Luke 15:12
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
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(12) The younger of them said to his father.—In its bearing on the individual life, the younger son represents the temper that is eager for independence, self-asserting, energetic; the elder that which is contemplative, devout, ceremonial, quiescent. As the latter pre-eminently characterises, as noticed above, the sons of Shem as distinguished from those of Japheth, the Semitic as distinct from the Aryan race, the younger son represents primarily the Jew who has yielded to non-Jewish tendencies; and on the wider scale of interpretation, stands for the whole Gentile world. The contrast between the Esau and Jacob types of character is reproduced (Genesis 25:27), only here the elder brother answers to Jacob and the younger to Esau, the variation indicating that the former is with all its short-comings the natural heir of the double portion of the first-born in the spiritual inheritance of God’s kingdom. Israel remains within comparatively narrow limits of thought and habitation. Japheth is “enlarged” (Genesis 9:27) and goes forth with all his marvellous gifts of speech and thought, and fancy and invention.

Divided unto them his living.—In the normal scale of distribution, the elder son would have as his portion two-thirds of the personal, and possibly also of the real, property, the younger the remainder. In the framework of the story, the father and the elder son become, as it were, tenants in common (Luke 15:31), the former still retaining the general direction of affairs. The state of things so described represents roughly the life of Israel under its theocracy, acknowledging God as its true King and Father.



Luke 15:11 - Luke 15:24

The purpose of the three parables in this chapter has to be kept in mind. Christ is vindicating His action in receiving sinners, which had evoked the murmurings of the Pharisees. The first two parables, those of the lost sheep and the lost drachma, appeal to the common feeling which attaches more importance to lost property just because it is lost than to that which is possessed safely. This parable rises to a higher level. It appeals to the universal emotion of fatherhood, which yearns over a wandering child just because he has wandered.

We note a further advance, in the proportion of one stray sheep to the ninety-nine, and of one lost coin to the nine, contrasted with the sad equality of obedience and disobedience in the two sons. One per cent., ten per cent., are bearable losses, but fifty per cent. is tragic.

I. The first part {Luke 15:11 - Luke 15:16} tells of the son’s wish to be his own master, and what came of it.

The desire to be independent is good, but when it can only be attained by being dependent on him whose authority is irksome, it takes another colour. This foolish boy wished to be able to use his father’s property as his own, but he had to get the father’s consent first. It is a poor beginning of independence when it has to be set up in business by a gift.

That is the essential absurdity in our attempts to do without God and to shake off His control. We can only get power to seem to do it by misusing His gifts. When we say, ‘Who is Lord over us?’ the tongues which say it were given us by Him. The next step soon followed. ‘Not many days after,’ of course, for the sense of ownership could not be kept up while near the father. A man who wishes to enjoy worldly good without reference to God is obliged, in self-defence, to hustle God out of his thoughts as soon and as completely as possible.

The ‘far country’ is easily reached; and it is far, though a step can land us in it. A narrow bay may compel a long journey round its head before those on its opposite shores can meet. Sin takes us far away from God, and the root of all sin is that desire of living to one’s self which began the prodigal’s evil course.

The third step in his downward career, wasting his substance in riotous living, comes naturally after the two others; for all self-centred life is in deepest truth waste, and the special forms of gross dissipation to which youth is tempted are only too apt to follow the first sense of being their own masters, and removed from the safeguards of their earthly father’s home. Many a lad in our great cities goes through the very stages of the parable, and, when a mother’s eye is no longer on him, plunges into filthy debauchery. But living which does not outrage the proprieties may be riotous all the same; for all conduct which ignores God and asserts self as supreme is flagrantly against the very nature of man, and is reckless waste.

Such a ‘merry’ life is sure to be ‘short.’ There is always famine in the land of forgetfulness of God, and when the first gloss is off its enjoyments, and one’s substance is spent, its pinch is felt. The unsatisfied hunger of heart, which dogs godless living, too often leads but to deeper degradation and closer entanglement with low satisfactions. Men madly plunge deeper into the mud in hope of finding the pearl which has thus far eluded their search.

