By Dennis C. Abernathy
In this article we wish to notice the parable of the lost (or sometimes called “prodigal”) son. We are not interested just here in a detailed study of what a parable is, but will give the following, which will be helpful. A parable is a narrative true to nature or to life which is used for the purpose of conveying spiritual truth to the mind of the hearer. As the Bible class teacher may convey to her small students: “It is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”
This parable of the lost son is found in Luke 15:11-32 and is said by many to be the most beautiful of all the parables. It is filled with human sympathy and love. It touches the innermost part of man–his very heart. It is a very moving story, filled with practical applications for us. It is normally called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” although the word “prodigal” is not used in the narrative.
The two preceding parables (the lost sheep and the lost coin) help to introduce this parable. They were spoken in the presence of “publicans and sinners” and the “Pharisees and scribes.” The publicans and sinners had drawn near unto Jesus “for to hear him” (Lk. 15:1). But the scribes and Pharisees “murmured” (v. 2), and were there to spy, criticize and accuse the Lord. These parables show us God’s attitude toward and love for the sinner as compared to the sinful attitude toward and lack of love and compassion for sinners on the part of the scribes and Pharisees. They exhibited the “holier than thou” attitude and were trusting in their own righteousness (Isa. 65:5; Rom. 10:1-3).
In the first parable, the lost sheep strayed of itself; but a piece of money (coin) could not be lost of itself. In the one, attention is fastened upon the condition of the thing lost; in the second case, attention is fastened upon the sorrow of the one who lost it. But in our parable under study, there is blame to be attached to the one that is lost.
Now, with your Bibles open, we shall focus our attention on this young man and try to glean some needful lessons from this parable.
1. This young man desired to be free from his father’s house. He was no longer content with his father’s home (sick of home – as compared to homesickness later); in fact, we might say he was very much dissatisfied. His father’s love, care, concern, protection and provision was not treasured very highly by him. He was ready to contemptuously cast aside his father’s guidance, counsel, and association. He wanted to have his own way. He longed for the far country.
Young people, you had better think hard and long about this very thing. You want to get out on your own. You want to do you own thing. You want to break away from all the restraints of home. You are tired of being told what to do (or bossed), so now you want to make your own decisions. Are you ready? This young man thought he was.
But man so often falls into this grievious error in this life here on this earth. Hence God warns, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 Jno. 2:15-17). It is man who forsakes God; it is man who leaves Him. God does not desire it (1 Tim. 2:4). But man follows his own desires, leading him into sin, which brings death (Jas. 1:14-15; Rom. 6:23). You want to know why and how man sins? Well James tells us that we are responsible for our own sins. “When he is drawn away of his own lusts, and enticed.”
2. This young man wanted what was his – right now. He had a right, by law (Deut. 21:17) to his portion (a third, being the younger); but he had no right to claim it during the father’s lifetime. But he made his request (or perhaps made his demand). We see the father (isn’t he typical of most) willingly sharing with him, even though he did not have to do so.
This young man is typical of mankind and his conduct toward God – Man selfishly petitioning God to give in to their every whim – and do it now. The young man’s father granted his request – but it was not best for him. God will allow man to have his desires, if he, in his stubborness, persists in the attainment of them. We see this in His dealings with Israel. He “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psa. 106:3-16). Also, their request (or demand) to “give them a king” like their neighbors round about them. (1 Sam. 8:19-22). Dear reader, both the boy and they got what they asked for, but it wasn’t best for them.
3. This young man took his departure into the far country – away from all restraints. He was free at last, He thought. Free from his father’s influence, guidance, and counsel. He was now “his own man.” He could now “do his own thing.” He could now make his own life.
Everybody is seeking freedom today from something. Every minority group, women’s group, gay rights group, etc. all want to be free from the “shackles that bind them.” All of this freedom (so-called) is not what it is built up to be. To be able to smoke, drink, curse, fornicate, take drugs – is this freedom? Do not be deceived! This is slavery of the grossest sort – slavery to one’s own indulgence. “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Pet. 2:19).
