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The Parable of the Prodigal Son Commentary

The Parable of the Prodigal Son Commentary

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    0504.14.hope.personified.commentary 0504.14.hope.personified.commentary Document Transcript

    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 1 May 4, 2014, Luke 15:19-24. Hope Personified. Executive Summary of Commentary. The Point. God welcomes us because of His deep love for us. Overview: The events of this passage take place in the area of Jerusalem at the house of an unidentified wealthy Pharisee. The Pharisee, having as a dinner guest, the noted, famous and sought-after Rabbi Jesus, would have invited all his friends to dine with him. The house would have been filled with like-minded Pharisees who, by this time in history had gained control of the Sanhedrin. Luke 15 begins with the disapproval of Jesus by those present. The specific complaint was not that "sinners” flocked to Him but that He “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v. 2). They believed God wanted the righteous to separate themselves from sinners. Here we see the strong influence of the Pharisees, the "set apart ones." Confronting the Pharisees, and demonstrating what God was really like and what God really wanted, Jesus told three parables. The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son all convey the same message. God loves the lost and wants to see them come to repentance and salvation. Jesus’ revelation of how the Father really felt about the lost subjects shocked His contemporaries in Judaism and unfortunately continues to shock some in modern or post-modern Christianity. INTRODUCTION: Everyone’s perception of God is colored to some degree by his or her attitude and relationship with their father. Even those who never knew their father might see God as an absentee God, or they will paint God as the type of father they wish they had. Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our Father. Jesus used an illustration of a father in His parable, some say inaptly named, the Parable of the Prodigal Son to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us. Jesus told a story about a father and a son that illustrates how God’s “yellow ribbon” is always out as a welcome sign for sinners. Luke 15:11-12. 11 He also said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. For the younger son to request his property in this manner was an act of extreme, almost unheard of, disrespect to the Jews of Jesus’ day. For the son to ask for his share of the inheritance was more than a request for independence. It was a confession that he could not live at home. Sons were expected to live at home and work for their father until they married. Then they were expected to work with the father until the father’s death. The concept of a son striking out on his own when he reached a certain age is a concept unique to our culture, not that of Jesus’ day and time. The request made no provision for the upkeep of the father or others in the family. It presumed that the father were dead. In fact, it is tantamount to saying to his father, “To me, you are dead!”
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 2 In verses 13-19,1 we see the younger son’s rebellious and wasteful living that led to his losing everything and hitting rock bottom for a Jew: living and eating with pigs. This is a picture of humanity left to its own selfish devices. This is where man is today – working in a pigpen and wishing for the pig slop – but not even being able to get it! True, he lost all his material possessions and his self-respect, but the most important thing he lost was his relationship to his father. We, ourselves can sometimes be tempted to want God’s blessings more than we want a relationship with Him the “stuff over the Savior.” The son saw his need to repent and told himself that he must return home even though the best he could expect in returning home would be to become one of his father’s slaves. He was sure he had forfeited his place in the family by his humiliating his father and showing such disrespect for him. But here is where Jesus would shock his listeners again as He has done in previous two parables. Luke 15:20-21. 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 2Note that the first thing the son did after he came to his senses was to “get up.” If we are to repent and turn to God, we must first realize our wrongdoing and “get up” - make a move toward going in the right direction. The ancient Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Likewise, a spiritual journey into Heaven first begins with our “getting up” out of the pigpen. Jesus’ Jewish audience would never have expected the father to respond as he did. There is great significance in the father seeing his son coming toward him. Apparently, he had been watching for him and waiting, knowing that he would come home. The father did not give up on his son. He was looking and longing for his son to return, even though his son had shamed him and himself. People may give up on us, but God never will. Next, we see the father running to meet him. A dignified Middle Eastern man would never lift his skirts, thus exposing his legs, to run for any purpose, let alone this "blackguard" 3of a son. Moreover, he embraces his pig-slopped son, thereby defiling himself and making himself ritually impure. 1 Quotations omitted. 2 Editor’s comment. 3 To use Barclay’s word.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 3 Not only that, he “keeps on” kissing him, a repeated action in the Greek text. The kiss is a sign of respect, greeting and acceptance. Here, the father is not ashamed to condescend to the level of his lost son to save him. 4On July 21, 1961, Astronaut Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom was the pilot of NASA’s second Project Mercury flight, Mercury-Redstone 4, popularly known as Liberty Bell 7. This was a suborbital flight that lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. After splashdown, emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired and blew the hatch off, causing water to flood into the spacecraft. Quickly exiting through the open hatch and into the ocean, Grissom was nearly drowned as water began filling his spacesuit. A recovery helicopter dropped Air Force Pararescue Swimmers (PJs) into the water successfully to save Grissom. Had they not descended to Grissom’s level, he would have drowned because his water-filled suit made it impossible for him to swim and thus save himself. Likewise, in Jesus’ parable, without such a condescension by the father, the son would not have been saved, but would have been drowned in a life of slavery brought about by his selfish decision. Verses 22-24. 22 “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. 5“But.” One of the most important words in the Bible is small word, ”but.” It is an adversative and is used to indicate that the whole direction of the story is instantly changed. Such is the case here. The father did not even give his son the opportunity to share the humble speech he had rehearsed while he was in the pigpen. Note the amazing extravagance of the father’s love. To underscore his decision, the father tells the servants to move “quick” or quickly. “Best robe.” These words indicate something I had never known about this well-known passage. The two words translated “best robe,” in the Greek are protos stolais. This phrase can mean either “first robe” or “the robe of first authority.” Protos means literally “first” and stolais is a long outer robe worn by the rich and powerful. 