The title track from Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, this was penned by Cash a few years before the recording of the album. The idea for the song came from a dream of Cash's where he was in Buckingham Palace and the Queen said to him, "Johnny Cash, you're just like a thorn tree in a whirlwind." Cash decided that the dream was biblical, and found the reference in the Book of Job 38: "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me."
An alternative earlier take can be heard on The Legend of Johnny Cash which omits the spoken word intro and outro.
There are a number of Biblical references in the lyrics. The spoken word intro that opens both the song and the album is taken from Revelation 6: 1-2, which describes John The Apostle's vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, each heralded by one of the "four beasts" first mentioned in Revelation 4:6–9. We then hear several other Revelation references as Cash sings of how the "Man" (God) will one day come to pass judgment.
The song also alludes to the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel of Matthew (25:1–13) with the lyrics "The virgins are all trimming their wicks," a reference to the virgins getting ready for the Second Coming of Christ.
The song has been used many times on different TV shows and films including the opening and closing credits of both the 2003 movie The Hunted and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake.