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Shavua Tov

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  • Daniel Botkin

Prodigal Sons

One of the best-known parables in the Gospels is The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15. A certain man had two sons. The younger son told his father that he did not want to wait for his inheritance; he wanted it now. The father gave him his share of the estate, and the son went to a faraway city and wasted his substance with riotous living.

After his money was gone, there was a famine. The only work the young man could find was feeding pigs for a hog farmer -- not a very kosher job for a Jewish boy. One day while feeding the pigs, the young man came to his senses. He realized that even the servants at his father’s house were better off than he was.

“I will arise and go to my father,” he said, “and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Make me as one of thy hired servants.”

The young man headed toward home. As he approached his father’s house, his father saw him coming, ran to meet him, hugged and kissed him, and threw a big party to welcome him home.

We call this story The Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the Bible does not call it that. The word prodigal is not even in the Bible, except in the uninspired headings in some Bibles. I find it somewhat curious that nearly all Bible believers call this young man “The Prodigal Son,” yet most believers do not really know what the word prodigal means. In recent months I have spoken about The Prodigal Son in a few different congregations. When I asked the people if anyone could give me a definition of the word prodigal, only a few people could tell me the meaning of the word. It means “wasteful.” I know, because I looked it up in the dictionary. Yes, I admit that I too used the word prodigal for many years without knowing that it means “wasteful.” I thought it just meant “backslidden.”

Why is this significant? Because many people think of “a prodigal son” only as someone who is totally backslidden, out of fellowship, and living a sinful life like the young man in the parable. Such a person is indeed a prodigal son, but a person does not need to be totally backslidden and living a sinful life to be a prodigal, because prodigal means wasteful. If you are wasteful, if you squander that which is valuable, you are a prodigal, even if you regularly attend church.

Let’s consider the opposite of wasteful, which is thrifty. When I was a Boy Scout, we had to memorize the twelve points of the Scout Law. The ninth point of the Scout Law is “A Scout is thrifty.” Even though there is no Bible verse that says, “A disciple is thrifty,” and no commandment that says “Thou shalt be thrifty,” the Bible teaches the importance of being good stewards of the things God gives us.

When we speak about thrift and stewardship, many people think only or primarily about being good stewards of the money and material goods God gives us. While that aspect of stewardship is certainly important, there is the equally important aspect of the stewardship of our time.

Time is one of the most valuable things you have. If money or material goods are lost, they can possibly be replaced. But once a day is wasted, that time is forever gone. It cannot be replaced. Whether your lifespan is long or short, God gives you a certain number of days in which you have opportunities to do things that are worthwhile and of lasting value. You can waste those hours and opportunities and be a prodigal, or you can use them wisely and be a good steward.

If the devil cannot persuade you to live an openly wicked life of riotous living, he will try to get you to waste your time. In today’s Internet Age, the devil has many nifty tools for temptation in his utility belt. His tools include computers, social media, iPads, iPods, iPhones, YouTube, eBay, email, Gmail, Hotmail, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Etsy, Facebook, and other online tools.

Yes, these tools can also be used for good purposes. I myself use a few of them. They help me save time and money. But if you use these tools, keep in mind that the devil will try to get you to waste your valuable time with them, because he wants you to become a wasteful, prodigal son.

If you choose to use these newfangled internet tools, you must make a conscious decision. You must resolve to discipline yourself with some sort of daily routine, a schedule that will provide you with sufficient time for prayer and study of the Scriptures. If you are so busy looking at your phone or computer that you do not have time for prayer and Bible study, you will turn into a prodigal son. You may not be wasting your life with riotous living, but you will be wasting your time with diversions and distractions that will dull your spiritual senses.

When you wake up in the morning, what is your first waking thought? The first thing some people want to do in the morning is check their phone or computer to see if they have any new messages. I am not suggesting that this is wrong. However, I prefer to wait a while before I check my computer for messages. I want to be in tune with the Spirit before I turn on my computer, so I will not end up wasting the entire morning on the computer and become a prodigal son.

When I first wake up, before getting out of bed, I thank the Lord for preserving us through the night. I say, “Thank You for letting us breathe Thine air and letting us occupy space on Thy footstool, for heaven is Thy throne and earth is Thy footstool.” (Yes, I often pray in the KJV dialect.) Then, still in bed, I pray the “Our Father” (“the Lord’s Prayer”) in Hebrew. I pray it slowly and I think about what I am praying.

| Avinu... Put the first and second letters of the Hebrew alphabet together, and you get Av, “Father.” Add a yod to Av, and you get Avi, “my Father.” But the first part of the prayer is not Avi, “my Father.” It is Avinu, “our Father.” This reminds me that God is not only my Father; He is also the Father of my wife, my children, and my brothers and sisters in the faith. That first word Avinu connects me to all other believers, past, present, and future. It reminds me that I have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:22f).

| “...which art in heaven” reminds me of God’s sovereignty, that “our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3). Because He is in control, I need not panic.

| “...hallowed be Thy name” reminds me that I represent Him. I resolve to not do anything on this new day that might misrepresent His character and bring shame to His name.

| “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” This reminds me that He is King. I pray for Messiah’s return to establish His kingdom on earth. But I also pray that until that time, His will may be done in my earthen vessel, that He may establish His authority in my earth, and rule and reign in my heart on this day and thereby demonstrate the fact that “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

| “Give us this day our daily bread.” This reminds me that He is our Provider, whether our kitchen cabinets are full or empty. I do not need to take thought for food or raiment if I seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. I am also reminded that he will provide us with the spiritual bread that we need for this day, just as He provided the children of Israel with their daily portion of manna.

| “And forgive us our debts...” I thank Him for forgiving me. Though my past sins were as heavy and as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore, those sins are gone, and I need not feel guilty anymore.

| “ we forgive our debtors.” I am reminded to not hold a grudge against anyone of the past, present, or future who wrongs me. I think about the one person in my life who wronged me and sinned against me more than anyone else. How completely and thoroughly have I forgiven that person? So completely and so thoroughly that if that person ever came back into my life and wanted to re-establish our friendship, and if circumstances allowed it, I would joyfully restart the friendship and hold no grudge. I rest in the fact that that is how completely and thoroughly God has forgiven me for my sins against Him.

| “And lead us not into temptation...” reminds me that I will surely face temptation on this new day, but if God leads me, I will not enter “into” those temptations. By His grace I can live within the boundaries of God’s commandments, and refuse to step over the line and transgress the law.

| “...but deliver us from evil.” I trust that God will deliver me from the evil that exists in the temptations Satan has planned for me on this day. I also pray for deliverance from evil that might come against me from evil men or evil spirits.

| “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” I remember that the kingdom belongs to Him. He is in charge. His is the power. He is powerful enough to keep me from falling, as Jude 24 says, “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” His is the glory. I can take no glory to myself for whatever I become or do. As Paul said, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Those are the things that I ponder as I pray the “Our Father” prayer each morning. After that, I lie in bed and pray and meditate about other things, sometimes for just a few minutes, sometimes for twenty minutes or more.

After I get out of bed I get a drink of water and look at the prayer calendar from Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry that helps persecuted believers. On each date, they ask for prayer for specific individuals or groups who are being persecuted for their faith. So I send up a prayer for our persecuted brethren, and thereby “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them” (Heb. 13:2).

After that, I take a shower, then pour myself a bowl of granola and pour milk on it so it can soak while I get dressed, because I like my granola soggy. I get dressed, make a cup of Oolong tea so it can steep while I eat my soggy granola.

Before eating, I prop my KJV Bible up on the table and pray “Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, bore pri ha-ets, bore pri ha-adamah, bore pri ha-ruach,” which being interpreted is “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree [because there are almonds in my granola], who creates the fruit of the ground [because there are oats in my granola], who creates the fruit of the Spirit [because I’m going to read Scripture while I eat].” Then I pray something like “Lord, may the eating of this food nourish my body, and may the reading of Thy Word nurture the fruit of Thy Spirit.”

After I read a chapter or two (or more) in my KJV Bible, I sit on the couch with my cup of tea and slowly sip it while I read a chapter or two (or more) in my Hebrew Bible.

After all that, then I am ready to turn on my computer to see if I have any messages.

As I work, walk, and drive, I pray at various times throughout the day, sometimes in English, sometimes in unknown tongues. So I guess I pray in four languages: Hebrew, modern English, KJV English, and glossolalia. Occasionally I might let out a “Gloria a Dios!” or sing a line from a Spanish praise song that I remember. But I do not know Spanish well enough to pray in Spanish.

When I am alone, I usually pray aloud. If there are other people around, I pray silently or under my breath, so strangers will not think I am some nut talking to himself.

When our disabled daughter Autumn is ready for bed, Teresa and I pray with her. We also pray for family members, relatives, and friends at this time.

Teresa usually goes to sleep around 9 p.m. I quietly get out of bed, go to the other room, and pray for everyone in our local congregation, using our congregational directory for a guide.

Before I go back to bed, I pray that I will have no sinful dreams, no scary dreams, no disturbing dreams. (I sometimes have weird dreams, but they do not bother me. They are often very entertaining.) I also ask the Lord to protect us from dangers from above (because tree limbs, airplanes, meteors, or space junk can fall and crash through the roof), from dangers from below (because sinkholes, earthquakes, and old mine shafts can swallow houses), and from dangers from all sides (from evil men, from careless men, from storms, from fire, from freak accidents, from poison gases, from sickness and disease, from wild beasts and bugs). Then I go to sleep and start the process again the next morning.

That is my normal daily routine. There is no fixed rule for what sort of daily routine a disciple should have. I share my routine just as an example. You do not need to do your routine the same way I do mine. Maybe you do not like soggy granola and hot tea for breakfast. Maybe you prefer Captain Crunch and cold cowboy coffee. Maybe you like to do most of your praying and Bible reading later in the day. That’s okay. As a matter of fact, I used to do most of my praying and Bible study late at night. For many, many years, I stayed awake until 3 a.m. or later almost every night. Now in my older years, I go to bed earlier, usually around 12 midnight. (But please don’t phone me that late, because my wife is asleep and there is a phone in our bedroom.) In the future I might totally modify my schedule, depending on my circumstances and needs.

Whatever routine you establish for yourself, find a schedule that works for you and stick with it. But don’t feel condemned if things occasionally come up and you have to reschedule your time and do things differently. When I travel, I still spend time in prayer and the Word, but I usually have to modify my routine. Discipline yourself to follow some sort of routine so you will not waste valuable time and thereby become a prodigal son.

One important thing to remember about a prodigal son is that a prodigal son is still a son, even in a seriously backslidden state. I believe the world (especially America) is filled with backslidden prodigal sons, lost sheep who have strayed away from fellowship and from the Good Shepherd. I want to see prodigal sons come to their senses and return to their Father’s house. This is the main reason I opened the Gates of Eden Outreach Center, to reach out to the lost sheep all around us.

This parable is not just The Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is also The Parable of the Elder Brother. When the younger son returned home, his elder brother came in from working in the father’s fields. He heard the music and asked a servant what was going on.

The servant told him that his brother had returned home, and his father had killed the fatted calf to celebrate his brother’s return.

The elder brother was angry and refused to join the celebration. The elder brother had faithfully followed the father’s rules for many years. He knew how the farm operated. He knew how to drive a tractor, how to maintain the farm equipment, how to shear the sheep, how to milk the goats, how to plant and harvest the crops, how to run the business. He carefully followed his father’s instructions.

“Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment,” he said to his father, “yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.”