4 Editor’s comment. 5 Editor’s comment.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 4 It is likely here from the context that the father is bestowing on the son, not the son’s old robe – the robe he possessed first, but the robe of first authority, signifying not only taking him back, but making him pre-eminent even over his older brother. The term robe often evokes images of long flowing robes. Such a robe was an indicator of a person’s elevated status. Jesus on one occasion criticized some of the Pharisees because they showed off their status by displaying their stolais, their “flowing robes” (Mark 12:38). This robe was quite a contrast to the Roman toga, which showed the status of a common Greek or Roman citizen. Giving a robe to symbolize one’s status brings to mind a number of stories in which robes were given as gifts that also signified pre-eminent authority. Jacob groomed Joseph during his teenage years to serve as the steward of his large household, a task for which Joseph later showed repeated aptitude in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and in Pharaoh’s court. Jacob’s gift of a magnificent, long tunic (traditionally translated “coat of many colors”) that evoked much jealousy on the part of Joseph’s older half brothers was a symbol of that stewardship. That’s why they hated Joseph so – his father was planning to place Joseph as the pre-eminent brother. The robe signified this. In a similar act, Pharaoh later placed a royal signet ring and linen robes on Joseph when he elevated Joseph from his prison cell to a position of virtual royalty in Egypt (Gen. 41:42). During the early days of the Israelite kingdom, Saul took David into his service and Saul’s son Jonathan gave David the honor of wearing his robe and weapons (1 Sam. 18:4). Jonathan thus showed his recognition that David would be king over him. During the period of the exile, Persian King Ahasuerus elevated Esther’s uncle Mordecai from the shame of sackcloth (Esth. 4:1) to a royal robe (6:7-10). During the period between the Old and New Testaments circa. 300 BC to 2, perhaps 6 BC6, the Syrian King Antiochus, nearing the end of his life, made his friend Philip king, conferring on him a signet ring, a crown, and a robe (1 Maccabees 6:15). 7Application to us. When we return to God in answer to His call, he restores us not to our former place, but to a place of honor and glory. We are made, in fact, saints. I note the recent elevation by the Roman Catholic Church of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II to the office of "saint." May I submit that they and we, have been saints a lot longer than that - and it was not by the decree of any man, Pope or otherwise. 6 Everyone knows we date history from the birth of Jesus. However, because of calendar errors, Jesus was born a few years before the year 1 AD. 7 Editor’s comment.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 5 Sandals. Historically, the Jews wore sandals. Foot covering in Middle Eastern culture was very important. Exodus records even the Hebrew slaves in Egypt wearing sandals. A Jew would not go barefoot except for one of three reasons: he was somehow dishonored, he had chosen to show mourning or humiliation or he had lost in battle. To show the foot, especially the bottom of the foot is a sign of disrespect.8 However, in Greek and Roman culture, it was not common for slaves to wear sandals unless they had an occupation that needed foot protection. 9 It could be conjectured that part of the reasoning for this was to separate the slave from the free man in the eye of the public and to emphasize to the slave that he was, in fact, a slave. When Jesus told this story, the Greek and Roman customs regarding slaves would have been firmly in place and known by all, Jews and Gentiles alike. Thus, Jesus is addressing the Roman custom, not the Jewish one. Ring. The finger ring was not a decoration. It was also a sign of plenary or supreme authority. To give someone the signet ring was to give him “power of attorney” to do all things the principal could do. When King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, he did so with the gift of a ring (Esther. 3:10). When Haman’s treachery was outed and he was hanged on his own gallows, this same ring King Ahasuerus later gave to Esther’s cousin Mordecai, indicating Mordecai’s rise to power and Haman’s downfall (8:2). We have seen above how Pharaoh gave Joseph a robe to signify his royal authority and can add here that he also took the signet ring from his own finger and gave it to Joseph, conferring authority to him over all Egypt. (See Gen. 41:42.) Feast. The command to kill the fatted calf is actually a command to prepare a feast. In Jesus’ day, people ate mostly grains, vegetables, fruits, and fish. Most people could afford to eat meat only during feasts and festivals. The rich (as undoubtedly the parable presents this family) might also eat meat on the Sabbath.7 In the first-century agrarian society in which Jesus lived, some families kept and fed a calf – fattened it up – specifically for a festive occasion or celebration. Jesus’ hearers then likely understood that the father expected his son to return and thus had the fatted calf ready for the anticipated celebration. They would have roasted the calf all day and it would have fed up to 200 people. It is, thus obvious that the father wanted not only receive the son back, but to announce this to the entire village who would have been invited to the all-day feast. 8 You will remember on April 9, 2003, when the statute of Saddam Hussein was toppled, the people (possibly at the instance of US troops) took off their shoes and hit the statute’s head with them. This was a sign of the most extreme disrespect. 9 This custom was carried through to African slavery in the United States. However, the custom originated with the Greeks, not the Jews. Thus, it was the dream of African slaves to have shoes signifying freedom – “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes,” is the title of an old spiritual making this point.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 6 The Older Brother. He is the Pharisee, leader of Israel. Jesus, as He did so many times, was speaking to his host but He was also addressing those others in the room. Here, He is telling them that they are going to be passed over by God like so many earlier instances where God passed over the older brother. Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over the other brothers, Moses over Aaron, and David over his brothers. These older brothers were always angry at losing their positions. However, God is sovereign. He grooms people for particular jobs and chooses whom He will. We can always find hope in God’s deep desire to forgive and redeem. All of heaven rejoices when a lost one is found. We should do the same. Celebrating the homecoming. It is incumbent on the Christian to celebrate someone who embraces hope and comes back to the Father. We should always be joyful when a sinner repents. It is said that in heaven, there is great joy over such an one. We should do no less. Certainly, we should never disparage such an one. Sometimes, however, when a “sinner comes home,” that is, turns her life over to Jesus, while we may not act with indignation, neither do we get very excited. This may be for the reason that we are inoculated to the occurrence. However, when we do not honor the God who has just snatched this sinner from the pit of hell, we, like the Pharisees, dishonor not only the person, but also the God who saved her. If you find yourself jaded on this point, perhaps you should ask God to help you re-orient yourself to the gravity of the event so that you can rejoice with the newly saved person. Sometimes, life is not about you!10 Grace. This passage is all about the grace of the father pictured here—undeserved forgiveness, undeserved honor, and undeserved responsibility. God welcomes us because of His deep love for us. We do not have to be afraid to turn from our sin and return to the Father. God is not surprised when we come home. In fact, He knew we would and he stand there with arms outstretched, waiting to hug us kiss us and place on us a robe, a ring and new shoes. By linking the three parables of Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son—rather than telling only the third one, Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return. Both the shepherd who found his lost sheep and the woman who found her lost coin invited their friends to rejoice with them. (See vv. 6, 9.) However, the invitation for others to rejoice reached a zenith with the father’s invitation to the whole village in a celebration because his son who was dead is now alive! When the younger son left, he wished his father dead, and the family and village treated the son as dead. However, now the one who had “died” was alive again. Who brought him back to life? Did the son earn it? No, his father gave him his life back with all the rights and privileges. His father had embraced him, kissed him, and made him fully a son, so they all began to celebrate – all except the Pharisee who sees life in one of two ways. Either it is selfishly about himself, his status and his fear of losing both or it is about his wrongly placed adherence to a tradition that maybe once was intended to honor God but now no longer does so. In either case, he is really the Prodigal. 10 Your editor humbly says this to himself.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 7 Commentary and Study Helps KEY WORD: Assets (v. 12)—Translates the Greek word, bios, that literally means “life.” Here, the word implies one’s livelihood or life’s holdings, so therefore, his property. Of the three chapter 15 parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son), the third parable clarified and complemented Jesus’ instruction concerning the rescue of a sinner through the gospel. Each of the three stories involved the whole series of heaven’s experiences in the process of a sinner’s repentance and return to God. The Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus’ welcoming tax collectors and sinners (vv. 1-2). The Pharisees repeatedly failed to realize what brings God contentment, satisfaction, and joy. Sinners repenting brings great delight to God. Jesus began the parable with, “A man had two sons.” The man metaphorically symbolized God the Father. The younger of the two sons typified a repentant sinner, while the older son represented the self-righteous attitudes of the Pharisees not desiring sinners to turn to God. The drama of the parable came suddenly with the younger son demanding his share of the estate from his father so he might try to find the happy life in a distant country. Interestingly, while Judaism advised against granting such a request, it could transpire. To be sure, a son asking for his share of the estate ultimately showed disrespect for his father by suggesting he could not wait for the father to die. The demand would have been tantamount to saying, “Father, you no longer fit my plans for life. I want my freedom, and I want out of this family. I have plans, and they do not involve you or this family. I want my inheritance now.” By demanding his inheritance, the son sowed seeds of discord in the family (one of seven things the Lord hates, Prov. 6:16-19). His request and actions harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized the entire family’s financial security, and fractured the family. The father, far from indignantly refusing the son’s outrageous request, reluctantly distributed the assets. According to the principles of Jewish inheritance, the father divided up the assets between his two sons, with the younger son receiving one-third of the estate and the older his entitled two-thirds. After cashing in his share of the estate to bankroll his rebellion, the younger son headed off to a distant country (v. 13). Jesus reported ever so briefly that the son wasted all he had in carefree or debauched living and soon learned his newly found freedom, as well as his money, could not provide him with life. Having squandered all his money, he experienced a severe famine that drove the destitute young man to slop pigs (vv. 14-16). He wallowed in his sin for so long that he did not turn to his familial, ethnic, and religious identity, but turned instead to a Gentile for a job with hogs. The young man seemed to have passed the point of no return, like the tax collectors and sinners who, to the scribes and Pharisees, seemed too far gone.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 8 Eventually the son recognized his irredeemable situation (v. 17). He had demanded his freedom and lived as he pleased until he hit rock bottom. Remembering that his father’s servants had it far better than he did, his empty stomach drove him to return to his father. He came to his senses in repentance and rehearsed a monologue acknowledging his sin (vv. 18-19). Ready to return to his father, the son pledged to abandon his former ways of thinking and living. His actions, more important than any emotional feelings of remorse, showed the appropriate changes in thinking and behavior. He accepted full responsibility for his predicament and for destroying the relationship with his father. Prepared to come crawling home and throw himself on his father’s mercy, he concluded that returning home in shame and working as one of his father’s servants would be far better than his current circumstance. Luke 15:20-21 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. 21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The son headed home to his father. No respectable father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son in this manner because he had broken all Middle Eastern protocol. The father’s compassionate reception would have exceeded the son’s wildest dreams, not to mention the shock factor experienced by Jesus’ audience. The son’s outrageous and rebellious actions brought dishonor upon his father and tarnished the family’s name. Returning with still another outrageous request after he had cost his family a portion of its fortune, the Pharisees and scribes would have expected the father to have refused to meet him or force him to sit outside the family gate in public view so the whole town could browbeat him with shame. Furthermore, the son could expect to wait out a certain period of time thoroughly humbling himself before his father. Only then would the father tell him with a measure of indifference how long the son would have to work to restore what had been squandered. Only after the son had squared everything through the penances dictated by his father could he possibly hope to find some measure of favor again with his father. However, Jesus’ story blindsided His audience. The father longed for the day when his son would return home. While the son was still a long way off, his father spotted him in the distance. At best, the son could only hope for a cold shoulder, a halfhearted welcome, and perhaps some menial job working for his father. Daily this father must have cast his eyes on the horizon yearning to see his son return. Finally, he caught a glimpse of his poor and emaciated son, clad in rags, melting his heart with compassion. Throwing aside conventions of dignity, the father ran with exuberance. He went beyond normal forgiveness and cascaded his son with an incredible love. Even before the prodigal could butter up his father with his thoroughly rehearsed confession, his father threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The second Greek verb meant to kiss repeatedly, fervently. Everything the father did signaled his absolute affection and complete reconciliation.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 9 Many believe we earn God’s favor and forgiveness through acts of penance and we stay in His good graces by living obediently. Through offering prayers, doing good deeds, attending church services, contributing to charities, and living morally upright lives, people hope to achieve right standing before God. Other religions teach that the path to heaven or paradise comes by means of the individual deserving it as a reward due to his or her accomplishing more good works than bad. Certainly the scribes and Pharisees would have subscribed to such thinking; therefore, the father’s demonstration of love and acceptance without the son paying for his transgressions shocked them. Even today, many adults have adopted a similar view of spiritual economy, making works the means of salvation rather than the biblical view of God’s free gift of grace through faith. Jesus’ parable also reveals God’s attitude and activity toward sinners. While He longs to embrace and keep close those who rebel, just like the father in Jesus’ parable, God will not force anyone to stay home. The father waited for his son, keeping his eyes focused for the son’s return. When he saw his son in the distance, the father humbled himself, coming all the way down from his house and running through the scorn and shame (it was undignified for a man to run) to throw his arms around his son—his love for his son remained constant despite the deep hurt caused by the son’s departure. That father did exactly what Jesus did. He came down into our village to run the gauntlet and bear the shame, slander, and mockery to throw His arms around us and kiss us and reconcile us to Himself. Not deterred, the son began the confession he had practiced, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.” The son did not dance around the fact he had sinned against God and against his father. He readily accepted the consequences of his sin, “I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.” However, his father interrupted him in mid speech before he could get to the part about becoming a hireling—dad had no intention of letting his son work his way back into favor. The son confessed his sin and his unworthiness, and the father took over from there. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that in order for God to accept us we need to suffer because of our sin or even repay God. To us, this just makes sense. However, we cannot do anything except confess our desperation and unworthiness and cast ourselves on God’s grace and mercy. Luke 15:22-24. 22 “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate. No one had given the prodigal anything when he faced the dire straits in the distant country. Now the father, who by the son’s words and actions had previously been wounded and shamed, lavished on him the best gifts imaginable.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 10 The already shocking manner in which the father responded to his shameful son would continue to boggle minds when he called out to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” The audience may have expected the father to at least say something like, “I want to forgive you, but you will have to work under my close watch for a few years. I need to see if you have really repented. Once I know you mean what you say, then we can talk about restoration.” However, the father exonerated his son immediately. The father ran down the dusty road towards his son. Likely some of his servants would have tagged along not understanding why their master was acting so foolishly. When the father finally reached his son, he embraced his stinking garments and kissed him earnestly. He turned to his huffing and puffing servants and said, “Quick!” They would have understood that he meant immediately and without delay! The servants would have understood that to bring out the best robe meant either to fetch their master’s best personal robe or the one formerly worn by this son to denote his place of love and honor in the family. Through the father’s self-emptying act, he restored the son to the family. The father put a ring on his finger, meaning he considered his wayward son as his deputy. This would have boggled the minds of Jesus’ audience, because it confirmed the son’s return to a place of authority in the household. They thought the son should have to work his way back into the family, but the father covered his son. Putting sandals on his feet meant he would not serve in the house like a hired hand or a servant who went barefoot. Only masters and sons wore sandals; therefore, the servants would have accepted him as a master. These three actions combined would declare to everyone that the father had restored his son to the full honor of sonship. The scribes and Pharisees listening to Jesus’ story would have been stunned with incredulity. To completely restore a son who had shamed his father and blown through a third of the family’s assets without his having to work for it did not line up with their theology. They would have demanded at least a waiting period or a reentry time with limitations of family privileges during which time he had to work as his father’s servant. However, Jesus’ teaching introduced a radical idea—undeserved forgiveness, undeserved honor, and undeserved responsibility. The manner in which the father treated his son upon his return demonstrates how our Heavenly Father longs to deal with wayward sinners. He waits—even searches—for us to come home to Him. When we repent from our sinfulness and turn to Him, like the father in Jesus’ parable, He absorbs the hurt and the loss, and He lavishes us with the blessings of a full relationship with Him. The father continued his shameless joy by calling for a party to end all parties. He ordered the slaughter of the fattened calf. Every wealthy family would have kept ready such an animal for special occasions, such as a wedding or the arrival of some significant dignitary, that would call for a celebration with a feast. The father could think of no more fitting time to throw such a party. Preparing the animal would have taken hours to roast, so this represented a day-long event. In first-century Palestine, meals did not generally include meat. When they did include meat, the
