Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
Lu 15:1-32. Publicans and Sinners Welcomed by Christ—Three Parables to Explain This.
1. drew near … all the publicans and sinners, &c.—drawn around Him by the extraordinary adaptation of His teaching to their case, who, till He appeared—at least His forerunner—might well say, "No man careth for my soul."
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
2. murmured, saying, &c.—took it ill, were scandalized at Him, and insinuated (on the principle that a man is known by the company he keeps) that He must have some secret sympathy with their character. But oh, what a truth of unspeakable preciousness do their lips, as on other occasions, unconsciously utter., Now follow three parables representing the sinner: (1) in his stupidity; (2) as all-unconscious of his lost condition; (3) knowingly and willingly estranged from God [Bengel]. The first two set forth the seeking love of God; the last, His receiving love [Trench].
And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
Lu 15:3-7. I. The Lost Sheep.
3-7. Occurring again (Mt 18:12-14); but there to show how precious one of His sheep is to the Good Shepherd; here, to show that the shepherd, though the sheep stray never so widely, will seek it out, and when he hath found, will rejoice over it.
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
4. leave the ninety and nine—bend all His attention and care, as it were, to the one object of recovering the lost sheep; not saying. "It is but one; let it go; enough remain."
go after … until, &c.—pointing to all the diversified means which God sets in operation for recovering sinners.
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
6. Rejoice with me, &c.—The principle here is, that one feels exuberant joy to be almost too much for himself to bear alone, and is positively relieved by having others to share it with him. (See on Lu 15:10).
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
7. ninety-nine just … needing no repentance—not angels, whose place in these parables is very different from this; but those represented by the prodigal's well-behaved brother, who have "served their Father" many years and not at any time transgressed His commandment (in the outrageous sense of the prodigal). (See on Lu 15:29; Lu 15:31). In other words, such as have grown up from childhood in the fear of God and as the sheep of His pasture. Our Lord does not say "the Pharisees and scribes" were such; but as there was undoubtedly such a class, while "the publicans and sinners" were confessedly the strayed sheep and the prodigal children, He leaves them to fill up the place of the other class, if they could.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
Lu 15:8-10. II. The Lost Coin.
8. sweep the house—"not done without dust on man's part" [Bengel].
And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
10. Likewise—on the same principle.
joy, &c.—Note carefully the language here—not "joy on the part," but "joy in the presence of the angels of God." True to the idea of the parables. The Great Shepherd. The Great Owner Himself, is He whose the joy properly is over His own recovered property; but so vast and exuberant is it (Zec 8:17), that as if He could not keep it to Himself, He "calleth His friends and neighbors together"—His whole celestial family—saying, "Rejoice WITH Me, for I have found My sheep-My-piece," &c. In this sublime sense it is "joy," before "or in the presence of the angels"; they only "catch the flying joy," sharing it with Him! The application of this to the reception of those publicans and sinners that stood around our Lord is grand in the extreme: "Ye turn from these lost ones with disdain, and because I do not the same, ye murmur at it: but a very different feeling is cherished in heaven. There, the recovery of even one such outcast is watched with interest and hailed with joy; nor are they left to come home of themselves or perish; for lo! even now the great Shepherd is going after His lost sheep, and the Owner is making diligent search for the lost property; and He is finding it, too, and bringing it back with joy, and all heaven is full of it." (Let the reader mark what sublime claims Himself our Lord covertly puts in here—as if in Him they beheld, all unknown to themselves, nothing less than heaven in the habiliments of earth, the Great Shepherd above, clothed in a garment of flesh, come "to seek and to save that which was lost")!
And he said, A certain man had two sons:
Lu 15:11-32. III. The Prodigal Son.
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
12. the younger—as the more thoughtless.
said, &c.—weary of restraint, panting for independence, unable longer to abide the check of a father's eye. This is man impatient of divine control, desiring to be independent of God, seeking to be his own master; that "sin of sins, in which all subsequent sins are included as in their germ, for they are but the unfolding of this one" [Trench].
he divided, &c.—Thus "God, when His service no longer appears a perfect freedom, and man promises himself something far better elsewhere, allows him to make the trial; and he shall discover, if need be by saddest proof, that to depart from Him is not to throw off the yoke, but to exchange a light yoke for a heavy one, and one gracious Master for a thousand imperious tyrants and lords" [Trench].
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
13. not many days—intoxicated with his new—found resources, and eager for the luxury of using them at Will.
a far country—beyond all danger of interference from home.
wasted, &c.—So long as it lasted, the inward monitor (Isa 55:2) would be silenced (Isa 9:10; 57:10; Am 4:6-10).
riotous living—(Lu 15:30), "with harlots." Ah! but this reaches farther than the sensualist; for "in the deep symbolical language of Scripture fornication is the standing image of idolatry; they are in fact ever spoken of as one and the same sin, considered now in its fleshly, now in its spiritual aspect" (Jer 3:1-15; Eze 16:1-17:24) [Trench].
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
14. when he had spent all … a mighty famine—a mysterious providence holding back the famine till he was in circumstances to feel it in all its rigor. Thus, like Jonah, whom the storm did not overtake till on the mighty deep at the mercy of the waves, does the sinner feel as if "the stars in their courses were fighting against" him (Jud 5:20).
in want—the first stage of his bitter experience, and preparation for a change.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
15. joined himself, &c.—his pride not yet humbled, unable to brook the shame of a return.
to feed swine—glad to keep life anyhow, behold the son sank into a swineherd—among the Jews, on account of the prohibition of swine's flesh, emphatically vile! "He who begins by using the world as a servant, to minister to his pleasure, ends by reversing the relationship" [Trench].
