This is the second in a two-part series offering a Hebraic view of the miracle of feeding the five thousand.
But what is the connection of fish with Yeshua? To understand that, we must delve into jots and tittles. Yeshua brings these things to our attention:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV, emphasis added)
A common Christian teaching is that “jot” refers to the letter Yod (י), the smallest Hebrew letter, or to Iota (ι), the smallest Greek letter, and that a “tittle” is the smallest stroke of a letter. That is not correct. Jots and tittles are special Hebrew scribal marks intentionally inserted in the text to convey a specific meaning. They are considered part of the scripture, a fact that Yeshua confirms by His statement in Matthew 5. Sadly, Christian translators have ignored these marks for the last two thousand years largely because they have no understanding of what they mean and no way to translate them.
Jots are simply dots placed over a particular word, such as the six dots appearing over the word “kissed” in Genesis 33:4. Those dots are said to represent the teeth of Esau, who, although he seemed to be reconciled with his brother Jacob, really wanted to bite into Jacob’s neck and kill him. That is a prophetic picture of the strife between the descendants of Jacob and Esau down to the present day with the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Tittles are special markings in the text, such as letters made larger or smaller than normal, bolded letters, gaps in the text, and letters drawn in strange ways. One example already mentioned is the enlarged Bet in the first word of the Bible, word beresheet (בְּרֵאשִׁית), which conveys the meaning that God intends to build a house on the earth by taking a wife and having children among mankind.
The tittle that has specific meaning to the story of the five loaves and two fish is the Inverted Nun. Nun (pronounced noon), the Hebrew letter that corresponds with the English N, normally is written like this: נ. The picture Nun presents is a fish getting ready to dart away. Fish tend to surprise us by their presence. Often we do not see them in the water until they jump and splash, or swim away very quickly. This surprise reminds us that there is life out in the water, and for that reason the Nun means not only “fish”, but the quickening of life.
If a normal Nun means life, then an inverted, or backward, Nun must mean something more profound, perhaps even life from the dead. That is one way of interpreting the nine verses in scripture set apart by Inverted Nuns. The special characters work the same way as brackets or parentheses (the Inverted Nun was the origin of brackets). The first two of these distinguished verses are Numbers 10:35-36:
So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said: “Rise up, O Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.” And when it rested, he said: “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35-36 NKJV)
In Hebrew Torah scrolls the text, with emphasis on the Inverted Nuns, appears like this:
Jewish teaching is that these two verses, set apart by these tittles, transform the five books of Moses into the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1). In other words, the wisdom in Numbers 10:35-36 equals the wisdom in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the rest of the book of Numbers. They stand apart, splitting Numbers into three distinct sections which, when added to the other four books of Moses, create the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
What is this great wisdom? When considered from a Messianic perspective, with Yeshua in the center, it is the work of God in redeeming and restoring His creation. Moses gives us a prophecy of Messiah’s resurrection by saying, “Rise up, O Lord! Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.” That is exactly what happened when Yeshua rose from the grave, as Paul explains in his letter to the Colossians:
Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:15 NKJV)
In the next verse, Moses tells us what will happen at the end of this age: “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.” This means that Messiah will come back to bring resurrection to His people, the redeemed of Israel. The testimony of the prophets and the apostles explains that these redeemed and resurrected ones of Israel are those who, by faith, call on the name of the Lord for Salvation (Yeshua means Salvation) and are grafted in to the congregation/assembly/commonwealth/nation/”church” of Israel (see Ephesians 2 and Romans 9-11). Paul provides a summary of this great mystery in I Corinthians 15, particularly in these verses:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. (I Corinthians 15:20-24 NKJV)
This interpretation of the Inverted Nuns of Numbers 10:35-36 coincides with the seven other Inverted Nuns, which appear in Psalm 107:23-28 & 40:
Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea. They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. . . He pours contempt on princes, and causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way; (Psalm 107:23-28, 40 NKJV)
This Psalm brings to mind Jonah, the famous prophet who went down to the sea in a ship. It tells the story of Jonah as he tried to run away from the Lord by sailing to the far country of Tarshish, only to be caught in a massive storm that subsided when the ship’s sailors through Jonah into the sea. The scripture says that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, and three days later was vomited up onto the land. While in this watery grave, Jonah himself composed a psalm:
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly. And he said: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice. For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah 2:1-10 NKJV)
Jonah’s prayer is prophetic, telling us what will happen to Messiah when He is sacrificed to take away our sin and suffers in the depths of hell (Sheol) until His resurrection. This is the “sign of Jonah”, which Yeshua said would be the sign given to prove that He is Messiah (Matthew 12:39-42, 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Through Jonah we have a powerful connection of Messiah Yeshua and His work of atoning death and resurrection to the Inverted Nun, and to the letter Nun itself. This is the Hebraic origin of the fish symbol common in Christianity to this day.
Putting It All Together
With all of these elements in place, we now have a more complete picture of what Yeshua taught by providing a miraculous lunch to his audience:
- The disciples estimated 200 denarii would not be enough to feed the multitude. This tells us that the lesson is about God’s interaction with mankind, and that His provision more than satisfies the need when man’s best efforts prove insufficient.
- The seven elements of food (five loaves and two fish) remind us of the seven “Days” (7,000 years) of God’s plan to redeem and restore His creation.
- The five loaves are the Bread of Life, broken for our sakes and distributed by the servants of God. For five of the seven Days of God’s plan, humans are responsible for distributing this Bread, which is the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).
- The two fish call our attention to the work of Messiah on the Fourth and Seventh Days of God’s plan. Fish, pictured in the Hebrew letter Nun (נ), remind us of life. The Inverted Nuns of the Numbers 10:35-36 and Psalm 107:23-28, 40 speak to the quickening of life and resurrection from the dead promised by God. This is the work of Messiah. On the Fourth Day He died for the sins of the world, rising from the grave three days later, completing the sign of Jonah and scattering His enemies. On the Seventh Day, Messiah will return to impart resurrection to all Israel and establish his Kingdom forever. Only God (Messiah) can do this, and that is why only Yeshua distributed the fish to the multitude.
- The disciples gathered twelve baskets of fragments from the bread. When the Twelve Tribes of Israel are restored, they will bring with them an uncountable multitude into the Kingdom (see Revelation 7, especially verses 9-10).
There is even more to the feeding of the five thousand, and to Yeshua’s many other miracles and parables, which we have yet to understand. For example, Mark records that, “those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark 6:44). Does that mean that even though the whole multitude ate of the bread, not all of them ate of the fish? If they did not eat the fish, what does that signify? Do they start on the journey of life in Messiah, but not finish? Do they have a lesser status in the Kingdom than those who ate the fish from Messiah’s hand? Should we be encouraged or disturbed by this detail?
It will take more prayer and study to answer these questions and the many more questions they will generate. That is the Hebrew way of learning, a joyful and fulfilling method that God’s people have often missed. The Christian approach to scripture reflects the Greek and Latin methods of the Church Fathers, which do not take enough account of the Hebraic methods of Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and Messiah Himself. We miss much knowledge, understanding, and wisdom by ignoring the Hebrew roots of God’s Word because they are too “Jewish”. Yet Jews also miss the full picture, for even though to them are given the oracles of God and much more (Romans 3:1-2, 9:1-5), rabbinical Judaism rejects Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah and therefore does not understand how He fulfilled the work of redemption and will soon fulfill the work of restoration. Thus “blindness in part has happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25), both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of Israel. God promises to address these blind spots so that “all Israel will be saved”. Let us pray for this day and see if perhaps we may hasten its coming.
 Judah, “Jots and Tittles”. The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Inverted Letters”, vol. 8, p. 368, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&keywords=v8+p368&commit=search. For a recent Jewish teaching on the Inverted Nuns, see Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, “The Upside Down Letter Nun”, http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1874450/jewish/The-Upside-Down-Letter-Nun.htm.
 “Church”, is a rendition of the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία; Strongs #G1577), the congregation or assembly of God. Ekklesia corresponds to the Hebrew qahal (קָהַל; Strongs #H6951), a term used throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) to refer to the congregation or assembly of Israel. God’s purpose since the days of Abraham has been to establish a way for all the nations of the earth to be brought into fellowship with Himself through the nation of Israel. From the beginning, the purpose of the nation of Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), the vehicle of salvation for all nations.