Parable of the Lost Son: The Road to Ruin
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything (Luke 15:11-16)
The parable of the Lost Son or Prodigal Son is one of the best known of our Lord. It has been called “the pearl of parables” and the “crown of all parables.” This parable is found only here in Luke. Perhaps its popularity is due to its applicable nature to every generation. Parents since the time of Adam and Eve dealing with the loss of Cain due to his murder of their son Abel, have known the pain and loss of a prodigal son. Many of the Pharisees may have known first hand of a brother, son, nephew or cousin who became estranged from the family in a similar fashion. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a drama that is repeated frequently in real life every day across America.
This parable is the longest of the three parables dealing with the joy of restoring the lost. It can be broken down into four parts: 1) the prodigal son’s steps to self-destruction; 2) his road to recovery, 3) the disposition of the elder son, and 4) the father’s response to the elder son.
Steps to Destruction
A father was to leave an extra portion of his estate to the oldest son (Deut. 21:17). However, there was no law which required a living father to leave a portion to a son. This was done by the generosity of the father. Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood” (Luke 15:11,12). It would appear from the tone of the son’s request that the father owed this portion to him as if it were a debt to be collected. He wanted what was his right now.
Self-willed souls reject God’s restraints and His authority. We receive so many blessings from God and yet are never satisfied or content to remain with him. The sinner thinks he can do it on his own and do it his way without consequences. In seeking freedom, he would find complete loss of freedom in the bondage of sin. All subsequent sins grow from this one.
Although the father agrees to the son’s request, this does not mean he is in agreement with the son’s choice. The son’s demand, “give me…falls me” shows his only concern is for himself and what he thinks he must have. With his inheritance, he launches operation gratification. He gave him the family inheritance. The prodigal spent what his father gave on himself. “Prodigal” means wasteful and he wasted his inheritance on wasteful living. A modern way of saying it would be that he got wasted.
“And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country” (15:13a). Having taken all of his possessions from his father, he now is placing himself beyond the reach of his father. He must separate himself in order to do his own thing. He, like Adam and Eve having given up paradise, is not willing to suffer in the far country. God gives man a free will to take the gifts in life and go his way. All men eventually do this (Rom. 3:23). Note the son leaves because he is sick of home and later returns out of homesickness.
Taking his inheritance to a far country he “there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” (15:13b). Sin is not as beautiful as it appears. Sin costs. It costs a man all he has, not just his inheritance. Promising freedom, sin quickly enslaves. Sin wastes time, talent, treasure, health, etc. The good things of life often are wasted by alcohol, illicit sex, drugs, etc. The son would learn that evil companions corrupt and waste moral decency (1 Cor. 15:33).
“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want” (15:14). The son brought upon himself: hunger, humiliation, and home-sickness. He was a Jew who lived like the Gentiles. These new friends were there to help him spend his money, but they could not be found to help give him anything when bad times came.
So does he remember his father at this point? “Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country” (15:15a). Made himself a slave to the heathen. He “joined himself” indicates he “glued” or “cemented” himself to a citizen of the country that did not want him.
He became a servant to swine – “and he sent him into his fields to feed swine” (15:15b). Jesus paints the picture of a good Jewish boy falling so low that he is now feeding pigs. Just think of all the jobs he sought before he had to accept this one. According to Jews “cursed is he who feeds swine.” Being a pig feeder in a far country was “as popular as a pork chop in Jerusalem.”
Remember, if you don’t want to be classed with the hogs, don’t wallow with them in the mire of sin.
With his money gone, he “began to be in want…and he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate and no one gave him anything.” (15:14,16). This may have been the first time in his life that he faced starvation. The husks in question were the long bean shaped pods of the carob tree. Only the very poorest of the population occasionally used them as food.
Indeed, “the way of the transgressor is hard.” The prodigal has hit rock bottom. Perhaps this was due to the chastening of God (Heb. 12:5-11). Things were going wrong and may have seemed to work against him, but it may in fact have been working through divine providence to cause him to come to his senses. A Jewish proverb sates that “when Israel is reduced to the carob-tree, they become repentant.”
– Daniel R. Vess