In the scriptures, the Spirit of God draws our attention to the spiritual value of what might appear, to the human mind, to be purely secondary detail. However, they are the most practical writings given to man, and being so precious, they embrace every aspect of life. Thus, it is profitable to observe the way in which the name of a fisherman of Galilee, Zebedee, is so often linked to two of the three disciples who were closer to the Lord Jesus than the rest of the twelve.
In Matthew chapter 4 verse 21, the Lord Jesus sees ‘James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets’. What is the significance of this detail or even the mention of Zebedee’s name?
Zebedee had been in the craft of his trade including mending nets with his sons. Two generations were labouring together for their livelihood. James and John had probably learnt the ways of fishing from their father from an early age, learning to work for the mutual good of one another. It may be that discipline was being instilled in the lives of these two young men far beyond the trade of fishing, moulding them for usefulness in divine service, as service for God often requires working in harmony with, and for the mutual benefit of others. In their experience, the patient learning and practice of net mending had to come first, and often the seemingly menial tasks of everyday life impact upon the development of the character for serving the greatest of masters. Have we not seen the tragedy of those who, through no fault of their own, have become involved in the Lord’s work and got into difficulties because they have not first proved themselves in the basic responsibilities and disciplines of life, including family commitments? The Lord Jesus fulfilled His family responsibilities and learned the discipline of the carpenter’s trade before He embarked on His public ministry.
Zebedee and his wife were a partnership used by God to prepare their two sons for His service, and they, along with others, would faithfully preach a message that would change the lives and eternal destinies of millions, for His own glory. Zebedee is recorded in all four Gospels as the father of James and John, and his wife is mentioned twice. In Matthew, she is presented in her motherhood. Mark treats her more as an individual who bears the name Salome, and follows the Lord Jesus to the cross, witnessing His sinless life, death, and resurrection. Following Him did not hinder her role as a wife and mother. She faithfully discharged all those responsibilities before God and was privileged to walk with other godly women.
In Matthew chapter 20 verse 20, we read that she came worshipping and desired that her sons sat one on either side of the Lord Jesus in His kingdom. Although she did not realize the gravity of what she was asking, in her heart she had the highest spiritual ambition for her sons. Spiritual ambition for one’s children is no light thing but should prayerfully occupy the mind of every believing parent. A home may never rise above the level of the commitment of the mother. She can be crucial to its longterm welfare both spiritually and practically. Zebedee’s wife is a worthy example.
The second mention of her is seven chapters later. She stands alongside Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and other women, witnessing the events at the cross. On both occasions, she is described as the mother of Zebedee’s children. What great credit is given to this couple! Furthermore, such a description is preserved for eternity, Ps. 119. 89.
Zebedee and his wife are a lovely picture of a married couple whose home was a place where children had been brought up ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’, Eph. 6. 4, where love, mutual support, encouragement, respect, and loyalty were so evident in family life. This God-fearing home was also mirrored in the family business. What a blessed example of a well-ordered home, and well-ordered business under the headship of Zebedee.
Zebedee’s character has lessons for us. Mark’s account of James and John being called to discipleship refers to the fact that he was not left alone in the boat. There were hired servants left with him. The Lord had prospered the enterprise for father, sons, and servants alike, and He had prepared for James and John to become ‘fishers of men’, Mark 1. 17, without harming the livelihood of others, 1 Sam. 2. 30. Scripture reveals no words spoken by Zebedee which shows, along with his wife, a heart prepared to let God have His way. He saw his sons go in the service of God without a murmur.
How fitting that his name is derived from a Hebrew word which means ‘giving’. Zebedee the fisherman and his good wife are an encouragement, and an example to all believing parents that a home where His name is honoured will have far-reaching consequences right into eternity.
A final word - the learning, the working together, and the mending of nets in the boat came first. Then James and John were fitted to be taken by the Lord Jesus Himself up onto the Mount of Transfiguration, into the bedchamber of Jairus’ daughter, and further than all others into the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His crucifixion. How close they, and fellow fisherman Peter, walked with the Lord Jesus! No wonder they were so mightily used for the glory of God. Zebedee and his wife must have rejoiced to see their sons whom they had loved and raised go forward in divine service for the glory of God.