Luke 15:16
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
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(16) He would fain have filled his belly.—It is singular that very many of the best MSS. give the simpler reading, “desired to be filled or satisfied.” It is open to suppose either that they shrank from the reading in the text as too coarse, or that the later MSS. introduced “filled his belly” as more vivid and colloquial; or, as seems probable, that there may have been a variation of phrase even in the original autograph MSS. of St. Luke.

The husks that the swine did eat.—The word is generic, but it is commonly identified with the long bean-like pods of the carob-tree, or Ceratonia siliqua, or St. John’s bread, in which some have seen the “locusts” of Matthew 3:4. They contain a good deal of saccharine matter, and are commonly used as food for swine in Syria and Egypt. Spiritually, they answer to the sensual pleasures in which men who are as the swine, identified with brute appetites, find adequate sustenance. The soul that was born to a higher inheritance cannot so satisfy itself. It seeks to be “like a beast with lower pleasures,” but it is part of the Father’s discipline that that baser satisfaction is beyond its reach.

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!He would fain - He would gladly. He desired to do it.

The husks - The word "husks" with us denotes the outward covering of grain. In this there is little nourishment, and it is evident that this is not intended here; but the word used here denotes not only "husks," but also leguminous plants, as beans, etc. It is also used to denote the fruit of a tree called the "carob or kharub-tree," which is common in Ionia, Syria, and Rhodes. The tree is more bushy and thick set than the apple tree, and the leaves are larger and of a much darker green. The following is Dr. Thomson's description of the fruit of this tree ("The Land and the Book," vol. i. p. 22): "The 'husks' - a mistranslation - are fleshy pods, somewhat like those of the locust-tree, from six to ten inches long and one broad, laid inside with a gelatinous substance, not wholly unpleasant to the taste when thoroughly ripe. I have seen large orchards of this kharub in Cyprus, where it is still the food which the swine do eat. The kharub is often called John's Bread, and also Locust-tree, from a mistaken idea about the food of the Baptist in the wilderness." The cut will give an idea of these "pods," or "husks," as they are called in our translation.

No man gave unto him - Some have understood this as meaning "no one gave him anything - any bread or provisions;" but the connection requires us to understand it of the "husks." He did not go a begging - his master was bound to provide for his wants; but the provision which he made for him was so poor that he would have preferred the food of the swine. He desired a portion of "their food," but that was not given him. A certain quantity was measured out for "them," and "he" was not at liberty to eat it himself. Nothing could more strikingly show the evil of his condition, or the deep degradation, and pollution, and wretchedness of sin.

16. would fain have filled—rather, "was fain to fill," ate greedily of the only food he could get.

the husks—"the hulls of a leguminous plant which in the East is the food of cattle and swine, and often the nourishment of the poorest in times of distress" [Stier].

no man gave … him—not this food, for that he had, but anything better (Jer 30:14). This was his lowest depth—perishing unpitied, alone in the world, and ready to disappear from it unmissed! But this is just the blessed turning-point; midnight before dawn of day (2Ch 12:8; 33:11-13; Jer 2:19).

See Poole on "Luke 15:11"

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks,.... the fruit of the "Charub" tree, as the Syriac version interprets it; and which the Jews (y) say is , "the food of beasts": though, according to what is elsewhere said of it, it should be the food of men also. It is said (z) of R. Simeon ben Jochai, and his son, that they hid themselves in a cave for fear of the king, and a miracle was wrought for them, , a "Charub" tree was created for them, and a fountain of water; the one, as the gloss observes, was to eat the fruit of, and the other to drink of: but be they what they will, by them are meant, not worldly riches and honours, and carnal lusts and pleasures; though these are the principal things of the far country, of this world, or an unregenerate estate; and are greatly desired by carnal minds, and are but swine's meat, very mean food, yea, pernicious, empty, unsatisfying, and perishing; but these were the things this man had been desirous of, and lived upon before, and had ran through them, and had spent all his substance in the pursuit and enjoyment of them; and now he felt the gripes of a natural conscience for them, and found himself in want of something else: wherefore by these "husks" are meant works of righteousness done by men; which are like husks, external things, done only before men; empty things that have nothing within them; mere trash, and not food; and which can give no satisfaction; mere sordid food, fit only to be cast to dogs or swine; of an ill savour, hard to eat, and difficult digestion, and which affords no real nourishment; these this man greatly desired to fill his belly with: he found himself empty, and in want; as yet he had no thought of, at least not any desire after the bread in his father's house; but would fain have satisfied himself with his own doings, and have quieted his mind and conscience with a few external performances, a negative holiness, a legal repentance, and outward reformation: he laboured hard to make his own righteousness do; which was but striving to fill his belly with the east wind; and is what can never satisfy, because it is not answerable to the law and justice of God; and was no other than

that the swine did eat, self-righteous persons, like himself; for such an one was now the publican and sinner become, though he did not continue so. Christ's lambs and sheep do not eat such food, nor will, nor can they, only swinish, selfish persons; this is suitable to their nature, they eat it, and live upon it; which shows them to be unrenewed, and that their taste is not changed.

