The following is a narrative of the boatman, Arie Blaak, a fisherman from Tholen, the Netherlands. He learned to know his dependency upon the Lord and came to the blessed discovery and knowledge that the God of Elijah lives.

 

The water mounted to his lips! –

 

A fishing boat is sailing from Tholen (an island of the province of Zeeland, Holland) through the canal of South Beveland. The skipper, Arie Blaak, and his nephew, Martin Blaak, are the only ones on board. With a firm hand the sturdy skipper directs his boat into the locks by Hansweert. Beyond these locks lies the wide Wester Scheldt with its dangerous sandbars and deep channels. Many a ship has made acquaintance with these sandbars. In a terrible tempest many people have lost their life in this mighty arm of the sea, which connects Antwerp with the North Sea.

It is a sunny day, and the fishermen do not have to worry in this respect and are of good cheer. While going through the locks the fishermen converse with each other, but as soon as they leave the locks they hasten to obtain the best place on the Wester Scheldt.

Skipper Blaak is one of the last ones to leave the locks with his little boat. By the time he arrives at the fishing area the others have already begun to set out their nets. He can scarcely obtain a place.

‘Drop anchor, Martin!’

Obediently Martin lets the anchor sink. The boat now lies right next to a large sandbar. (These sandbars were exposed during low tide. During this period the nets were attached to sticks on the sandbars, and were later emptied of their catch when the high tide would go down.) Martin comes with his arms full of sticks, which he puts down near the nets.

‘We must make headway, Martin, otherwise we shall not have the nets out on time. The tide is coming in already’.

‘There! Now you had better go on board again, Martin, and prepare our lunch. Remember, my boy, do not fall asleep … you know that I cannot swim!’

The skipper begins to set out his nets on the sandbars. First he places the sticks, and then he stretches the nets between them. It does not take very long before he is standing in water up to his knees. The water is rising rapidly.

‘There, now …. that is done!’ he gasps. ‘We will now wait and see if the fish will come’.

Skipper Blaak stands erect and sees his boat lying at a distance. As quickly as possible he wades towards it, because it will not last very much longer before the water will rise above his high boots. A few moments later he arrives by the stick which is at the edge of the sandbar.

But what is this?

The boat has been driven about ten yards away from the sandbar. Between the sandbar and his boat the water is very deep, and he cannot swim. The skipper cups his hands about his mouth and calls: ‘Martin, I am here again!’

No answer …

‘Martin!’

Martin gives no word or sign.

The water is rising. His boots have already become wet inside. Then skipper Blaak realizes the danger in which he finds himself.

‘Help! …. Help! …. Martin!’

He calls and shouts, but no one hears him.

The minutes pass on, and the water is now dashing against his chest.

‘Help!!!’

Martin has sliced the bread and fried some pork in the little cabin of the boat. But oh! how sleepy he feels! They left home already at four o’clock that morning. He does not forget the warning of his Uncle Arie – he may not sleep. But …. surely he may just rest a few minutes on his cot. Just a few minutes ….

Martin lies down and soon he is dozing. Without being aware of it he falls asleep. Peacefully the little boat rides at anchor.

Gradually a space comes between the sandbar and the boat; first one, then two, and soon the distance has become ten yards. Martin does not observe it. He lies in the cabin dreaming of the sea and the fish. His sleep is sound ….

‘Help! ….. Help!’

Skipper Blaak is in danger of drowning. With horror he sees how the water rises. It is already washing over his shoulders. His voice sounds hoarse ….

He trembles. Death will soon overtake him, and to die means …. to meet God. To meet God! His whole life flashes through his mind; that sinful, abhorrent life of outward piousness.

‘Lord, help me, save me!’ he groans.

The water mounts higher. Some waves have already passed over his lips. Only a few minutes …. and then?

It is too late for him. His time of grace is irrevocably past. It is all cut off. Oh, now it will soon be eternity!

