The Bible informs us that God created the fish of the sea. He created everything and that means every conceivable kind of fish. He created trout, salmon, halibut, cod; He created sharks, octopuses and whales. What God did not create were fishermen—they seem to have developed naturally and somehow a huge number of people love to fish. That is quite a phenomenon and when we see the extent to which people will travel to be able to catch a fish, one wonders if some sort of addiction has occurred.
It is evident that the cost per ounce of fish caught by the average fisherman is far greater than the cost per ounce to buy that same fish in the supermarket. Yet, we call it recreation and even regulations that prevent a person from taking a fish home to cook and eat have not had much of an impact on the number of people who love to fish. Catch and release is the latest regulation for maintaining the fish population and keeping those who love to fish happy.
There is a remarkable connection between God and the art of fishing. He seems to really appreciate and love the sport and those who enjoy it. We live at a time when humans have polluted most of the fresh water rivers and lakes in the world. Given enough time, they would all be polluted. God has foreseen this and made a couple of incredible promises for the future. He promises a river of pure clean water, with “swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows” (see Ezekiel 47:9-10, New Living Translation). Fish will abound in this river and it will not be catch and release.
Knowing Where to Fish
The life of Jesus Christ revolved around fishing in many ways. Many of the disciples God chose were fishermen. Simon, Andrew, James and John are named (Mark 1:16-20).
Luke records the story of three of these men fishing, and Jesus watching from the shore of Lake Gennesaret (Lake Galilee). They had quit fishing for the day because there seemed to be no fish. Jesus asked to be taken out into the water a short distance in order to speak to the throngs of people who had gathered. After Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon (later called Peter) to go out into the deep water and let down his nets. Simon admitted they had fished all day and caught nothing, but did as Jesus asked. The nets were soon so full of fish, they almost broke and the fishermen were amazed at how many fish they had caught (Luke 5:1-10). How would you like an expert like that on board every day?
There is a delightful story about the disciples who returned to the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberius). When those who love to fish get near water, their mind tends to wander—Peter said: “I am going fishing.” They all said, “We are going with you” (John 21:1-3). This is a typical scene among fellows who have an opportunity to put a line or net in the water.
Once they were out and just offshore, Jesus appeared to them for the third time since His resurrection (John 21:14). Not only did He tell them which side of the boat to fish from—but also by the time they realized who He was, He had already caught some fish and was cooking them for breakfast (John 21:9). There was no catch and release regulation here! It is obvious to anyone who loves fishing that Jesus had not only caught the fish, but had cleaned them and prepared them for cooking. He knew how to cook fish! If I had a friend like that who said, “Wanna go fishing?” I would jump at the chance! There must be some connection or reason for all the emphasis on the sport.
Most people who love to fish realize that success depends on a whole lot of things. First of all, there need to be fish to catch, and then you need the right equipment, license and bait. You also need a lot of patience and practice. Little children seem to be able to catch fish with a safety pin for a hook—but not us grown folks. Even when everything is perfect, you need fish with an appetite. I have sat in a boat and watched schools of fish below us—with nary a bite. All fishermen have tasted failure in that way.
Jesus, though, either knew a lot more about fishing than I do or had an edge of some kind. He knew where the fish would be, when to fish, what sort of hook to use and exactly what the fish would look like. He even knew if the fish was carrying anything. Once, Jesus told his disciples to go to the sea, throw a hook in and bring in the first fish that bites. He then said to open the mouth of the fish where they would find a gold coin with which to pay the tax for Himself and for them (Matthew 17:24-27). What a fishing partner He would be. Everyone wanted to go fishing with Jesus. He knew fishing!
God created every fish on earth. From the giant 20-ton, 50-foot-long whale shark to the tiniest colorful tropical beauty—they are all His. Many of the stories of the Bible involve fish. One of the most famous is the story of Jonah when God specially prepared a huge fish to transport the rebellious Jonah to the shores of Turkey so he could get to the city of Nineveh (Jonah 1:17). Job 41 is a whole chapter devoted to describing a huge Leviathan that no one could catch with a hook. This chapter implies that God can do all of those things—even with this big fish.
There are a number of stories in the Bible in which Jesus used fish or fishing for an example. One touching story is that of the crowd of possibly 10,000 people who Jesus fed with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mark 6:34-44, John 6:4-16). A little boy had five barley loaves and two fish (little boys seem to catch fish easily). This must have been quite a little boy if he would offer up all the food he had brought for himself. No doubt Jesus was pleased, because He knew exactly what He was about to do (John 6:6).
A lot of lessons were learned. The generosity of a boy, the need of thousands for physical and spiritual food, faith and trust in Christ and the responsibility God gives to His servants. Twelve baskets of food fragments were gathered after the thousands were fed. The lesson was that they were to believe in Him (John 6:29).
Now back to real fishing. Since God can command fish to be in a certain place at a certain time, to bite a hook, to carry money and men—it does not seem fair that God can be called a fisherman. A real fisherman does not command fish, but baits his hook carefully, tries to find out where the fish are and what they are feeding on, and hopes the fish are hungry. There is an element of doubt involved. Everything is prepared, but the fish are left to decide for themselves which lure they will take—if any.
When Jesus drew His disciples to Himself, He said: “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). There are qualities that a fisherman has which God seems to want in His servants. God knows fishing. That is displayed in Him making His servants fishers of men. God prepares everything just right. He goes to where there are people, attracts them through miracles or teaching, having created a hunger or appetite in humans—so everything is just right—except that God does not program humans to take the bait. He allows them to choose when and if they will bite. That is real fishing!
Jesus explained this in the story about the marriage supper. Everything was made ready on the part of the host, invitations were sent out, but those invited were allowed to decline (Matthew 22:2-5). Others were then invited, but always allowed to say “yes” or “no.” God has determined not to force humans into conversion. He wants willing followers (Matthew 11:28-30) because what He offers is priceless and precious.
God is indeed a great fisherman. Perhaps when we stand on the banks of the river Ezekiel wrote about, Christ will be there—hoping the fish may bite!
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