And he said, A certain man had two sons:…
Snow quickly melts when the thaw comes; and "a fool and his money are soon parted." I have heard of people who had suddenly succeeded to a legacy which they had not sense to keep; and who, indeed, were not sober till all their money was exhausted. Such a rapid race did this young rake of the parable run.
I. THE FAMINE. "Ills," the proverb says, "never come singly." That he had reached the bottom of his purse was bad enough! but, to make matters worse, at the same time "there arose a mighty famine in the land." In ancient days a failure of the harvest spread dearth and death all around, even as, a few years ago, the famine of Orissa, where the same Oriental mode of life continues, left millions of-corpses on the arid plains of India. Thanks to our commercial connection with the ends of the earth, and the abolition of our Corn Laws, it is not likely that such a lack of "the staff of life" will ever be felt within our borders again, as our forefathers have experienced in their day. The effect produced upon our young master's circumstances was immediate — he began to be in want. What a transition from fulness to emptiness — from wasteful extravagance to absolute inability to obtain the necessaries of life! Now he would begin to wish that he had some of the golden guineas back again which he had so recklessly thrown away, and that he had husbanded the large resources which had been so unsparingly placed at his command. The prodigal hungered; but he did not at this stage think of returning to his father. Some transgressors take less of chastisement and grief to melt them down, and others more. He seems to have been specially hardened. He was too proud to go back yet. So "he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country."
II. This is the second point to which we call attention in this chapter: THE FEE. A few days ago, in this city of my habitation, a larger number than usual of agricultural people were So be seen in our streets, for it was the hiring market for the next half-year. Hundreds who came into Glasgow in the morning, not knowing who their master was to be, or where their residence might be situated throughout the summer, during the course of the day came to know these important facts — important, because their destiny for good or evil might be largely influenced by the event. Poor things! as I saw many of them the worse for liquor, I thought they did not seem to be in a very fit state for forming a cool judgment, or for departing to their new homes. Doubtless some of them met with good masters, and some of them with bad ones. Some of them will rejoice in the decisions of the day, and bless their good fortune; whilst others will bitterly regret the same, and call their lot misfortune. "Which things are an allegory." Christ is the good master; and Satan is the bad master. Christ may be called the Illustrious Stranger, who has come into our world to rectify its wrongs; while Satan is "the citizen of that country," who has been in it from the first and has done it much evil.
III. THE FEEDING. Feeding! that's good news. He will be reconciled to his servitude, if only his wants may be supplied. But, alas! the feeding is not of himself but of others — and these others he would rather not have fed — "He sent him into his fields to feed swine." This is another dexterous touch of the painter. No occupation could possibly have been more degrading than this in the eyes of Jews, since they regarded swine as ceremonially unclean. It is written in Leviticus 11:7, "And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean unto you." Nor was this feeling of aversion towards these animals peculiar to the Jews; for Herodotus tells us that in Egypt swineherds were not permitted to mingle with civil society, nor to appear in the worship of the gods, nor would the very dregs of the people have any matrimonial connection with them. Truly now our young master would be stripped of his pride. A poor, ragged, outcast, hungry swineherd! Satan's nobility sit on bad eminences. His peers are known by their deeper degradation.
IV. THE FASTING. "He would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat; and no man gave unto him." The word in the original (keratia) does not mean, properly speaking, what we understand by husks, which are the outer integuments of fruit, but designates a leguminous fruit called in modern language the charub tree, which still grows in the South of Europe, the islands of the Mediterranean, and the North of Africa. It is sometimes called "John's Bread," from the tradition that it was the food used by John the Baptist during his wilderness life. On the beans of this tree the horses of the British cavalry were fed during the Peninsular war. It would appear that the famine which is referred to in the parable raged so severely that both man and beast were put upon short and spare allowance. In the fields, and when watching his unclean flock, the poor outcast would willingly have supplemented his own scanty meal by eating the raw, coarse fruits which the swine consumed; but "no man gave unto him." He was not allowed to appropriate their portion.
(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, A certain man had two sons: