Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let's Go Fishin'

A friend showed me a Bible study in which he's currently involved, and I noticed the phrase "fisher of men". This is found in Mark 1:14-17:
14Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." 16As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men."
We, not knowing our Tanakh's ("Old Testaments") very well, think that this turn of phrase was a merely a pun played by Jesus as he called these two fishermen to be his disciples.

But those fishermen were very familiar with their Tanakh, and recognized both the pun and the reference Jesus was making.

Hundreds of years earlier, Jeremiah (chapter 16) had prophesied that because the Israelites were not true to YHWH, YHWH would hurl them away from their own country and into another place, and take away their joy and rejoicing and replace it with famine and war and death and disease. But then Jeremiah continues on to say that after a period of punishment, YHWH will gather the scattered back to their home. And in this context he says:
16"Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen," declares YHWH, "and they will fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks.
Jesus, as he passes by the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, is essentially telling them, "It's time to bring Israel back to God; you men are going to be the fishermen who do so."

Jesus may also be making a reference to a prophecy in Amos 4:
1Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, "Bring now, that we may drink!"
2The Lord YHWH has sworn by His holiness,
"Behold, the days are coming upon you
When they will take you away with meat hooks,
And the last of you with fish hooks.
Mark, in his rendition of the story of Jesus, seems to tie this phrase with the imprisonment of John. John had been oppressed and crushed by the elite in Judea who sit around and sip champagne; Jesus is calling these lowly fishers to be the men who use fish hooks to drag such oppressors away.

(Thanks to Brent for the inspiration for this entry.)

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