Some General Fish Facts from the Bible:
Last time we looked at boats in the Bible; let’s go beneath the boat this time and look at fish.
- Can you name some different kinds of fish? I will: salmon, walleye, garibaldi, and bluegill. The Bible names none. The Bible names many different kinds of birds (ie., peacock, kite, cormorant, and sparrow) and land animals (ie., coney, fox, dromedary, and deer). But the Bible speaks only of “fish, or a “great fish,” and remarkably no particular kind of fish is distinguished by name.
- God created fish on day five of world history (Gen. 1:21–22).
- No mention is made of fish being gathered into the ark, and so the fish that survived the breaking up of the fountains of the deep were the fish that entered the new world.
- I don’t know how many ministers in our churches entered the ministry after being commercial fishermen, or how many elders are currently fishermen, but as you know, many of the first preachers in the new dispensation, such as Peter, James, and John, were former fishermen. This occupation served them well. Not only are gospel-preachers fishers of men, but being a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee was strenuous, like the work of the church. Fishermen were exposed to all kinds of adverse weather conditions, making them stout and strong. They had to persevere amid trying circumstances and late hours, often toiling long and hard with little or nothing tangible to show for their labors. A wise God was preparing them for the apostleship.
- Fish were always an important part of the diet of the Israelites. In Egypt the Israelites ate fish. We know there were plenty of fish in Egypt because when God brought the plague that turned the Nile River to blood all the fish died (Ex. 7:21). And when Israel came out of Egypt and traveled through the wilderness the people complained, “We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely” (Num. 11:5). After settling in Canaan they ate fish again. The law of God in Leviticus 11:9 declared, “These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters, whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.” Fish have fins and scales. The law forbade the eating of such things as reptiles, amphibians, eels, and rays because if the creature was in the water and did not have scales and fins, it was an abomination (Lev. 11:10). Eating fish for supper was lawful. Although Israel was not the land of ten thousands lakes, and though it bordered a big sea that was dead and fishless, there was to the west the Mediterranean Sea and to the northeast the Sea of Galilee with plenty of fish. Additionally, in the city of Jerusalem there was a gate called the fish gate (2 Chron. 33:14, Neh. 3:3), probably because there was a fish market near that gate. The Israelites ate fish.
The Fish of the Bible:
Can you name any Bible stories that include fish? I will mention 6 main stories.
- Jonah’s Great Fish (Jonah 1) The runaway prophet Jonah boarded a ship and was tossed overboard into the troubled waters of the Mediterranean Sea. He did not drown. Jonah 1:17: “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three day and three nights.” Your worst experience sleeping on the stiffest bed, hardest floor, loudest room, or in the dirtiest hotel or campground could not compare to Jonah’s lodging arrangements for three nights. He lived inside a fish! But it was his salvation. And it was a miracle. Some men have said that the whales that swim around those parts of the Mediterranean Sea into which Jonah was plunged have narrow throats and they could not have swallowed a man. What cavils! Wicked unbelief always denies God. The God of miracles prepared a very big fish to swallow Jonah so he could live inside it.
- Peter’s Money Fish (Matt. 17:24–27) One time some tax collectors asked Peter, “Doesn’t your master Jesus pay the temple tax?” Peter did not want them to think Jesus was a lawbreaking rebel so he said, “Yes, my master Jesus pays taxes.” Later on, Peter went into a house and Jesus pulled him aside, saying, “The king’s children do not have to pay taxes, only strangers. I am God’s Son, I do not have to pay taxes for God’s house.” But the problem was that the tax collectors did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and so they would have thought Jesus was just making excuses to avoid paying taxes. So Jesus told Peter, “Go fishing in the sea with a hook, and the first fish you catch, grab it and look in its mouth and you will find money. Give the money to the tax collectors. It will cover both of us.” So Peter went fishing, caught a fish, opened its mouth and there was a coin. Fishermen can reel in some bizarre catches, but a money fish? Jesus was teaching Peter something: “Alright, I will pay taxes to keep men from slandering me, but I am not obligated to pay taxes because I am God the Son. When the men object and say, “Nonsense! Jesus is not the Son of God,” show them your fish.”