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 11 festive event always included some religious aspect. Killing such a large animal—a calf of this size could feed up to a couple hundred people—meant the father intended to invite everybody in the village to the celebration. By linking the three parables of Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son—rather than telling only the third one, Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return. Both the shepherd who found his lost sheep and the woman who found her lost coin invited their friends to rejoice with them (vv. 6,9). However, the invitation for others to rejoice reached a zenith with the father’s invitation to a celebration because his son … was dead. When the younger son left, he wished his father dead, and they treated the son as dead. However, now the one who had “died” was alive again. Who brought him back to life? Did the son earn it? No, his father gave him his life back with all the rights and privileges. His father had embraced him, kissed him, and made him fully a son, so they began to celebrate. This feast really honored the father who had given life back to his son. He restored him to blessing by merciful forgiveness and gracious love, and the entire village came to rejoice with this shameless father who demonstrated such grace and mercy. The son had new life, new status, and new attitude. By returning to his father, the son had entrusted his life to him. He found far more than he ever expected—a real relationship with a loving, forgiving father! This father offers a perfect picture of how God approaches sinners who turn to Him. He takes the initiative to search for the lost because He has “come to seek and to save the lost” (19:10). Our heavenly Father rejoices to bring us into His family, and He celebrates with all of heaven our turning or returning to Him. He does not hold off the party until a large number come home to Him. No, the celebration starts each time a sinner comes home. Live it Out. The old hymn says, “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me; See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me.” It’s not too late. The “Welcome Home” sign is up. He’s waiting to run out and meet you.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 12 DIGGING DEEPER: Assets—The Greek noun ousia, rendered assets, “property” (NIV, ESV), and “living” (KJV), in this instance (v. 12) refers to the portion of the inheritance that would have come to the younger son on the death of his father. According to the law of primogeniture, the eldest son would receive a double portion and the remaining siblings would divide the rest. Distribution of assets customarily did not precede the death of the father. Living: The word living in verse 12 comes from the Greek word bios, which in addition to meaning “life as the state of existence, also can refer to “that by which life is sustained: resources, wealth, goods.” In our culture, we speak of our employment as “making a living.” The father in the parable had accumulated resources and goods to support him and his family. At his death all these things—his living—would be distributed to his heirs. Prodigal: 1 wastefully extravagant. 2 lavish. n. a prodigal person. (also prodigal son or daughter) a person who leaves home to lead a prodigal life but returns repentant. [with allusion to the parable in Luke 15:11–32.] – ORIGIN ME: from L. prodigus ‘lavish’. Prodigal Son: Popular term used to identify Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32. English translations do not use the term prodigal meaning, “reckless” or “wasteful,” though they speak of the younger son’s wasting or squandering his property (15:13). “The Prodigal Son” is an unfortunate designation for this parable told in defense of Jesus’ practice of fellowshipping with sinners (15:1). The parable focuses not on the reckless-then- repentant younger son but on the waiting father who rushes to welcome his child home and calls all, elder brother included, to share the joy of homecoming. INHERITANCE: A legal transmission of property after death. The Hebrew Bible has no exclusive term for “inheritance.” The words often translated “inherit” mean more generally “take possession.” Only in context can they be taken to mean “inheritance.” The Greek word in the New Testament does refer to the disposition of property after death, but its use in the New Testament often reflects the Old Testament background more than normal Greek usage. In ancient Israel possessions were passed on to the living sons of a father, but the eldest son received a double portion (Deut. 21:17). Reuben lost preeminence because of incest with Bilhah (Gen. 35:22; 49:4; 1 Chron. 5:1), and Esau surrendered his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:29-34). These examples show that possession of this double portion was not absolute. Sons of concubines did not inherit unless adopted. Jacob’s sons by the maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 30:3-13) inherited (Gen. 49) because those offspring were adopted by Rachel and Leah. Sarai promised to adopt the offspring of her maid Hagar when she gave Hagar to Abram (Gen. 16:2) but went back on that promise after Isaac’s birth (Gen. 21:10).
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 13 Women were not to inherit from their fathers except in the absence of a son (Num. 27:1-11). Before this ruling from the Lord, if a man had no offspring, the inheritance went to his brothers, to his father’s brothers, or to his next kinsman. Because the Hebrew words did not necessarily presuppose a death, they could be used in reference to God’s granting of the land to Israel (Josh. 1:15; Num. 36:2-4). Levites had no share of the land, and the Lord Himself was their “inheritance” (Num. 18:20-24; Deut. 10:9; 18:2; Josh. 13:33). Jeremiah used the concept of “inheritance” to refer to the restoration of Israel to the land from “the north” after the time of punishment (Jer. 3:18-19). Israel is the “inheritance” of the Lord (Jer. 10:16). Psalm 79:1 speaks of Jerusalem and the Temple as God’s “inheritance.” In a broader sense, however, God can be said to “inherit” all nations (Ps. 82:8). Anything given by God can be called an “inheritance.” In Psalm 16:5 the pleasant conditions of the psalmist’s life were his “inheritance” because he had chosen the Lord as his lot. In Psalm 119:111 God’s testimonies are an “inheritance.” In Job 27:13 “heritage” refers to God’s punishment of the wicked. Proverbs 3:35 compares the honor the wise “inherit” with the disgrace of the fool. In the New Testament “inheritance” can refer to property (Luke 12:13), but it most often refers to the rewards of discipleship: eternal life (Matt. 5:5; 19:29; Mark 10:29-30 and parallels; Titus 3:7), the kingdom (Matt. 25:34; Jas. 2:5; negatively 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 15:50), generally (Acts 20:32; Eph. 1:14, 18; Rev. 21:7). Christ is the Heir par excellence (Matt. 21:38 and parallels; Heb. 1:2). Through Christ Christians can be heirs of God and “fellow heirs” with Christ (Rom. 8:17; compare Eph. 3:6). Only Hebrews makes explicit use of the idea of “inheritance” as requiring the death of the testator, Christ. A “will” requires a death to come into effect, so the death of Christ brings the new “covenant”/“will” into effect (Heb. 9:16-17). ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: THE STORY OF THE LOVING FATHER (Luke 15:11-32.) Commentary on Luke 15 by William Barclay, Daily Bible Study. There is no chapter of the New Testament so well known and so dearly loved as the fifteenth chapter of Luke's gospel. It has been called "the gospel in the gospel," as if it contained the very distilled essence of the good news that Jesus came to tell. These parables arose out of definite situations. It was an offence to the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus associated with men and women who, by the orthodox, were labeled as sinners. The Pharisees gave to people who did not keep the law a general classification. They called them the People of the Land; and there was a complete barrier between the Pharisees and the People of the Land. To marry a daughter to one of them was
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 14 like exposing her bound and helpless to a lion. The Pharisaic regulations laid it down, "When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him. trust him with no secret, do not appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey." A Pharisee was forbidden to be the guest of any such man or to have him as his guest. He was even forbidden, so far as it was possible, to have any business dealings with him. It was the deliberate Pharisaic aim to avoid every contact with the people who did not observe the petty details of the law. Obviously, they would be shocked to the core at the way in which Jesus companied with people who were not only rank outsiders, but sinners, contact with whom would necessarily defile. We will understand these parables more fully if we remember that the strict Jews said, not "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents," but "There will be joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God." They looked sadistically forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner. So Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd's joy. 15:11-32 Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the part of the estate which falls to me.' So his father divided his living between them. Not many days after, the son realized it all and went away to a far country, and there in wanton recklessness scattered his substance. When he had spent everything a mighty famine arose throughout that country and he began to be in want. He went and attached himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs; and he had a great desire to fill himself with the husks the pigs were eating; and no one gave anything to him. When he had come to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, and I--I am perishing here with hunger. I will get up and I will go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer fit to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants."' So he got up and went to his father. While he was still a long way away his father saw him, and was moved to the depths of his being and ran and flung his arms round his neck and kissed him tenderly. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger; put shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and rejoice, for this my son was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to rejoice. "Now the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what these things could mean? He said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound.' He was enraged and refused to come in. His father went out and urged him to come in. He answered his father, 'Look you, I have served you so many years and I never transgressed your order, and to me you never gave a kid that I might have a good time with my friends. But when this son of yours--this fellow who consumed your living with harlots--came, you killed the fatted calf for him.' 'Child,' he said to him, 'you are always with me. Everything
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 15 that is mine is yours. But we had to rejoice and be glad, for your brother was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.'" Not without reason this has been called the greatest short story in the world. Under Jewish law a father was not free to leave his property as he liked. The elder son must get two-thirds and the younger one-third. (Deuteronomy 21:17.) It was by no means unusual for a father to distribute his estate before he died, if he wished to retire from the actual management of affairs. But there is a certain heartless callousness in the request of the younger son. He said in effect, "Give me now the part of the estate I will get anyway when you are dead, and let me get out of this." The father did not argue. He knew that if the son was ever to learn he must learn the hard way; and he granted his request. Without delay the son realized his share of the property and left home. He soon ran through the money; and he finished up feeding pigs, a task that was forbidden to a Jew because the law said, "Cursed is he who feeds swine." Then Jesus paid sinning mankind the greatest compliment it has ever been paid. "When he came to himself," he said. Jesus believed that so long as a man was away from God he was not truly himself; he was only truly himself when he was on the way home. Beyond a doubt Jesus did not believe in total depravity. He never believed that you could glorify God by blackguarding man; he believed that man was never essentially himself until he came home to God. So the son decided to come home and plead to be taken back not as a son but in the lowest rank of slaves, the hired servants, the men who were only day labourers. The ordinary slave was in some sense a member of the family, but the hired servant could be dismissed at a day's notice. He was not one of the family at all. He came home; and, according to the best Greek text, his father never gave him the chance to ask to be a servant. He broke in before that. The robe stands for honour; the ring for authority, for if a man gave to another his signet ring it was the same as giving him the power of attorney; the shoes for a son as opposed to a slave, for children of the family were shod and slaves were not. (The slave's dream in the negro spiritual is of the time when "all God's chillun got shoes," for shoes were the sign of freedom.) And a feast was made that all might rejoice at the wanderer's return. Let us stop there and see the truth so far in this parable. (i) It should never have been called the parable of the Prodigal Son, for the son is not the hero. It should be called the parable of the Loving Father, for it tells us rather about a father's love than a son's sin. (ii) It tells us much about the forgiveness of God. The father must have been waiting and watching for the son to come home, for he saw him a long way off. When he came, he forgave him with no recriminations. There is a way of forgiving, when forgiveness is conferred as a favour. It is even worse, when someone is forgiven, but always by hint and by word and by threat his sin is held over him.
