I have always loved this song, and consider it one of Peter Gabriel’s best ones. It was the last cut on his first solo album after he left Genesis in the mid 1970’s. I believe the song provides the basis for a meaningful meditation on the subject of hope in today’s world. So have a listen to “Here Comes the Flood” and then I will consider the hopeful meaningfulness I find in the song. I find the song extremely complex and filled with rich imagery, which of course makes it difficult to know exactly what Peter Gabriel may have had in mind especially regarding a precise “story line.” But I hope that what I offer will be generally harmonious to what he may have been saying in his wonderfully poignant song.
The first thing to note is the title of the song, especially as it is used within the song itself. In the song Gabriel always sings,
Lord, here comes the flood
I believe that this shows that the song is a meditation upon the significant challenge that disasters such as floods present to us as humans in relation to God. The song thus expresses itself in a similar manner to many the biblical Psalms, to the extent that many Psalms are categorized as Psalms of lament. They often contain the words that are expressed in times of crisis “Lord, why …” or “Lord, how long…” and other similar laments. So now to the narration of this lament.
When the night shows
The signals grow on radios
All the strange things
They come and go, as early warnings
The song begins with the onset of night. The entire song is apocalyptic in nature, but this does not mean that it necessarily deals with the end. The “Day of the Lord” which means a day of judgment, does not only signify the final calendrical “Day of the Lord” but also signifies categorical “Days of the Lord,” that occur throughout history. Thus past nations like Egypt, Babylon, Israel, and Rome have all experienced “the Day of the Lord.” So Gabriel sees that we are entering the night of our time as a civilization. As this night advances, “signals” like invisible radio waves “grow” along with other “strange things” that “come and go.” All these things that grow as night comes serve as “early warnings” of the impending doom that will fall in the dead of the night.
Stranded starfish have no place to hide
Still waiting for the swollen Easter tide
Humanity is thereby warned and liable to the impending disaster. We are as “stranded starfish,” left aground on the shore and thus helplessly vulnerable before the impending flood. Ironically the gracious water of the “swollen Easter tide” has not rescued them from the looming destructive waters of judgment. Gabriel has masterfully painted with simple imagery a perplexing portrait of the nature of life post-Easter. The perplexity is regarding the question of why if redemption has been provided for us through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that we are still subjected to the judgments of God. A simple answer is that only the non-believers are subjected to the judgments of God. The problem with this view is that it does not seem to be the case as believers have been subjected to them. Peter Gabriel does not seem to barely draw a line between “believers” and “unbelievers” at all, but it is interesting that he does see those with an interest in the Easter redemption as subjected to the judgments of God. Some Christian groups, in particular those holding to what is known as “dispensationalism,” believe that believers are not subjected to any judgments of God that could somehow be considered as part of the “Day of the Lord.” I believe that Peter Gabriel, in this regard, is closer to the truth. To continue now with the song, Gabriel sings,
There’s no point in direction we cannot
Even choose a side.
Here Gabriel seems to consider if there are any other solutions to their position of vulnerability to God’s judgment – a “direction” to go. But there is not even a possibility or a “side” to “choose.” This may mean that the night is to far gone to turn back the time. It also seems that the words “choose a side” imply political solutions. I find it quite intriguing that Gabriel could be saying that no political solutions are adequate to hold back the march of our civilization toward judgment. At this point it is important to say that the biblical view of God’s judgment does not preclude the fact that man reaps what he sows and the “judgment of God” is many times in many ways merely reaping the consequences of what we have done. Isaiah 30:12-13 reads,
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
and trust in oppression and perverseness
and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
Of course whether Gabriel is envisioning the consequences of human courses of action, or natural disasters depends on if the flood is literal or metaphorical. Possibly he could be considering either as judgments in some sense, which I believe would be in harmony with the biblical view.
I took the old track
The hollow shoulder, across the waters
This is the only part of the song where there is personal narration, and its significance evades me except insofar as it provides a viewer that observes in more detail the condition of humanity that is the background of the song. This detail begins by showing that as the night had advanced humanity had also become older and were precariously poised on the edge of “the tall cliffs.” The “sons and daughters” could be a reference to humanity as the created offspring of God. (see Acts 17:28-29)
On the tall cliffs
They were getting older, sons and daughters
The next portion of the song shows the details of the works of humanity.
The jaded underworld was riding high
Waves of steel hurled metal at the sky
And as the nail sunk in the cloud, the rain
Was warm and soaked the crowd.
