. Some of the lyrics point in this direction: ”Miss Pearl, Miss Pearl, daylight recalls you, hang your head, go home, the way you look right now ,I know you never, I know you never more gonna roam” and “The signs on you show, you've been out so late”.
As far as Mary Lou is concerned, it is not for the first time that the poet seems to put Mary Lou in the realm of the luminal world, the kingdom of darkness. In Dylan’s song “Dignity” the part Mary Lou plays seems spooky: “I went to the wedding of Mary Lou. She said, “I don’t want nobody see me talking’ to you”, said she could get killed if she told me what she knew about dignity”.
However, for the connection to Mary Lou, we feel we’d better not focus our attention on Ricky Nelson’s song “Hello Mary Lou”, This song may merely function as some sort of a red herring to lead us to another song from Ricky Nelson: “Garden Party”. For Dylan it is not so difficult to identify himself with “Garden Party” because Dylan himself is referred to in the lyrics of the song: “And over in the corner, much to my surprise, Mr. Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise”.
As far as the Mary Lou connection is concerned, there are a number of reasons why we should pay attention to Ricky Nelson’s song “Garden Party” rather than to his song : “Hello Mary Lou”. First of all, Mary Lou is mentioned in “Garden Party”: “I said hello to "Mary Lou", she belongs to me”. Secondly, when you closely examine the lyrics of “Garden Party”, it appears that in this garden party, people are dressed up, people are trying to hide their true identity: “When I got to the garden party, they all knew my name, no one recognized me, I didn't look the same” and “No one heard the music, we didn't look the same”. Thirdly, Nelson’s song “Garden Party” breathes the atmosphere of disguise, deception and trickery, a world with which the False Prophet- alias Satan- is all too familiar with. In some sort of a way Dylan’s “Man of Peace” also very much breathes the same deceptive atmosphere as “False Prophet” , albeit seen from a different perspective. In “Man of Peace” there is also a garden party going on: “I can smell something cooking, I can tell there’s going to be a feast, you know that sometimes Satan comes as a Man of Peace”. Now it seems as if the poet identifies the protagonist in Nelson’s “Garden Party” with the ways of the False Prophet. It is as if we hear the False Prophet, through the voice of the protagonist, speak: “I said hello to "Mary Lou", she belongs to me”. By stating that Mary Lou belongs to him, the False Prophet pulls Mary Lou into his own sphere, the underworld.
The use of the word “garden”, here and later on in the song, when it says: “Let’s walk in the garden - so far and so wide” may be an allusion to the Garden of Eden, the place where Man was deceived by the serpent (Gen. 3).
When the False Prophet says of Miss Mary Lou and Miss Pearl that “No stars in the sky shine brighter than you” this can be interpreted as a defiance of Jesus who is called the shining morning star in Rev.22:16. As we have seen, one of the attributes of the False Prophet, alias the devil, is that he encourages people to worship and idolize the creature – in this case Mary Lou and Miss Pearl – rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). Apart from this, in Isaiah 14: 12-14 (NKJV)the False Prophet awards the title of morning star to himself: ”I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”. The False Prophet laughs in his sleeve when divine stardom is bestowed upon his mortal epigons, like Miss Mary Lou and Miss Pearl. “No stars in the sky shine brighter than you” fits Rick Nelson and Janis Joplin well, because both died young, when – according to human standards- their stars where shining brightly.
I’m the enemy of treason - the enemy of strife
I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life
I ain’t no false prophet - I just know what I know
I go where only the lonely can go
On the face of it, the words “I’m the enemy of treason - the enemy of strife, I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life” do not fit in with the negative image of a False Prophet. But things are not what they seem. The False Prophet -alias the devil - has two faces and pursues alternately two seemingly opposite tactics. The one tactics is a violent one of persecution and brutal oppression resulting in imprisonment, torture and killing of his victims. The other tactics is peaceful deception. When he pursues this latter tactics, the False Prophet proclaims to be a peacemaker who pretends to hate treason and strife. The Prophet Jeremiah debunks this sort of false prophecy: “from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely, they have healed the wound of my people lightly saying “peace, peace” when there is no peace” (Jer.6:13,14). Dylan’s song “Man of peace” resonates here: He – Satan, the False Prophet – “is a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist”. Now the refrain of “Man of Peace”: “You know sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace” is a parody on 2 Cor. 11:14 where it says: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light”. And it is this tactics of disguise which the False Prophet deploys in this stanza, the False Prophet pretends to be an angel of light who of course is very reasonable being and full of the best intentions.
Now “Treason” is usually regarded as an act of criminal disloyalty against a state, the nation and its sovereign. "Peace for our time" were the words the False prophet seems to have laid in the mouth of the UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his 30 September 1938 speech with regards to the Munich Agreement he made with Hitler; an agreement which soon turned out to be an act of high treason towards the Czechoslovakian people, selling them to Hitler.
“I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life” faintly resonates Socrates who is said to have said: “The unexamined life is not worth living". According to Wikipedia: “The unexamined life is not worth living" (Ancient Greek: ὁ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ) is a famous dictum apparently uttered by Socrates at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death, as described in Plato's Apology”.
Bob Jope may be right in his weblog article ‘False Prophet: ‘Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” when he observes that “Blake considers Energy to be opposed to Reason, the force which, he believes, restrains desire. He exalts the life of the passions over that of Reason and the true poet/seer/prophet should exalt passionate life and deny imprisoning restraint, the ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ (in ‘London’) that chain us down. Comparably, Dylan’s prophet declares: “I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life”. Intriguingly, too, where Blake is the enemy of reason (mocked punningly as a god, Urizen) Dylan’s prophet – or seer – declares himself ‘the enemy of treason’.
In the eyes of the False Prophet, however, “an unlived meaningless life” is a life is not worth living when it does not pursue the slogan ‘Carpe Diem’. ‘Carpe Diem’ means “seize the day”, a phrase used by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should enjoy life while one can. But the False Prophet encourages people to pursue ‘Carpe Diem’ in a hedonistic way, so that pleasure and satisfaction of desires is the highest good and proper aim of meaningful human life. But the downside of this so-called meaningful life is, that an unpleasant feeling creeps into your mind, a feeling as if you are on the Titanic, heading for disaster, like it says in in 1 Cor. 15:32: “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die”.
For the first time we now here the refrain of the song: “I ain’t no false prophet”. In our introductory remarks above, we already outlined that there might be an autobiographical undercurrent in this statement. We concluded that the more fervently the False Prophet denies being a False Prophet, the clearer it becomes that indeed he is a False Prophet. Here the False Prophet states two reasons why he pretends not to be a False Prophet: 1. “I just know what I know” and 2. “I go where only the lonely can go”.
1. “I just know what I know” may be valid claim and a claim which is false. A valid claim can be proven and a false one not. When Jesus, the Prophet of all Prophets, makes the claim “I just know what I know”, this claim is valid. When the False Prophet makes this claim, this claim is false. We read of Jesus’ claim that he knows what he knows in John 8: “Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Our own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”(John 8:14-18 NLT). In the eyes of the Pharisees the claim of Jesus that he knows what he knows is not valid because in their eyes – and according to their human standards- this claim cannot be proven. But Jesus has an important and decisive second witness: God, the Father. God the Father testifies about Jesus in the Old Testament and validifies Jesus ‘claim.
But there is another factor which validates the claim “I know what I know” and that is Deut. 18,21,22. Deut. 18:21,22 says that the words of a true prophet come true and the words of a false prophet do not come to pass or come true. “I know what I know “and “I just said what I said” is not decisive but whether or not the contents of these words come true. E.g. Jesus, during his stay on earth, prophesied the fall and destruction of the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 24) . This prophecy came true and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
The False Prophet, on the other hand, “climbs into the frame and shouts God’s name, but you’re never sure what it is”” (Dylan’s “Political world”).The only thing he can go by on is 2:“I go where only the lonely can go”. The loneliest place you can ever imagine is the so-called “depths of Satan” and the False Prophet has access to this place, in fact it is his natural habitat. A false prophetess named Jezebel also had access to these depths of Satan (Rev.2:20-24). In this lonely place “the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay” as Dylan assesses in his song “Mississippi”. This “depth” of Satan stands diametrically against the depth of God.
Only the Holy Spirit is capable to search the depth of God (1 Cor 2:10). In this depth of God there is not only an immeasurable and inexhaustive amount of riches, wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33) but also communion, a harmonious place bristling with love communion within the Trinity. Quite the opposite of the lonely place where “only the lonely can go”.To end up in a place“ where only the lone can go” is bad but the final conclusion which the False Prophet draws in this the song, the conclusion that he is “ nobody’s bride” is much worse.
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Bob Dylan’s “False Prophet” – an analysis by Kees de Graaf – Part 1.
When we hear this masterpiece “False Prophet” it feels as if this blues song were performed at a place to which Dylan alludes in his song ”My own version of You”. It is not hard to visualize Bob and his band playing “False Prophet” “at midnight on Judgement Day in the Black Horse Tavern on Armageddon Street”. The dragging blues riff- very much resembling Billy Emerson’s “If Loving is Believing”- feels like a performance in a nightclub near hell while the flames of Armageddon burn all around them.
