In our last article, we explored the first two parables in Luke 15: the parable of the Lost Sheep, and the parable of the Woman and the Lost Silver Coin. In this article, we will explore the final parable: the parable of the Prodigal Son.
While this popular parable has been referenced and examined many times from a personal perspective, in this article we will discover it from a prophetic angle. In other words, rather than just examining this only as the parable of the prodigal son, let us review it as the prophecy of the prodigal son AND brother.
Luke 15:11-12, And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.”
Messiah’s parable starts with the statement that a father has two sons. From a prophetic point of view, this is often overlooked as we only focus on the “prodigal son.” From the very beginning, we are shown that the “prodigal son” is also a “prodigal brother,” and not only that, he is the YOUNGER brother. The younger brother demands his share of the estate, so the father divides the inheritance between the two sons.
To fully understand the prophetic nature of this parable, we must first examine the “brother/son” dynamic in the light of other “brother/son” relationships within the Bible. The first of these “brother/son” relationships is Cain and Abel, sons of Adam. Amazingly, in Genesis 4:2 we see the nature of both Cain and Abel.
Genesis 4:2, “Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”
Abel is the first shepherd mentioned in the Bible! Abel is pleasing to God, but Cain does not please God. Because of this, Cain kills Abel and then is cursed (Genesis 4:3-16). After this event Adam has another son Seth (younger son), from which comes the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and unto the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus).
After this initial son/brother example, we see several other prominent son/brother examples: Ishmael and Isaac (sons of Abraham), Esau and Jacob (sons of Isaac), Judah and Joseph (sons of Jacob/Israel), and Manasseh and Ephraim (sons of Joseph). Within each of these son/brother dynamics we see a repeating and unifying pattern emerge: each of these examples shows the father figure blessing the younger son over the elder! (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim)
This brings us to the next part of the parable.
Luke 15:13-16, “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.”
In the previous article we explored one of the first examples of God being understood as a “shepherd.” This was within the context of Jacob/Israel’s blessing to his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim. Now, let us revisit this story to understand how this all relates.*
It is widely understood that Joseph is a prophetic foreshadow of Yeshua the Messiah as the suffering servant (Mashiach ben Joseph).* By understanding this, we can then begin to explore the prophetic identities of Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, as well as discover the prophetic significance of the two most prominent blessings that were given by Jacob/Israel to his sons.
In Genesis chapter 48, we learn that Jacob is near the end of his life, and he desires to bless his son Joseph. Joseph brings his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, before his father, and in verse 5 we see Jacob adopt Manasseh and Ephraim as his own, equal to all of his other natural sons. Then, in an unprecedented move, Jacob crosses his hands and places his right hand on Ephraim (the younger brother) and his left hand on Manasseh (elder brother), signaling that the younger brother Ephraim is to receive the greater blessing. Joseph tries to correct Jacob, but Jacob refuses and states:
Genesis 48:19-20 …“I know, my son, I know. He too (Manasseh) will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother (Ephraim) will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’” So he put Ephraim before Manasseh.”
In the original Hebrew text the word ‘multitudes’ is ‘melo’ (Strong’s H4393), which also means ‘fullness.’ While Manasseh is prophesied to become a great nation (singular), we learn that not only will Ephraim (younger son) become greater than Manasseh, but he will also become a “multitude” of nations and the “fullness” of the nations. We also understand that it is by these brothers, Manasseh and Ephraim, that Israel will bless.
Where else in the Scriptures do we see the “fullness” of the nations? Amazingly, this occurs just after the Apostle Paul (Sha’ul) finishes discussing the “grafting in” of the wild olive branch (Gentiles) in Romans 11!
Romans 11:24-25, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles (nations) has come in.“
After Jacob (Israel) blesses Manasseh and Ephraim, he directly blesses the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 49).
Genesis 49:1, “Then Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.”
In the original Hebrew the phrase “days to come” is actually better translated as “end of days” or “last days.” So, Jacob’s prophetic blessings of the 12 tribes will be fulfilled at the end of the age. To do an in depth exploration of the 12 blessings is clearly beyond the scope of this article. However, to understand the relationship of the “brothers” in the parable of the Prodigal Son, we must explore Jacob’s prominent blessings to Judah and Joseph.
Genesis 49: 8-12, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, and his teeth white from milk.”
In the blessing of Judah, there are several very important Messianic references and a prophetic foreshadow to the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7), as well as the eternal rule of the Messiah during and after His second coming. It is clear that Judah is a very special tribe, the leading tribe, and from which will come the ultimate leader of Israel, the Messiah Yeshua.
Genesis 49: 22-26, “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; its branches run over a wall. The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot at him and harassed him; but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.”
The blessing of Joseph can be divided into three parts: 1. The fruitful bough (son) 2. The firm son who relies on the arm of the Mighty One/Shepard/Stone of Israel in the face of attack (the Arm of God is often a reference to the Messiah) 3. The blessed son.
