In Search of The Prodigal Son
And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
When we think of the Lord Jesus Christ it is easy for us mentally to put him into a completely different class or status as a human being, to separate him from ourselves in a way that the word of God does not teach or allow. He was fully divine and fully human at the same time, and without sin, but in his humanity he limited himself to the human realm when he set aside his divinity. He did so in order to truly identify with us as human beings. Being fully human he was subject to all the growth and learning processes that we as human beings are, yet without sin or sinning, but with the full responsibility to exercise his human will, mind and spirit in these processes. Everything available to him in his humanity is available to us in our humanity.
“But since the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” This same spirit makes accessible to us as believers the same resources and assets that the Son of God received and used to grow in his humanity.
Luke 15 relates the story of the Prodigal Son. This parable has been the “bling” of the teachings of Jesus. Even secular sources have praised it as a masterpiece of short stories. In its economy of language and balance of structure, it has never been equaled. It shines with the light and love of the Father, and relates a spiritual process and reality that many believers can understand and recognize in their own lives.
Recently I asked the Lord, “Who was the Prodigal Son?” and “Who is it in the Word of God that Jesus used as a source for his parable?” The question seems reasonable to me because Jesus grew through the same resources made available to us as believers. The results of that question are humbly presented in this booklet, not as a dogmatic, final word but as candidates for your approval. Let’s play detective.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:11-32
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.
12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land and he began to be in want.
15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
Candidate Number One
I use the word “candidate” in the sense of a”nominee” or a “strong possibility” because only in heaven will we be able to really discover an issue such as this. On a certain level, it isn’t as important to reach a final conclusion as it is to dig and search the scriptures for God’s heart. That being said; I would like to suggest that Judah is the top candidate. I believe Jesus used him as his source for this parable.
The life and storyline of Judah himself are found in the book of Genesis and you probably know that he was the son of Jacob and one of the tribal heads of the nation of Israel. Later when the kingdom was divided, the southern portion was called “Judah”. But for many of us the rest of his life is a mystery.
Judah was the fourth son of Leah, the wife of Jacob (Gen. 29:35). He had elder brothers. Yet, it is not until the 37th chapter of Genesis in verse 26 that Judah is mentioned again in any significant way. Here he is quoted as the one who suggests that it would be better to sell Joseph into slavery than to kill him. Here, his true heart motives are revealed i.e. He is in love with Money. One can easily imagine Judah as the one who took the lead in the transaction with the Midianite traders, as the rest of the brothers listened and helped. Reuben seems unaware of the transaction. Judah probably eventually ended up with most of those 20 shekels of silver in his pocket. What a battle and a burden they must have become. When they all lie and deceive their father, it is not hard to imagine that Judah found fewer and fewer of his brothers eager to share in their ill gotten gain. Perhaps they even secretly returned their portion to him, unwilling to bear the blood money that had caused such anguish and sorrow in their father’s heart. Jacob cried “I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning." Thus his father wept for him. Genesis 37:35. In Genesis 38:1-ff, Judah departs from his father and brothers to dwell with a certain Adullamite (Human Justice), whose name was Hirah (Human Nobility or Noble Race). There he met a man named Shua (Wealth) and married his daughter. They had three sons and end up living in Chezib (A Lie).
What seems pretty clear is that Judah leaves the covering that his father and family provide to live with the people of Canaan. There it is also reasonable to conclude that Judah made a habit of visiting prostitutes or Tamar wouldn’t have taken that route in her deception. She knew his lifestyle and exploited it. Read Genesis 38 and doesn’t he fit the description, “this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots” Lk 15:30.
What is undeniable is the severe famine. Joseph, in Egypt, is exalted because he properly anticipates and prepares Egyypt for the famine based upon Pharoah’s dreams. Back in Canaan, Judah repents and is restored to his father and his father’s house. He quickly regains leadership in activities with his father and with the unrecognized Joseph. Note the progression in the following verses:
Before he left his father and family:
Genesis 37:26-27 26 So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened.
Then after he returned:
Genesis 43:8-10 8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 "I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. 10 "For if we had not lingered, surely by now we would have returned this second time."
Genesis 44:14-18 14 So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph's house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground. 15 And Joseph said to them, "What deed is this you have done? Did you not know that such a man as I can certainly practice divination?" 16 Then Judah said, "What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; here we are, my lord's slaves, both we and he also with whom the cup was found." 17 But he (Joseph) said, "Far be it from me that I should do so; the man in whose hand the cup was found, he shall be my slave. And as for you, go up in peace to your father." 18 Then Judah came near to him and said: "O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord's hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh.
Later Judah revealed the deep work of God in his heart:
Genesis 44:32-34 32 "For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.'
33 "Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.
34 "For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?"
Later Jacob demonstrated his full confidence in Judah:
Genesis 46:27-28…. All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy. 28 Then he sent Judah before him to Joseph, to point out before him the way to Goshen. And they came to the land of Goshen.
At the end of his life Jacob, showed God’s gracious future for Judah’s life and family:
Genesis 49:8-12 8 "Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father's children shall bow down before you. 9 Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? 10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. 11 Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey's colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. 12 His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.