There has been a lot of debate on the internet about the artwork accompanying the release of the single “False Prophet”. The cigarette the dressed up skeleton had in his hand on the original picture was photoshopped into a syringe. What does this syringe mean at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the world? And who is that silhouetted person in the background hanging on a rope? Since it is not our intention to get involved in American politics, we leave these questions open for interpretation.
The title of the song “False Prophet” may seem a little odd when you consider that in the refrain the poet says: “I ain’t no false prophet”. It would be more obvious if the title were e.g. “No False Prophet”. But then again, in the words “I ain’t no false prophet” there is a double negation and although this is not always so, usually a double negation is regarded as an affirmation. The intention of the False Prophet is to categorically deny that indeed he is a False Prophet, but it seems that the more fervently he denies being a false prophet, the clearer it becomes that indeed he is a False Prophet. When further on, we take a more detailed look at the verses of the song, we feel that the verses will prove that the speaker definitely is a False Prophet.
The issue we’d better deal with straightaway is: is there an autobiographic undercurrent in the refrain: “I ain’t no false prophet”?. Maybe. There has always been the odour hanging around Dylan of being a prophet. Now you have prophets with a capital “P” and prophets with a small “p”. Prophets with a capital “P” are the Biblical Prophets like e.g. Isaiah and Ezekiel. These Prophets speak with divine authority and for that reason only they are authorized to say “I just know what I know” and “I just said what I said” But there are also prophets with a small “p” (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17). Followers of Jesus are prophets with a small “p” and prophesize without divine authority, their prophecies need to be tested by others whether they are of God or not (1 John 4:1). Now there is this famous 2004 CBS interview. In this interview Dylan refers to people who say to Dylan: “You’re the Prophet, You’re the Saviour”. Then Dylan replies: “I never wanted to be a Prophet or a saviour. Elvis maybe. But Prophet? No!”. We feel that Dylan here denies that he is a Prophet with a capital “P” but that does not mean he cannot be a prophet with a small “p”. It all has to do with what Dylan in this same interview calls “the destiny thing”. When asked: “You use the word “destiny” over and over again in the book. What does it mean to you? Dylan replies: “It’s a feeling about yourself that nobody else does -the picture you have in your mind of what you’re about will come true. It’s a kind of a thing you have to keep to your own self, because it’s a fragile feeling. And if you put it out there, somebody will kill it. So it’s best to keep that all inside”. I think that Dylan is sincere here. “It’s a feeling about yourself that nobody else does” may in meaning come close to “ I just know what I know” and to “I just said what I said”. Long time ago he had this- spiritual- experience to which he refers in this same 2004 CBS interview: Dylan says: ‘’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’’. Dylan made a private bargain – apparently with God- and that gives him the courage to state that he knows what he knows and says what he says. It is- as he says- “a fragile feeling” so he cannot be explicit, you have to read between the lines. Only because of this bargain is he able to write songs like “False Prophet”. Otherwise he would never had got this far, in his own words ‘‘to get where I am now”. So to sum this up, the autobiographic undercurrent of the refrain “I ain’t no false prophet” may be understood as if he says: “I show you in the verses of this song how the False Prophet operates, and no matter how fervently the False Prophet denies that he is a false prophet, he definitely is a False Prophet. But “I” in contrast with this False Prophet, “I” am not a false prophet but a true prophet, albeit with a small “p”. Long time ago I experienced this “destiny thing” and because of this experience “I just know what I know” and “I just said what I said”.
When we take a closer look at the lyrics, we find that the ways of the False Prophet are quite often “rough and rowdy” and for that reason this song thematically very well fits in with the main theme of the album, the “Rough and Rowdy Ways”. But the manners of the False Prophet are not always like that. As Dylan said in his song ”Man of Peace”: “Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace”. As we will see later in more detail, in the lyrics the false prophet alternates his rough and rowdy ways of violent persecution with ostensibly peaceful and subtle deception. From the lyrics it is clear that the False Prophet operates in the liminal space, it feels as if an occult voice from the underworld tries to break into the visible and tangible reality with the purpose of causing as much damage and destruction as he possibly can. How could we summarize the possible meaning of this song in a few words? In the song a number of lines are quoted from a book titled “Awakening Osiris” – A New Translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead- written by Normandi Ellis (Phanes Press). If you take this into account, one could argue that that in this song the False Prophet may be some sort of incarnation of Egyptian polytheism, of gods like Temu, Ptah Ra, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys. There seems to be a cosmic struggle going on between these multiple Egyptian gods embodied by the False Prophet and annex by false prophecy – false prophecy such as laid down in the Egyptian Book of the Dead- and the One and Only God, אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה, Jahwè , the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who calls Himself “I AM” in Ex. 3:14. The “I AM” who exposed the Egyptian gods and their false prophecy, when with a mighty arm He led His people out of Egypt into the promised land of Israel. (Exodus 6-12).The same God, the same “I AM” to whom the poet of ”I’ve Made up my mind, to give myself to you” has given his heart: “I’m giving myself to you, I AM”. So in this song is not the question on whose side the poet is, nor, for that matter, of the outcome of this cosmic struggle will be. This outcome is by no means uncertain: “There in the temple of the sun in Egypt He will demolish the sacred pillars and will burn down the temples of the gods of Egypt” (Jer. 43:14). Let us now see how in a verse by verse analysis this theme is worked out.
Another day without end - another ship going out
Another day of anger - bitterness and doubt
I know how it happened - I saw it begin
I opened my heart to the world and the world came in.
When it says “Another day without end” the poet immediately quotes chapter 8 of the book “Awakening Osiris” where in the context it says: “Now is the day of the joining of opposites, of the mingling of the dust of flesh with the dust of the coffin. this is the day of flow, the living ether returned to air, the maker of forms assuming new form. This is the day without end—the passage into light itself, the joining of Osiris to Ra”. As is outlined in the introduction of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the book is a compilation of funeral texts and religious hymns written by priests during a period spanning approx. 3000 BC to 300 AD. It is true, in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, there is a constant struggle between the powers of darkness and light, between good and evil. At the same the non-dualistic state of nature, including human existence, is prominently present in the book. This non-dualism wipes out the fundamental difference between the Creator and creation. The creation is deified and subsequently worshipped (cf. Rom 1:21-23). The Pyramid texts show supplications to the gods, so that a man might achieve unity with the deities in heaven. Because of this non-dualism, the absolute distance between Creator and creation and between right and wrong is eliminated. In chapter 9 we hear the Speaker – the Speaker addresses Osiris in the third person – say “I create myself”. In chapter 8 the Speaker equates himself with the god Osiris: “I have sailed with Ra in the boat of the sun. I am a shining recollected Osiris”.
The primordial sin of man in paradise was that he believed the lie uttered by the serpent – the devil, alias the False Prophet – that man could be on an equal with God, that man could be like God (Gen. 3:5).But from the very beginning man could only live in perfect harmony with God if man respected the endless qualitative difference between God, the Creator, and man, His creation. It was this same megalomania ”I am like God, I create myself” which led to the downfall of the devil, alias the False Prophet. Condemned and thrown out by God, the False Prophet – and annex false prophecy - can now thrive in cultures like that of the ancient Egyptians, deceiving pharaoh’s and the Egyptian elite in believing that they are like god and that they are gods. These funeral texts in the Egyptian Book of the Dead can be seen as an embodiment of this false prophecy. But the False Prophet is condemned and you hear this weary and cynical note of resignation in his voice when he says: “Another day without end”. Isaiah 14:12 (KJV) says of him: “ How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations!”. The one who once was a son of the morning is now condemned to a day of agony that will never end.
When “Another ship going out” is added, it is as if the False Prophet wearily witnesses yet another burial of some Egyptian pharaoh or other wealthy Egyptian. This is reflected in the book “Awakening Osiris” when it says: “This white boat ferries the body through dark waters, carries the heart of gold through the red core of earth, Great is the God in his boat”. The ancient Egyptians used a ship as tomb offering and this symbolizes the transport of the dead person and their soul, from this life into the afterlife, to Osiris the god of the dead. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians believed that a boat or ship was needed in the afterlife in order to travel to the heavens. Sometimes a small model of a boat was buried with a person. Often times a full size boat was included in the tombs of Pharaohs and other wealthy Egyptians.
“Another day of anger bitterness and doubt” again reflects this weary and cynical mood of the False Prophet and takes us back to “Awakening Osiris” where we read these words in the following context: “May I walk the road envisioned by Ra's eyes. May my spirit gather my selves and fly back to its source. May I join the great march of beings who live and die in the circle of light. I shall not fall under flashing knives. I shall not burn up in the cauldron. I know the names of the scorpions and they are these: anger, bitterness and doubt. And I know the names of the serpents: ego, concern for the self of the body; relinquishment of destiny, the attribution of suffering to god; false pity that stifles another man's becoming; mediocre virtues and the denial of passion; sentimentality wherein passion is artifice; satisfaction wherein he fails to attain the great; common thought wherein a man seeks not to push himself beyond the limits of his own imagination”. It seems obvious that the Egyptian Book of the Dead associates a scorpion with “anger bitterness and doubt”. Jesus proclaims victory over scorpions and serpents and equates scorpions and serpents with demonic resistance and enmity. In Luke 10:19,20 Jesus says: “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven”. (KJB).One may say that since his downfall the Satan, the Serpent, alias the False Prophet, is condemned to, and trapped in, a day by day, but never ending vicious circle of “anger, bitterness and doubt”. All fruit the False Prophet produces is nothing but “anger, bitterness and doubt” and there is a sharp contrast with the fruit the Holy Spirit produces, as is written in Gal. 5:22,23(NLT): “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control”
“I know how it happened - I saw it begin” takes us back to the time of the downfall of Satan, the devil, Lucifer, alias the False Prophet. Isaiah 14:13,14 (NKJV) describes how it happened, how it began: “For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ This led to the downfall of Satan: “Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit” (Isiah 14:15 NKJV).
