The Grand Human Fishing Expedition

The Grand Human Fishing Expedition

Many of us know the oft repeated statement from Jesus to the first disciples that he would make them “fishers of men,” or maybe better, “fishers of people” (Matt. 4:19; Luke 5:10). Standing alone,  this imagery communicates clearly the task before the disciples, who as fishermen, understood the analogy well. Viewed through the lens of Old Testament prophecies, we will begin to hear aspects of the apostles’ task we may have missed.

A New Exodus

This is not the first time  fishers of people show up in Scripture. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, when announcing Judah’s eviction from the Promise d Land, because of their sin and rebellion against the Lord and one another, declares, “‘But now I will send (apostellō) for many fishermen,’ declares the LORD, ‘and they will catch them’” (Jer. 16:16).

Who are the fishermen for whom God will send? The Babylonians. Who will they catch?  The people of Judah— the only remaining portion of Israel. For what purpose? To fill up their boats and haul them into Babylon… into exile (described more fully in Jer. 16:1-13). The imagery is not nearly so positive as the more familiar Gospel use of the metaphor. They are, however, related to each other. Jeremiah’s imagery pictures hooks in people’s mouths, dragging them into exile or bondage (a reverse exodus).

That vivid, even dark, imagery in Jeremiah was accompanied with a promise. A promise of a new Exodus (deliverance from bondage and into their own community—Israel) that will follow the exile.

“However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 15 but it will be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.” (Jer. 14:15-16)

It was through the “human-fishing-industry” that the remnant of Israel (Judah) was to go into exile. Then, in the Gospels, Jesus sends the apostles (apostolōn) out as fishers of people to bring them out of bondage and into the new Israel, the new community of God’s people. The fishers of people imagery picks up on the exile image from Jeremiah and informs us that Jesus is the new Moses who is leading the new exodus. The people caught by Gospel nets become the new Israel of God.

A New Israel, Jerusalem, Temple

Ezekiel also uses this image of fishing in his description of the new temple. This new temple is at the center of the fully restored Israel. Most scholars agree that the description of this new temple defies the possibility of it being a physical temple in the middle east.

After describing the new temple, we are told about a river that runs out from under its threshold, eventually becoming a vast river running into the Dead Sea and making it alive. So alive, in fact, that everywhere the river flows, everything lives (Eze. 47:9). Standing  on the shore of this river  are fishermen spreading their nets that have been filled with a multitude of every kind of fish (Eze. 47:10). Ezekiel’s vision imagines the day when people of every nation are the “fish” being caught. (comp. Eze. 47:7 with Rev. 22:1-2; also see Eph. 2:19-22).

I trust you can see that, though the metaphor “fishers of people” communicates much standing alone, it communicates so much more when viewed through the lens of the Old Testament prophecies. Have you been caught in the Gospel’s nets? If so, you have been caught and brought into citizenship in Israel (Eph. 2:11-13, 19). Have you now joined in the grand human fishing expedition of the Gospel which brings life everywhere it goes? Join us in that!

 

Photo by Riddhiman Bhowmik on Unsplash

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