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
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).
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
17. came to himself—Before, he had been "beside himself" (Ec 9:3), in what sense will presently appear.
How many hired, &c.—What a testimony to the nature of the home he had left! But did he not know all this ere he departed and every day of his voluntary exile? He did, and he did not. His heart being wholly estranged from home and steeped in selfish gratification, his father's house never came within the range of his vision, or but as another name for bondage and gloom. Now empty, desolate, withered, perishing, home, with all its peace, plenty, freedom, dignity, starts into view, fills all his visions as a warm and living reality, and breaks his heart.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
18. I will arise and go to my FATHER—The change has come at last, and what a change!—couched in terms of such exquisite simplicity and power as if expressly framed for all heart-broken penitents.
Father, &c.—Mark the term. Though "no more worthy to be called his son," the prodigal sinner is taught to claim the defiled, but still existing relationship, asking not to be made a servant, but remaining a son to be made "as a servant," willing to take the lowest place and do the meanest work. Ah! and is it come to this? Once it was, "Any place rather than home." Now, "Oh, that home! Could I but dare to hope that the door of it would not be closed against me, how gladly would I take any place and do any worK, happy only to be there at all." Well, that is conversion—nothing absolutely new, yet all new; old familiar things seen in a new light and for the first time as realities of overwhelming magnitude and power. How this is brought about the parable says not. (We have that abundantly elsewhere, Php 2:13, &c.). Its one object is to paint the welcome home of the greatest sinners, when (no matter for the present how) they "arise and go to their Father."
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
20. a great way off—Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward, though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us, and bounds to meet us—not saying, Let him come to Me and sue for pardon first, but Himself taking the first step.
fell on his neck and kissed him—What! In all his filth? Yes. In all his rags? Yes. In all his haggard, shattered wretchedness? Yes. "Our Father who art in heaven," is this Thy portraiture? It is even so (Jer 31:20). And because it is so, I wonder not that such incomparable teaching hath made the world new.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
21. Father, I have sinned, &c.—"This confession is uttered after the kiss of reconciliation" (Eze 16:63) [Trench].
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
22. But the Father said, &c.—The son has not said all he purposed, not so much, because the father's demonstrations had rekindled the filial, and swallowed up all servile feeling [Trench] (on the word "Father," see on Lu 15:18), but because the father's heart is made to appear too full to listen, at that moment, to more in this strain.
the best robe—Compare Zec 3:4, 5, "Take away the filthy garments from him; behold I have clothed thee with change of raiment; and they clothed him with garments" (Isa 61:10; Re 3:18).
a ring—(Compare Ge 41:42; Jas 2:2).
shoes—Slaves went barefoot. Thus, we have here a threefold symbol of freedom and honor, restored, as the fruit of perfect reconciliation.
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
23. the fatted calf—kept for festive occasions.
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
24. my son—now twice his son.
dead … lost—to me; to himself—to my service, my satisfaction; to his own dignity, peace, profit.
alive again … found—to all these.
merry—(See on Lu 15:10).
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
25. in the field—engaged in his father's business: compare Lu 15:29, "These many years do I serve thee."
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
28. came his father out, and entreated him—"Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him" (Ps 103:13). As it is the elder brother who now errs, so it is the same paternal compassion which had fallen on the neck of the younger that comes forth and pleads with the elder.
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
29. these many years … neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment—The words are not to be pressed too far. He is merely contrasting his constancy of love and service with the conduct of his brother; just as Job, resenting the charge of hypocrisy by his friends, speaks as if nothing could be laid to his charge (Job 23:10-12), and David too (Ps 18:20-24). The father attests the truth of all he says.
never … a kid—I say not a calf, but not even a kid.
that I might make merry with my friends—Here lay his misapprehension. It was no entertainment for the gratification of the prodigal: it was a father's expression of the joy he felt at his recovery.
thy son … thy living—How unworthy a reflection on the common father of both, for the one not only to disown the other, but fling him over upon his father, as if he should say, Take him, and have joy of him!
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
31. Son, &c.—The father resents not the insult—how could he, after the largeness of heart which had kissed the returning prodigal? He calmly expostulates with him, "Son, listen to reason. What need for special, exuberant joy over thee? Didst thou say, 'Lo, these many years do I serve thee?' In that saidst thou truly; but just for that reason do I not set the whole household a-rejoicing over thee. For thee is reserved what is higher still—a tranquil lifelong satisfaction in thee, as a true-hearted faithful son in thy father's house, nor of the inheritance reserved for thee is aught alienated by this festive and fitting joy over the once foolish but now wise and newly recovered one."
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
32. It was meet—Was it possible he should simply take his long vacant place in the family without one special sign of wonder and delight at the change? Would that have been nature? But this being the meaning of the festivity, it would for that very reason be temporary. In time, the dutifulness of even the younger son would become the law and not the exception; he too at length might venture to say, "Lo, these many years do I serve thee"; and of him the father would say, "Son, thou art ever with me." In that case, therefore, it would not be "meet that they should make merry and be glad." The lessons are obvious, but how beautiful! (1) The deeper sunk and the longer estranged any sinner is, the more exuberant is the joy which his recovery occasions. (2) Such joy is not the portion of those whose whole lives have been spent in the service of their Father in heaven. (3) Instead of grudging the want of this, they should deem it the highest testimony to their lifelong fidelity, that something better is reserved for them—the deep, abiding complacency of their Father in heaven.