- The Lad’s Two Small Fishes (John 6) On a hillside was once found a crowd of over 5000 hungry people, 1 lad, 5 loaves of bread, 2 small fishes and our miracle-working Savior. Jesus received the lad’s little portion of food and turned it into enough to feed the multitude with leftovers besides.
- The Many Fish of the Great Catch (Luke 5) Once while fishing all night the disciples caught nothing. Each time they eagerly pulled up their nets,the nets were empty. Jesus told them to get back in their boats and let down their nets. They did and they caught so many fish that their nets broke and another boat was needed to carry all the fish. Both boats started sinking before they eventually made it to shore. Yet another fish miracle!
- Jesus’ Broiled Fish (Luke 24:42) After Jesus arose from the dead He came to the 11 disciples in Jerusalem and comforted them by showing them his hands and feet. Then they gave him a piece of broiled fish and honeycomb and he ate it before them. They were fishermen who ate lots of fish, and likely had some left over from their meal. They gave it to the resurrected Lord of glory and he ate it.
- The 153 Fish of the Later Catch (John 21) After Jesus arose from the dead, he went to the Sea of Galilee where Peter and the other disciples were fishing. They were not catching any fish. Jesus told them to cast on the right side of the boat; they did, and caught 153 “great fish.”
Reasons to Praise and Thank our God
- Let’s Praise and Thank him for his Providence. Should you take a trip to your local pet store and look in one of the bigger aquariums, you would likely see more fish swimming in it than you would ever care to count. That is but one How many billions and billions of fish are in the waters of the earth? Schools of fish are almost like galaxies of stars. Who can count them? Who knows each one of them and with his hand can uphold and guide them? Every twitch of the back fin of every little fish is governed by the hand of God. Who is so great as our God in the ordinary workings of his providence! And if by his almighty and everywhere present power he governs and cares for fish, how much more does he not care for us and govern every movement in and around us for our everlasting salvation? We are more precious than fish; we are the Father’s adopted sons and daughters. Let’s praise and thank him for his power that protects us.
- Let’s Praise and Thank him for his Miracles. Almost every fish story in the Bible involves a miracle. To unbelieving man the story of Jonah involves what is seemingly the second most preposterous tale a tongue could tell. Jonah in the belly of the great fish is a story that elicits howls of unbelieving laughter. But we believe God miraculously brought that great fish to swallow Jonah, even as Jesus later miraculously multiplied fish, put a coin in a fish’s mouth, and filled empty fishing nets. Interestingly, the fish-miracles of Jesus surround and thus appear on either side of the greatest miracle he ever performed, a miracle resembling something of the great fish-miracle of the Old Testament, and a miracle that is indeed the most preposterous to unbelief— on the third day Jesus raised his own body out of the heart of the earth. He arose for us and with us so that we are raised with him unto newness of life. If Jesus can do miracles with fish—and he has, then Jesus can do miracles with us. he has. Our faith in him and his miracles is the evidence.
- Let’s Praise and Thank him for his Gospel that Gathered us. We learn from one of the fish-miracles that we are like fish. The gospel, like a big net, goes out to catch all the people of God and bring them into God’s kingdom. Like the 153, each one of the elect is numbered and accounted for. When 153 fish are to be caught, the net will not contain 152 fish. Praise and thank God for the gospel that gathers you to Christ. And pray God’s blessings upon the preaching of the gospel in established congregations and by our missionaries on the mission fields so that the nets are continually filled.
- Let’s Praise and Thank Him for our Daily Bread…even when it’s Fish. I enjoy eating fish, especially fish tacos. Maybe you dislike or even detest fish for food. Has your mother made a meal with fish or even something fishy of late? Did you pull up your nose and grumble? Jesus does not require you to like fish. But Jesus does require you to be thankful to your heavenly Father when he provides you with daily bread, whether it be bread or fish.
*Rev. Huizinga is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed church in Redlands, CA.