February 11, 2015
(All scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated.)
In Luke 15:11, Jesus begins a parable that is commonly called, The Prodigal Son: “A certain man had two sons.” I am not going to reproduce all at once the whole parable, or the 14 verses that cover Act One, of this Three Act Play. But the first Act covers the story of the younger son, The Prodigal Son. Let’s look at some highlights:
• Luke 15:12 – “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’” This was unheard of in Jesus’ day, or at least very rare – that a son would seek his inheritance before his father died. But this shows that he did not care for his father, but the wealth, the possessions of the father! He would rather have his father dead than alive so he could lay his hands on his inheritance! But being impatient, he boldly asked for his share now!
The family wealth was often tied up in land, flocks, herds and sometimes hard cash. According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the firstborn son would inherit a double portion of the father’s wealth. He was then expected to then be the patriarch of the family, carry on the family’s good name, keep the family together, and provide for any indigent members. So the younger of the two sons in this case would receive a single portion – one-third of his father’s wealth.
The father at first seems a bit spineless – no reprimand, no argument, no refusal to the younger son. It just says in…
• Luke 15:12 – “So he divided to them his livelihood.” Here is our first introduction to the eldest son – “…he divided to them…”! This means the father delivered up all his wealth to his sons – before he died! He was still the patriarch and in command of the family, but he gave all his goods away!
If he did not have a significant cash reserve, he would have had to sell some of his flocks, herds and/or land to give the younger son his one-third portion. It does not say how he did it, just that he did. As we shall see in Act Two, the elder son stayed on the farm and in subjection to his father as before.
• Luke 15:13 – “And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, [and] journeyed to a far country….” Anyone who has experienced a prodigal offspring knows that a far country does not have to be far away! But in this case, it probably was. The young man wanted to get away from the rule of the father and the apparently obedient example set by his brother. He wanted to get out where he could make his own decisions and do his own thing!
As it says in Job 12:12, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding.” This is often the case, and apparently the younger son had not grown yet in wisdom and understanding! For it says in…
• Luke 15:13 – “…and there [he] wasted his possessions with prodigal living.” How he wasted his possessions it does not say. But he did – to the extent that it is recorded in the next verse that “…he had spent all….”
• Luke 15:14 – “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” In such an agricultural economy, a prolonged drought or perhaps a locust infestation would cause a severe famine.
The young man had not planned ahead and he had left no reserve for ‘a rainy day’! He was living for the moment, and as long as he had coins jingling in his pocket, he had ‘fair-weather friends’ around him, and he was fine! He could do what he wanted to do, and he was happy! Well, happiness is not necessarily doing what one wants to do, but this young man thought he was happy, deceiving even himself!
But famine hit, and so did poverty! “…and he began to be in want.”
• Luke 15:15 – “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” The man to whom this young man became a bond servant – for that is what joined himself probably means – was not Jewish, but of another nation. And this foreigner did not abide by the same laws or code of conduct common among the Jews! Apparently, he was not a good slave-master because we shall see in the next verse, he wasn’t even feeding the young man!
Notice also the young man’s job: He was caring for pigs! According to Leviticus 11:7, “…the swine, though it divides the hoof, and having cloven hooves, yet does not chew the cud, is unclean to you.” Pigs were one type of animal that was unclean to the Jews! And they were further instructed in Leviticus 11:8, “Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch. They are unclean to you.” This young man had fallen to the lowest of the low for a Jew – living with pigs!
• Luke 15:16 – “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” He even would have eaten pig-food – garbage! He was that hungry! He was that much in want! But no one gave him anything because no one where he was cared for him!
We shall leave this Prodigal Son in the pig sty until Act One, Scene II.