What It Means to Be Fishers of Men


Last week we read the portion of the Torah that described the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. God proclaimed from the top of the Mountain the ten commandments and Moses brought the two stone tablets with the commandments of God etched on the stone tablets. It was a dramatic moment in the history of Israel, and I might say, of the whole world and civilization.

But, in case someone thinks that these 10 commandments are sufficient in order to administer and govern a nation that numbered probably around one million people, not just simple people. The Israelites and the Mixed Multitude that joined them on the way out of Egypt need more than 10 commandments to be properly governed.

The Torah portion that is going to be read in the synagogues on January 29th, 2022, is Mishpatim (“judgements, precepts”) from Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. From the prophets the reading will be from Jeremiah 33:25-26 and 34:8-22.

The Ten Commandments are short and cover much ground, they were given to the whole nation on the same occasion, and although they are the most concise code of law, they cover most of the main diverse and moral challenges of a human being. However, to administer a nation, a people, it takes a much more detailed and elaborate code of law that addresses such issues as dealing with slaves that you employ in your household, or with a neighbor’s ox that fell into a pit, or with two men fighting in a public place and one of them puts out the eye of the other, or hits a pregnant woman and she loses her baby, or someone has taken land and appropriated this land for himself and was preparing to build a house on that land.

In other words, Moses is adding to the skeleton of the Ten Commandments, flesh and sinew. Mishpatim is an extremely important Torah Portion, and there are several issues that are addressed in this reading that also occupy the mind of Yeshua and His teaching. When one studies the New Testament writings one of the most interesting and important things that he must do is look from where the New Testament writers took their ideas.

If the student of the Bible does not look for the sources and the cross references it would be hard to understand the texts of the New Testament. In our modern world many of the English Bible translations have the Old Testament references included in the central columns or in a foot note. This makes it easy. Let me give you a few examples of how we can understand the teaching of Yeshua that we must turn the other cheek when someone strikes us in the face. And why we should do it?

If you hear famous pastors of the present and the past preach on this text you will get a Greek salad with Bulgarian cheese. However, if you know that Yeshua is actually quoting from the book of Lamentations and the context of the Lamentations of Jeremiah paints the situation, you will have a much better opportunity to know the what and where and how and why Yeshua is commanding the disciples to turn their face in front of their assailant and not cower and allow him to strike you a second time.

Here is the quotation from the book of Jeremiah’s Lamentations:

“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly. For the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear The yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, Because God has laid it on him; Let him put his mouth in the dust—There may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, And be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies.” – Lamentations 3:26-31 [NKJV]

When you see the general context of this statement and you transpose the situation in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah and look at the situation of the nation of Israel under Roman occupation, and knowing the Roman law called “Angaria”, you will understand much better what was the circumstance in which Yeshua was giving this instruction to His disciples.

The same thing is true with the statement of Yeshua: “I will make you fishers of men!”

Here too Yeshua is actually quoting and teaching a very important lesson to his disciples, and the lesson, to put it in short is, you have to be like our forefathers, Abraham, and Isaac… who were the greatest evangelists in the Bible! You might say where do you get this from, dear Joseph? Here it is!

I will share with you where I get this from. You notice from Lamentations that turning the other cheek is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary it was a sign of defiance and strength. This is a kind of action that would happen in a public place, maybe the marketplace, and the one who strikes your face in such a context actually puts himself and whomever he represents, to shame and reproach.

The other example that I wanted to use as a demonstration is the statement of Yeshua in Matthew 4:19 and in Mark 1:17,

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”

Yeshua didn’t invent this statement and if we leave this statement at face value as many Christians have it is a terrible statement encouraging a terrible practice that implies entrapment and hunting and tricking and batting people into the community of faith.

In Israel we have had many missionaries that have done exactly this kind of “mission work” and have forever blackened the name “missionaries” in the Jewish community worldwide. Where did Yeshua get this idea and what is the meaning of this idea throughout the Bible? Yes, this idea does not originate from Yeshua. It originates in the book of Genesis from the statement of Jacob to Joseph and his sons.

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:16 [NKJV]

What is Jacob talking about? In English, Jacob says to Joseph that his fathers, i.e., Abraham and Isaac, shall grow into a multitude in the midst of the Earth, and that he, Jacob is blessing that Ephraim and Menashe, will also be like Abraham and Isaac, and grow into a multitude.

The translators understood the general meaning of Jacob’s statement. The boys, Ephraim and Menashe would grow like Abraham and Isaac!

This is the literal translation from the Hebrew to English:

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm – Bless the boys! In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they be fishing much upon the Earth.”

The Greek Septuagint translated the Hebrew, “ve-yidgu”, a unique verb apparently formed from “dag”, “fish,” as a symbol of proliferation and multiplicity (see Numbers 11:22) as “teeming multitudes.”

Now where did Jacob get this idea that Abraham and Isaac were such great evangelists and multiplied upon the Earth? Jacob got if from the text of Genesis 12:5,

“And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan…” – Genesis 12:5

The Hebrew word for “the people they had acquired” or “acquiring people” (in Hebrew “acquiring people”, “la’asot nefashot”, is a synonym for evangelizing) – what do we know about the people who are described here as “people acquired in Haran?”

“When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” – Genesis 14:14

These 318 soldier-age men who were a part of Abraham’s camp, where the people (souls) Abraham acquired in Haran. They came with him from Haran to the land of Canaan.

They were like Abraham, Gentiles, who must have received Abraham’s faith in one God only. A personal God that directed and consulted and heard Abraham’s opinion with respect enough to listen to Abraham and even agree with him.

The English NKJV translated the Hebrew word “hanichav” as “his trained men”, but the word means “disciples.” So, dear brothers, Abraham was an evangelist and he didn’t only believe in one God for his family and household, but he converted at least 318 men, who must have also had wives and probably children. Men who followed Abraham out of the big city of Haran to the boondocks of the land of Canaan, and went to fight against the five kings of the North and recover Lot and his family and the plunder that was taken by these kings.

Yeshua read the Torah in Hebrew and not in Greek! He understood that Abraham and Isaac had converted many people to the knowledge of the One God who created the Heavens and the Earth and all that is in them. He wanted His disciples even from the beginning to be “fishers of men” like Abraham and Isaac!

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.