One of the most bizarre miracle stories of the Master is the tale of the coin that appears in the fish’s mouth. It begins with the delegates from the Temple authorities coming to Simon Peter and asking if his rabbi pays the annual half-shekel tax.
The tax was based on Exodus 30:13 and paid for the sacrifices offered in the Temple. Simon Peter promptly answers, “Yes.” Later, at home with the Master, he enters into a dialogue about the tax. Yeshua tells Peter to go down to the Sea of Galilee, throw in a line, and snatch out the first fish he catches because it will have a coin in its mouth of sufficient value to pay the half-shekel tax for both the Master and Peter. The whole story can be found in Matthew 17:24-27.
What is going on here? Why the shekel in the fish’s mouth? Yeshua could have just produced a coin from behind Peter’s ear like magicians do today, or perhaps he could have just told him to look in a place one might normally expect to find a lost coin such as under a bed or between the stones of the floor. I believe that the key to understanding this passage is the story of Purim.
We know from Jewish sources that the collection of the half-shekel tax took place in the month of Adar—the month in which we celebrate Purim. That means that the story of Yeshua and the half-shekel tax takes place near the festival of Purim. So why find the coin in a fish? The traditional symbol for the month of Adar is the fish. In Jewish mysticism, the fish represents a concealed reality because the fish swims under the water and is hidden from plain sight. The Purim story is full of concealed realities. For example, the Jewish identity of Esther and Mordecai is hidden from the king and Haman. God himself and his hand at work are concealed throughout the story, so much so that he is not even mentioned in the book. He is certainly working, but it is behind the scenes; he remains incognito, so to speak. In this way the redemption was hidden from plain sight.
Even the half-shekel tax is a picture of redemption. The Torah tells us:
When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. (Exodus 30:12)
The collection of the half-shekel was a “ransom” to prevent a “plague” while conducting a census. Commentators offer various explanations for how the half-shekel ransomed Israel, but regardless of how it worked, the point is that, in some hidden way, the collection of the half-shekel redeems the children of Israel from a plague. Does the coin hidden in the fish’s mouth hint about the hidden redemption of the Purim story?
Perhaps the Master was alluding to something greater yet. The story of the hidden coin and the story of the hidden redemption of Purim is the story of the great redemption that is coming. We long for the Messianic Era to arrive when Messiah will come, redeem us from the troubles of this current age, and establish his kingdom of peace and justice. But for now, the object of that redemption, the Messiah, remains hidden and concealed. He appeared briefly, and then he vanished. We eagerly await his return, but for now, he eludes us, working behind the scenes to bring the final redemption. May this Purim ignite your desire to see the hidden Messiah return to us and bring redemption, not just to Israel alone, but also to all the nations of the earth.