The Pursuit"Take heart, your Shepherd is pursuing you and is not very far behind you with a refreshing gift of goodness and love that is ready to overtake you."
Have you ever thought of God as pursuing you, chasing you down or overtaking you? David understood the goodness and mercy (love) as a relentless pursuer in his life. He begins the final verse of Psalm 23 with “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”
The Hebrew word David uses for “follow” is “A’Har” or “RaDap,” meaning a “pursuit which overtakes.” The Complete Jewish Bible translates this portion of the verse this way: “Goodness and grace will pursue me every day of my life…” The Message paraphrases it as “Your beauty and love chase after me.” The Passion translates it as: “For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life. Then afterward, when my life is through, I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!”
Daniel Emery writes that “God’s goodness and mercy are not passively hanging around behind us. They are actively pursuing us. They are chasing us down. Like a lion hunting its prey, so the goodness and mercy of God are hounding us.”
We have a love-hate relationship with being pursued. Children erupt with laughter when they convince their parents to chase them around the house. School children devote hours to robust games of tag in the school yard. Conversely, it can be terrifying to be the target of an unwanted pursuit. I remember vividly the neighborhood dog who escaped his yard and pursued me as my legs were churning the peddles of my 5-speed lime-green bike as fast as I could. I can still hear the sound of the front wheel of the bike when it folded into a pretzel-like shape as I crashed into the back of a parked car. In a fraction of a second, I was launched airborne. The car didn’t move an inch. The crash stunned me and confused the dog. It could have been that I misread the canine’s intentions for the hot pursuit.
We sometimes misread the Lord’s pursuit only to discover that He has good intentions for us. We are very good at running away. The good news is that He is relentless in His pursuit and intends to overtake us.
The Bible contains multiple accounts of individuals who initially ran from God only to eventually be overtaken by His goodness and love.
Jonah, one of the most infamous of biblical runners, was overtaken in the middle of the ocean on a wave-beaten ship. Those who were on the same ship “were terrified when they heard this, for he had already told them he was running away from the Lord” (Jonah 1:10).
The city of Nineveh was overtaken by the goodness and love of the Lord after the reluctant prophet, Jonah, stopped running. “When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying…the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: ‘No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all…everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence.’…When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:6-10).
After Elijah demonstrated God’s miraculous power to the followers of Baal, he ran away and hid himself under a broom tree, where the goodness and love of the Lord caught up with him. “‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.’…Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you’” (1 Kings 19:4-7).
It took 40 years for the Lord to overtake Moses, who had run away from Egypt to the wilderness of Midian. Moses became the embodiment of the Lord’s pursuit of His people who were captives in Egypt. “Then the Lord told him, ‘I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land.’” (Exodus 3:7-8).
Even brave Peter could not get out of the courtyard fast enough when he was recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ trial. After the resurrection, the goodness and forgiveness of the Lord overtakes Peter. Not only that, but Jesus commands Peter to offer the same to others—Jesus’ sheep. “’Simon son of John, do you love me?’ ’Yes, Lord,’ Peter said, ‘you know I love you.’ ‘Then take care of my sheep,’” Jesus said” (John 21:16).
As the great and perfect Shepherd, the Lord pursues His sheep—even those who are reluctant to be overtaken. The Lord’s goodness and mercy pursue us relentlessly and constantly. What a blessing it is for His sheep who decide to stop running and are overtaken. One of the incredible opportunities that we have within The Salvation Army and other Christian ministries is to bear witness to those special moments when the Lord’s goodness and mercy catches up to those who have been on the run for a very long time.
Perhaps you are still running. Take heart, your Shepherd is pursuing you and is not very far behind you with a refreshing gift of goodness and love that is ready to overtake you.