We had cane poles that day, no fancy rods and reels—just throw it in the water and pull it up when the fish bites. And all of a sudden one did. At 11 and with very little experience in the sport, it felt like a monster and I am sure I must have squealed. Suddenly I was surrounded and a hand helped me pull the thing up.
“What is that!?” I asked no one in particular. It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen, about 5 pounds worth of ugly.
A man I didn’t know laughed. “It’s a cowfish,” he said, but actually the profile looked more like a pig’s than a cow’s to me. He advised me to throw it back and I did—the only fish I ever caught.
Fishing is a common theme in the Bible—and I bet you’re thinking of the gospels. But Amos, Jeremiah, Habakkuk all used that metaphor too.
The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks. Amos 4:2
“Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. Jer 16:16
You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever? Hab 1:14-17
The prophets use the metaphor of God’s people being caught by a net or hook and carried into exile. It was a fearsome image, one far removed from the picture we might have of a quiet man meditatively casting his line into a babbling brook. It takes Jesus to turn that scary prophetic metaphor on its ear. Yes, we are “fishers of men,” but whereas the Assyrians and Babylonians made captives of those they caught, Jesus sets us free.
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Rom 8:2. Free from the law, free from sin, free from the lusts of the flesh, free from death. How could we be any freer?
And it doesn’t really matter to him how ugly a fish we are. Unless we struggle in his hands, he won’t throw us back.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32