This elder brother knew and obeyed his father’s rules, but he did not know his father’s heart. The proof of that was in his pouting and resentment and his stubborn refusal to rejoice at his brother’s return. If he had known his father’s heart, he would have rejoiced at his brother’s return. He would have shared in the father’s grief over his lost brother. Had he really known his father’s heart, he would have said something like the following:

“Father, may I have permission to leave the farm and go to the city and look for my brother? I might not be able to convince him to come home, but I’d like to try. Maybe he wants to come home but can’t. Maybe his car is broken down, or his cell phone battery is dead, with no way to recharge it. Maybe he wants to come home but is too ashamed and afraid that he might not be welcomed back. Can I at least go and let him know that we want him to come home?”

How do you think the father would have responded? “Yes!” he would say. “Yes, please go, with my blessing! Leave today! Go to the storehouse and take whatever you need for the journey! Here, take my credit card and the keys to my car, and go!”

There is a very important lesson here for those of us who try our very best to obey our heavenly Father’s commandments. Our heavenly Father certainly wants us to obey His commandments, but He does not want us to be apathetic about the backslidden prodigal brothers who have wandered away from home. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in our in-depth Torah studies that go on for hours, discussing things like the correct pronunciation of God’s four-letter Hebrew name, or the correct dates for the various holy days of the Biblical calendar, or the debatable details of the Biblical dietary laws. Meanwhile, there are lost sheep who do not even know that God has a Hebrew name, or that a Biblical calendar exists, or that there are Biblical dietary laws.

Maybe you are not a rule-breaking prodigal son. That’s great. Just make sure you are not a rule-keeping elder brother who does not care about your rule-breaking brothers who have strayed away from home. If you do not care about those lost sheep, you do not know the heart of the Father whose rules you meticulously obey.

The Apostle Paul knew the heart of the heavenly Father. “I say the truth in Messiah, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Messiah for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites....” (Rom. 9:1-4).

Why did Paul feel great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart? Because he felt the great heaviness and continual sorrow of the heavenly Father’s heart. Like the elder brother in the parable, Paul knew and obeyed the Father’s rules, even after meeting Yeshua. (See Acts 25:8 & 28:17.) But unlike the elder brother, Paul also knew the Father’s heart.

This parable is not only about the prodigal son and the elder brother. It is also about the grieving father who wants his son to come home.

I can see the grieving father longing for the return of his son. One day he sees a ragged figure on the horizon, walking toward the farm.

“Someone’s coming,” he says to a servant. “Maybe it’s one of those homeless beggars coming to ask for a handout... But there’s something familiar about the way he walks....”

He says to the servant, “Hand me those binoculars!”

The father takes off his glasses, puts the binoculars up to his eyes, and turns the knob to bring things into focus. “Could it be my son? It might be... It is! It’s him! Thank God!”

The father throws down the binoculars, runs to meet his son, and embraces him.

The prodigal son probably practiced his repentance speech all the way home, rehearsing it over and over again so he would remember all the words and speak with a remorseful tone to show his sincerity. But the father interrupted his son’s apology speech. He did not get to recite the entire speech, because his father interrupted it and called for a celebration.

Aren’t you glad the heavenly Father is like that? Before a sinner even starts his prayer of repentance, the heavenly Father runs to meet him and embraces him. Before the sinner even finishes his prayer of repentance, the heavenly Father calls for a celebration to welcome him home. The returning sinner is accepted and embraced even before he prays his prayer of repentance, because the Father sees his repentant, remorseful heart. The prayer is just a formality.

In Asian culture, honoring one’s parents is very important. When Christian missionaries first went to China, they discovered that in China there was a very similar parable about a prodigal son. In the Chinese version, a son leaves home and wastes his substance with riotous living. After he runs out of money and is miserable, he decides to return home and apologize to his father.

The father welcomes his son home, kills the fatted pig, and throws a party to celebrate the return of his son. Everyone is enjoying the good food and having a wonderful time, especially the son, who has not had a good meal for a long time.

The son takes a few bites of food from his plate and smiles at his father. The father smiles back. Then suddenly the smile drops from the son’s face. He clutches his stomach and sees an evil grin spread across his father’s face. The son realizes that his father has poisoned his plate of food to punish him for bringing shame upon the family. The moral of the story is: “So shall it be done to the son who dishonors his father.”

When the Christian missionaries in China heard this parable, they explained to the Chinese people that the heavenly Father is not like the father in the Chinese parable. The heavenly Father is like the father in The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Our heavenly Father wants us to obey His commandments, but He also wants us to care about our prodigal brothers who have gone astray and are spiritually starving in the pigpens of the world system, and in the pigpens in the church system.

The Prophet Amos rebuked the people of his day for their lack of concern for their exiled brethren. “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion,” Amos said (Amos 6:1). Amos described the recipients of his rebuke as a people who lay in comfort on their couches and beds of ivory, enjoyed their barbecued beef and mutton, played musical instruments and sang Davidic songs, drank wine in fine goblets, and anointed themselves with their essential oils... “but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”

In the time of Amos, the affliction of Joseph referred to the Israelites who were carried away into Assyria by their adversary. In our time, the affliction of Joseph can be thought of as our prodigal brothers and sisters who have been carried away into error by the Adversary of adversaries, Satan, whose very name means “adversary.”

There is nothing sinful about enjoying comfortable furniture, barbecues, Davidic music, wine, and essential oils. But are you grieved for the affliction of Joseph? Do you care about all the prodigal sons who have been led astray by the Adversary?

If you care about the prodigal sons, you can help them by becoming a prodigal son. What do I mean by that? I mean becoming a prodigal son in a positive sense. You see, the word prodigal has a positive meaning as well as a negative meaning. So far, we have been considering only the negative meaning of prodigal, i.e., “wasteful.” But the meaning of prodigal in a positive context is “lavish.”

In other words, be so lavish, so generous with your praise to the Lord, with your devotion to Him, with your service to Him, with your time and attention to the things of God, that you appear to carnal minded people as “wasteful.”

Remember when Mary of Bethany broke that alabaster box of expensive spikenard and poured it on the Lord’s head? What did the carnal minded disciples think?

“Why this waste?” they said indignantly. Why is this woman being so lavish? Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred pence and the money given to the poor?

The Lord rebuked the disciples. And then He said that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world, this woman’s lavish deed would be included as part of the gospel story, as a memorial to her for her prodigal (i.e., lavish) “waste” of precious ointment.

When a disciple of the Lord is lavish in his devotion to the Lord, carnal minded people say, “Why this waste? With his talents and abilities and intellect, he could be a great success in the business world. He could earn a lot of money and help the poor.”

Carnal minded people cannot understand why a man wants to pursue the things of the Spirit rather than the things of this world. The carnal minded see it as a great waste. But the backslidden brothers who are miserable in their sinful state will be reminded of home. How? Remember what else happened when the alabaster box was broken? “The house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

They say that the sense of smell is the one sense that triggers memories more than all the other senses. When we are lavish in our devotion to the Lord, the backslidden prodigals will notice an aroma, a scent of the Divine Presence that they once enjoyed. That aroma can awaken them and bring them to their senses so they will leave the pigpen and return to the Father’s house. And when they do, let’s not be like the elder brother in the parable. Let’s welcome them home.

| DB


Image: The Prodigal Son in the Arms of His Father by Gustave Doré. Public Domain.

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Mar 10

Thank you for this post. This is something I’ve been struggling with myself….wasting time. In fact I was just praying about it in bed before I got up. I immediately checked my phone for messages and updates 🙄, and was reading emails 😬 when I saw you had posted something new. I appreciate this so much and I appreciate your time that you pour into your ministry. I will strive to be more disciplined!


Mar 10

Thank you Daniel for your gracious reminder of our time here....

"Lord teach me to number my days that I might present to you a heart of wisdom". Ps. 90:12


Mar 10

I have a prodigal as in wasteful son. Your post brought tears. We (his step-dad) and I have done everything we could to help him, all to no avail. Finally, i got the memo-get out of My way, mother. I have had to give him over. Perhaps this time when he hits rock-bottom, he will find the Rock. Please join us in praying for Matthew-we are estranged, again!

Mar 17
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thank you!

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