“There must be some kinda way outta here,”
Said the Joker to the Thief.
“There’s too much confusion.
I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine.
Plowmen dig my earth.
None will level on the line;
Nobody offered his word.”
“No reason to get excited,”
The Thief he kindly spoke.
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that,
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now.
The hour’s getting late.”
All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view,
While all the women came and went;
Barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching,
And the wind began to howl.
Bob Dylan, “Along the Watchtower,”
as covered by Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland
There is a fairly well-known parallel between Dylan’s lyrics and Isaiah 21. I will highlight some of those connections in just a moment. However, my concern is to interpret some of the other meanings this song has for our current time. The “Joker” is the Church, more specifically the prophets of the Church. There is an especially hilarious passage in 1 Kings 18:27 where Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, suggesting that Baal might be urinating or asleep and thus unable to answer their cries. The “Thief” is Yeshu’a; recall that the “Day of the Lord” will come like a “thief in the night.” While in captivity and persecution, though, the people of God, His bride, understand that they have nothing to fear, even amidst the confusion and lack of relief.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
Proverbs 31:25 (ESV)
“I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping their garments on, that they may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
Yeshu’a of Nazareth, in Revelation 16:15 (ESV)
In the light of this interpretation, the Thief is telling the Joker, “Calm down. There are many people in captivity who have lost hope. I have brought you from death into life, and the judgment to come is not for you.” However, how does the Thief end his statement? “Let us not talk falsely, now. The hour’s getting late.” Yeshu’a, the Thief, is telling the Church, the Joker, that the time is near when the Lord’s judgment will be upon His people. Those who have acted justly and loved their neighbor as themselves are shielded from such judgment. Those who have spoken falsely, drunk themselves into a stupor, and toiled day and night without offering even a word of consolation…they will be found naked and be exposed for their shameful deeds.
I would like to offer one more interpretation: the “two riders [who] were approaching.” I subscribe to a decidedly different opinion on the meaning of the events of Revelation. I believe they represent a cycle of the fall of great nations, rather than a literal end of the entire world. A God who could keep the world going is more powerful than a God that would need to destroy the world. “World without end. Amen.” At any rate, my interpretation of the first two riders among “the four horsemen” is this: the white rider is the Holy Spirit, the bringer of peace, piercing the heart of human beings with His arrows; the rider on a red horse is Satan, the bringer of war, misusing the word of God to spread discord and division among the Church.
Notice that the Holy Spirit precedes the coming of Satan, however. Peace comes before war. The Good News comes before the bad. Unfortunately, America (symbolically “Babylon” of our time, the richest nation on the planet) has already received the Gospel one thousand fold. The rider on the red horse has already begun to bring war upon our nation. There is no stopping the pattern of destruction seen over and over again in scripture concerning nations that turn away from the love of God. And with that somewhat discouraging word, I would turn your attention to the passage in Isaiah 21 I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
it comes from the wilderness,
from a terrible land.
A stern vision is told to me;
the traitor betrays,
and the destroyer destroys.
Therefore my loins are filled with anguish;
pangs have seized me,
like the pangs of a woman in labor;
I am bowed down so that I cannot hear;
I am dismayed so that I cannot see.
My heart staggers; horror has appalled me;
the twilight I longed for
has been turned for me into trembling.
They prepare the table,
they spread the rugs,
they eat, they drink.
Arise, O princes;
oil the shield!
For thus the Lord said to me:
“Go, set a watchman;
let him announce what he sees.
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs,
riders on donkeys, riders on camels,
let him listen diligently,
Then he who saw cried out:
“Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord,
continually by day,
and at my post I am stationed
And behold, here come riders,
horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the carved images of her gods
he has shattered to the ground.”
O my threshed and winnowed one,
what I have heard from the Lord of hosts,
the God of Israel, I announce to you.
Isaiah 21:1-10 (ESV)
“Two riders were approaching, and the Wind began to howl.”
Peace, Love, and Understanding, friends.
Image Credit: “The Watchmen” comics, Issue 10