Bob Dylan’s New Christian Themed Album

After releasing his first new material in quite a while with “Murder Most Foul”—a nearly 17 minute track about the assassination of JFK—Dylan subsequently announced a forthcoming full-length release. Now available, the album Rough and Rowdy Ways contains only new material written by him.

The way I interpret the record, Dylan has rekindled his Christian faith. Though there are what seem to be overt lyrics in this regard, there are other more opaque references.

The overt references include these from “Crossing the Rubicon” (for those unaware, this phrase is a metaphor for point of no return):

I feel the Holy Spirit inside
See the light that freedom gives
I believe it’s in the reach of
Every man who lives
Keep as far away as possible
It’s darkest ‘fore the dawn (Oh Lord)
I turned the key, I broke it off
And I crossed the Rubicon

Plus the following from “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”:

If I had the wings of a snow white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

This whole song can be read as the songwriter rededicating his life to Jesus Christ. The lyrics can be found at AZLyrics (The line I hope the gods go easy on me I interpret as I hope men deeming themselves gods go easy on me.) And by scrolling to the bottom of the AZ link, you can find lyrics to the remaining pieces on Rough and Rowdy Ways.

The album finds Dylan pondering his temporal life, his faith, his mortal end, the end of all things generally (which I think he believes is imminent), and immortality.

Starting from the beginning of the album, “I Contain Multitudes” finds the writer admitting he’s a man of contradictions. Aren’t we all, if we’re honest. This sets up two tracks in which Dylan narrates in the first person  as (A) a false prophet (“False Prophet”), though claiming he’s not (I ain’t no false prophet), and (B) as Satan describing how he’ll fashion the antichrist (“My Own Version of You”). While an initial reading of (A) I opened my heart up to the world and the world came in could be autobiographical, when interpreted in view of the whole, Dylan speaking from the perspective of a false prophet makes the best sense.

“My Own Version of You” has appropriately repulsive imagery to match the concealed ugliness of the subject—the yet to be revealed antichrist:

I’ve been visiting morgues and monasteries
Looking for the necessary body parts
Limbs and livers and brains and hearts
I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do
I’m gonna create my own version of you

The following lines make his meaning clearer (see 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; Revelation 13:11-18):

I’ll bring someone to life, someone for real
Someone who feels the way that I feel

That Dylan thinks the false Christ’s time is nigh may be gleaned by this line borrowed from Shakespeare: Well, it must be the winter of my discontent.

The sequencing of the songs appears to be quite on purpose. With the first one admitting his own contradictory nature, the second posing as the false prophet, the third as Satan fashioning the antichrist, the writer seems to be reflecting his own notion that the end times are near. With all this in mind, a rededication to Jesus at this juncture makes sense. Thus, the fourth track is “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”.

The fifth track, “Black Rider”, finds Dylan pondering death itself. At times he’s pushing death away (My heart is at rest, I’d like to keep it that way / I don’t wanna fight, at least not today), other times he’s ready to give in:

Black rider, black rider, tell me when, tell me how
If there ever was a time, then let it be now
Let me go through, open the door
My soul is distressed, my mind is at war

Ah, those contradictions.

After two tracks of what I think are ‘living in the world but not of the world’—“Goodbye Jimmy Reed” and “Mother of Muses”—the songwriter begins “Crossing the Rubicon” with my favorite of the non-overt Christian lyrics:

I crossed the Rubicon on the 14th day
Of the most dangerous month of the year

This is most certainly a reference to Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar—the first day of the Jewish Passover, corresponding to the day Jesus became the Paschal Lamb (Passover Lamb), according to John’s Gospel (and 1 Corinthians 5:7). That is, the day Christ was crucified. I think these lyrics signify Dylan’s (re)dedication to Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean Dylan metaphorically “crossed the Rubicon”—gave his life to Christ—on Good Friday, though it could.

Each verse of this song ends with the words And I crossed the Rubicon. Surely “crossed” here is a double entendre, referring also to accepting the Cross of Christ. This is evident in the lyrics beginning the second verse:

Well, the Rubicon is a red river
Goin’ gently as she flows
Redder than your ruby lips
And the blood that flows from the rose

This “red river” must be the blood of Christ, redder than…the blood that flows from the rose.