It all happened, it all began when “I opened my heart to the world and the world came in”. Again the book “Awakening Osiris” is quoted: “I've known the pleasures of the earth. I bathed myself in light on an afternoon of rejoicing—not a festival, but an ordinary afternoon where I opened my heart to the world and the world came in, where I brought water from the well with my daughter, where I chewed the grass, at the figs and sat by the riverbank watching sunlight dazzle like the white pearls of my daughter's smile. I steeped myself in the passion for existence until my spirit rose like steam bearing the fragrance of cedar and flowers”. A few lines below this quote we read: “I bring home the earth. I bring back the words." What strikes us is that these lines have a pantheistic character. One could say that pantheism leads to polytheism and visa versa and you find these phenomena all over the book “Awakening Osiris”.
To understand what these words “I opened my heart to the world and the world came in” may mean, we have to go back to the early days of the world, somewhere in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), to the time of the downfall of Satan as pictured in the text we quoted above from Isaiah 14:13-14. One could say that Satan – alias the False Prophet - left his dependant position from God (Jude 1:6) and he no longer gave his heart to God, the Creator, but he opened his heart to the creation, the world, to own the world and to equate himself to the world and in doing so defying God. Satan, the serpent, did the same thing to man in paradise when he tempted man to open up his heart to the world, he succeeded and the world came in and man fell.
Now Satan tempted Jesus to do the same thing and have Jesus open his heart to the world but here Satan failed. We read of this in Matt. 4: 8-10 (NLT): “Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him”. Jesus could have opened his heart to the world and would have owned all the kingdoms of the world and their glory but the world did not come in and Jesus rejected Satan’s offer.
In Part 2 we will analyze verse 2 .Then the camara will zoom out of ancient Egypt and zoom in , where in modern times, Mary Lou and Miss Pearl will enter the scene.
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When we heard Dylan’s latest monumental masterpiece ‘Murder Most Foul’ for the first time, we immediately associated the song with Tempest’s closing masterpiece “Roll on John”. Now it has been seven years since we first analysed “Roll on John” on this website. Now after seven years of contemplation we have come to the conclusion that “Roll on John” is actually not at all about John Lennon and the Beatles, no matter how obvious the references to Lennon and the Beatles in the song are. We found strong arguments to assume that the words about John Lennon and the Beatles function as some sort of a lightning-conductor or a red herring and that in reality the song focusses on John the Apostle, the apostle of light who wrote the Gospel according to John and of course Dylan’s favourite book The Revelations of St. John. See for yourself if my arguments are compelling and read my analysis of “Roll on John” on my Bob Dylan song analysis page, elsewhere on this website.
The question that now intrigues is: can the same thing be said of ‘Murder Most Foul”? Is ‘Murder Most Foul’ really all about the murder of JFK and its impact on the American society or is it a red herring, is there somebody else lurking in the background to whom the poet actually refers? In some sort of a way “Murder Most Foul” reminds us of Dylan’s album “Knocked Out Loaded”(1986) on which Dylan covered a song called “They Killed Him” written by Kris Kristofferson. The refrain of the song “ My God, they killed Him” draws a bizarre and stunning conclusion to the murder of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ. If the murder of JFK is to be qualified as “Murder Most Foul”, then certainly the murder of holy men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King must be defined as “Murder Most Foul” but what about the murder, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ whom the song calls “The only Son of God Almighty, the holy one called Jesus Christ”, is this not “Murder Most Foul” in its most extremis? Below we will list 10 instances of possible Christ references in “Murder Most Foul” hidden underneath the surface of the song. But the list is not complete ,there are more.
1.“Tomorrow is Friday, we’ll see what it brings” Dylan says in “Early Roman Kings”. MMF hints at Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified: “A good day to be living and a good day to die”. “Good Friday” a good day to die indeed…. MMF goes on to say: “Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb”. It was John the Baptist wo in John 1:29 proclaimed Jesus to be the ”Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and Jesus thereby fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy “he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7 RSV).
2.“Say wait a minute boys, do you know who I am? Of course we do, we know who you are” reminds us of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum, the daemon of whom shouts out to Jesus: “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24 RSV).
3.“It was a matter of timing and the timing was right” reflects Romans 5: 6 (NLT): “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners”.
4.“You got unpaid debts and we’ve come to collect” on the one hand represents all the hatred and vengeance from the Sanhedrin which led to Jesus ‘death sentence because of blasphemy but on the other hand- and at the same time- it shows God’s providential hand so that the debts – the sins- of the whole world were laid upon Jesus and could be reconciled.
5.“We’re gon’ kill you with hatred and without any respect, we’ll mock you and shock you, we’ll grin in your face, we’ve already got someone here to take your place, the day that they blew out the brains of the king”. Although they did not blow out the brain of Jesus like they did to JFK, this scene strikingly resembles to what happened to Jesus Christ when he was crucified. We read of this in Matthew 27:28-32 (BSB): “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. And they twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt down before Him to mock Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”. Then they spat on Him and took the staff and struck Him on the head repeatedly. After they had mocked Him, they removed the robe and put His own clothes back on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him. Along the way they found a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross of Jesus”.
6. “We’ve already got someone here to take your place” represents Simon of Cyrene who was requisitioned by the Romans soldiers to take the place of Jesus and carry the cross, not as a token of compassion for Jesus but with the intention to add insult to injury to Jesus as if they said: “Look at this king, this King of the Jews, he has only one subject, one servant to carry his belongings”. It all happened the day when they blew out the life of the king of the Jews. The plot to kill Jesus was in a bizarre way “perfectly executed, skilfully done”.
7. In verse 3 we find: “But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at, for the last fifty years they’ve been searching for that. Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me, hate to tell you, Mister, but only dead men are free”. Jesus says in Matthew 10: 28 that people can only kill your body but not your soul: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (NLT). God the Father allowed people to kill the body of Jesus but they could not touch His soul. Psalm 16:10 is fulfilled in Jesus “For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave” NLT). When it says: “Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me, hate to tell you, Mister, but only dead men are free” this not only a general statement saying that death relieves a man of his earthly duties and bondage like in the case of JFK but when we take a look at the death and resurrection of Christ, there may be more to it. Romans 6:8-10 says: “And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus”. The message is that all those who identify with the death and resurrection of Christ are set free in the true sense of the word and death loses its grip on people.
8. Then there is Zapruder’s 8mm film eye witness account: ”Zapruder’s film, I’ve seen that before, seen it thirty three times, maybe more, it’s vile and deceitful - it’s cruel and it’s mean, ugliest thing that you ever have seen”. Why does the poet say that he watched this film “thirty three times, maybe more”?. Nowadays there seems to be consensus among historians and theologians that Jesus Christ was 33 years old when he died on the Cross, but there is a margin of uncertainty, it may be a few years more. It may be the reason why it says here, “maybe more”. The poet takes one year of the life of Christ for each time he watched the film as if alluding to the 33 years of suffering of Jesus Christ and he specifically alludes to the end of Jesus’ life, which was ‘deceitful’ (Judas’s betrayal) and his trial and crucifixion which was “cruel and mean, the uglies thing that you have ever seen”.
9. They “killed him like a human sacrifice” echoes John 11:49-51 (NLT) “Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed. He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation”. To hold on to the power of the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas offered Jesus as ‘a human sacrifice’.
10. “The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son, the age of the anti-Christ has just only begun.” takes us back all the way to Revelation chapter 12:5-9 (NLT). After the victory of Christ, his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven, poetically summarized as “the day they killed him” Rev. 12:5 depicts the Ascension of Jesus into heaven: ”Her child (the child by which is meant Jesus) was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne” . This caused the defeat of the dragon and he was forced out of heaven (Rev. 12:8) and when that happened this might be called the day when “the age of the anti-Christ had only just begun”. Peter says that the anti-Christ (the devil), in the shape of a roaring lion, is still raging on earth: “ Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT).”Stay alert” which are basically the same words Dylan used introducing MMF on his website: “Stay observant”. Paul makes it clear in his second letter to the Thessalonians Chapter 2 that as Judgement Day approaches the activity of the anti-Christ will come to a head (2 Thes.2:1-12) in a scorched earth policy.
We know that there are a lot of Dylan fans out there who will not be amused by this kind of interpretation. If so, please do not hesitate to comment on this article.
