‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men’, Mark 1. 17 NKJV
At the time of the creation we read that God gave man the authority to rule over the fish of the sea, Gen. 1. 26. Since then, man has exercised this prerogative by catching fish in various waters throughout the world, and generally exploiting fish stocks for food and profit. The Bible includes references to both fish, Ps. 105. 29; Matt. 7. 10; John 21. 6, and fishermen, Isa. 19. 8; Jer. 16. 16; Luke 5. 2, and the Mediterranean world was richly blessed with abundance of fish stocks, Num. 11. 5; Neh. 13. 16; John 21. 11. The worship of any graven image made in the form of a fish was prohibited under the law, Deut. 4. 18, but Israel could eat any water-creatures provided they had ‘fins’ and ‘scales’, but not other aquatic animals, Lev. 11. 9-12. Some scholars believe that this prohibition was on the basis of health, and that ordinary fish are normally free swimming whereas others tend to be mud-burrowers and so the carriers of possibly lethal parasites. There were fish markets in Jerusalem supplied with fish caught in the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians, 2 Chr. 33. 14, and when Israel became lax in its observance of the Sabbath in the days of Nehemiah, Tyrian fishermen took the opportunity to sell their catches of fish and other wares in Jerusalem, Neh. 13. 16. The fishing of the Lake of Galilee was extensive in the time of our Lord, and fish became part of the staple diet in Galilee, especially for the poorer in that society, Matt. 14. 1. The name of the town Bethsaida, which was located on the west shore of the Lake, literally means ‘Fishtown’. Fishing was mainly done from a boat using a drag-net or seine, Matt. 13. 47-50, but on some occasions by casting nets, John 21. 6-8. It is unsurprising, therefore, that a number of individuals who were involved in these activities were called by our Lord to be part of His band of disciples, Mark 1. 16-20. Although the invitation and promise in Mark chapter 1 verse 17 was originally only made to Simon and Andrew, the mandate is of wider application to all those who become disciples of Christ. It has textual echoes of Jeremiah chapter 16 verses 14 to 16. Instead, however, of God now raising up fishermen who would ‘fish out’ His people Israel from wherever they had been driven, and restore them to their land again, we see Christ calling individuals to fish for men for the Kingdom of God’s sake. Through Christ’s support, disciples become or begin to develop those characteristics that so epitomize fishermen. These may well include courage, endurance, patience and flexibility as they often strove against the elements to harvest their catch. Eventually, they are rewarded through their dedication and perseverance. May we exhibit these traits as we fish in the oceans of men to win souls for Christ, 2 Tim. 4. 5, bearing in mind the promise that we shall reap if we faint not, Gal. 6. 9.