Luke 15:14
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
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(14) There arose a mighty famine in that land.—This again was no unwonted incident. The famine which “came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar” (Acts 11:28) was more extensive and memorable than others, but it was far from standing alone. And now the pinch came. His treasure was gone, and for the fulness of bread there was hunger and “cleanness of teeth” (Amos 4:6). In the individual interpretation of the parable, the mighty famine is the yearning of the soul’s unsatisfied desire, the absence of its true food, of “the bread that cometh down from heaven.” (See Notes on John 6:32.) In its wider range it is the craving of humanity for what it cannot find when appetites are not satisfied, and their wonted supply ceases—the famine, not of bread and of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8:11); the want of a message from the Eternal Father to sustain the life of His children.

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!A mighty famine - Famines were common in Eastern nations. They were caused by the failure of the crops - by a want of timely rains, a genial sun, or sometimes by the prevalence of the plague or of the pestilence, which swept off numbers of the inhabitants. In this case it is very naturally connected with the luxury, the indolence, and the dissipation of the people in that land, 14. when he had spent all … a mighty famine—a mysterious providence holding back the famine till he was in circumstances to feel it in all its rigor. Thus, like Jonah, whom the storm did not overtake till on the mighty deep at the mercy of the waves, does the sinner feel as if "the stars in their courses were fighting against" him (Jud 5:20).

in want—the first stage of his bitter experience, and preparation for a change.

See Poole on "Luke 15:11"

And when he had spent all,.... Sin strips a man of all that is good and valuable; of the image of God, of the knowledge of divine things, of natural holiness, of moral righteousness, and of strength to perform moral good; hence man is in a wretched and miserable condition, he is poor, and blind, and naked: and if man has spent all, and sin has stripped him of all, where is his free will? there is no good thing in man, but what comes from the grace of God; nor has he any thing to recommend him to God, or to offer to his creditor, to compound his debts with; nor can he prepare himself for conversion, or any good work:

there arose a mighty famine in that land; sin brings men into a starving and famishing condition; for in the far country, the land of sin, there is a famine of the word: though the Gospel is preached, it is only food to spiritual persons; unregenerate men have no desire to it, but neglect and despise it; and if they attend it, it has no place in them: they that are in this land, are aliens from the ordinances of God, the breasts of consolation, the goodness and fatness of his house; they are in a pit, wherein is no water; their taste is vitiated to every thing that is spiritually good; they live on bread of deceit, and labour after that which satisfies not; wherefore they look like skeletons, and are as the dry bones in Ezekiel's vision:

and he began to be in want; or was in want: when the above is the case, the sinner may be truly said to be in want; an unregenerate man is in want of every thing that is good; of wisdom and knowledge, of grace and holiness, of righteousness or clothing, of food, and of all the necessaries of life: and he may be said to "begin" to be in want, because man was not originally so, but was possessed of a natural fulness; and because sin is the beginning of want, as soon as one takes place, the other does: moreover, this man now began to see and feel himself to be in want, though as yet he was not rightly and truly sensible of his wants, at least of the way to redress them.

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
Luke 15:14-17. The divine ordinance of external misery, however, in connection with the consequences of sin, reawakens consideration and self-knowledge and the craving after God!

ἰσχυρά] (see the critical remarks) comp. on Luke 4:25.

κατὰ τὴν χώραν] κατά of extension, throughout, as Luke 8:39. Winer, p. 356 [E. T. 499].

καὶ αὐτός] and he, on his part.

ἤρξατο] The commencement of his new state is regarded as important.

Luke 15:15. ἐκολλήθη] he clave to, attached himself to, makes the obtrusiveness of his action palpable.

καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτόν] The previous object becomes the subject. See Stallbaum, ad Protag. p. 320 A, B; Kühner, ad Xen. Anab. i. 4. 5; Bernhardy, p. 468.

βόσκειν χοίρους] to keep swine; what an ignominous occupation for the ruined Jew!

Luke 15:16. γεμίσαι τ. κοιλίαν αὐτοῦ] to fill his belly (comp. Themist. Or. xxiii. p. 293 D); a choice expression for the impetuous craving of the hungry man.

ἀπό] from, i.e. by means of a portion, as with verbs of eating, Winer, p. 179 [E. T. 248].

