Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent, , at sacred-texts.com
In the wilderness
Not a desert place, but uncultivated plains; pasturage. Note that the sheep are being pastured in the wilderness. A traveller, cited anonymously by Trench, says: "There are, indeed, some accursed patches, where scores of miles lie before you like a tawny Atlantic, one yellow wave rising before another. But far from infrequently there are regions of wild fertility where the earth shoots forth a jungle of aromatic shrubs" ("Parables").
When he hath found it
Matthew, If so be that he find it.
On his shoulders
Lit., his own shoulders. "He might have employed a servant's aid, but love and joy make the labor sweet to himself" (Bengel). The "Good Shepherd" is a favorite subject in early Christian art. "We cannot go through any part of the catacombs, or turn over the pages of any collection of ancient Christian monuments, without coming across it again and again. We know from Tertullian that it was often designed upon chalices. We find it ourselves painted in fresco upon the roofs and walls of the sepulchral chambers; rudely scratched upon gravestones, or more carefully sculptured on sarcophagi; traced in gold upon glass, moulded on lamps, engraved on rings; and, in a word, represented on every species of Christian monument that has come down to us....It was selected because it expressed the whole sum and substance of the Christian dispensation....He is sometimes represented alone with his flock; at other times accompanied by his apostles, each attended by one or more sheep. Sometimes he stands amidst many sheep; sometimes he caresses one only; but most commonly - so commonly as almost to form a rule to which other scenes might be considered the exceptions - he bears a lost sheep, or even a goat, upon his shoulders" (Northcote and Brownlow, "Roma Sotterranea"). A beautiful specimen is found in the mausoleum of Galls Placidia, at Ravenna, erected about 450 a.d. It is a mosaic in green and gold. The figure is a beautiful one, youthful in face and form, as is usual in the early mosaics, and surrounded by his sheep. Facing this appears, over the altar, the form of Christ seated beside a kind of furnace, on the other side of which stands a little open bookcase. He is engaged in casting heretical books into the fire. Are they, indeed, the same - the Shepherd Christ of the Gospels, and the polemic Christ of the ecclesiastics
"Not with the sheep. Our life is his joy" (Gregory, cited by Trench).
See on Mat 3:2.
Pieces of silver (δραχμὰς)
Used by Luke only. A coin worth about eighteen cents, commonly with the image of an owl, a tortoise, or a head of Pallas. As a weight, 65.5 grains. A common weight in dispensing medicines and writing prescriptions. Wyc., transcribing the Greek word, dragmes. Tynd., grotes.
Female friends, for the noun is used in the feminine form.
Through her own carelessness. Of the sheep, Jesus says "was lost." "A sheep strays of itself, but a piece of money could only be lost by a certain negligence on the part of such as should have kept it" (Trench). In the one case, the attention is fastened on the condition of the thing lost; in the other, upon the sorrow of the one who has lost.
According to the Jewish law of inheritance, if there were but two sons, the elder would receive two portions, the younger the third of all movable property. A man might, during his lifetime, dispose of all his property by gift as he chose. If the share of younger children was to be diminished by gift or taken away, the disposition must be made by a person presumably near death. No one in good health could diminish, except by gift, the legal portion of a younger son. The younger son thus was entitled by law to his share, though he had no right to claim it during his father's lifetime. The request must be regarded as asking a favor (Edersheim).
Even to the elder, who did not ask it.
Everything was taken out of the father's hands.
Took his journey (ἀπεδήμησεν)
Answering to our phrase went abroad.
The word used of winnowing grain. See on Mat 25:24.
With riotous living (ζῶν ἀσώτως)
Lit., living unsavingly. Only here in New Testament. The kindred noun, ἀσωτία, is rendered by the Rev., in all the three passages where it occurs, riot (Eph 5:18; Tit 1:6; Pe1 4:4). See note on the last passage.
See on cost, Luk 14:28.
In that land
Want is characteristic of the "far country." The prodigal feels the evil of his environment. "He (with a shade of emphasis) began to be in want."
To be in want (ὑστερεῖσθαι)
From ὕστερος, behind. Compare our phrase of one in straitened circumstances, to fall behind.
