The Hound of Heaven (Psalm 139)


Submitted by Andy McIlvain.

Psalm 139

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped…

And so begins “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson, which has been called “the greatest ode in the English language.” The Hound in the poem is the Lord who continually seeks the writer even though the writer keeps running from Him.

To be pursued can be a frightening thing.
Pursuit is felt in different ways.

In the story The Most Dangerous Game, also published as “The Hounds of Zaroff” by Richard Connell, a big-game hunter from New York City falls off a yacht and swims to an abandoned and isolated island in the Caribbean, where he is subsequently hunted by a Russian aristocrat with a pack of Hounds. The story illustrates the fear and uncertainty of being pursued or hunted.

Another form of pursuit is to be pursued in love. The Song of Solomon is a book filled with romantic demonstrations of love between a man and women, the bride and the groom. Romantic pursuit in the context of a pure and committed relationship can enhance that relationship and increase the enjoyment of married love as God intended.

Francis Thompson came from a well-to-do English family who wanted him to become a doctor. Eventually he began living on the streets of London, became destitute and addicted to opium. He eventually died of tuberculosis, but shortly before his death, he wrote this poem in which he confessed that he was not running away from his home or himself, but he was in reality running away from God. Yet God, explained Francis, pursued him; as the Hound of Heaven.

We are all like wandering sheep; bad things distract us, and good things attract us. Even when we lose our way, we have a loving Shepherd ever present to pursue us and show us the way back to his gracious love. We are never out of His sight or out of reach. The Lord looks for us and looks out for us because He loves us unconditionally.

Our God, the Hound of Heaven is always sending us good things and taking care of our needs despite our selfishness and our ignorance and our rebelliousness. God deserves more than our attention; He deserves our affections and focus. He doesn’t just want us to listen to Him. He desires us to know Him. He wants us to pursue him.

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