This song is about faith. Leon Bridges told Uncut: "I've noticed a lot of soul singers of the '50s and '60s used river metaphors. The river in my song is a metaphor for being born again."
The song was inspired by the traditional American spiritual "Down To The River To Pray," which was famously covered by Alison Krauss for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Bridges heard the tune at one of his local open mics. "It just really amazed me," he told Spin. "And it helped me find God in my story."
Leon Bridges explained the background to the song:
"A river has historically been used in gospel music as symbolism for change and redemption. My goal was to write a song about my personal spiritual experience. It was written during a time of real depression in my life and I recall sitting in my garage trying to write a song which reflected this struggle. I felt stuck working multiple jobs to support myself and my mother. I had little hope and couldn't see a road out of my reality. The only thing I could cling to in the midst of all that was my faith in God and my only path towards baptism was by way of the river."
The Miles Jay–directed video was filmed on location in Baltimore. It shows footage from the 2015 Baltimore protests playing in Bridges' motel room. Bridges said:
"When thinking about how to best visually represent this universal battle, I reflected on the depiction of black communities in our media and particular experiences within my own life. This video showcases the unique struggle many black men and women face across this country. However, unlike the captured images which tend to represent only part of the story, I wanted to showcase that through all the injustice, there's real hope in the world.
I want this video to be a message of light. I believe it has the power to change and heal those that are hurting."
When this was used in the February 26, 2017 episode of HBO's Big Little Lies, sufficient interest was generated in the song to return Coming Home to the top 100 of the US album chart.