The final track (excluding “Murder Most Foul”, which is placed on a disk by itself in the cd release) “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” makes the island a metaphor for the journey to paradise (‘Abraham’s bosom’) —the hereafter. This is my favorite piece both musically and lyrically.

Dylan frames it with US President William McKinley’s assassination. The piece begins:

McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
Doctor said, “McKinley, death is on the wall
‪Say it to me, if you got something to confess”

Then near the end of the song Dylan writes I heard the news, I heard your last request / Fly around, my pretty little Miss. This appears to be Dylan using the president’s wife’s words to her husband at his deathbed, she wishing to go with him, to which he reportedly replied: “We are all going, we are all going. God’s will be done, not ours.” However, perhaps more important to the song here are the accounts that either McKinley or his wife sang the lyrics to the Christian hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

The closing chorus thematically ties it all together:

Key West is the place to be
‪If you’re looking for immortality
‪Stay on the road, follow the highway sign
‪Key West is fine and fair
‪If you lost your mind, you will find it there
‪Key West is on the horizon line

A fitting finale. Make up your mind, make the commitment, cross the Rubicon. Stay the course, follow the Spirit. You’ll reach Key West, immortality. It’s right there on the horizon. At least it’s on Dylan’s horizon.

[See the related Tangled Up in Quasi-Truth.]

Today in the City of David an Eternal Present was Unveiled

Today is the day we celebrate the birth1 of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,2 Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.3

A bit over two millennia ago, the eternal Word4 became the eternal-temporal Theanthrōpos,5 the God-man.6 God loved the world so much that He provided His one, unique Son7 as a sacrifice for us all, by ‘lifting Him up’ on the cross,8 so that everyone who believes in Him would not  perish, but would gain eternal life,9 adopted as God’s children.10 This entrance into eternality begins the very moment of initial belief11 and remains for those enduring until the end.12

This day we should, in reverential awe, commemorate this glorious, eternally present,13 eternal gift.14 We should remember this selfless, sacrificial gift15 every day—but especially today. Those temporal gifts we give and receive—largely in celebrations overshadowing the true meaning of this season, this day—those temporal gifts we exchange, some by compulsion, will perish. But not this gift. This gift, available to all, has already been given—at such cost!16 The Giver of this gift is Himself the Gift,17 Who seemingly perished forevermore after being crucified.18 Yet He rose again!19 And He lives yet still.20

But this gift is more of an exchange—though a very one-sided one at that. To receive the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement21—in which He has already paid the due penalty for all mankind’s sins past, present, and future22—the recipient must repent,23 turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior,24 and then ‘take up one’s cross daily’.25 This means obeying Jesus’ commandments26 and following His path, to the point of physical death, if necessary.27 However, even if following Christ directly results in temporal death (which is an inevitable eventuality whether following Him or not) one receives the much more valuable eternal life. Yet, even more, as part of this exchange one receives God’s indwelling Spirit28—the Holy Spirit, the paraklētos,29 the Spirit of Truth30—in Whom one possesses both the compass to navigate and the strength to endure His pathway.

Yet Jesus’ requirements are not burdensome.31 When the Christ-follower inevitably sins32—and one easily does so when living by one’s own strength rather than by and in the Spirit33—He is quick to forgive the penitent.34

To those who believe in and follow the Messiah, His Resurrection guarantees this eternal present;35 but, it was the conception36 and subsequent birth37 of the Eternal-temporal38 providing the necessary precursor. As Christians, as Christ-followers, let us remember this day for the momentous and joyous occasion it was and is: the arrival of the Gospel in the Gift wrapped in strips of cloth lying in a manger.39 To those with opened eyes He was unveiled.40 To the blind He remained veiled, but to those blind subsequently receiving sight He was revealed.41

Let us not be side-tracked by the temporality of contemporary glitz and glamour. Let us not take this day for granted. Let us take it to heart. Let us take its inherent message to the outer extremities.42 Let us be God’s instruments through which this Gift is unveiled, blind eyes opened.

