The literal definition of repentance is to change direction, to do a 180. From the first words of Kanye West’s newest album “Jesus is King,” listeners can tell that the rapper has taken a definite 180 from his old work. He’s traded cursing and foul imagery for praises to God and biblical references. 

The message of his songs and albums is, as with all works of art, up to the listener. But where exactly does West reference the Bible, and what do those references mean? This article will dive in to some of the verses, hymns and scriptural ideas of “Jesus is King,” without analyzing the message of the songs too much. The following links will give you more information about West’s faith or how his album is being received by Christians. But for now, let’s take a look at the verses and beliefs that inspired these songs. 

Every hour

The opening song of “Jesus is King” doesn’t contain any direct Bible verses, but many of the lyrics seem to echo the Psalms, and call to worship the Lord constantly. 

The chorus extols listeners to “Sing ever hour/every minute/every second/sing each and every millisecond.”

These lines remind listeners of the Psalms of David, where he likewise calls on us to sing constant praise to God:

“I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever” (Psalm 145:1).

“My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long” (Psalm 71:8).

“I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips” (Psalm 34:1). 

To listen to the full song, click here.

Selah

With the second song, Selah, West drops a couple of Bible verses:

John 8:33 - “They answered him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?’”

John 8:36 - “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

In addition to these verses, West references the story of Noah and the flood, found in Genesis 6-8, as well as Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” in Luke 10:27

Rounding out this heavily symbolic song are quite a few musical references. The title of the song itself, Selah, is a word that frequently appears in the Psalms. It means to pause and rest. The singer also quotes the hymn “Amazing Grace” in the line “To whom the son set free is free indeed / He saved a wretch like me.” 

To listen to the full song, click here

Closed on Sunday

It almost wouldn’t be a contemporary Christian album without mention of the famous fast-food chain, Chick-fil-a. But aside from a shout-out to Chick-fil-a lemonade, West includes a few biblical references here as well. 

In the second stanza, West warns his enemies “Now, back up off my family, move your hands / I got my weapons in the spirit’s land / I, Jezebel don’t even stand a chance / Jezebel don’t even stand a chance.” 

In 1 Kings, the Bible introduces Jezebel as the evil, adulterous, murderous wife of King Ahab. She is responsible for the death of several of God’s prophets, the murder of a neighboring leader, and many other atrocities. Ultimately, in 2 Kings, she herself is killed and her body desecrated. 

It’s a dark story to include in a song about fried chicken, but West seems to be warning that no one is safe from God’s wrath, whether it’s the “worst of sinners” like Jezebel, or someone who is casually denying God. Regardless, when looked at through the context of the gospel, it’s a powerful reminder of the magnitude of God’s grace, and a subtle reminder to listeners that no one, even Kanye himself, is beyond the saving power of Christ.

1 Kings 18:4 - “While Jezebel was killing off the LORD’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.” 

2 Kings 9:10 - “As for Jezebel, dogs will devour her on the plot of ground at Jezreel, and no one will bury her.’” 

To listen to the full song, click here.

On God

“On God” hits the ground running with the singer encouraging listeners to “’Accept Him as your Lord and Saviour,’ I replied / Thou shalt love thy neighbor, not divide.”

 The rest of the song is an ode to West’s life before conversion, including a string of successes and defeats. Throughout the song, the lyrics always point back to reliance on God and the singer’s own growth of faith.

“When I thought the Book of Job was a job / The Devil had my soul, I can’t lie” he says. This could either be poking fun at the common mispronunciation of Job, or, given the context of the song and the way West portrays his life before salvation, it could be a reference to the suffering that Job experienced while God was testing his faith. 

The opening command to “love your neighbor as yourself” can be seen in two verses:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). 

To listen to the full song, click here.

Everything We Need

The next song on the album contains only a passing mention of Scripture with the almost comical question:

“What if Eve made apple juice? / You gon' do what Adam do? / Or say, ‘Baby, let's put this back on the tree’ 'cause / We have everything we need.” 

The question is a reference to Genesis 3:6: ”When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”

The question then, posed by the rapper, is what will we do when faced with temptation?

Will we follow Adam’s footsteps and take a bite? Or will we remember that God has promised us everything we need and more, if only we follow Him. 

To listen to the full song, click here

Water

It’s hard to read the lyrics to almost any Christian song and not see connections to the Psalms, some of our first recorded worship songs. But “Water” includes lyrics that almost feel like they were pulled out of David’s notes.

West writes: “The storm may come / But we'll get through it because of Your love / Either way, we crash like water / Your love's water.”

The references to water could be seen both as the waters of baptism, and the flowing grace of God that cleans us of all impurities. 

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).

West’s reference to the storms of life likewise points to Christ’s power, specifically the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41.

To listen to the full song, click here

God Is

Similar to many of the songs listed above, “God Is” doesn’t contain any direct Scripture verses, but there is plenty of imagery and references to biblical themes. 

The intro declares that “God is / My light in darkness, oh / God, God is / He, He is my all and all.” These lines remind the listener of 1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

West also writes that God is “the strength in this race that I run,” a clear reference to both Isaiah 40:31 and Hebrews 12:1:

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Regardless of how long he has been studying the Word, West seems to have a clear understanding of the names of God, as many of them make appearances in his album, including “King of Kings,” “Lord of Lords” and “Yeshua” in a later song. 

 “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).

“Which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15).

One final reference from “God Is” may be closer to a political statement than religious, depending on your interpretation. West proclaims near the end that “Jesus brought a revolution / All the captives are forgiven / Time to break down all the prisons / Every man, every woman.” These lines harken back to Isaiah 61:1, where the prophet says that “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” 

To listen to the full song, click here.

Hands on

“Hands on” seems to be West’s own prediction that this new album would be a hard pill to swallow for many. Given the controversial response by those both within and outside of the church, like this collection of responses from Junkee, it seems he wasn’t too far off the mark. All analysis aside, there is only one major biblical reference in this song – that Christians are “halfway believers / Only halfway read Ephesians.”

The 10th book of the New Testament was one of Paul’s epistles to the church at Ephesus. It, as with most of Paul’s writing, contains instructions for the brand new Christian church on how to act and live in a way that will honor Christ and build up the body. 

West’s claim that we’ve only been reading half of the book may insinuate that Christians are missing Paul’s instruction to be loving and forgiving, remembering the ways they themselves have already been forgiven.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

West may also be suggesting that Christians are not reading the first half of the book, where Paul describes the great mercy that has been poured out on us. In that case, West would suggest we are focusing too heavily on the rules at the end of the book, and not the grace found at the beginning.

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:3-5).

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

To listen to the full song, click here.

Jesus Is Lord

Closing out the album is the shortest song, “Jesus is Lord.” With only three unique lines, West still manages to mix in some biblical connections: 

“Every knee shall bow / Every tongue confess / Jesus is Lord / Jesus is Lord.”

“By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear” (Isaiah 45:23).

“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

“It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God’” (Romans 14:11). 

Regardless of your feelings towards Kanye West, his music, and his newfound faith, it’s undeniable that this album is flooded with biblical connections. What that says for the rapper’s salvation isn’t really up for debate – that’s between him and the Lord. And if he is using his platform to glorify the name of God, who are we to complain? If just one person can be brought to Christ through this album, then praise God! But no matter how you feel about his music, it’s worth remembering that we are called to build each other up:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). 

To listen to the full song, click here.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Hannah Busing


Bethany Pyle is the editor for BibleStudyTools.com and the design editor for Crosscards.com. She has a bachelor’s degree in writing from Christopher Newport University, a background in journalism and a passion for telling good stories.