With the last exertion he calls, he begs for mercy …. and deliverance.

A few kilometres (a measure of length or distance equal to 1,000 meters) away an old skipper is walking over one of the highest sandbars. He has just set out his nets and he is now hastening to his boat before the rising of the water.

Suddenly he stands still.

He listens. Is someone calling?

Yes, from a distance he hears a cry for help.

He stares ….

‘What?’

As pale as death the old fisherman hobbles to his little boat. Concerned and trembling, he cries out: ‘There is a man in distress! It is …. Skipper Blaak!’

Only this morning their boats were next to each other at the locks. Yes, it must be him: he recognized his boat.

It is impossible for him to help his friend. Humanly speaking, it is impossible for him to be rescued. But what does the old man do? For a moment he looks up high, then he falls upon his stiff knees and beseeches the almighty God for help and deliverance. The prayer of the righteous availeth much. Through the grace of God the old man, Geluk, is one of the faithful watchmen upon the walls of Zion. There he lays before God …. and prays!

The old man arises, being strengthened from on high. His heart becomes more restful. He has placed the need and danger of this man before the face of the Lord. Whatever the Lord now does shall be well.

But then ….!

Skipper Geluk cannot believe his eyes, and looks on with surprise and delight.

It will not be long now any more before it is all over with. Skipper Blaak struggles with death. His soul cries to God for deliverance. It is just about over now.

But no …. it is not over; his life is not past.

What is happening?

The wind grew brisker. The waves become larger and wash over Arie’s head.

Suddenly the wind changes and begins to blow from the opposite direction. The wind is now blowing crosswise against the little boat, and slowly but surely the vessel is being pushed in the direction of Skipper Blaak. A few moments more, and he can take hold of the boat.

It is as if he receives new strength. Clenching his teeth, he works himself on board with almost superhuman exertion. Skipper Blaak then falls upon his knees, and with many tears he thanks the Lord for this wonderful deliverance and rescue. Not any man, but only God Himself has rescued him from this certain death. It was He alone Who changed the wind. Totally exhausted he sinks down by the rudder.

The door of the cabin suddenly opens. Flushed and with fearful eyes, Martin appears. His heart is throbbing wildly.

‘Uncle Arie!’

Then the lad sees his uncle lying on the hard boards.

‘Uncle Arie!’ he cries, ‘what has happened?’

‘Oh’, Martin sobs out …. ‘It is all my fault, Uncle Arie. I have fallen asleep!’

Martin is desperate. What will his father say of all this?

Skipper Blaak sets him at ease.

‘I am still alive, my boy’, he said, and with his finger he points to heaven. ‘God Himself has delivered me from drowning in the water. Yes, I am still alive, Martin! Oh, it is a wonder!’

But Martin cannot forgive himself.

They both now go into the cabin, where Skipper Blaak puts on dry clothes. Together they eat the slices of bread with the pork, although for Martin it is tasteless. The skipper feels that his strength is returning after eating the nourishing food.

He then lays his hand upon the shoulder of his nephew, and says: ‘You have done wrong, Martin, but I do forgive you! Let it be a good lesson that you will never forget. But we will not talk about it any more, also not at home’.

Thankfully Martin stares at his uncle.

When it is again low tide, they bring the nets on board the vessel. The catch is, fortunately, not bad. That means food for his wife and children. At once Martin fries a few plaice (European flatfish), and they eat heartily.

In the locks of Hansweert the fishing boats from Tholen meet each other again. Skipper Blaak moors his boat next to that of Skipper Geluk. Steadily the old man stares at Arie Blaak.

‘That was in the very nick of time, Arie! Give Him alone all the honor’.

Arie nods. ‘When we are on shore, Geluk, we will talk about all this with God’s help’.

Twenty minutes later the fishermen sailed towards home through the canal of South Beveland.

