We see time and time again how many of the texts that we read have multiple meanings. These interpretations are Equally legitimate because of the richness of the Scriptures which most certainly inspired by God. In the story of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15 in the context of things that have been lost. A lost sheep, then a lost coin and then finally a lost son. In the context there are some pharisees who are complaining that Jesus is eating and receiving sinners. It is these three parables that are a response to the grumbling of the Pharisees. Jesus is just showing on a natural level that it is perfectly understandable about how someone could get excited about repentant sinners being FOUND by God.
On another level though with the story of the prodigal son there is more going on, and we know this by the vocabulary that Jesus uses, reflects vocabulary in the Old Testament about two nations.
The tribes of Israel under David became one nation, but during the reign of his grandson the one nation split in two the Nation of Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Many people reading the Old Testament think that these names are synonymous, but that would be a mistake. Israel and Judah are like two brothers that live near one another and have a kind of animosity toward one another, like the brothers in the Prodigal son story.
These two nations are in fact related to the story of the prodigal son. It is interesting historically what happens to Israel in the North. They are taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 BC and go to a far country. Like where the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it is in a country far off.
Now Israel had been punished by God because they had been worshiping false gods and persecuting those Loyal to the Law of Moses like the prophet Elijah. So God says in effect, Hey you want to worship the gods of the nations, go there and worship them like they do.
Of course one they get there, they desire to come home and worship the true God, and it is during the time of Jesus that this all happens. The sinners, not just those idolaters of ancient Israel, but all sinners are now invited back home by the Father who awaits them with open arms.
The verses in the Old testament that point us to this story in the New Testament begin in Genesis 48:14 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim, who was the younger,
Ephraim was literally the youngest of the tribes of Israel.
- Luke talks about a famine in the land where the son went. In the context God is talking to Israle in the North.
Amos 8:11 11 "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.
- Luke talks about the son considering going home. Hosea is as well talking to those in Israel in the North.
Hosea 2:6-9 6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.
7 She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she shall say, `I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.'
8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold which they used for Baal.
9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.
Now that the Son is returning, the older son who has been with the father the whole time shows his disfavor with the younger brother. Just like those who had remained faithful to God namely the Pharisees where counting the tax collectors and sinners to be disqualified from the kingdom of heaven because they were coming home a bit late.
All of this reminds me of another parable in Matthew 20 where the landowner goes out at different times of the day and get laborers to work in his field but at the end of the day pays them all the same wage. Those who started earlier complain that those who came late should not be paid the same. but the landowner (God) says "Hey I can spend my money however I like."
So we should spend our time helping God spend His money (grace) wildly on those who have come early and those who might be a bit late.