κεράτιον] Cornicle, the sweetish fruit of the locust-tree (ceratonia siliqua of Linnaeus), used as food for swine, and by the poor as a means of nourishment, Galen. VI. p. 355. See Bochart, Hieroz. I. p. 708; Rosenmüller, Morgenl. V. p. 198 f.; Robinson, Pal. III. p. 272.

κ. οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ] not food (Wolf, Rosenmüller, Paulus), but, according to the context, κεράτια. When the swine driven home were fed therewith, which was the occupation of others, he was hungry even for that brutish provender, and no one gave it to him. No man troubled himself concerning the hungry one, to satisfy him even in this manner. That he should eat with the swine is appropriately not regarded as a possibility. Moreover, it is not presupposed that he received still worse food than κεράτια (Kuinoel, de Wette), but only that he received his maintenance on account of the famine in excessively small quantity, by reason whereof his hunger was so great that he, etc.

Luke 15:17. εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθών] εἰς ἑαυτόν preceding, in contrast to the external misery, but having come to himself (i.e. having recovered his senses). See examples in Kypke. Comp. ἐν ἑαυτῷ γίνεσθαι, Xen. Anab. i. 5. 17; Acts 12:11. It is the moral self-understanding, which had become strange and remote to him, in respect of his condition and his need.

περισς. and λιμῷ are correlative; ἄρτων is not contrasted with κερατίοις (Olshausen), but περισς. ἄρτ. is the contrast to the little bread, which did not appease his hunger. περισσεύονται (see the critical remarks) is passive. They are provided with more than enough, receive superfluity of bread, Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29. Comp. περισσεύειν τινά, 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Athen. ii. p. 42 B.

Luke 15:14-19. The crisis: recklessness leads to misery and misery prompts reflection.

14. And when he had spent all] Historically,

“On that hard Roman world, disgust And secret loathing fell;

Deep weariness and sated lust Made human life a hell.”

M. Arnold.

Individually, “The limits are narrow within which, by wasting his capital, a man obtains a supply of pocket-money.” G. Macdonald.

there arose a mighty fa7nine in that land] God has given him his heart’s desire and sent leanness withal into his bones. The worst famine of all is “not a famine of bread or a thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11); and in such a famine even “the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:13). “They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns; broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” Jeremiah 2:13.

he began to be in want] The whole heathen world at this time was saying, “Who will shew us any good?” Weariness, despair, and suicide were universal. Individually this is the retributive anguish of those who have wasted the gifts of life.

“My days are in the yellow leaf,

The flowers and fruits of love are gone,

The worm, the anguish, and the grief

Are mine alone.

The fire that on my bosom preys

Is lone as some volcanic isle;

No torch is kindled at its blaze—

A funeral pile.”


Luke 15:14. Αὐτὸς ἤρξατο, himself began) He was not among the last [as one might have expected from the ample means which he had taken with him to the “far country”] to feel the pressure of the famine.

Verse 14. - And when he had spent all. True of many a soul in all times, but especially in that age of excessive luxury and splendour and of unbridled passions.

"On that hard Roman world, disgust
And secret loathing fell;
Deep weariness and sated lust
Made human life a hell."

(Matthew Arnold.) There arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. The "mighty famine" may be understood to represent difficult times. Wax or political convulsions, so common in those days, may have speedily brought about the ruin of many like the prodigal of our story, and his comparatively small fortune would quickly have been swallowed up. Selfish evil-living, excesses of various kinds, had gained him no real friends, but had left him to meet the ruin of his fortune with enfeebled powers, homeless and friendless; hence the depth of the degradation in which we speedily find him. Not an unusual figure in the great world-drama, this of the younger son - the man who had sacrificed everything for selfish pleasure, and soon found he had absolutely nothing left but suffering. Very touchingly the greatest, perhaps, of our English poets writes of this awful soul-famine. In his case fortune and rank still remained to him, but everything that can really make life precious and beautiful had been wasted.

"My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the anguish, and the grief,
Are mine alone.

"The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze -
A funeral pile!"

(Byron.) Luke 15:14Spent

See on cost, Luke 14:28.

In that land

Want is characteristic of the "far country." The prodigal feels the evil of his environment. "He (with a shade of emphasis) began to be in want."

To be in want (ὑστερεῖσθαι)

From ὕστερος, behind. Compare our phrase of one in straitened circumstances, to fall behind.

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