These and other water animals were brought into existence by God on the fifth creative day. (Ge 1:20-23) Although not authorized to use fish for food until after the Flood, man was from the beginning to have these creatures in subjection. (Ge 1:28; 9:2, 3) But instead of exercising proper dominion over the animals, some men became “empty-headed” in their reasonings and came to venerate the creation. (Ro 1:20-23) For example, the Babylonian Ea, a god of the waters, was depicted as a man covered with a body that was part fish; the Syrian Atargatis was a fish goddess; and in Egypt certain kinds of fish were viewed as sacred and were even mummified. Such fish worship was, of course, prohibited in God’s law to Israel.—De 4:15-18.
It was most appropriate that Jesus Christ, “the Son of man” (Mt 17:22), who was to have even the fish in subjection, on two occasions demonstrated his power by filling the nets of his apostles with miraculous catches of fish. (Ps 8:4-8; Heb 2:5-9; Lu 5:4-7; Joh 21:6) Faced with the paying of the temple tax, Jesus also exercised his dominion when he instructed Peter: “Go to the sea, cast a fishhook, and take the first fish coming up and, when you open its mouth, you will find a stater coin. Take that and give it to them for me and you.”—Mt 17:24-27.
Fish as Food. Fish, a highly nutritious and easily digestible food, evidently was an important item in the diet of the Egyptians as well as of the enslaved Hebrews, for in the wilderness the mixed crowd and the sons of Israel longed for the fish they used to eat in Egypt. (Nu 11:5) The Egyptian economy therefore suffered heavily when the fish in the Nile died as a result of Jehovah’s turning Egypt’s waters into blood.—Ex 7:20, 21.
Fish continued to be an important food to the Israelites once they were established in the Promised Land. One of the gates of Jerusalem was called the “Fish Gate,” suggesting that a fish market was located there or nearby. (2Ch 33:14) In a later period, as mentioned by Nehemiah, the Tyrians sold fish at Jerusalem even on the Sabbath.—Ne 13:16.
Commonly prepared by broiling or salting and drying, fish was often eaten along with bread. Likely the fish used by Jesus in miraculously feeding 5,000 men and later 4,000 men, besides women and children, was dried and salted. (Mt 14:17-21; 15:34-38) After his resurrection Jesus ate some broiled fish to prove to his apostles that they were not seeing a spirit, and on another occasion he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish cooked over a charcoal fire.—Lu 24:36-43; Joh 21:9-12.
Fish of Israel. Fish are plentiful in the inland waters of Palestine, with the exception of the Dead Sea. Among the varieties encountered there are bream, carp, perch, and the unusual mouth-breeding fish such as Chromis simonis. The male of Chromis simonis takes the eggs, about 200 in number, into his mouth, and the young remain there for several weeks after being hatched.
Certain kinds of fish live even in the salt springs near the Dead Sea, but these soon die if placed in water from the sea itself. The reason for this has been ascribed to the presence of a large percentage of magnesium chloride in the Dead Sea. The swift current of the Jordan, particularly at flood stage, sweeps many fish into the Dead Sea, where stupefied fish become food for birds of prey or where their dead bodies are washed up on the shore and eaten by carrion birds. In sharp contrast with this, the prophet Ezekiel, in vision, saw issuing forth from Jehovah’s temple a stream that healed the waters of the Dead Sea, giving rise to a flourishing fishing industry.—Eze 47:1, 8-10.
Clean and Unclean. Although King Solomon’s wisdom embraced the field of natural history, including a knowledge of fish (1Ki 4:33), not once is a specific kind of fish named in the Scriptures. However, the Law did make a distinction between clean and unclean water animals. Only water animals having fins and scales were ceremonially clean for food; this ruled out such creatures as catfish, eels, lampreys, rays, sharks, and the crustacea, many of which live on sewage and decaying matter and often are contaminated by the bacteria that cause typhoid and paratyphoid fevers. (Le 11:9-12) Israelite fishermen therefore had to separate the fine fish from those unsuitable for food, a point highlighted in Jesus’ illustration of the dragnet.—Mt 13:47, 48.
The Fish That Swallowed Jonah. In spite of the fact that the Son of God himself testified to the truthfulness of the account about Jonah’s being swallowed by a “huge fish,” this incident is frequently cited with a view to discrediting the reliability of the Scriptural record. (Mt 12:40) Of course, it should be remembered that the Bible simply states that “Jehovah appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah,” the kind of fish not being named. (Jon 1:17) There definitely are sea creatures capable of swallowing a man, among them being the white shark and the sperm whale.—See Walker’s Mammals of the World, revised by R. Nowak and J. Paradiso, 1983, Vol. II, p. 901; Australian Zoological Handbook, The Fishes of Australia, by G. P. Whitley, Sydney, 1940, Part 1—The Sharks, p. 125.
Figurative Usage. In the Scriptures men are at times likened to fish. The congregator compared men to fish from the standpoint of their “being ensnared at a calamitous time” like fish in a net. (Ec 9:12) Jesus Christ constituted his followers as fishers of men, and he likened righteous persons to fine fish and the wicked to unsuitable fish that are thrown away.—Mr 1:17; Mt 13:47-50; see HUNTING AND FISHING.