Fishers of Men
From “Come” to “Go” in 3 1/2 years
Like Moses’ experience as a shepherd, David’s as a commander and Joseph’s as an administrator, the background of these disciples as fishermen can provide them a perspective that will help them for their new task.
5:1–2. Nets would collect things other than edible fish, thus requiring cleaning. Edible fish in the inland “Sea” of Galilee (the Lake of Gennesaret) today include varieties of carp; Josephus says that the lake of Galilee held several kinds of fish.
5:3. The shore of the lake functioned acoustically like an amphitheater; withdrawing a little from the crowd and addressing them from the boat thus would have made Jesus much easier to hear.
5:4–5. Peter’s obedience is exemplary; a fisherman might trust a rabbi’s teaching on religious matters but need not do so in his own field of expertise, fishing. The fishermen had labored with a dragnet at night, which should have caught them many more fish than Jesus’ instructions in 5:5. Sources suggest that fish were more easily caught at night than in the day in the lake of Galilee; they would be sold in the morning.
5:6. Jesus’ multiplication of food and of creatures has Old Testament precedent (e.g., food—Ex 16:13; 2 Kings 4:1–7, 42–44; creatures—Ex 8:6, 17, 24; 10:13).
5:7. Because the overhead cost of equipment was high, fishermen often worked together in cooperatives; families would sometimes work together to increase their profits. Other fishing cooperatives are known from ancient Palestine, so it is not unusual for Simon and Andrew to be in business with the family of Zebedee (5:10). Men working from more than one boat could let down larger nets than those working from only one; fish could then be emptied onto the boat or the nets hauled ashore.
5:8–9. Moses, Gideon and Jeremiah were all overwhelmed by their initial calls; but Peter’s excuse is especially like Isaiah’s (Is 6:5) and fits Luke’s emphasis (Lk 5:20, 30–32).
5:10. “Fishers of people” could allude to two Old Testament texts (Jer 16:16; Hab 1:15), transforming an image of impending judgment into one of rescue from that judgment; but Jesus is probably just transforming their vocation as fishermen, as God made Moses and David “shepherds” of his people.
5:11. Fishermen made a better-than-average income (even if they had had a bad night—5:5), so leaving their job is an act of radical commitment that they would expect to adversely affect them economically.