Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Zebedee-do-dah, Zebedee-ay; Looking at Zebedee Today

Going on from there, when he had gone a little farther, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Without delay, Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat, and their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed Him. Matthew 4:21-22 and Mark 1: 19 (NIV)
I got to thinking about Zebedee. Did you even notice him? Have you ever wondered how he felt?
Put yourself in his shoes, or sandals or just dusty feet. let's say your running a little lobster trolling business. Been doing it all your life and doing okay. You look forward to the time your sons are old enough to join with you. Finally, they do, then one day you're out preparing your bait traps not far off shore and this guy comes walking along. He pauses, looks out toward you for a minute, gestures to your sons and yells, "follow me".  And next thing you know, your boys jump overboard, wade ashore and walk off with the guy, leaving you and your hired crew staring after. Wow, what do you think of that? Were you surprised? Expecting  it someday? Angry? What?
We don't know what Zebedee thought when he was left holding the net, but lets take a look at the man and the situation.
First the man, what can we garner about Zebedee? The two passages combined above, one from Mark and one from Matthew contain all the information we are given about Zeb, except one which we'll get to later.  Other than here, Zebedee is only mentioned a few more times in Scripture and then only as a descriptive to his sons, as in "James and John, the sons of Zebedee". 
The name means "gift of God", from the Greek root zabdi, "my gift". Doesn't tell us much. Many people considered their child a gift from God and gave a name meaning such. Perhaps we can consider he was a gift of God because he produced two Apostles to Christ. perhaps those two sons were his gift to the world.  John means "God is gracious", similar to his father's name and certainly apropos to John's nature. James means "Supplanter", which may indicate that James was the first born son and would someday supplant his father as head of the family.
Well, what other facts can we know about Zebedee besides he had at least two sons, one named James and one named John.  
We know Zebedee was a Galilee fisherman and can infer he did fairly well at the trade. He had a boat and could afford hired men, or servants (having left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants. - Young's Literal Translation). We learn in John 18:15 that his son, John, was acquainted with the High Priest Annas. The context of that passage would indicate John actually knew Annas, not just knew of him. Whether this was because Zebedee lived in the same area as Annas or had a certain standing and prominence we can only speculate, but given the youth of John at the time he was called, it would seem any acquaintanceship with the High Priest would have come through father rather than himself. But this is just speculation again. We'll just stick with the fact Zebedee had the whereforall to have servants.
 Here is that one other thing we know about Zebedee from later verses. Zebedee's wife was named Salome and seems to have been a bit of a status seeker (See Matthew 20).
Zebedee pretty much disappears after this instance. We know at some point his wife began traveling with Jesus along with her sons, so maybe Zebedee died and she was in the son's care. Don't really know, just guessing. We do know Salome was with the other women at the cross when Christ was crucified.  (Matthew 27:55)
That is what we know about the man, but what can we know about his reaction? Was he surprised when his sons left him for that guy on the shore? Was he upset or angry?
 This is strictly my opinion, but I don't think he was surprised or angry. He may have been concerned about what would happen to his sons. In 2003, when our daughter was deployed to Iraq, my wife and I weren't surprised. We were expecting it. She was in the Army, her orders were issued months before that first surprise bomb fell and she landed in Iraq a couple days after. We were very concerned about her welfare.
How do the two situations compare? Think about what was going on before Jesus asked James and John to follow.
There was a fellow named John the Baptist. He was preaching about the coming of the Messiah.  John the Baptist had his own disciples. The day after Jesus had been Baptized, he was standing with two of those disciples and pointed Christ out to them. These two ran after Jesus and spent the day with him. The two were Andrew and John, son of Zebedee.  Then Andrew went and found his brother, Simon Peter, and Jesus also met with him.
John, James, Andrew and Peter were listening to the preaching of john the baptist and then they spent some time with Jesus. I bet they had spent evenings around the dinner table discussing the anticipation of the Messiah coming and what John was saying. Zebedee was probably well aware of his sons interest and not surprised they went off this way. They had probably talked to him about this fellow Jesus and what John the Baptist had said.
When Jesus walked by the boat, with Andrew and Peter with him, and called John and James he was no stranger at all. John and James weren't being impulsive. They had probably anticipated the opportunity, hoped for it, discussed it with their family. It doesn't say Zebedee raised any protest, didn't question their action. Personally I believe he trusted his boys, was probably a bit apprehensive about what might happen to them, but otherwise was at peace with their decision. 
I know that is how I felt about my daughter's decision to join the Army.

Oh, yes, why did I say Salome was a bit of a status seeker.
Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
"What is it you want?" he asked. 
She said, "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom." Matthew 20:20-21

(The photo of the lobstermen checking their traps was taken by Nitewrit in the North Atlantic, 2006.)


  1. Very enlightening exploration, Larry. And yes, I have though before about what Zebedee must have felt, as his sons plunged into the water. It doesn't even say if they asked for his blessing or anything. I would also conclude that he was at peace with the situation (as if he had a choice!). Besides, when Jesus says, "Come," you go! :)

  2. Interesting thoughts. God has ways of preparing us for His service. Related somewhat to this, I have pondered the following bit of scripture:

    John 1
    [47] Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
    [48] Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
    [49] Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.

    What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree? And why did he realize Jesus was the Son of God from these words? Maybe Nathanael had been praying under the tree -- a sincere and fervent prayer perhaps? And Jesus knew just what to say to get his attention.

    No doubt, His recruiting of Zebedee's sons was so timely that they, too, knew immediately what they should do: follow.

  3. Hello larry,

    I also have wondered about this paricular scripture and how ol' Zeb must of felt.

    I am sure from the time Jesus was born and up until the time He started calling to certain men to follow Him and become His disciples there had already been a lot talk about Him and what He was all about. So I am thinking Zeb might of expected something like this to happen one day.

  4. I was just reading in Luke 5:1-11 where it talks about Jesus recruiting Simon and the sons of Zebedee. In this book, Jesus was teaching on the coast with multitudes pressing in on him. The three men were cleaning their nets (along with their partners/helpers, I presume). He asked Simon to move the ship away from the land and continued to teach. So Simon and the others were definitely seeing His fame and hearing His teachings that day before joining him. Next, He performed the miracle in which he told Simon to throw in his nets. Simon replied that they had fished all night and caught nothing but he would do as asked. There were so many fish, that he called the other boat to come help. The boats were so full, they began to sink. This is the big moment, the one where a human truly sees Jesus for Who He is, God. Simon fell down at Jesus' knees and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." That was when Jesus knew he was ready and said not to fear, from then on he would catch men. Apparently, Simon was actually worried. No doubt thinking of all the sins he had committed and feeling the shame and conviction one would feel knowing you have sin and standing in the presence of God. "And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him." This just supports your thoughts even more that they knew much about Jesus prior to following him. And we know Zebedee was there, so he saw probably saw the preaching and miracle with the fishes as well.