A miserable thing this young fool had made of his venture, having spent his capital, and now being forced to become a slave, and being set to nothing better than to feed swine. The godless world is a hard master, and has very odious tasks for its bondsmen. The unclean animals are fit companions for one who made himself lower than they, since filth is natural to them and shameful for him. They are better off than he is, for husks do nourish them, and they get their fill, but he who has sunk to longing for swine’s food cannot get even that. The dark picture is only too often verified in the experience of godless men.

II. The wastrel’s returning sanity is described in Luke 15:17 - Luke 15:20.

‘He came to himself.’ Then he had been beside himself before. It is insanity to try to shake off God, to aim at independence, to wander from Him, to fling away our ‘substance,’ that is, our true selves, and to starve among the swine-troughs. He remembers the bountiful housekeeping at home, as starving men dream of feasts, and he thinks of himself with a kind of pity and amazement.

There is no sign that his conscience smote him, or that his heart woke in love to his father. His stomach, and it only, urged him to go home. He did, indeed, feel that he had been wrong, and had forfeited the right to be called a son, but he did not care much for losing that name, or even for losing the love to which it had the right, if only he could get as much to eat as one of the hired servants, whose relation to the master was less close, and, in patriarchal times, less happy, than that of slaves born in the house.

One good thing about the lad was that he did not let the grass grow under his feet, but, as soon as he had made the resolution, began to carry it into effect. The bane of many a resolve to go back to God is that it is ‘sicklied o’er’ by procrastination. The ragged prodigal has not much to leave which need hold him, but many such a one says, ‘I will arise and go to my father to-morrow,’ and lets all the to-morrows become yesterdays, and is sitting among the swine still.

Low as the prodigal’s motive for return was, the fact of his return was enough. So is it in regard to our attitude to the gospel. Men may be drawn to give heed to its invitations from the instinct of self-preservation, or from their sense of hungry need, and the belief that in it they will find the food they crave for, while there may be little consciousness of longing for more from the Father than the satisfaction of felt wants. The longing for a place in the Father’s heart will spring up later, but the beginning of most men’s taking refuge in God as revealed in Christ is the gnawing of a hungry heart. The call to all is, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat.’

III. The climax of the parable, for which all the rest is but as scaffolding, is the father’s welcome {vs. 20b-24}.

Filial love may die in the son’s heart, but paternal yearning lives in the father’s. The wanderer’s heart would be likely to sink as he came nearer the father’s tent. It had seemed easy to go back when he acted the scene in imagination, but every step homewards made the reality more difficult.

No doubt he hesitated when the old home came in sight, and perhaps his resolution would have oozed out at his finger ends if he had had to march up alone in his rags, and run the gauntlet of servants before he came to speech with his father. So his father’s seeing him far off and running to meet him is exquisitely in keeping, as well as movingly setting forth how God’s love goes out to meet His returning prodigals. That divine insight which discerns the first motions towards return, that divine pity which we dare venture to associate with His infinite love, that eager meeting the shamefaced and slow-stepping boy half-way, and that kiss of welcome before one word of penitence or request had been spoken, are all revelations of the heart of God, and its outgoings to every wanderer who sets his face to return.

Beautifully does the father’s welcome make the son’s completion of his rehearsed speech impossible. It does not prevent his expression of penitence, for the more God’s love is poured over us, the more we feel our sin. But he had already been treated as a son, and could not ask to be taken as a servant. Beautifully, too, the father gives no verbal answer to the lad’s confession, for his kiss had answered it already; but he issues instructions to the servants which show that the pair have now reached the home and entered it together.

The gifts to the prodigal are probably significant. They not only express in general the cordiality of the welcome, but seem to be capable of specific interpretations, as representing various aspects of the blessed results of return to God. The robe is the familiar emblem of character. The prodigal son is treated like the high-priest in Zechariah’s vision; his rags are stripped off, and he is clothed anew in a dress of honour. ‘Them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also sanctified.’ The ring is a token of wealth, position, and honour. It is also a sign of delegated authority, and is an ornament to the hand. So God gives His prodigals, when they come back, an elevation which unforgiven beings do not reach, and sets them to represent Him, and arrays them in strange beauty. No doubt the lad had come back footsore and bleeding, and the shoes may simply serve to keep up the naturalness of the story. But probably they suggest equipment for the journey of life. That is one of the gifts that accompany forgiveness. Our feet are shod with the preparedness of the gospel of peace.