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 16 Once Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union of the United States. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, "I will treat them as if they had never been away." It is the wonder of the love of God that he treats us like that. That is not the end of the story. There enters the elder brother who was actually sorry that his brother had come home. He stands for the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved. Certain things stand out about him. (i) His attitude shows that his years of obedience to his father had been years of grim duty and not of loving service. (ii) His attitude is one of utter lack of sympathy. He refers to the prodigal, not as any brother, but as your son. He was the kind of self-righteous character who would cheerfully have kicked a man farther into the gutter when he was already down. (iii) He had a peculiarly nasty mind. There is no mention of harlots until he mentions them. He, no doubt, suspected his brother of the sins he himself would have liked to commit. Once again we have the amazing truth that it is easier to confess to God than it is to many a man; that God is more merciful in his judgments than many an orthodox man; that the love of God is far broader than the love of man; and that God can forgive when men refuse to forgive. In face of a love like that we cannot be other than lost in wonder, love and praise. THREE LOST THINGS We must finally note that these three parables are not simply three ways of stating the same thing. There is a difference. The sheep went lost through sheer foolishness. It did not think; and many a man would escape sin if he thought in time. The coin was lost through no fault of its own. Many a man is led astray; and God will not hold him guiltless who has taught another to sin. The son deliberately went lost, callously turning his back on his father. The love of God can defeat the foolishness of man, the seduction of the tempting voices, and even the deliberate rebellion of the heart. Jewish Inheritance Laws
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 17 By Timothy Noel, Pastor, Lexington Avenue Baptist Church, Danville, Kentucky. IN THE PARABLE of the father and the two sons, the younger son came to the father and asked that he divide his estate and give to the younger son the portion that would come to him. But what does that mean? What was the Jewish law in the first century that regulated the inheritance of a family estate? What distinction did the law make regarding the inheritance of the firstborn son as opposed to younger sons? Perhaps the first question we should ask is: Did the law make provision for the younger son to demand a share of his father’s property? Clearly, the answer is no. The father could dispose of his property in either of two way. The normal means of providing for inheritance for sons was through a will that would be executed at his death. On the other hand, the father could provide for his sons by dividing the property before his death. But in such instances restrictions would be placed on the inheritance. If the property was passed on to the sons after the death of the father, a double share would go to the elder son. If the father had two sons, the elder would receive two thirds of the inheritance and the young would receive one third. If the property were divided between the sons before the father’s death, evidently different arrangements were made in the amount of the inheritance. Clearly the father could not give one third of all he owned to the younger son and the rest to the older son. In that case nothing would be left for the father and mother’s livelihood, or for any other dependents such as unmarried daughters. Some deduction would have been made for the father and mother’s maintenance until their death. And some provision would need to be made for the rest of the family. According to Jewish law, all the advantages of property ownership, including all profits from the property, would remain with the father, even though the younger son held a portion of the title. The property might be signed over to the sons, but the father retained control. Exactly what that meant as far as how much the younger son might have received from the father by asking for his portion before his father’s death is no clear. Obviously it would have been less than the one third he would have received had he waited until his father died, but how much less? Derrett suggested two ninths of the estate, but that figure is obviously conjecture. Just as important, as far as the legality of what the younger son proposed, is the right of disposal of the estate. By law, the son could hold title to the property but could not dispose of it since his father would need to live on the property and make a living through it. The younger son, however, not only asked for ownership but also for right of disposal. For the son to ask for his share of the inheritance was more than a request for independence. It was a confession that he could not live at home. Sons were expected to live at home and work for their father until they married. Then they were expected to work with the father until the father’s death. The concept of a son
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 18 striking out on his own when he reached a certain age is a concept unique to our culture, not that of Jesus’ day and time. Clearly the younger son was wrong in what he did. He even confessed as much. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21, NIV). What was the younger son’s sin? We usually assume, with the elder brother, that the younger son’s sin was riotous living. But the greater sin was his sin against his father, the sin that made him unworthy to be called a son. The younger son failed to honor his father, an obligation that was more than just showing respect. It was financial. From the inheritance that came to him, the son had an obligation to provide for his father’s future. The sin against the father was covetousness, a willingness to take property from his father for his own use without regard for any other obligation. The Scripture is clear that the father’s estate was divided and given not only to the younger son but to the elder son as well. So the elder son also received his portion of the inheritance, which was proper in this instance. After the younger son received his portion and the appropriate deductions were made for the rest of the family, all that remained of the estate belonged to the elder son. This disposition explains the older son’s attitude when the younger son returned home. Anything that was spent for his brother’s return came directly out of his pocket. The ring, the robe, the shoes, the fatted calf all belonged to the elder brother. The father had every legal right to give these things as he willed, but ultimately the gifts diminished the elder son’s property. An understanding of Jewish inheritance laws sheds light on the relationship of both sons to their father. The younger son is the easy target because he asked outright for a share of the money and then wasted it. He treated his father as if he were already dead. But the older son also received a share, and the importance to him of that inheritance was revealed by his unwillingness to let go of even enough for a party for his brother. Money was more important than family for both sons. The parable illustrates children’s obligations to their parents. The younger son lived for the moment with no regard for how his father might come to be in need in his latter years. What does that say to a generation of people who face the difficult choice of how to care for aging parents? The parable also reveals the quality of a father’s love. That love was ultimately not measured by the letter of the law. The son had squandered all that he had coming. The older son was right, as far as the letter of the law was concerned. There was no longer room in the house for this younger son; all that belonged to him was dissipated. The elder son had a wonderful grasp of Jewish inheritance laws. His deficiencies were in the realm of grace and love. But the father made up for those deficiencies with his own love. He allowed love to replace law and mercy ruled the day. Robes, Rings, & Restoration