 

A rich draught of fishes

 

The fishing fleet from Tholen is again sailing through the canal of South Beveland. Skipper Blaak is one of the last ones; his little boat is not so fast.

It is a long time ago since he was saved from a frightful death by drowning. The moments he then passed through have not been without fruit. Skipper Blaak learned to know himself as a lost sinner before God …. and the Lord showed mercy and heard his cries, encouraged and comforted him.

And now …. the fishermen are sailing into the locks by Hansweert. Arie is one of the last ones. After they have gone through the locks they all seek a good place on the Wester Scheldt.

This time there are so many vessels that Skipper Blaak cannot find a place any more to set out his nets. Only by Walssorden would they have a chance to set out about half of their nets.

Skipper Blaak hesitates. It is generally known that not a fish can be caught at that place. Some have tried it, but all in vain. They cannot even enter there with the boat, all the work must be done with the rowboat. They cannot return either; then there certainly is no profit.

‘Let us go and try it, Martin. If the Lord will grant His blessing upon it, we shall have fish!’

Martin nods.

A quiet prayer rises on High from the heart of Skipper Blaak. Nothing is impossible with God. As things are now, they will catch nothing; but if the Lord shall work, who shall let it? Only consider the disciples of Jesus. Their Master told them to cast the net on the other side, and then they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes!

Martin drops the anchor, and half of the nets are soon in the rowboat. They quickly set out the sticks. One end of the net the skipper fastens to a little pole which stands below the dike. How close they are to the wall!

Other fishermen look on to see what Blaak is doing. They shrug their shoulders and shake their heads. It is as if they want to say that all his work shall be in vain. No one has ever yet caught a fish at that place!

It does not take long before all things are ready.

‘Upon the hope of a blessing, Martin, sighs Skipper Blaak.

‘Yes, Uncle Arie’.

After this they enter their little cabin to eat their slices of bread. In silence they eat their lunch; both are filled with their own thoughts.

‘We will just wait till it is low tide, Martin. It is not very easy to walk here, for there are so many holes’.

‘The fish must swim away through these holes, I think’. Martin butters another slice of bread.

The skipper nods. ‘I have been thinking about that too already, Martin’.

When it has become low tide, they both row out to the nets. A man on the wall is watching them. The strange man puts his hands around his mouth and calls: ‘What a multitude of fish, Skipper!’

And yes, along the whole net lay heaps of plaice. Skipper Arie Blaak has never caught such an abundance as long as he has been a fisherman!

‘Quick, Martin, the rowboat!’

Martin dragged the rowboat as near to the nets as possible.

‘A little farther yet!’

‘It cannot go any farther, Uncle Arie. It is scraping bottom already’.

Baskets full of fish are now put into the rowboat. In a few moments it is filled. The men work hard. The fish are transferred to the larger boat, and again they row back to get a new supply.

‘The Lord has done this, Martin. The God of Elijah lives!’ And the skipper rubs his eyes with his handkerchief. He is deeply affected.

Heavily loaded they sail to Hansweert, where the other fishermen are already waiting to go through the locks.

Behold these men … surprise and amazement can be read upon their faces. Surprise and amazement, yet, but also envy. No one has ever caught so much fish!

Skipper Blaak gets a good price at the fish market, and with a well filled purse he returns to his home, where mother and children are waiting. During the evening it is a feasting time in the simple home of this fisherman of Tholen. Yes, there are many reasons to acknowledge the Lord for His great blessings.

Others have tried to fish at the same place. However, they did not succeed in bringing one fish above the water. Thus the Lord again proved Himself to be a deliverer of those that are in distress and need. He hears the needy when they cry! It is God that saves and preserves. Thus God’s children are safe for time and eternity; also in the twentieth century!

 

From: Van Zweden, J. The Wonderful Providence of Almighty God Seen in the Lives of Young and Old: Series No 10. Stickney, South Dakota: Netherlands Reformed Congregations in America, 1978. pages 37-43

 

 

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