In ‘Chronicles’- Volume 1- Dylan devotes chapter 4 to the creative process that led to his exquisite come-back album ‘Oh Mercy’ (1989) and where we can find this precious gem ‘Where Teardrops Fall’. Dylan writes in ‘Chronicles’ that in this creative process, it felt as if parts of his soul received messages from angels, there was a big fire burning in the fireplace and the wind let it roar. Dylan writes of another song on ‘Oh Mercy’ , the song ‘Disease of Conceit’ that it ‘definitely has gospel overtones’. We not only believe that ‘Where Teardrops Fall’ has the same gospel overtones, in fact it is a downright gospel song. The song may be read as a solemn prayer to God. As we will outline below, lyrically “Where Teardrops Fall” shows quite some resemblance with Dylan’s “Beyond the Horizon” from the album “Modern Times”. These gospel overtones are not only apparent in the lyrics of the song but can also be subconsciously felt in the heartfelt saxophone solo John Hart plays near the end of the song. Dylan writes about this solo in ‘Chronicles’ Volume 1: ‘John Hart, played a sobbing solo that nearly took my breath away. The man was the spitting image of Blind Gary Davis, the singing reverend that I’d known years earlier. What was he doing here? Same guy, same cheeks and chin, fedora, dark glasses. Same build, same height, same long black coat, the works. …..like he’d been raised upright and was watching over things, keeping constant vigilance over what was happening……all of a sudden I know that I’m in the right place., doing the right things at the right time… felt like I had turned a corner and was seeing the sight of a god’s face…..”. Dylan was certainly inspired by Gary Davis, the gospel and blues singer and Dylan covered a few songs from him. Let’s see how we can piece all these things together in a detailed analysis of this song.
Far away where the soft winds blow
Far away from it all
There is a place you go
Where teardrops fall
It seems obvious that by far “far way” the place is meant where God has His residence, far away in heaven.(Psalm 115:3). “Far away” does not mean that God cannot be close by at the same time (Phil. 4:5). It is God’s ultimate purpose to remove this distance and to dwell with man on the new earth to come (Rev. 21:3). Sometimes God reveals himself to man in a soft wind, a gentle breeze, like we find in Genesis 3:8 “When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden”.(NLT). A “Soft wind” is sometimes no more than a low whisper, just like when God revealed himself to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12). This quiet place in heaven is “far away from it all”, it is far away from society’s every day’s bustle and hustle, far away from a world where there is no compassion. “There is a place to go” where there is “Shelter from the Storm”, (Isaiah 25:4 NIV) - a place “where it is always safe and warm”. “There is a place to go” where you are always welcome and this cannot be any other place than in heaven. In his song ‘Highlands’ – which might well be a metaphor for heaven – the poet calls this place the ‘Only place left to go’ and also the place ‘where I’ll be when I get called home’, that is the place where he will go when he dies. Now the poet qualifies this place -heaven- as the place “where teardrops fall”. At first glance, it may seem odd to qualify heaven as a place “where teardrops fall”. Is heaven not the place where tears are not supposed to fall but are instead dried?, because just like Rev. 21: 4 says : ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (NLT). However, before tears can be dried, they must first fall. Heaven welcomes these tears. In his song ‘If you ever go to Houston’ Dylan says: ‘Put my tears in a bottle, screw the top on tight’. Dylan exactly echoes in that line what it says in Psalm 56: 8 “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book”. (NLT). Tears are precious in the eyes of God and worthy to be collected in a bottle and to be remembered into eternity for anyone who finds this bottle on some distant shore and reads the book of God. God sheds tears Himself and Jesus shows these tears. In the shortest verse in the Bible (John 14:35) it says: “Jesus wept”. Jesus wept and shed tears because of the death of his dear friend Lazarus. That is how God, how Jesus is, He is full of compassion and therefore He encourages us to shed our tears with him. Therefore heaven is the perfect place for teardrops to fall.
Far away in the stormy night
Far away and over the wall
You are there in the flickering light
Where teardrops fall
God not only reveals Himself in “soft winds” such as in a gentle breeze -like we saw in the first verse- but also sometimes in a storm, “in a stormy night” just like it says in Job 38:31: “Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm”. (NIV).”Far away in the stormy night, far away over the wall” seems to suggest that to reach the place where God dwells, you should first go through a dark and “stormy night” and you should leap “over the wall”. At the same time – amidst all hardship - you may feel God’s presence, power and guidance very close to you, also “when the storms are raging on the rolling seas”(Make you Feel my love”). Isaiah 25:4 sums up the feeling of the poet: “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall” (NIV).
“You are there in the flickering light” refers to the appearance of the glory of God as expressed in Ezekiel 1:27 “From what appeared to be his waist up, he looked like gleaming amber, flickering like a fire. And from his waist down, he looked like a burning flame, shining with splendour”.(NLT) Although like it says in 1 Tim.6:16 “He (God) alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him” (NLT), nevertheless His appearance -majestic as it is - is not terrifying but comforting because at the same time near Him is the place “where teardrops fall”.
Verse 3 and first bridge.
We banged the drum slowly
And played the fife lowly
You know the song in my heart
In the turning of twilight
In the shadows of moonlight
You can show me a new place to start
The words “We banged the drum slowly, and played the fife lowly” echo an old traditional song called “Streets of Laredo” (or ”Cowboy’s Lament”) written by Duane Eddy and recorded a.o. by Johnny Cash.
Some of the lyrics read: “Then beat the drum slowly, play the Fife lowly, play the dead march as you carry me along”. In this song we are taken to a funeral of a cowboy – who knows he has done wrong- and to the accompanying funeral march. At a funeral march, you may here a slow drumbeat, mostly using a bodhran. A bodhran is said to be a goat-skin drum used in the playing of traditional Irish music. According to Wikipedia a fife is a small, high-pitched, transverse aerophone that is similar to the piccolo. The music at a funeral march is usually played in a minor key, in a slow and simple duple metre, imitating the solemn pace of a funeral procession. The slow beat of the drum and the low tones of the fife conveys the feeling of sadness and mourning caused by the death of a beloved one who is laid to rest. In “Beyond the Horizon” the poet basically expresses the same feeling as we find here: “I lost my true lover, in the dusk, in the dawn I have to recover , get up and go on”.
However, it looks as if the following joyful words “you know the song in my heart” are in contradiction with the sad words “we banged the drum slowly, and played the fife lowly” but things are not what they seem. Though confronted with deep sadness -the loss and death of a beloved - yet the poet finds solace in this joyful and comforting song in his heart, a joy that cannot be erased, not even by death and personal loss. This joyful song cannot be erased in his heart because it is a song that God has given to him to comfort him, a comfort that is stronger than any man can give. As his beloved is laid to rest, he feels his personal mortality, just like he says in his song ‘Til I fell in love with you’: ‘Now I feel like I’m coming to the end of my way, but I know God is my shield and he won’t lead me astray’, this line brightly reflects Psalm 28:7 where it says: “The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving’.(NLT).Likewise, in his song ‘Mississippi’, mourning over paradise lost, cannot prevent the poet from rejoicing: ‘but my heart is not weary, it is light and its free’. The body may die, but the heart, the soul, lives on and on and is immortal. The hope which is drawn from the notion of immortality of the soul makes the poet shout for joy: “you know the song in my heart,” a joy that will never end.
It is “In the turning of twilight and “In the shadows of moonlight”, in the beautiful colours of dawn and dusk that God shows his glory and fidelity over mankind. When night turns into day, and day into night, God reveals himself to be eternally the same, also when times and seasons change. Also, even when “the moon is almost hidden” (Desolation Row) and “the shadows of moonlight” foretell nothing but doom, yet the poet knows that God takes care of him and that he always can come back to God and make a fresh start. It is the reason why he adds: “You can show me a new place to start”. The twilight, the start of a brand-new day symbolizes that -no matter how much you have done wrong - you can always make a new start with God.
I’ve torn my clothes and I’ve drained the cup
Strippin’ away at it all
Thinking of you when the sun comes up
Where teardrops fall
“To tear one’s clothes” is a Biblical expression. Sometimes this expression indicates bewilderment, exasperation and anger, just as in the case of the high priest in Matthew 26:65. Jesus – during his trial - declared Himself to be the Son of God and this is how the high priest responded to this statement: “then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy”. But more often and especially in the Old Testament “To tear one’s clothes” is an expression of deep sadness and mourning. This is how king David reacted when he heard the news that all of his sons were slain by Absalom: “The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn”.( 2 Sam. 13:31NIV). Within the context of the song “I’ve torn my clothes” may be a metaphor to express all the damage he has suffered, all the pain of mourning and regret, all the hardships the poet endured and which still show, presumably because of the loss of some beloved one. Likewise , “I’ve drained the cup” is another metaphor for ultimate suffering. “To drink the cup” is also a Biblical expression expressing preordained suffering e.g. John 18:11 where it says “Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" “To drain the cup” instead of “drink the cup” pictures an intensification of suffering. We find that in Rev. 14:10 where it says: “they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath”. Therefore, when the poet says: “I’ve drained the cup” he intends to say that he has experienced suffering over a long period of time and descended to great depths of suffering. This personal and existential agony is best expressed in Dylan’s song ‘Not Dark Yet’, even to such an extent that he says ‘that behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain’ a pain which afflicts both body and mind to the effect that he says: ‘every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb’. Only a person who has drained the cup of suffering to the bottom is entitled say such things.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary “to strip away something” means “to gradually reduce something important or something that has existed for a long time”. Therefore, within the context of the song, when it says “stripping away at it all” he intends to say that although he has gone through a long period of pain and suffering, he now, as time goes by, has more and more learnt to let things go and to come to terms with the situation he is in. They say that time cures all things and this is what at least to some degree has happened to the poet. But it seems clear the poet would never have come this far if he would not have received help from the powers above, from God. Therefore, the “you” in “thinking of you when the sun comes up” can best be understood as addressed to God. The poet finds great comfort in God’s presence and he is especially aware of this presence “when the sun comes up”. When the poet sees the beautiful colours of the sunrise in the sky, he is reminded of God’s continuous faithfulness, in the same way as when Noah saw the rainbow in the skies as proof of God’s faithfulness to his promises. “Thinking of you”, the “you” being the same God with whom Dylan made a covenant, just like Dylan cryptically hinted at in his 2004 CBS interview: ‘’It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago’’. This contemplation of God fills him with great comfort and consolation because his tears are welcomed at a place “where teardrops fall” and which is also a place where tears will ultimately be dried.
Verse 5 and second bridge.
By rivers of blindness
In love and with kindness
We could hold up a toast if we meet
To the cuttin’ of fences
To sharpen the senses
That linger in the fireball heat
Remember what we wrote in the introductory remarks above about the spiritual presence in the studio of the late Blind Gary Davis, the singing reverend. While recording “Where teardrops fall” it felt as if Blind Gary Davis was there in the studio. Dylan writes in ‘Chronicles’ …..”like he’d been raised upright and was watching over things, keeping constant vigilance over what was happening”. Does this verse express a sub-consciousness longing to meet Blind Gary Davis “at the rivers of blindness” in the hereafter?. The late Gary Davis once wrote a song about the hereafter called "Going' to Sit Down on the Banks of the River". Some of the lyrics of this song read: “I'm gonna sit down on the banks of the river, and I won't be back no more, we're gonna have a good time when we all get there”. Note that in a way this resembles: “By rivers of blindness, in love and with kindness, we could hold up a toast if we meet”.
However, what fits much better we think is, that in the mind of the poet, this verse hints at an encounter between Jesus and the apostle Paul in the hereafter when they “hold up a toast” and look back on their work here on earth. During their first encounter here on earth as described in Acts 9:3-9, the apostle Paul – on his road to Damascus to persecute Christians - was made blind by Jesus for a period of three days. Now they meet again in the hereafter “by rivers of blindness” which is a poetic expression to remind the apostle how it all started with this blindness and how his blindness was healed and Paul subsequently became the elected apostle to spread the gospel of Jesus all over the world. As we learn from Rev. 22:2 a ‘river’ is a symbol for ultimate healing. It is as if at this river Paul is cured from his lifelong thorn in his flesh – a messenger from Satan who harassed him all his life (2 Cor.12:7)-. But now cured from this satanic teaser, Jesus and Paul meet again “in love and with kindness”, which means that they meet in a state of perfect – sinless- mutual love and kindness. Jesus’ and Paul’s work is now finished and they now hold up a toast to celebrate victory. The poet sees it all happening in his mind, that is why it now says: “We could hold up a toast if we meet”. It may sound weird that Jesus would “hold up a toast” when he would meet with his people but it is no so weird when we consider a text like Matt. 26:29 where Jesus says: “Mark my words—I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.”(NLT). By the end of his stay on earth Jesus -for the sake of his followers - subdued his joy in such a way that he voluntarily refrained from drinking the communal wine with his disciples until his work would be finished in his father’s kingdom. But when his work will be finished he will meet again with Paul and all of his brothers and sisters and start the eternal wedding by “holding up a toast” of new wine.
The following words “To the cutting’ of fences” elaborates on this theme. It is as if Paul is still in Jesus’ presence in the hereafter and that Jesus now looks back on his work on earth. It is Paul who – in different words - in Ephesians 2:14 elaborates on this ”cutting of fences”: “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us”(NLT). It was Jesus himself who broke down the wall, who“ cut the fences “of hostility between the Jews and the gentiles, blending all people, all races and sexes, into one peaceful nation and “holding up a toast” in celebration of this unification. But Jesus not only came “To the cutting’ of fences” but subsequently also “to sharpen the senses that linger in the fireball heat”. “To sharpen the senses that linger in the fireball heat” may hint at the descent of the Holy Spirit on all people during the Jewish Pentecost, on Whitsuntide (Acts 2:1-13). To understand what is meant here, it may be useful to take a look at another song where Dylan also alludes to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in his song “Summer Days” Dylan would again refer to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as described in the book of Acts. “Summer Days” says: “Well, I’m leaving in the morning as soon as the dark clouds lift, Yes, I’m leaving in the morning just as soon as the dark clouds lift, gonna break in the roof—set fire to the place as a parting gift”. When it says: I’m leaving as soon as the dark clouds lift”, it seems obvious here that the poet speaks of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven as described in Acts 1:4-11. It alludes to Acts 1:9 where it says: “After saying this, he (Jesus) was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him” (NLT). Jesus had promised that after his Ascension into heaven he would send the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 14:15-17,25) as a “gift”. Acts 2:38 confirms this: “Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ ‘parting gift’.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit usually reveals Himself by means of wind and fire. We read of wind in Act 2:2: “Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting”(NLT). This wind “filled the house”, the windstorm and the fire- so to say -broke through the roof of the house, that’s why “Summer Days” says: “gonna break in the roof”. We read of fire in Acts 2:3. We see the Spirit descend into the house in the shape of “tongues of fire”. Acts 2:3: “then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them”(NLT). This very much corresponds with “set fire to the place as a parting gift”.
In the same way, “fire” in the “fireball heat” in is a poetic allusion to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit- seen at Pentecost as “tongues of fire”- is seen here as a “fireball” that has been rolling all over the world since Pentecost. The “heat” in the fireball represents the zeal of the Holy Spirit to distribute al which Jesus has accomplished to all his followers.
Therefore, when it says “to sharpen the senses” that linger in the fireball heat, the poet may refer to the gift of discernment which the Spirit gives to the believers, just like Paul says in Phil.1:9,10: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent”(RSV). It is the Holy Spirit who sharpens the senses of the believer to discern between right and wrong, good and evil. This gift of discernment “lingers” in the fireball heat. “To linger” may mean that this gift abides in the Holy Spirit and is continuously waiting to be given to all who pray for it.
Roses are red, violets are blue
And time is beginning to crawl
I just might have to come see you
Where teardrops fall
According to Wikipedia "Roses Are Red" can refer to a specific poem, or a class of poems inspired by that poem”. Wikipedia also states that “The origins of the poem may be traced at least as far back as to the following lines written in 1590 by Sir Edmund Spenser from his epic The Faerie Queene (Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6.”, where it says: “In a fresh fountaine, farre from all mens vew, She bath'd her brest, the boyling heat t'allay; She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew, and all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew”. “Roses are red and violets are blue” has appeared in all sorts of nursery rhyme and here in this song it presumably expresses the beauty of these flowers, a beauty for which the poet stands in awe of its creator. It reminds us seeing Dylan meticulously examining a rose on the sleeve of the album “Shot of Love”. Likewise, on that same album, in his masterpiece “Every Grain of Sand” Dylan observes: “I can see the Master’s hand in every leaf that trembles and in every grain of sand”.
“And time is beginning to crawl” means that time is beginning to pass by slowly. When you have good time, time seems to go by very fast. When you are in great pain, times seems to go by very slowly. Dylan expresses both notions in his song ‘Standing in the Doorway’: “Yesterday everything was going too fast, today, it’s moving too slow”. Here, the poet has “drained the cup” of suffering and he just can’t wait to be released and relieved and meet his Saviour and Creator. In “Can’t Wait” the poet is “standing at the gate” of heaven and as if in despair cries out “I don’t know how much longer I can wait” but here it is not so much despair but rather resignation and joyful surrender because he knows that at any minute he can be released and meet God. This notion is expressed in “I just might have to come see you”. These words express both necessity and longing. Necessity on the one hand because as 2 Cor. 5:10 says “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ (RSV)”. And longing on the other hand because the poet is not afraid for this encounter, he longs to see God because it is also the place “Where teardrops fall”. It is the place where mercy prevails.
Voor wie ben je? Israël of de Palestijnen?
In Jozua 5:13,14 (NBV) lezen we: 'Toen Jozua eens in de omgeving van Jericho liep, zag hij plotseling een man tegenover zich met een getrokken zwaard in de hand. Jozua ging op hem af en vroeg: ’Hoor je bij ons of bij de vijand?’. De man antwoordde: ‘Bij geen van beide, ik ben de aanvoerder van het leger van de HEER’.