When we combine these two major blessings, a wonderful prophetic picture emerges.
While Judah is clearly the blessed ruling elder tribe, and the tribe from which comes the Messiah, Joseph is seen as the “fruitful bough/son” which relies on the LORD/Messiah and thus is blessed. In the blessing of Judah, we see the Messiah “tie(s) His foal to the vine, and His donkey’s colt to the choice vine.” This is a beautiful prophetic foreshadow of Messiah as He entered Jerusalem during the Passover where He was to be offered up as THE Passover Lamb.
John 12:14-15, “Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (also Matthew 21:5)
In the blessings of Judah and Joseph, we see the Messiah binding Himself to a “choice vine,” which is the “fruitful bough” of His people. He achieves this through the blood of His sacrifice, which is the blood of the New Covenant with His people, God’s Israel (Jeremiah 31, Matthew 26:27-28). Because of this, the “fruitful bough/sons” can withstand the attacks of the enemy through the hand of the Almighty (Messiah), and are greatly blessed and distinguished among the brothers.
So how does this play out in history, and how does it relate to the parable of the Prodigal Son?
After the split of the twelve tribes into the northern Kingdom/House of Israel (northern 10 tribes) and the southern Kingdom/House of Judah (southern 2 tribes), the northern 10 tribes are often collectively referred to as Ephraim (younger brother), as this was the dominant northern tribe (Isaiah 7:8-9, 7:17, 9:9, Jeremiah 4:15, Hosea 4:17, etc.)
Also, Jeroboam, the first king of the northern House of Israel, was an Ephraimite who rebelled against king Solomon (1 King 11:26) and fled to Egypt. After Solomon’s death, Jeroboam returned and was made king over the ten northern tribes (1 King 12:20.) Jeroboam was a wicked king who embraced idolatry and set the stage for the downfall and eventual exile of the Northern kingdom/Ephraim (2 Kings 17.) Here we clearly see the identity of the younger brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son symbolizing Ephraim, or the northern 10 tribes of Israel.
While the younger brother Ephraim clearly symbolizes the northern Kingdom/House of Israel (10 tribes, multitude of nations), the elder brother in this parable represents Manasseh (blessed single nation), as well as the primary and greatly blessed elder brother of the original twelve tribes, Judah. From this we see the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son symbolizing the southern Kingdom/House of Judah (also called “Judah”), from which came the Jew’s, and eventually the Messiah, Yeshua.
The kingdom of Judah was taken into temporary exile by the Babylonians, but eventually returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel (539 B.C.) While they were scattered to the nations after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D., Judah retained their identity and the written Torah and are now known collectively as “Jew’s,” or the remnant of Israel. When Paul was speaking about “Israel” in this context, he was primarily referring to his brethren, the Jew’s (Romans 11:25).
By understanding who the brothers symbolize, and by understanding the origins and fates of the nations of Ephraim (Northern Kingdom of Israel) and Judah (Southern Kingdom of Judah), we can now fully understand the prodigal son parable.
In Yeshua’s parable, the younger son (Ephraim) demands his share of the inheritance, so the father (God) divides the inheritance. This is exactly what happened just after the death of Solomon when Israel was divided into two parts, Ephraim and Judah.
In Yeshua’s parable, the younger son (Ephraim) then leaves his father and goes to live in a distant land, far from his father. He then squanders his inheritance and loses everything, eventually giving himself over to the people that he has joined, and is sent to feed the swine. Because he does not receive any true spiritual bread, he is so hungry for good spiritual food that he eventually begins to eat the pods that are fed to swine (practice unclean spiritual ways).
This is the same result for the nation of Ephraim, the northern kingdom (younger son). Because they left the ways of their spiritual Father and engaged in repeated sin and rebellion, Ephraim (younger son) was destroyed by the Assyrians and sent into the pagan nations (2 Kings 17), losing their identity as a distinct people of God and fully engaging in the ways of the nations.
The nation of Judah, the southern kingdom (elder brother), despite their sin and rebellion, were allowed to remain with the Father and eventually returned to the land of Judea, although only as a remnant. They were allowed to keep the Torah and the true word of God, and through this remnant came the Messiah, Yeshua.
Continuing the parable:
Luke 15:17-19, “But when he (younger brother) came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’
Here we see the younger brother “come to his senses.” After a long time away from his father’s house, he realizes that he does not have any true spiritual bread and he is going to die. The younger brother realizes that the “food” offered by those that he lives among will not sustain him, and that to live, he must return to his father and eat of his father’s bread.
One of the first uses of the word “bread” in Scripture is when Melchizedek, King of Salem, offers bread and wine to Abram (Abraham), after Abram (Abraham) defeats Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14) (Salem=peace/perfect/whole (H8003), Melchizedek=king of righteousness (H4428 and H6664)).
After this, bread is symbolized as spiritual food, from manna to the bread of the Word.
Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.”
Yeshua also clearly identified Himself as the bread of life.