The image of humanity is of an “underworld” engaged in an attack on the heavens. The waves of humanity may allude to a biblical motif of the nations as a raging sea. Another biblical symbol, the prideful tower of Babel whose top reached the heavens, may be alluded to in the waves that “hurled metal at the sky,” although Gabriel’s image seems even more violently hostile toward God. This violence culminates for Gabriel in the “nail sunk in the cloud” which seems to be an allusion to the crucifixion of Christ, a nail sunk in God (the Son) himself. Biblical allusions again seem apparent due to the fact that in the Old Testament the storm clouds are part of God’s theophany of judgment. The rising Babel cities of man that assault the heavens, result in a piercing that soaks humanity with the soaking rains of judgment. Ironically. the water at first feels “warm” before it becomes “the flood” perhaps signifying that we do not recognize the inevitability of judgment on our actions. Gabriel certainly seems to provide a devastatingly scathing view of the pride and works of modern man, and given this critique, it is no wonder that he sees us as ripe for judgment. Gabriel now portrays a vision of judgment that is akin to those found in John’s book of the Revelation?
Lord, here comes the flood
We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
In any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.
What becomes evident is that Gabriel does see an aftermath to “the flood.” The lyrics seem to be saying that there is survival for those that willingly sacrifice themselves. Some gave up their island in the midst of the turbulent flood waters. They were the dreamers that had been “running dry” with spiritual drought and so willingly accepted the invitation and “drank up” the waters of judgment. Here Gabriel finally strikes a note of discord within the race of men. There are two camps, those that perished and those “dreamers,” possibly those with vision beyond their own self-interests that survived and were distinguished by their willingness to sacrifice themselves. They seem to have fulfilled the saying of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Gabriel says that they are “still alive” but it may be that he is seeing them as surviving past death. If that is the case it seems that Gabriel has answered one of the perplexing questions that arose at the outset, namely that though God’s people may be subject to his judgements, they are not finally adversely effected by them. If they willingly accept their own contributions they made in solidarity with humanity and therefore liable to suffer the same earthly consequences, they nevertheless do not perish therein. Moreover, their willingness to sacrifice their self-interest and choose to suffer the judgment of God shows their solidarity in the suffering and resurrection of Jesus. In several places in the New Testament Paul states what he himself experienced, that if we suffer with Christ we will also share in his glory. (See Romans 8:17, 2 Timothy 2:11.) And Peter Gabriel has still not said all he wishes to say.
When the flood calls
You have no home, you have no walls
In the thunder crash
You’re a thousand minds, within a flash
Don’t be afraid to cry at what you see
The actors gone, there’s only you and me
And if we break before the dawn, they’ll
Use up what we used to be.
The flood of judgment that presumably can in some sense be drank willingly, seems by that willingness to be transformed into a force of liberation. It destroys “home” with its protective “walls.” The judging “flood” of God reveals humanity as “a thousand minds” but leaves in it’s wake only humanity as solitary individuals “you and me” since “the actor’s gone.” The judgment purifies humans that tend toward a unified illusory existence based upon their corporate “acting” according to acceptable roles. It strips them down to their real status as individuals reduced from our facade, to our real essence before God. He also says “if we break before the dawn” which I think may signify that we may lose our earthly life, for the time being, before the “dawn” of the return of Christ to earth at the final end which is the new beginning, the “swollen Easter tide” of resurrection life for God’s humanity and for the created world itself. If this is what we undergo, perhaps loosing our life in the “flood,” Gabriel says that “they’ll use up what we used to be.” I am only guessing but this may mean that what we became in our essence through the past Easter redemption, which was then tested and proven through a life met as “dreamers” that willingly drank the cup of suffering given by God to us as he also gave to Christ, then the “footprint’ of life that we leave behind will be “used up” by future generations to come. This very nearly coincides with the saying from the 2nd century Church Father Tertullian that,
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
It seems that Peter Gabriel’s song “Here Comes the Flood” has provided many interesting thoughts in regard to the relation of the hope of the “Easter tide” to the ongoing suffering of humankind under the sovereign control of the transcendent God of Heaven. Gabriel has also provided something of an apologetic of martyrology in the process. Gabriel’s interest in this subject was seen in some of his earlier work with Genesis, notably in the song “The Knife” from 1970, and more thematically in the magnum opus of Genesis. In that work the theme is seen in the title “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” which alludes to Christ as the lamb who lay down on the “broadway” of the human street scene. Toward the end of that work the main character Rael must choose whether to sacrifice himself to save his brother John, and after doing so he finds he has actually saved himself in the process.
In conclusion, “Here Comes the Flood” provides an interesting meditation akin to the Psalmists ancient queries:
“Why Lord, do we suffer,
and have no place to hide,
still waiting for the swollen Easter tide?”
To the reader:
I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!
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So, what say ye…?
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.