Bob Dylan heeft in 1962 een lied geschreven met als titel ‘With God on our Side’. Hierin beschrijft hij hoe oorlogen en conflicten een spoor van bloed vergieten door de geschiedenis getrokken hebben. Of het nu de miljoenen Indianen waren die vermoord werden, de vele doden in de Amerikaanse burger oorlog, de miljoenen doden in de eerste en tweede wereld oorlog , iedere natie of bevolkingsgroep was er vast van overtuigd God aan zijn zijde te hebben in die oorlog of in dat conflict. ‘God wil het’ was de strijdkreet van de Kruisvaarders.
Als we nu naar bovenstaande tekst kijken, dan is het merkwaardig dat God door de aanvoerder van het leger van de HEER aan Jozua laat weten dat God in deze oorlog geen partij kiest. Hoe kan dat? Jericho moest toch in opdracht van de HEER op de Kanaänieten veroverd worden, dan kan het toch niet anders of God staat aan de zijde van Israël?
De NBV heeft hier vertaald ‘Bij geen van beide’. In het Hebreeuws staat er maar één woord : ‘Lo’. ‘Lo’ betekent letterlijk: ‘niet’, vaak vertaald met ‘Neen’ (SV). Toch geeft de vertaling van het NBV ‘Bij geen van beide’ de juiste bedoeling weer. Als aanvoerder in dit geval ‘Neen’ of ‘niet’ zegt, dan bedoelt de Engel dat hij geen partij kiest. In feite zegt hij dat God geen partij kiest. Jozua ziet deze oorlog kennelijk als een oorlog van Israël . Een oorlog om de Israëlitische belangen te dienen en dus moet God wel tegen de Kanaänieten zijn. Maar zo simpel ligt dat niet. God laat zich niet achter de wagens van mensen spannen die zo hun eigen bedoelingen hebben. Van eigen oorlogen gruwt God en Hij geeft daarvoor nooit sanctie, ook al ligt er een landbelofte van God zelf. Het is nl. Gods oorlog. En dat niet omdat God oorlog wil want God wil nooit een oorlog voeren zoals mensen een oorlog voeren. De Kanaänieten hebben God nl. de oorlog verklaard. Ze willen hoe dan ook voorkomen dat Israël het beloofde land binnen trekt. En daarachter zit een satanisch plan. Als dat volk vaste voet krijgt in het beloofde land, dan kan uiteindelijk de beloofde Messias komen. Dat willen die volken verhinderen, desnoods over hun lijk. Maar dat kan God niet laten gebeuren, want God wil zijn onuitsprekelijke liefde en barmhartigheid tonen in de Messias en Hij laat -net zoals destijds bij de uittocht uit Egypte - Zijn barmhartigheid niet tegenhouden.
Nu de Messias is gekomen verandert er veel. We leven sindsdien in de tijd dat zwaarden tot ploegscharen zijn omgesmeed. Zo behoort het althans te zijn. We hebben nu zicht op het hemelse Jeruzalem dat uit de hemel neerdaalt op aarde. Alle aardse landclaims op het land van een ander, komen hierdoor te vervallen. Nog méér dan voor de komst van Christus, geldt nu dat ieder volk een ander volk zijn plek op aarde moet gunnen. Dat geldt voor Indianen en Aboriginals, voor Koerden en Turken, voor Israëliërs en Palestijnen. Er bestaat daarom niet meer zoiets als een rechtvaardige oorlog. Zijn we daarmee Pacifist geworden. Weg met alle legers? Een soort ‘gebroken geweertje 2.0’? Nee , dat nu ook weer niet. We leven nl. nog steeds in een gebroken wereld. Agressie, landjepik, terreuraanslagen, ze blijven helaas voorkomen. Tegen agressie en terreur mag je je verdedigen. Sterker nog, een overheid moet zich daartegen verdedigen en zijn burgers beschermen. Het verschil wordt veelal bepaald door de vraag wat jouw land heeft: heeft het een Ministerie van Oorlog of een Ministerie van Defensie? Een Minister van Oorlog of een Minister van Defensie?.
‘Geen van beide’ was toen het antwoord aan Jozua, ondanks de landbelofte. Daarom als je nu vandaag weer die vraag stelt: voor wie ben je? Voor Israël of de Palestijnen?, dan moet weer het antwoord zijn: ‘Voor geen van beide’. We staan nu nl. voor een andere keuze, want Jezus zegt in Luc 11:23: ‘’Wie niet met mij is, is tegen mij”. Wie niet voor Jezus kiest, kiest voor Zijn tegenstander Beëlzebul. Hier moet je wel kiezen. Als dezelfde vraag die aan Jozua gesteld werd: : ’Hoor je bij ons of bij de vijand?’ nu ook vandaag aan ons gesteld wordt, dan moet ons antwoord zijn: “Ik hoor bij Hem, bij Jezus”. En daarmee kies je voor Zijn rijk van vrede.
Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast
I’m drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me.
The beautiful ‘s’ alliteration in the first line is noteworthy. This ‘s’ alliteration in the first line combined with the use of ‘s’ in ‘poison’’, the ‘s’ like sound in ‘future’ and the ‘s’ in ‘past’ turns these first lines into a compact statement which very much expresses an atmosphere of mental alienation. It is the same feeling of alienation which is so emphatically present on the album “Time out of Mind” for which this song was originally composed in 1997. When you hear the words ”Well my ship’s been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast, and I’m drowning in the poison” you can imagine some lonesome pilgrim “going down the (Mississippi) river, down to New Orleans” (Trying to get to Heaven). Well, his ship has been split to splinters and it has sunk and now he is “ wading through the high muddy water with the heat rising in his eyes”. The words from ‘Standing in the Doorway’ echo: I “got no place left to turn, I got nothing left to burn”.
The poet adds: “got no future, got no past”. When the future looks harsh, grim and unpromising, one may say that a person has no future to look forward to. But it is much harder imagining a person with “no past”, no matter how dreadful this past may have been. Every living soul- more or less- has a past. When a person says that he has “no past” he intends to say that does not have past on which he can be proud. However, “got no future, got no past” is usually said of God and if this is intended, it may add a spiritual connotation to this stanza. Only God is said to have no future or past. To have a future or a past is to be temporally contingent. God is said to live in an eternal present. Here one may bring in a Christ like reference. Because, what can be said of God, can be said of Jesus too. He is God too (Phil. 2:6) and like of God the Father, Jesus, the Son of God, has no future or past. If we follow this track this whole stanza may tell us something of what Jesus once experienced. Jesus who – as Dylan hints at in ‘Not Dark Yet’ - had “not even room enough to be anywhere” (Luke 9:58) and was outlawed and bereft of everything. Therefore from a human point of view one may say that Jesus’ “ship has been split to splinters and it’s sinking fast” and, Jesus, constantly harassed by the Pharisees and falsely accused by the Sanhedrin, was “drowning in the poison” all around him.
The words “But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free, I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me” are the first words in the song that -amidst all darkness- strike a positive note. The words may again hint at this lonesome pilgrim, who going down the Mississippi, down to New Orleans, who, amidst all hardships, has a free conscience and feels sympathetic towards all his fellow travellers who endure the same problems on this journey. If you continue following the spiritual train of thought, the words: “But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free, I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me” can also make good spiritual sense. In the revised lyrics of ‘Pay in Blood’ Dylan now says: “My conscience is free, what about you?”. The poet’s free heart, his free conscience, has everything to do with the theme of the song ‘Pay in Blood’. Jesus voluntarily paid with his blood on the poet’s behalf which enabled Jesus to set the poet free and give him a free conscience. Jesus’ lightness and freedom became the poet’s lightness and freedom. Jesus took over his weariness and now the poet’s heart is no longer weary. Moreover, as a result of all this, there is now room in the poet’s heart for others, there is room for affection towards all of his fellow travellers: I’ve got nothing but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me”. Redemption leads to love for all those who are on the same road that leads to a bright future. Redemption leads to a strong brotherhood, to mutual love and affection, just like Dylan wrote in his song “Ain’t Talking”: “All my loyal and much-loved companions, they approve of me and share my code”.