The world awaits.43

———————-

1 It is very unlikely, though, that December 25 is the actual day Jesus was born.
2 Luke 2:10-11.
3 John 1:41; 4:25.
4 John 1:1.
5 From Theos = God, anthrōpos = man.
6 John 1:14.
7 John 1:14; 3:16.
8 John 3:14 (cf. Numbers 21:8-9); John 12:32-33.
9 John 3:16-17; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 2:4; 1John 4:9-10.
10 John 1:12.
11 John 5:24-25.
12 Matthew 24:13; Revelation 14:12.
13 John 1:1-2; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3.
14 Revelation 13:8; cf. Revelation 17:8. There is ambiguity in the syntax of the Greek in 13:8. Is it that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world (KJV, NIV, e.g.), or is it that certain names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (ESV, NASB, e.g.)? One could harmonize this with the words whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world from 17:8 to resolve this, yet it seems difficult to have a book of life without the Life Giver’s substitutionary atonement (Hebrews 2:17) having been provided first. So maybe both are true? Resolution is not even found in John the Baptizer’s words regarding the “Lamb of God” in John 1:29, for the verb airōn, takes away, is a present active participle, which grammatically indicates durative action, but the temporal reference is unclear. Is it yet-future from the Baptizer’s words, or is John stating that it is already in effect? Tangentially, this verb airō can connote being taken ‘up’ simultaneously with taken away, which can provide a bit of—likely intended—double entendre. In other words, sins are taken up/away as He is taken up/away. This double meaning likely applies—unknowingly by the speakers and in ironical fashion with the benefit of hindsight—in John 19:15 when “the Jews” (hoi Ioudaioi) responded to Pilate’s statement “Here is your king!” with aron aron, staurōson auton, “Take up/away, take up/away; crucify him!” Their command resulted in Him being glorified (John 12:23; 13:31-32; 17:1) and thereby receiving the name above every name (Philippians 2:9-11).
15 Philippians 2:5-8.
16 Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15. Each and every one of us—at and beyond the age of accountability, at the least—has played his/her part in lifting Him up on that cross.
17 John 11:25; 14:6.
18 Matthew 27:48-50; Mark 15:36-37; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30.
19 Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-8[20]; Luke 24:1-49; John 2:19-22; 10:17-18; 20:1-31; 1Corinthians 15:1-4.
20 Revelation 1:18.
21 Hebrews 2:14-18.
22 Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:11-15, 26-28; 10:12, 19-24.
23 Matthew 4:17; Luke 3:8-14; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Romans 2:4.
24 But this cannot be done in one’s own strength; see the words of Jesus in John 6:44: No one is able to come to Me unless the Father, the One Who sent Me, draws him[/her]. See also John 6:65.
25 Matthew 10:38-39; 16:24-26; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23-24; 14:27; John 12:25-26.
26 Matthew 4:17; 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; John 8:31-32; 13:34/15:12; 15:10; James 2:8-11; 1John 5:3.
27 See What did Jesus mean when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me”?
28 John 3:3-8; 14:17; Romans 8:15-17; 1Corinthians 2:12; 3:16; 6:19; 2Corinthians 6:16.
29 John 14:15-16:15; Acts 1:8; 2:1-39; 1John 4:1-6. See also Who is the Holy Spirit?
30 John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1John 4:6; 5:6.
31 Matthew 11:28-30; 1John 5:3.
32 1John 1:8-10.
33 Galatians 5:16-26; 1John 1:6-8.
34 Hebrews 10:22-23; 1John 1:9-2:2.
35 1Corinthians 15:20-23.
36 Luke 1:34-35.
37 Luke 2:1-7.
38 John 1:1, 14.
39 Luke 2:10-12.
40 Luke 2:8-20.
41 John 9:1-41; 2Corinthians 3:14-18.
42 Matthew 28:19-20.
43 John 3:16-21, 31-36; Romans 8:18-27.

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