This is an expression which is rarely heard these days and yet the concept behind it is entirely up-to-date and can prove so reassuring and encouraging to those of us who are followers of the Christ Jesus. Each one of us may well have friends and family members who are drifting from the Lord, making 'shipwreck' of their faith, or whose final destiny is still uncertain. In which case the meaning behind this term can offer very special comfort.
THE ORIGIN OF THE TERM
The term itself has its origins in the well known poem of Francis Thompson, 'The Hound of Heaven', an excerpt of which appears in the Neumann Press Book of Verse 1988...
'As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow
the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.'
But the plural 'Hounds' of Heaven, more familiar within the Christian world of yesteryear, refers to God's 'Goodness' and 'Mercy' taken from the end of Psalm 23...
'Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will
dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'
But as Chad Bird points out most helpfully...
'The goodness and mercy of God do not follow us like a good little puppy dog,
trailing along behind.'
THE MEANING OF THE TERM
This is because the sense behind the original Hebrew, in which the psalm was written, is really quite different. The word translated as 'follow' has a much more robust or vigorous
aspect to it. The divine love and grace of our shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, chases after, or pursues, those who have not yet become one of His followers, or those who have already received Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but have since drifted away.
So this term, 'The Hounds of Heaven' reminds us that God doesn't give up on people quite so readily as we might. And in the same context it's good to remember His commitment to those of us who have begun the journey of faith. Man may give up a work he undertakes, but not God. His understanding and compassion are behind the Scriptural promise that has proved such a reassurance to Believers down through the years...
'...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus.'
THE COMFORT OF THE TERM
And it's so good to remember that God never regrets His promises or falters in His purposes. So may we remember the 'Hounds of Heaven' when we face discouragement, doubt, or are even tempted to despair. Whilst God is on the throne it's never the end of the story! We can trust His 'hounds of heaven' to continue to pursue no matter what.
Finally, it's also been said that...
'Goodness guides our steps... and Mercy takes care of our stumbles'.
And I for one am SO thankful that they do!