Joined himself (ἐκολλήθη)
The verb means to glue or cement. Very expressive here, implying that he forced himself upon the citizen, who was unwilling to engage him, and who took him into service only upon persistent entreaty. "The unhappy wretch is a sort of appendage to a strange personality" (Godet). Compare Act 9:26. Wyc., cleaved. See, also, on Act 5:13.
To feed swine
As he had received him reluctantly, so he gave him the meanest possible employment. An ignominious occupation, especially in Jewish eyes. The keeping of swine was prohibited to Israelites under a curse.
He would fain (ἐπεθύμει)
Longing desire. Imperfect tense, he was longing, all the while he was tending the swine.
Filled his belly (γεμίσαι τὴν κοιλίαν)
The texts vary. The Rev. follows the reading χορτασθῆναι, "He would fain have been filled," using the same word which is employed of filling those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Mat 5:6, see note), and of the five thousand (Mat 14:20). He had wanted the wrong thing all along, and it was no better now. All he wanted was to fill his belly.
Carob-pods. The word is a diminutive of κέρας, a horn, and means, literally, a little horn, from the shape of the pod. The tree is sometimes called in German Bockshornbaum, Goat's-horn-tree. "The fleshy pods are from six to ten inches long, and one broad, lined inside with a gelatinous substance, not wholly unpleasant to the taste when thoroughly ripe" (Thomson, "Land and Book"). The shell or pod alone is eaten. It grows in Southern Italy and Spain, and it is said that during the Peninsular War the horses of the British cavalry were often fed upon the pods. It is also called Saint John's bread, from a tradition that the Baptist fed upon its fruit in the wilderness. Edersheim quotes a Jewish saying, "When Israel is reduced to the carob-tree, they become repentant."
Came to himself
A striking expression, putting the state of rebellion against God as a kind of madness. It is a wonderful stroke of art, to represent the beginning of repentance as the return of a sound consciousness. Ackermann ("Christian Element in Plato") observes that Plato thinks of redemption as a coming to one's self; an apprehending of one's self as existent; as a severing of the inmost being from the surrounding element. Several passages of Plato are very suggestive on this point. "He who bids a man know himself, would have him know his soul" ("Alcibiades," i., 130). "' To see her (the soul) as she really is, not as we now behold her, marred by communion with the body and other miseries, you should look upon her with the eye of reason, in her original purity, and then her beauty would be discovered, and in her image justice would be more clearly seen, and injustice, and all the things which we have described. Thus far we have spoken the truth concerning her as she appears at present; but we must remember also that we have seen her only in a condition which may be compared to that of the sea-god Glaucus, whose original image can hardly be discerned, because his natural members are broken off and crushed, and in many ways damaged by the waves; and incrustations have grown over them of sea-weed and shells and stones, so that he is liker to some sea-monster than to his natural form. And the soul is in a similar condition, disfigured by ten thousand ills: but not there, Glaucon, not there must we look.'
"'At her love of wisdom. Let us see whom she affects, and what converse she seeks, in virtue of her near kindred with the immortal and eternal and divine; also, how different she would become, if wholly following this superior principle, and borne by a divine impulse out of the ocean in which she now is, and disengaged from the stones and shells and things of earth and rock, which, in wild variety, grow around her, because she feeds upon earth, and is crusted over by the good things of this life as they are termed. Then would you see her as she is'" ("Republic," 611).
Have bread enough and to spare (περισσεύονται ἄρτων)
Lit., abound in loaves. Wyc., plenty of loaves.
Better, I am perishing. The best texts insert ὧδε, here, in contrast with the father's house, suggested by the father's servants.
An affecting touch in the Greek: his own father.
Trench cites an Eastern proverb: "Who draws near to me (God) an inch, I will draw near to him an ell; and whoso walks to meet me, I will leap to meet him."
See on Mat 26:49.
To be called thy son
He omits make me a servant. The slavish spirit vanishes in the clasp of the father's arms. Bengel suggests that the father would not suffer him to utter the news. I once heard Norman McLeod say in a sermon, "Before the prodigal son reached his home he thought over what he should do to merit restoration. He would be a hired servant. But when his father came out and met him, and put his arms round him, and the poor boy was beginning to say this and that, the just shut his mouth, and said, 'I take you to my heart, and that's enough.'"