Last of all comes the feast. Heaven keeps holiday when some poor waif comes shrinking back to the Father. The prodigal had been content to sink his sonship for the sake of a loaf, but he could not get bread on such terms. He had to be forgiven and bathed in the outflow of his father’s love before he could be fed; and, being thus received, he could not but be fed. The feast is for those who come back penitently, and are received forgivingly, and endowed richly by the Father in heaven.

15:11-16 The parable of the prodigal son shows the nature of repentance, and the Lord's readiness to welcome and bless all who return to him. It fully sets forth the riches of gospel grace; and it has been, and will be, while the world stands, of unspeakable use to poor sinners, to direct and to encourage them in repenting and returning to God. It is bad, and the beginning of worse, when men look upon God's gifts as debts due to them. The great folly of sinners, and that which ruins them, is, being content in their life-time to receive their good things. Our first parents ruined themselves and all their race, by a foolish ambition to be independent, and this is at the bottom of sinners' persisting in their sin. We may all discern some features of our own characters in that of the prodigal son. A sinful state is of departure and distance from God. A sinful state is a spending state: wilful sinners misemploy their thoughts and the powers of their souls, mispend their time and all their opportunities. A sinful state is a wanting state. Sinners want necessaries for their souls; they have neither food nor raiment for them, nor any provision for hereafter. A sinful state is a vile, slavish state. The business of the devil's servants is to make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, and that is no better than feeding swine. A sinful state is a state constant discontent. The wealth of the world and the pleasures of the senses will not even satisfy our bodies; but what are they to precious souls! A sinful state is a state which cannot look for relief from any creature. In vain do we cry to the world and to the flesh; they have that which will poison a soul, but have nothing to give which will feed and nourish it. A sinful state is a state of death. A sinner is dead in trespasses and sins, destitute of spiritual life. A sinful state is a lost state. Souls that are separated from God, if his mercy prevent not, will soon be lost for ever. The prodigal's wretched state, only faintly shadows forth the awful ruin of man by sin. Yet how few are sensible of their own state and character!And the younger of them said - By this younger son we are to understand the publicans and sinners to be represented. By the older, the Pharisees and scribes.

Give me the portion - The part.

Of goods - Of property.

That falleth to me - That is properly my share. There is no impropriety in supposing that he was of age; and, as he chose to leave his father's house, it was proper that his father should, if he chose, give him the part of the estate which would be his.

He divided unto them his living - His property, or "means" of living. The division of property among the Jews gave the older son twice as much as the younger. In this case it seems the younger son received only money or movable property, and the older chose to remain with his father and dwell on the paternal estate. The lands and fixed property remained in their possession. Among the ancient Romans and Syrophoenicians, it was customary, when a son came to the years of maturity, if he demanded his part of the inheritance, for the father to give it to him. This the son might claim by law. It is possible that such a custom may have prevailed among the Jews, and that our Saviour refers to some such demand made by the young man.

12. the younger—as the more thoughtless.

said, &c.—weary of restraint, panting for independence, unable longer to abide the check of a father's eye. This is man impatient of divine control, desiring to be independent of God, seeking to be his own master; that "sin of sins, in which all subsequent sins are included as in their germ, for they are but the unfolding of this one" [Trench].

he divided, &c.—Thus "God, when His service no longer appears a perfect freedom, and man promises himself something far better elsewhere, allows him to make the trial; and he shall discover, if need be by saddest proof, that to depart from Him is not to throw off the yoke, but to exchange a light yoke for a heavy one, and one gracious Master for a thousand imperious tyrants and lords" [Trench].

See Poole on "Luke 15:11"

And the younger of them said to his father,.... God's chosen ones among the publicans and sinners, are fitly signified by the younger son, since man, as a sinner, is younger than man as righteous; and since there are instances of God's choice of the younger, before the elder, as Jacob before Esau, &c. and the characters and conduct of young men agree with God's elect, in a state of nature; who are imprudent and ignorant, without any knowledge of divine and spiritual things, and of themselves, their state and condition, and of Christ, and salvation by him; and yet are conceited of themselves, and fancy themselves very wise and knowing, and capable of acting for themselves, independent, and without any assistance or advice; do not care to be under restraints, withdraw from all yokes, and break all bands asunder; and so become children of disobedience, prone to every vice, and servants and slaves to every lust; by which they are deceived, and in which they take a great deal of imaginary pleasure; and are often envious and spiteful, and live in malice, hateful, and hating one another: the request made by this younger son, is "to his Father"; to God, who was his Father by creation, by providential care, and by national adoption, and by special grace; though as yet he knew it not, nor could he call him so in faith: many call God Father, who should not, and many that should, do not: the request follows;

father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me: this portion may be considered, as internal or external; as internal, and such who think the Gentiles are meant by the younger son understand it of the light of nature, and of natural gifts and talents. The ancients generally interpret it, of man's free will: it may intend natural knowledge in general, to which there is in man a natural desire, and in which he is self-sufficient: or rather as external, such as the outward blessings of food, raiment, health, &c. the honours, pleasures, and riches of the world: the good things of this world belonged to men by right of creation, and according the laws and dues of it, but have been all forfeited by the sin of man; and yet this is a portion, which in the apprehension of men, of right belongs to them; and which suits their nature, which is carnal and worldly:

and he divided unto them his living; natural gifts, external privileges, and worldly good things; which of all men in the earth, the Jewish nation shared; see Psalm 115:16.

And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
Luke 15:12-13. Ὁ νεώτερος] νεώτερον δὲ ὀνομάζει τὸν ἁμαρτωλὸν ὡς νηπιόφρονα καὶ εὐεξαπάτητον, Euthymius Zigabenus.

τὸ ἐπιβάλλου μέτος] the portion falling to my share, that which belongs to me, Herod. iv. 115; Dem. 312. 2, 317. 1; Diod. Sic. xiv. 17; Polyb. xviii. 24. 1, vi. 34. 1, and elsewhere. See also Wetstein and Kypke, I. p. 289. According to the Hebrew law of inheritance, there fell to the younger son only half as much as the first-born received (Deuteronomy 21:17; Michaelis, Mos. R. § 79; Saalschütz, p. 820 f.). The son asks that this his future portion of inheritance be given to him in advance. The father grants “non quod oportebat, sed quod licebat facere,” Maldonatus. An agreement, according to an approximate estimate, must be presupposed. But the granting of his request is a necessary part of the parable, on account of human freedom. “Discedentes a se non prohibet, redeuntes amplectitur,” Maldonatus.

διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς] to both the sons, in such wise, however, as to reserve to himself until his death the right of usufruct over the portion of the eldest, and the latter remained in his service, Luke 15:29-31.

τὸν βίον] Mark 12:44; Luke 8:43 : that whereon the family lived, i.e. nothing else than their means. Hesiod. Op. 230. 575; Herod. i. 31, viii. 51, and frequently. Paulus (comp. Michaelis) makes, without reason, a distinction between this and οὐσία, which, according to him, is the whole means, saying that the father, however, divided merely his stock of provisions, not his capital. See, on the other hand, Luke 15:31.

Luke 15:13. μετʼ οὐ πολλ. ἡμέρ.] The greediness for unlimited pleasure urged him to haste.

ἅπαντα] what, namely, he had received as his portion of the inheritance, partly in natura, partly in money in settlement of what could not be taken with him.

ἀσώτως] recklessly, Dem. 1025. 19; Josephus, Antt. xii. 4. 8. Comp. on Ephesians 5:18. The sinful nature is developed from an independence which, under the influence of sinful longing, shakes itself loose from God (comp. Psalm 73:27) by the satisfaction of immoral pleasure.

Luke 15:12. ὁ νεώτερος, the younger, with a certain fitness made to play the foolish part. The position of an elder son presents more motives to steadiness.—τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος, the portion falling or belonging to, the verb occurs in this sense in late authors (here only in N.T.). The portion of the younger when there were two sons would be one third, the right of the first-born being two portions (Deuteronomy 21:17).—διεῖλεν: the father complies, not as bound, but he must do it in the parable that the story may go on.—βίον = οὐσίαν, as in Mark 12:44, Luke 8:43.

12. the portion of goods that falleth to me] This would be one third (Deuteronomy 21:17). The granting of this portion corresponds to the natural gifts and blessings which God bestows on all alike, together with the light of conscience, and the rich elements of natural religion. Here we have the history of a sinful soul. Its sin (Luke 15:12-13); its misery (Luke 15:14-16); its penitence (Luke 15:17-20); its forgiveness (Luke 15:20-24).

he divided unto them his living] See Luke 6:35. “The Lord is good to all,” Psalm 145:9. “God is no respecter of persons,” Acts 10:34. “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil, and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” Matthew 5:45.

“God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers;

And flings the thing we have asked for in our face,

A gauntlet—with a gift in it.”

E. B. Browning.

Luke 15:12. Ὁ νεώτερος) ὁ ἕτερος) is the expression in Matthew 21:30. There is hereby signified a pair of sons different in character.—τὸ ἐπιβάλλον) So τοῦ καρποῦ τοῦ ἐπιβάλλοντός μοι λαβεῖν, 1Ma 10:29 (30).—μέρος, the portion) Each man receives his portion from God.—αὐτοῖς, to them) even to his elder son [as well as to the younger], though he was not asking for it; not giving up to him, however, as yet, the full actual enjoyment,[161] as appears from Luke 15:31.

[161] ‘Usufructus,’ which is both the usus and fructus; whereas usus is only the use, without the full enjoyment. In both usus and usufructus the ownership is not given, but still remains in the hands of another.—E. and T.

Verses 12, 13. - And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together. The subject of the story this time is not derived from humble life. The family pictured is evidently one belonging to the wealthy class. There was money to be distributed; there were estates to be cultivated; means existed to defray the cost of feasting on a large scale; mention, too, is made incidentally of costly clothing and even of gems. Like other of the Lord's parable-teachings, the framework of the story was most likely founded upon fact. The family of the father and the two sons no doubt had been personally known to the Galilaean Teacher. This imperious demand of the younger seems strange to us. Such a division, however, in the lifetime of the father was not uncommon in the East. So Abraham in his lifetime bestowed the main body of his possessions on Isaac, having previously allotted portions to his other sons. There was, however, no Jewish law which required any such bestowal of property in the parent's lifetime. It was a free gift on the part of the father. But to the young son it was a hapless boon.

"God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers;
And flings the thing we have asked in our face,
A gauntlet - with a gift in it."

(E. B. Browning.) And took his journey into a far country. The youth, who probably in the Master's experience had suggested this part of the story, after receiving his share of money, started with unformed purposes of pleasure, perhaps of trade. The man, who was a Jew, left his home for one of the great world's marts, such as Carthage or Alexandria, Antioch or Rome. And there wasted his substance with riotous living. This is an extreme case. Few probably of the publicans and sinners whose hearts the Lord touched so deeply, and who are examples of the great class in every age to whom his gospel appeals so lovingly, had sinned so deeply as the young man of the story. Indecent haste to be free from the orderly quiet home-life, ingratitude, utter forgetfulness of all duty, the wildest profligacy, - these were the sins of the prodigal. It has been well remarked that the line runs out widely to embrace such a profligate, that every sinner may be encouraged to return to God and live. There is a grave reticence in sparing all details of the wicked life - a veil which the elder son with pitiless hand would snatch away (ver. 30). Luke 15:12The portion

According to the Jewish law of inheritance, if there were but two sons, the elder would receive two portions, the younger the third of all movable property. A man might, during his lifetime, dispose of all his property by gift as he chose. If the share of younger children was to be diminished by gift or taken away, the disposition must be made by a person presumably near death. No one in good health could diminish, except by gift, the legal portion of a younger son. The younger son thus was entitled by law to his share, though he had no right to claim it during his father's lifetime. The request must be regarded as asking a favor (Edersheim).

Unto them

Even to the elder, who did not ask it.

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