It is interesting to consider that Reuben sinned, Simeon sinned, Levi sinned, and yet they don’t seem to receive the same treatment that Judah does. His older brothers appear only to fail in isolated small ways, yet Judah fully recovers from a full blown prodigal lifestyle. Consider Gen 49:8 “His brothers will praise him and all his brothers will bow down to him.” Read the rest of the verse and see the depth of God’s blessing on his life. Isn’t “Judah granted the birthright privileges of the firstborn”? (Genesis 27:29) Isn’t this the type of “blessing” that sent Joseph into his Egyptian journey? I know what 1 Chron. 5:2-4; says but compare the historical record and the prophecies and see that Judah did receive the essence of the birthright!
The difference is one of moral repentance versus spiritual repentance! The Elder brothers are sorry for their actions and resolve to do better, but Judah turns to the Lord as one who cannot manage his own life and then turns the control of his heart and life over to the Lord.
He fervently prayed the prodigal’s prayer: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” The former move to the good part of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the second surrenders to the Spirit of God, and brings forth divine fruit in his human personality. Jacob recognized the difference and his prophecy was built upon it.
Judah is a lion's whelp
I find this statement fascinating! A whelp is a young animal, dependant upon its parent. Such an animal is growing, often playful and full of immaturity. A lot of learning is usually required for the whelp to reach maturity. Isn’t this the case with Judah and his tribe? With the quality of these prophecies made about them, a real expectation of greatness was found throughout the tribe. Consider Ruth 4:12, 14-15;
12 May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman.
14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel!
15 And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.”
Perez was a great man because he had overcome a shameful beginning (Gen. 38:13-30), but he was still just a lion’s whelp. The expectation remained that more was to come.
“May his name be famous in Israel”, Naomi. “May he be the one who all the brethren will bow down to and whose hand is on the neck of our enemies” Gen 49:8. Then the tribe grows and increases in numbers and influence, but still they are just lion’s whelps.
At the census of Israel in Gen 46, there were 70 individuals who made up the family of Jacob. Judah went to Egypt with five male offspring; Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan, during Judah’s backslidings Gen. 38). The sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul. So here Judah is 5 of 70, or c 7%.
In Numbers 1 at the first census, the number of fighting men in Judah was 74,600 and they were c 12% of the nations fighting men.
In Numbers 26 at the second census, the number of fighting men in Judah was 76,500 and they were c 13% of the nations fighting men.
In 2 Sam. 24; at David’s sinful census Judah’s fighting men were numbered at 500,000 almost 39% of the nations fighting men.
By the time of the Succession to the throne by Rehoboam, the southern part of the nation was a separate entity called Judah. But even after a lineup of mighty men like Caleb, Boaz, Jesse, David and Solomon, and all they accomplished, Isaiah still speaks of a future fulfillment for the tribe in the “root of Jesse” Isaiah 11:10; Rom 15:10. When will the Lion’s whelp mature? It is wonderful to see that in Revelation 5:5 we are told to “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” And in Revelation 22:16 Jesus calls himself “the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” The Lion’s whelp has fully grown up and matured and has arrived on the scene. He is “altogether lovely, The fairest of ten thousand” Song of Solomon 5:10, 16; and “His mouth is so sweet.” To Him alone will every knee bow. To Him alone will every tongue confess. For He alone has His hand on the neck of all of our enemies. Thank God for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, for what God has done through and for the life of a prodigal who truly came home. How deeply did the once Prodigal, Judah, receive from both his earthly and heavenly father, not just individually but also corporately. Jesus Christ is the Lion not just of Judah but of the whole entire tribe as well. Because of his decision, his tribe grew and propered above all the others. Praise God for his abundant grace to the chief of sinners!
I mentioned in the beginning that I had another candidate for the identity of the prodigal son. Jesus Christ looked into the word of God and examined and x-rayed those records found the essential elements that characterized the prodigal. He saw a son, who mentally wandered long before he physically left home. He saw a son, who did not appreciate what he had and thought the world had something better to offer that his home did not. He saw a son, whose decisions broke his parents’ heart, but did not stop their love. He saw a child who wasted their precious things in a desperate yet wasteful search for love and friendship. He saw a child who was stripped and left naked by sin, the world, and the devil. He saw a heart that left demanding “give me” and returned crying “make me”. He saw a father who fully and completely restored the humbled prodigal. He saw a God that loves and blessed the repentant sinner above and beyond all that he could ask or think. He saw a God who has an abundance of grace and mercy and who is waiting to be gracious to the heart that is truly humble and contrite.
I am wondering if that second candidate for the prodigal could be you, the reader. Are you that second candidate? If Jesus Christ looked into your heart and examined and x-rayed it, would he find these same elements that characterized the prodigal? If He has, are you ready to come home? Are you ready and willing to return to God on His terms? God is waiting and is ready to receive you with open arms of love and grace. Won’t you pray the prodigal’s prayer? And receive the prodigal’s welcome!
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”
Luke 15:18b -19
There are two other characters in this parable. If you are not a returning prodigal, maybe you are an elder brother who is deeply troubled and angered when grace is given to him. God forbid that we would despise the expression of the riches of His grace to the poor and needy. Hopefully, you are like the father, expecting the prodigal, waiting to be gracious (Isa 30:18), hoping to begin to heal his backslidings, and looking for him daily to return.