To his servants
Bond-servants. There is a fine touch in throwing in the bond-servants immediately after thy son (Luk 15:21).
Some texts add quickly (ταχὺ). So Rev.
The best robe (στολὴν τὴν πρώτην)
Lit., a robe, the first. Properly of a long, flowing robe, a festive garment. See Mar 16:5; Luk 20:4 :6.
See on Jam 2:2. Compare Gen 41:42.
Both the ring and the shoes are marks of a free man. Slaves went barefoot.
The fatted calf
The article denoting one set apart for a festive occasion. Tynd., "that fatted calf."
Is alive - is found (ἀνέζησεν - εὑρέθη)
Both aorists, and pointing back to a definite time in the past; doubtless the moment when he "came to himself." Wyc., hath lived.
The Prodigal Son is a favorite subject in Christian art. The return of the penitent is the point most frequently chosen, but the dissipation in the far country and the degradation among the swine are also treated. The dissipation is the subject of an interesting picture by the younger Teniers in the gallery of the Louvre. The prodigal is feasting at a table with two courte-sans, in front of an inn, on the open shutter of which a tavern-score is chalked. An old woman leaning on a stick begs alms, possibly foreshadowing the fate of the females at the table. The youth holds out his glass, which a servant fills with wine. In the right-hand corner appears a pigsty where a stable-boy is feeding the swine, but with his face turned toward the table, as if in envy of the gay revellers there. All the costumes and other details of the picture are Dutch. Holbein also represents him feasting with his mistress, and gambling with a sharper who is sweeping the money off the table. The other points of the story are introduced into the background. Jan Steen paints him at table in a garden before an inn. A man plays the guitar, and two children are blowing bubbles - "an allegory of the transient pleasures of the spendthrift." Mrs. Jameson remarks that the riotous living is treated principally by the Dutch painters. The life among the swine is treated by Jordaens in the Dresden Gallery. The youth, with only a cloth about his loins, approaches the trough where the swine are feeding, extends his hand, and seems to ask food of a surly swineherd, who points him to the trough. In the left-hand corner a young boor is playing on a pipe, a sorrowful contrast to the delicious music of the halls of pleasure. Salvator Rosa pictures him in a landscape, kneeling with clasped hands amid a herd of sheep, oxen, goats, and swine. Rubens, in a farm-stable, on his knees near a trough, where a woman is feeding some swine. He looks imploringly at the woman. One of the finest examples of the treatment of the return is by Murillo, in the splendid picture in the gallery of the Duke of Sutherland. It is thus described by Stirling ("Annals of the Artists of Spain"): "The repentant youth, locked in the embrace of his father, is, of course, the principal figure; his pale, emaciated countenance bespeaks the hardships of his husk-coveting time, and the embroidery on his tattered robe the splendor of his riotous living. A little white dog, leaping up to caress him, aids in telling the story. On one side of this group a man and a boy lead in the farted calf; on the other appear three servants bearing a light-blue silk dress of Spanish fashion, and the gold ring; and one of them seems to be murmuring at the honors in preparation for the lost one."
A symphony: concerted music.
Imperfect.: Began to inquire.
Is come - safe and sound
Compare is alive - is found. "How nice is the observance of all the lesser proprieties of the narration. The father, in the midst of all his natural affection, is yet full of the moral significance of his son's return - that he has come back another person from what he was when he went, or while he tarried in that far land; he sees into the deep of his joy, that he is receiving him now indeed a son, once dead but now alive; once lost to him and to God, but now found alike by both. But the servant confines himself to the more external features of the ease, to the fact that, after all he has gone through of excess and hardship, his father has yet received him safe and sound" (Trench).
He was angry (ὠργίσθη)
Not with a mere temporary fit of passion, but, as the word imports, with a deep-seated wrath.
Some read the diminutive, ἐρίφιον, "a little kid." In any event a contrast is intended between the kid and the farted calf.
This thy son
Not my brother, but with the bitterest sarcasm.
Was come (ἦλθεν)
He says came, as of a stranger. Not returned.
We say "eat up;" the Greek said "eat down" (κατά). The word is suggested, no doubt, by the mention of the calf, the kid, and the feasting.