And no man gave unto him: not the husks, though this is the sense of the Arabic version, which renders it, "neither did he obtain them"; and so it seems to be ours and others: but these were at hand, which he might have taken himself, and did; nor is it reasonable to think he should wait to have them given him by another; or that he should be restrained from them; but it is to be understood of bread, or proper food, and that no man gave that unto him: and the words, as Calvin observes, may be read causally, "for no man gave to him"; and so are a reason why he craved husks, because no man gave him any bread: the citizen, or legal preacher, to whom he joined himself, gave him none; nor the swine, the self-righteous persons, to whom he was sent, and with whom he conversed, gave him none; he had nothing under the ministry, nor in conversation, that was proper food to him; there were nothing but these husks that presented, and he tried to satisfy himself with them; and indeed none but Christ can give the true bread, the bread of life, to those that are hungry, and in want.

(y) T. Hieros. Maascrot, fol. 50. 2.((z) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 33. 2.

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
Luke 15:16. ἐπεθύμει, etc., he was fain to fill his belly with the horn-shaped pods of the carob-tree. The point is that he was so poorly fed by his new master (who felt the pinch of hard times, and on whom he had small claim) that to get a good meal of anything, even swine’s food, was a treat. γεμίσαι τ. κ., though realistic, is redeemed from vulgarity by the dire distress of the quondam voluptuary. Anything to fill the aching void within!—οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου, no one was giving him: this his experience from day to day and week to week. Giving what? Not the pods, as many think, these he would take without leave, but anything better. His master gave him little—famine rations, and no other kind soul made up for the lack. Neither food nor love abounded in that country. So there was nothing for it but swine’s food or semi-starvation—or home!

16. he would fain] Literally, “he was longing.”

filled his belly with
] The plain expression—purposely adopted to add the last touch to the youth’s degradation—gave offence to some copyists, who substituted for it the verb ‘to be fed.’ The reading adopted in our text is, however, certainly the true one, and perhaps implies that from such food nothing could be hoped for but to allay the pangs of famine. He only hopes to ‘fill his belly,’ not to sate his hunger. Even the world’s utmost gorgeousness and most unchecked sensuality could not avail to raise the soul of men or of nations out of utter misery.

the husks that the swine did eat] Literally, “the carob-pods of which the swine were eating.” The word rendered ‘husks’ means ‘little horns,’ i.e. the long, coarse, sweetish, bean-shaped pods of the carob tree (ceratonia siliqua, St John’s bread tree), which were only used by the poorest of the population. Some (incorrectly) give the same meaning to the ἀκρίδες (‘locusts’) which formed the food of St John the Baptist.

and no man gave unto him
] No one ‘was giving,’ or ‘chose to give’ him either the husks or anything else. Satan has no desire for, and no interest in, even the smallest alleviation of the anguish and degradation of his victims. Even the vile earthly gifts, and base sensual pleasures, are withheld or become impossible. “Who follozvs pleasure, pleasure slays.”

Luke 15:16. Γεμίσαι, fill) The greater was his emptiness, the greater in proportion was his appetite.—τῶν κερατίων) The Syriac Version has חרובא, from which the opinion seems in part to have originated, and in part is confirmed, namely, that of those who understand the word not of the husks of leguminous plants (pulse, beans, etc.), but of the fruit of the carob tree (“St John’s bread”), called καῤῥουβία (from which comes the French word carrouges), which was the food used by the poorest of men and by swine: as is the view of Maldonatus, Bochart, Drusius, Simonius, and before them, some one or other in the Greek Lexicon brought out by ten writers at Basle, 1584. Add Buxt. Lexicon Talm., who, col. 821, shows that חרוב is a species of tree. No doubt all κεράτια are siliquæ, leguminous plants; whether all siliquæ are to be called by the name, κεράτια, I know not.[162]

[162] i.e. All κεράτια are ‘siliquæ’ no doubt; but the carob is a ‘siliqua’ of a particular species, “Siliqua Græca.” Therefore it is not certain that this particular siliqua was called κεράτια.—E. and T.

Verse 16. - And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. So low was this poor lost man reduced, that in his bitter hunger he even came to long for the coarse but nutritious bean with which the herd was fed. These swine were of some value when fattened for the market; but he, the swineherd, was valueless - he might starve. The husks in question were the long bean-shaped pods of the carob tree (Caratonia siliqua), commonly used for fattening swine in Syria and Egypt. They contain a proportion of sugar. The very poorest of the population occasionally use them as food. Luke 15:16He would fain (ἐπεθύμει)

Longing desire. Imperfect tense, he was longing, all the while he was tending the swine.

Filled his belly (γεμίσαι τὴν κοιλίαν)

The texts vary. The Rev. follows the reading χορτασθῆναι, "He would fain have been filled," using the same word which is employed of filling those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6, see note), and of the five thousand (Matthew 14:20). He had wanted the wrong thing all along, and it was no better now. All he wanted was to fill his belly.

Husks (κερατίων)

Carob-pods. The word is a diminutive of κέρας, a horn, and means, literally, a little horn, from the shape of the pod. The tree is sometimes called in German Bockshornbaum, Goat's-horn-tree. "The fleshy pods are from six to ten inches long, and one broad, lined inside with a gelatinous substance, not wholly unpleasant to the taste when thoroughly ripe" (Thomson, "Land and Book"). The shell or pod alone is eaten. It grows in Southern Italy and Spain, and it is said that during the Peninsular War the horses of the British cavalry were often fed upon the pods. It is also called Saint John's bread, from a tradition that the Baptist fed upon its fruit in the wilderness. Edersheim quotes a Jewish saying, "When Israel is reduced to the carob-tree, they become repentant."

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