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 19 By John Mason, pastor, Woodlawn Baptist Church, Colonial Heights, Virginia. OVER THE YEARS I have seen wayward children of good parents come home occasionally to say the right words, with no real intent of actually changing their lives for the better. These unrepentant children want only to receive assistance from their parents before wandering off into the far country of sin once again. They repeatedly take the feelings of their loving and forgiving parents hostage just to get what they want from them. I cannot help but hear the ring of truth in the indignant response of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son at discovering his father’s embrace of his “lost” brother who has now been found. I recognize that I am reading the story through the lens of modern American experience. If we are to hear the parable as Jesus intended, we must hear it in its first-century context, especially the symbolic acts of the father who embraced his way-ward son with gifts of a robe, a ring, and a feast. The Best Robe. Having received his son with open arms, the father ordered servants to bring the best robe (Luke 15:22). The Septuagint often used the word robe (Greek, stol) simply to indicate a garment or an outer garment. More often, however, stol did not simply denote the outer garment, but a garment that indicated a person’s social status.1 We can argue that the garment the father gave was simply a robe. In describing the robe, Luke used the Greek term protos, which can mean first, as in earlier – or first as in most importance.2 Some might conclude then that the protos robe could be understood as the son’s “former” robe. This reading would relate the restoration of the son’s former clothes to the statement that the one who was dead is alive. It is probably not, however, the best reading in light of the rest of the parable. The father’s other gifts would indicate that he wanted only the best for his returning son. Thus the father called for the finest robe. The term robe often evoked images of long flowing robes. Such a robe was an indicator of a person’s elevated status. Jesus on one occasion criticized some of the Pharisees because they showed off their status by displaying their flowing robes (Mark 12:38). This robe was quite a contrast to the Roman toga, which broadcast the status of a common Roman citizen. In addition, giving a robe to symbolize one’s status brings to mind a number of stories in which robes were given as gifts. Jacob groomed Joseph during his teenage years to serve as the steward of his large household, a task for which Joseph later showed repeated aptitude in Potiphar’s house, in prison, and in Pharaoh’s court. Jacob’s gift of a magnificent, long tunic (traditionally translated “coat of many colors”) that evoked much jealousy on the part of Joseph’s older half brothers was a symbol of that stewardship. In a similar act, Pharaoh later placed a royal signet ring and linen robes on Joseph when he elevated Joseph from his prison cell to a position of virtual royalty in Egypt (Gen. 41:42). During the early days of the Israelite kingdom, Saul took David into his service and Saul’s son Jonathan gave David the honor of wearing his robe and weapons (1 Sam. 18:4).
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 20 During the period of the exile, Persian King Ahaseurus elevated Esther’s uncle Mordecai from the shame of sackcloth (Esth. 4:1) to a royal robe (6:7-10). Finally, during the period between the Old and New Testaments, the Syrian King Antiochus, nearing the end of his life, made his friend Philip king, conferring on him a signet ring, a crown, and a robe (1 Maccabees 6:15). A person’s clothing showed his status in society.3 As mentioned above, a fine robe indicated one’s elevated status. On the other hand, to strip a person of his clothing dishonored him. The Ammonite king shamed King David’s men by cutting off half of their clothing and shaving half of their beards (2 Sam. 10:4-5). Also the stele of Assyrian King Sennacherib displays the humiliation of the naked Hebrew victims and captives of the battle of Lachish.4 Jesus’ hearers pictured the wayward son in the parable returning to his father, ill clothed and thin from hunger, to be embraced by his father, who then ordered the best robe and sandals5 be brought for his son. He had given his son a new status. We must then ask: Did the father raise him to the status of a son only or did he raise him to a status above that of his older brother? The combination of the gifts of robe and ring suggests the answer is the latter. The Ring. Unlike the earrings and nose rings used in antiquity to decorate the body, finger rings often served to symbolize authority. These signet rings indicated that their bearers possessed royal powers. King Tutankhamen gave Prince Huy such a signet ring when he made him viceroy of Nubia.6 Similarly when King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, he did so with the gift of a ring (Esth. 3:10). This same ring King Ahasuerus later gave to Esther’s cousin Mordecai, indicating Mordecai’s rise to power and Haman’s downfall (8:2). We have seen above how Pharaoh gave Joseph a robe to signify his royal authority and can add here that he also took the signet ring from his own finger and gave it to Joseph, conferring authority to him over all Egypt (Gen. 41:42). We could argue that the prodigal’s father granted no such powers to the younger son in Jesus’ parable. Instead, the father restored the status of sonship to his second son. Yet, the parable could hardly do other than evoke such pictures of the father granting royal authority. Thus in the minds of Jesus’ hearers, the likelihood is the younger wayward brother was elevated above his dutiful older sibling. The Feast. The command to kill the fatted calf is actually a command to prepare a feast. In Jesus’ day, people ate mostly grains, vegetables, fruits, and fish. Most people could afford to eat meat only during feasts and festivals. The rich (as undoubtedly the parable presents this family) might also eat meat on the Sabbath.7
    • John R. Wible, Editor. Sources: Southern Baptist Uniform Sunday School Lesson and Commentary, Spring, 2014; Southern Baptist Advanced Bible Study and Southern Baptist Biblical Illustrator, selected articles; and Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study, except where noted. Page 21 In the first-century agrarian society in which Jesus lived, some families kept and fed a calf – fattened it up – specifically for a festive occasion or celebration. Jesus’ hearers then likely understood that the father expected his son to return and thus had the fatted calf ready for the anticipated celebration. The Older Brother The impact of these images used together make clear that the younger son has been restored to sonship and more. In the minds of Jesus’ hearers, the prodigal was elevated above his older brother. No wonder the older son was too indignant to join the feasting. In his mind, when his father honored his younger brother, his father dishonored him. The parable, then, finds its place among a number of biblical stories where the younger brother was placed above his older sibling. God accepted the offering of the younger brother Abel but would not look on the offering of his older brother Cain. Jacob, the younger son of Isaac, took the birthright and blessing from his older brother, Esau. Jacob honored Joseph more than he did his older brothers. Samuel selected David, the youngest son of Jesse, to be king. With this parable, Jesus taught God has chosen to restore and forgive lost and wayward sinners, elevating them over the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who thought themselves to be far more deserving. In the end, their own self-aggrandizement actually kept them from what they desired the most, the blessings of the Father.