But back to this lad’s father for just a moment. We see his loving care to the end. He “divided with them his living.” He was very unselfish witholding nothing from his son; he gave them all he had. Does not this portray the Heavenly Father’s love for man (Read John 3:16 and Rom. 5:8)? He loves us, hence, He gave. Love gives. The author of “every good and perfect gift” has simply provided and still provides for us.
But so many are not content with His provisions; they want to throw off all restraint (do their own thing in religion). They do not want to follow a pattern and very boldly announce that they “do not need authority for all they do.” My friends, they are on their way to the far country. They think they are free from the restraints (legalism, antism, etc.), but this young man thought he was free too.
4. This young man wasted his sustenance in riotous living. But remember, dear reader, this is the kind of life he wanted (the “good life,” he thought). Just look what he gave up for this life of “riotous living.”
Think of the countless multitudes, who squander all they make on a life of sin, given over to every sinful pleasure to fulfill their lusts. This seems to be the philosophy that the majority live by today. “You only go around once in life, live it with all the gusto you can.” What a pity, what a waste!
Yes, the “far country” of sin offers revelry and good times, but the Book says that the pleasures of sin are but “for a season” (Heb. 11:24-25). Such pleasures are never satisfying or lasting and ultimately bring only heartache and pain.
What about you? Will you waste your life or will you resolve right now that you will spend the remainder of it in the service of the Lord? Just think of the wasted time, energy and talent you have already thrown away in the service of our worst enemy, the devil (Jn. 8:44). This young man went out full (with abundance) but in the far country, it did not take him long to come up empty. Do not learn this lesson the hard way. Dealing with the devil will always leave you short changed.
5. This young man was in want, where will he turn? He has squandered all he had and now, possibly for the first time in his life, he is confronted with a real need. Where are his fair weather friends now? Have they all deserted him? (His money, their ticket to a good time, is gone and so are they.) In time of need, one does not turn to the ones responsible for his distressing plight. The alcoholic does not turn to the brewery to get help. Alcohol has made millions of alcoholics, but has not befriended one yet. Yes, when people are down and out, they turn to good people, they turn to the church – these are the ones who can help.
So it is with the sinner. He must turn from the devil to escape his bondage, and turn to the Lord, in order that he might find rest for his soul. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Until the sinner turns to God, there is no hope all is lost.
6. This young man has now sunk to a shameful life. He is now forced into the employ of a heathen and, not only that, but he is in the field to feed the swine. Think of the stigma of his job – a Jewish boy feeding swine, unclean animals. The account says that if he could have, he would have eaten from the hog trough.
He has arrived. This is the good life in all its glory. This is the finished product of the brewers art. Here are the rewards of the good life in the far country. What does it get you? Drinking, drugs, illicit sex, dancing, immodesty – what does it get you? I will tell you – the hog pen in the mud and mire of sin just like it got this young man. Sin is filthy. (I am afraid we do not view sin as God does. We laugh it off, pass over it lightly, and rationalize it away.) “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit . . . .” (2 Cor. 7:1).
How this typifies the plight of all who turn from God to a life of sin (read 2 Pet. 2:20-22). Not a pretty picture is it? It has been aptly put: “If you don’t want to be classed with the hogs, don’t wallow with them in the mire.”
Here is this young man. He had a good home and a father who loved him; he threw it all away, and now he has hit rock bottom. He is at the end of his rope; he is in the gutter. Sad to say, this is the plight of many who were fine, healthy, outstanding young people who have tried the wares of the devil. They thought they could “make a mock at sin,” but they are fools (Prov. 14:9).
If we were to close this story here (with the young man in the hog pen) in utter despair and need, it would be sad beyond description. But there is a cloud with a silver lining. This is a story with a “lived happily ever after” ending, as it were, as far as this young man is concerned. In the next article, we shall trace his steps back home. Stay with us.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 45, pp. 743-745
November 20, 1980