John 6:31-35, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
The younger son (Ephraim) realizes that he needs good “bread” (spiritual food), so he returns to his fathers house.
Luke 15:20-24, “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
The younger son (Ephraim) turns from the lost world and returns to the father (God) (teshuvah=repent/turn away from sin and turn toward God). Before the younger son can come near his fathers house, the father sees him and runs to embrace him.
This is a prophetic picture of God running to meet His lost son, His repentant son, His lost sheep, through the sending of His promised Good Shepherd: the Messiah, Yeshua. Despite the sins of the prodigal son, the father forgives him, places the best clothes on him, and prepares a great feast. The father declares that the lost son has “come to life again” and “was lost and has been found,” so they celebrate!
Luke 15 25-32, “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
Only at the end of the parable are we introduced to the older brother (Judah). After the inheritance was divided, the elder brother stayed with his father and worked in the fields, i.e. worked for his bread. He sees the celebration in honor of the return of the younger son (Ephraim), becomes intensely jealous, and refuses to join the celebration. The elder son (Judah) tells his father (God) “I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours.” The father pleads with him and tells the older son that he has “always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” This symbolizes the remnant, those that kept the written Torah, working in the fields of the LORD. At the end of the age, when the younger son (Ephraim) finally returns (fullness of the nations), the elder son (Judah) is provoked to anger and jealousy over the treatment of his younger brother. His father recognized the elder brother’s jealousy, and assures him that all that the father has is his as well! This inheritance is not through the works of the either brother, but through the wonderful generosity of the father!
This is one of the great mysteries in the Scriptures.
In the Song of Moses, it is prophesied that God will take those who are not a nation and use them to provoke His people to jealousy:
Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
Sha’ul/Paul understood that God would use the Gentiles to provoke Israel/Judah to jealousy:
Romans 10:19, “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER YOU.”
Paul also understood that despite the stumbling of the Jew’s (rejecting Messiah), that God would work through their trespasses to bring salvation and life to all people, including the Jews, through His Messiah.
Romans 11:16, “I say then, they (unbelieving Jews) did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.”
Now we can see one of the greatest prophetic pictures in the Bible!
Ezekiel 37:15-17, “The word of the LORD came again to me saying, “And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ “Then join them for yourself one to another into one stick, that they may become one in your hand.”
Ezekiel 37:20-22, “The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.”
At the end of the parable of the Prodigal Son we see the father confirm the inheritance of the elder brother and invite him to join in the celebration. Thus the two brothers (Ephraim and Judah) are reconciled in the house of the father (God), and the celebration begins!
In last weeks article we explored the first two parables of Luke 15 (Lost Sheep and Lost Silver Coin). Now that we have examined the final parable of the Prodigal Son, we can now look at all three of them and how they correlate.
In the first parable, Yeshua shows us how Father God, through Yeshua as our “Good Shepherd,” will call those that know His voice. He will seek out those lost sheep of Israel, together with all those who hear His voice (other sheep), and carry them back to His flock on the shoulders of the Messiah.
These lost sheep are also the woman (spiritual Israel and Babylon) who through wisdom (fear of the LORD) knows that she has lost something precious; a silver coin (God’s word/Commandment). When she lights the lamp of Messiah and seeks obedience that brings understanding, she will discover the lost silver coins that are the words of His Commandments. By this she will know that she has heard the true voice of the Messiah.
By following Messiah and His Commandments, those that are prodigal (Ephraim/younger son) will repent and leave the ways of the nations, return to the Father, and be greatly blessed. God will use the people who are not a nation (younger brother/Ephraim), through His Strong Arm (Messiah), to provoke to jealousy the elder brother (Judah) by the blessings of the prodigal younger brother (Ephraim). At the end of the age, when the fullness of the gentile nations (Ephraim) has come to completion, both brothers (Ephraim and Judah) will be reconciled to the Father through His grace and they will inherit His eternal covenant blessing at the return of Messiah! Hallelujah!!
In our last article we briefly explored the connection to the Olivet Discourse, noting the near completion of the Great Commission, as well as the increase in lawlessness that is making the love of many grow cold. Today the Word of God, Messiah, has gone out to nearly every nation and tongue, the Jew’s have returned to Israel, captured Jerusalem, and are increasingly making “aliyah” (return to Israel). Lawlessness is clearly on the rise, and before long the “lawless one” (Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:8) will be revealed. As followers of Messiah, it is imperative that we continue to cast our eye toward heaven and engross ourselves in the Word as revealed by Messiah. This will unite all believers in the Messiah and the Torah, the Spirit and the Truth, as they are irrevocably intertwined, into one perfect redeemed Israel!
By understanding both the Messiah and the Torah, the Spirit and the Truth, and the perfect harmony that is complete when one understands how these relate, we as children of the One True God can be fully assured of His wonderful promise, the redemption of our lives and God’s Israel, and to be with Him forever and ever! Amen!!
COMING THIS FALL (SEPT/OCT)!