Everybody moving, if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now
In the introductive lines above, we wrote that there is quite a lot of ‘destiny’ in this song. The words “Everybody moving, if they ain’t already there, everybody got to move somewhere” are exemplary for this destiny. This is a phenomenon we often see in Dylan’s work. The camera zooms out and we get a sort of helicopter view. You start to see things from a distance, a sort of heavenly time lapse in which you see all people of all ages move to their ultimate destiny. Likewise the poet says in “Cant Wait” that “ there are people all around, some on their way up, some on their way down”. The words “Everybody moving, if they ain’t already there, everybody got to move somewhere” express this idea of eternal separation we spoke about earlier. We give a few more examples to demonstrate this concept of eternal separation. In his song “Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine”) it says: “Then time will tell just who fell , and who’s been left behind, when you go your way and I go mine”. Or more recently from the song ”Tempest”: ‘’All the lords and ladies, heading for their eternal home”. Dylan sees this process of eternal separation occur as a result of the absolute distance there is between right and wrong. Ultimately the poet sees the Apocalyptic view of “the few who will judge the many” (1 Cor. 6:2) (“Ring them Bells”). “Everybody moving”, that is, some of the living are on their way to this judgement, “if they ain’t already there” that is, some have already died and are awaiting this judgement on the Latter Day. ”Everybody got to move somewhere” may mean that ultimately all will be judged and go to their eternal home. Does this whole process wipe out human moral responsibility?. No it doesn’t. But in the human mind there is always tension between divine predestination and human responsibility. The interaction between predestination and human responsibility is not transparent for the human mind, the human mind simply misses a dimension to see through all this, only God can see through all this. This makes this whole process of pre-destination and human responsibility not less interesting, on the contrary. It may be the reason why the poet goes on to say: “Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow, things should start to get interesting right about now”. It is true, in his song “High Water(for Charley Patton)”, Dylan- dealing with Charles Darwin- has George Lewis say “don’t open up your mind boys to every conceivable point of view”. But here it is as if the poet encourages and begs his fellow companion to open up her mind: “Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow” which means “stick with me”, don’t give up on me, now that things get not only complicated but also very interesting. The stakes are high here. “Things should start to get interesting right about now”, interesting things happen at the very moment when human decision and God’s predestination coincide, when you are on the cross roads of life and big decisions are made which way to go. Once you have made this decision, there is no turning back and the poet begs his companion not to leave him and go in an opposite direction even now when the poet is in a jam. The next verse speaks of the jam the poet is in.
Verse 11 and third bridge.
My clothes are wet, tight on my skin
Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in
I know that fortune is waiting to be kind
So give me your hand and say you’ll be mine.
When it says here: “My clothes are wet, tight on my skin” the metaphor applied in verse 9 of a sinking ship that has been split to splinters, is continued in this verse. The poet metaphorically survived the shipwreck and had to swim for his life. He made it to the shore but now he is wet to the skin. Basically the same idea as expressed in the first bridge of the song is expressed here: “Got nothing for you, I had nothing before, don’t even have anything for myself anymore”, albeit, his soaked clothes are apparently the only thing he has left. “My clothes are wet, tight on my skin” may have something passive in it . In a way destiny brought the ship down and there is nothing he could do to stop it from sinking and the result is that “My clothes are wet, tight on my skin”. But the next line: “Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in” is more active than passive. Personal responsibility for painting himself in a corner cannot be wiped out. “To paint oneself in a corner” is usually understood of a person who has got oneself into a difficulty from which one cannot extricate oneself, or according to Wiktionary it derives “From the idea that a person painting the floor of a room may inadvertently apply the paint everywhere except the corner that the person is standing in, so that to leave the room the person has no choice but to step on the freshly painted floor and damage it”. “Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in” may say something about the human condition. Man’s disobedience led to his downfall and now man is unable to extricate himself from the precarious situation he is in. Man has painted himself in a corner, man is in a jam, and now the only thing that can save him is redemption. Elsewhere (Ain’t Talking) the poet hints at this redemption when he says: “Who says I can’t get heavenly aid”. In other words: heavenly aid is available, no matter what people think. Redemption may enable him to escape from the tight corner the poet has painted himself in. This is good news of which the next two lines testify: “I know that fortune is waiting to be kind, so give me your hand and say you’ll be mine”. Hope shimmers through in these words and the poet feels certain that whatever is in store for him will be materialized. “Fortune” here does not primarily mean “chance” or “good luck” and the way it effects one’s life. It seems to us that here “Fortune” much more stands for “Peace and harmony and the blessings of tranquillity” of Dylan’s song “Moonlight”. “Fortune is waiting to be kind” may mean that this peace, harmony and tranquillity has been in store for him all along and is now waiting to be unpacked. much in the same way as a bride anxiously waits for the arrival of the groom on the day of her wedding.
“I know that fortune is waiting to be kind” may lift your weary heart to contemplate how it will be in heaven, in the same way as Dylan says in “Ain’t Talking”: “It’s bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying ,fame and honour (fortune) never seem to fade, the fire’s gone out but the light is never dying”.
The main characteristic of a really exquisite thing is, that it always invites others to join in. So when the poet adds “give me your hand and say you’ll be mine”, the poet knows that the best is still to come and he invites his lover or companion to join in and to surrender to him. “Give me your hand and say you’ll be mine”, echoes Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure”. In Act 5, Scene 1 Duke Vincentio says:
“If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon’d; and, for your lovely sake,
Give me your hand and say you will be mine”.
A Christ like interpretation of “give me your hand and say you’ll be mine” is also possible. This is a phenomenon not at all unusual in the poetry of Dylan. Dylan’s “Make you feel My Love” is a classic example of this. One may say that in “Make you feel My Love” references to Christ are more explicit. For more details see my analysis of this song elsewhere on this website. Here in this song you have to read references to Christ between the lines and if you do, it can make good sense. Jesus compares his upcoming Kingdom of Heaven often with a treasure, a fortune, (Mat. 13,44-46), an imperishable, undefiled and unfading heritage which is kept in heaven (1 Peter1:4) and is waiting to be unpacked “for all those who sailed with me”. It is as if Jesus says: “I know that fortune is waiting to be kind, surrender to me, we go together through life to our destination, give me your hand ,I will protect and guide you, you are my property and I’m waiting for you to say that you’ll be mine”.
Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way
Only one thing I did wrong
Stayed in Mississippi a day too long
Dylan here follows the style of the Biblical prophets who intersperse promises of future glory and fortune with threats for those who rebel. (compare e.g. Isaiah 66: 18-23 with Isaiah 66:24).Therefore, it is not unusual that promising words like “I know that fortune is waiting to be kind” are immediately followed by gloomy words like “Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay”. The double alliteration in this line is striking and- again like in verse 9- renders this line into a compact statement. “The emptiness is endless” makes you think of an endless, lonesome, desolate and also hostile universe where no living creature can survive. This emptiness is said to be “cold as the clay”. The words “Cold as the clay” may be inspired by a book from Alvin Schwartz called ‘Scary stories to tell in the dark’ . In story eight called ‘Cold as Clay’, a farmer’s daughter put her hand on her lover’s forehead -named Jim - and says: “Why are you cold as clay”. “I hope you are not ill” and she wrapped her handkerchief around his head. Later on, her lover Jim died and was buried. For some reason they opened Jim’s grave and found her handkerchief around his head.
However, it seems more likely that the words “Cold as the clay” refer to a traditional Western cowboy ballad called ‘The Streets of Laredo” also known as the ”Cowboy’s Lament”. This song was also recorded by Johnny Cash. In this ballad a dying cowboy tells his story to a living one. The lyrics start with: “As I walked out on the streets of Laredo - As I walked out on Laredo one day, I spied a poor cowboy wrapped in white linen, wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay” And onwards we read: “The streets of Laredo grew cold as the clay”. Both Alvin Schwartz’s book and the ballad ‘The streets of Laredo ’have this in common that they both deal with death. For that reason, it is possible to interpret the words “the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay” as belonging to a permanent status after death for which there is no turning back. Some people say that hell is a metaphor for a place where God is not present and has withdrawn, resulting in an extremist emptiness and loneliness. One may also say that the words “the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay” represent the polar opposite of words like ‘a place where it’s always safe and warm’ from Dylan’s ‘Shelter from the Storm’.
So, the words “the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay” may speak of an eternal and dreadful status quo after death, however, the promising and reassuring words that follow: “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way” are addressed not to those who are dead but to those who are still among the living. It is possible to interpret the words “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way” in a secular way as words directed to a lover with whom he apparently had a fallen out. Now he is ready to make it up with her and says “you can always come back”. However, whenever you have had a serious break-up, you suffer damage and the scars caused by this break-up remain and still cause pain, even when you have become reconciled. It is the reason why the poet adds: “but you can’t come back all the way”. Here you may find the same mood as in Dylan’s song ‘Never gonna be the Same Again” where it says: “Now, I can’t go back to what was, baby, I can’t unring the bell”. “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way” can also be understood spiritually, in a Christ like way. If so, it is as if Christ says: “You need not end up in this endless emptiness, because as long as you are alive you can always come back to me; I’m always there and ready to forgive you, I paid in blood for you. However, in this life- although I have forgiven you - I cannot wipe out all the consequences of sin done the past and in this sense “you can’t come back all the way”. The words “ you can’t come back all the way” come close to what it says in ‘Not Dark Yet’: “I’ve still got the scars that the sun (or Son) didn’t heal”. Some have argued that the ‘sun’ cannot heal scars, in fact exposure of scars to the sun makes the scars worse, therefore when Dylan writes ‘sun’ here, he must have meant ‘Son’ in the sense of the Son of God, Jesus. When we apply this meaning here it is as if Jesus says: “You can always come back”, I’m ready to take you back and accept you because I have forgiven you, but I cannot take away the scars which sin has caused yet so “you can’t come back all the way”.
Then for the third and last time in the song the refrain follows: “Only one thing I did wrong, stayed in Mississippi a day too long”. We already explored the possible meaning of this refrain above under the first and second refrain, here we wrap things up by outlining the restriction which the refrain offers on the line immediately leading up to each of the three refrains.
The first refrain follows the words: “All my powers of expression and thoughts so sublime, could never do you justice in reason or rhyme”. One could conclude that because the poet stayed in Mississippi a day too long, he has become unable to do justice in reason or rhyme to his creator. Sin- staying on too long – bereft the poet of this capacity to do justice to his Creator.
The second refrain follows the words: “Well I got here following the southern star, I crossed that river just to be where you are”. One may conclude that because the poet stayed in Mississippi a day too long, redemption was necessary to bring relief. And relief came. It happened when the river was “crossed”. Some say that “crossed” may be a covered reference to the cross at Cavalry. We think this is farfetched. On the other hand, one may say that the ultimate goal of redemption is that God will dwell with men, just like Dylan’s favourite Bible book The Revelation of St. John says in Chapter 21:3 “Behold the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people”. God wants to be “just where you are”.
The third refrain follows the words: “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way”.
One may conclude that because the poet stayed in Mississippi a day too long, he constantly needs to come back and is in need of redemption as long as he is here on this earth. However, because he stayed in Mississippi a day too long, he “can’t come back all the way” the consequences of sin cannot be wiped out and as long as you live and the scars remain.
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God is Liefde (5).
Mijn buurman heeft gereageerd op “God is Liefde” (4) en schrijft:
“goed om te lezen dat jij een enorme stap in mijn richting doet. God is in jouw nieuwe verhaal niet meer de "almachtige" maar de "gezaghebbende". Een essentieel verschil wat mij betreft. De mens kan dus zelf bepalen of hij zich onderwerpt aan God en zich door hem laat straffen of dat hij God negeert omdat hij het gezag van God niet erkent”.
Natuurlijk wil ik graag een enorme stap in de richting van mijn buurman maken. God is zeker dé Gezaghebbende. En Hij heeft recht op dat gezag, op die lof en aanbidding. Maar ik heb daarmee beslist niet willen zeggen dat Hij niet tegelijkertijd ook dé “Almachtige” zou zijn. Integendeel. Zijn Liefde wordt voortgestuwd door Zijn Almacht. Hij wil- ondanks alle tegenstand - Zijn genade en barmhartigheid, liefde en rechtvaardigheid doorzetten en er is niets of niemand die Hem daarin kan tegenhouden. Zijn liefde zal de eindoverwinning op het kwade gaan behalen. Maar dat proces heeft Zijn tijd nodig.
En dan komt het woord “geduld” om de hoek kijken.
“Geduld” is een eigenschap die uit Gods liefde voortkomt. Hartstocht wil alles ogenblikkelijk, maar echte liefde kan wachten op het juiste moment. God laat het kwade in deze wereld nog toe omdat Hij geduld heeft. Die tijd gebruikt Hij om nog veel mensen naar zich toe te trekken. Maar er komt zeker een keer een einde aan.
Een eigenschap van de ware liefde is ook dat die liefde niet wil dwingen. Gods liefde nodigt uit maar dwingt nooit. Dus heeft mijn buurman in zekere zin gelijk wanneer hij boven stelt dat de mens zelf kan bepalen of hij zich al dan niet aan God onderwerpt of Zijn gezag al dan niet aanvaardt. God grijpt (nog) niet in, ook als mensen tegen Hem kiezen. Echte liefde is dus een keuze. God treedt in zekere zin terug om ons deze keuze te laten maken. De vraag is: Geef ik mij over aan Zijn liefde of niet?. Aanvaard ik Zijn liefdes aanbod of niet?. En iedereen die Zijn liefdesaanbod aanvaard zal tot de ontdekking komen dat God in deze liefdesrelatie altijd de eerste is. Het is Zijn initiatief. En dat is genade. Daarvan leven we. Daarvan leven we eeuwig. Van genade.
God is Liefde (4).
In “God is Liefde (3)”heb ik gezegd dat mijn buurman nog meer pijlen op zijn boog heeft. Ik citeer wat hij nog meer te zeggen heeft:
“Verder heb ik gezegd dat het mij zou tegenvallen als de God die jij beschrijft bestaat o.a. omdat het leven dan zinloos is en op zijn hoogst leidt tot een bestaan in dienst van een despoot die alleen mensen onder zich duldt en niet naast hem. "Ik deel alles met je maar het is en blijft van mij" is niet wat ik onder delen versta en voor mij zeker geen liefde. "Je mag gratis in mijn huis wonen en alles in dit huis vrij gebruiken als je maar, uit vrije wil, doet wat ik zeg en mij als absolute macht boven je duldt", neigt voor mij eerder naar slavernij dan naar liefde”.
De buurman heeft vet gedrukt “die jij beschrijft”. Als ik inderdaad een eigen beschrijving van God heb gegeven dan heeft mijn buurman gelijk. Dan zou ik een beeld van God neerzetten wat niet in overeenstemming is met wat God over Zichzelf zegt in de Bijbel. Maar klopt dit wel?
Ik heb juist willen benadrukken dat God de mens onvoorwaardelijk lief heeft. God is liefde en daarom doet Hij alles uit liefde en kan en wil Hij niets anders dan lief hebben. God heeft die mens aan het begin – in de Hof van Eden – alles gegeven wat hij nodig had om heel de schepping te ontplooien en tot bloei te brengen. Om langs een evolutionaire weg alles te ontdekken wat er te ontdekken valt. De mens kreeg daarin de vrije hand. Maar het geheel krijgt alleen gestalte in een band van liefde en trouw aan zijn Schepper, kortom in een liefdesrelatie met zijn Schepper. En binnen die wederzijdse liefdes relatie past het de mens God te eren als zijn Schepper. Schepper en schepsel vloeien namelijk nooit in elkaar over. En zolang de mens God bleef lief hebben was de verhouding tussen Schepper en schepsel ook geen enkel probleem. integendeel, het deed de mens juist goed om God te eren, te danken en te prijzen voor zoveel liefde.
Als ik naar het bovenstaande citaat van mijn buurman bekijk, dan zie ik dat mijn buurman een gezagsprobleem ziet tussen God en mens; een probleem dat in het begin- toen de mens nog niet in zonde was gevallen - helemaal niet bestond.
Maar de mens viel in zonde en met hem zijn nl. allemaal gevallen mensen en dat geldt zowel voor mijzelf als mijn buurman. Het gevolg hiervan is dat als iemand anders gezag over ons uitoefent, wij de neiging hebben om vanuit onszelf dit ‘gezag’ als iets negatiefs zijn te zien, iemand speelt de baas over jou, jij moet er onderdoor en die ander gehoorzamen. Jij, vanuit jouw kant, probeert zoveel mogelijk onder dat gezag uit te komen.
Toch is dat niet het wezenlijke van het begrip ‘gezag’ zoals God dat bedoeld heeft. ‘Gezag’ is door onze val in zonden maar al te vaak verworden tot het terroriseren van de ander. Gezag zoals God dat oorspronkelijk bedoeld heeft is van een geheel andere aard. Het wezenlijke van ‘gezag’ zoals de Bijbel dat ziet, bestaat in de eerste plaats nl. uit ‘dienen’. ’Dienen’ betekent: Je stelt uit liefde alles wat je hebt ter beschikking van die ander. Om die ander te redden, te helpen en bij te staan. Jezus is daar het beste voorbeeld van. Omdat Jezus vrijwillig een slavendienst op zich genomen heeft om ons te kunnen redden, heeft God hem de allerhoogste plaats in de kosmos gegeven (Fil.2:8,9). Zijn gezag ontleent Hij aan Zijn ‘dienen’ voor ons.
Ook in het gewone leven hebben mensen ontzag voor een leider die zichzelf heeft opgeofferd voor het welzijn van het volk. En dergelijke leider heeft a.h.w. een natuurlijk gezag, juist omdat hij door alle pijn is heen gegaan die jij nu mee kan maken. Dat zijn de echte leiders. Maar een despoot of dictator die door geweld aan de macht is gekomen en alleen maar gericht is op eigen gewin, roem en glorie, interesseert het welzijn van zijn onderdanen geen snars. Zulk soort despoten en dictators zijn er hier op aarde maar al te veel.
Nu even terug naar bovenstaand citaat van mijn buurman. Mijn buurman zegt met zoveel woorden dat het leven geen zin heeft zolang hij op zijn minst niet gelijkwaardig is aan God, hij wil op gelijke voet met God staan. Wil hij niet zelf als God zijn?. Maar – even aangenomen dat dit mogelijk zou zijn – zou mijn buurman genoegen nemen met een positie naast God? Maar wat is zo’n positie waard als uiteindelijk God beslist?. Moet bij zo’n positie niet de bevoegdheid horen om God te kunnen kritiseren en eventueel de laan uit te sturen?. Heeft het leven dan pas zin? Is dat liefde?
Wat mijn buurman hier beschrijft is precies wat die eerste mens gedaan heeft: de oerzonde om als God te willen zijn. Dat verlangen ligt sindsdien op de bodem van ons aller hart, met alle desastreuze gevolgen van dien. Dat verlangen heeft echter niets met liefde te maken, dat verlangen om als God te zijn heeft juist de ultieme slavernij gebracht.
Ach ,wat verlang ik ernaar om onder de stralen van Zijn glans en luister te blijven, want daar is het veilig en warm. Pas daar is de echte vrijheid. Daarom wil ik niets liever Heer, dan U gehoorzamen.