Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces Beth Shean

"A Distant Country"


The largest archeological site in Israel is Beth Shean, located at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley where it intersects with the Jordan River. It was a Greco Roman town with a culture very different from a traditional Jewish community.

It was a place that everyone in the audience could images as Jesus told one of his most famous parables.

1 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. 2 Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Sinner: hamartōlós; from hamartánō (G0264), to deviate, miss the mark, sin. Erring from the way or mark.

(I) As adj., erring from the divine law, sinful, wicked, impious.
(A) Generally: a sinful generation; a sinful man, 
(B) Oblivious to the consequences of sin, guilty and exposed to punishment: many became exposed to the punishment of sin;, ungodly persons deserving of punishment.

3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Something Lost, something Found, Great Joy

The Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’

10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Something Lost, Something Found, Great Joy

The Prodigal Son
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 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.

Wealth: bíos; Life, but not as in zōḗ (G2222), life, in which is meant the element or principle of the spirit and soul. Bíos, from which the word "biography" is derived, refers to duration, means, and manner of life.

13 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. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 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.

 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he 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!

18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 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. 21 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.’

 22 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; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 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.

Something Lost, Something Found, Great Joy

  25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 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.’ 28 But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.

 29 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; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your  wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’

Something Lost, Something Found, No Joy

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’” Luke 15

Contextual Points to Consider:

1) When the younger son says to the father “Give me the share of the estate that falls to me,’ that means that ‘Father, I wish you were dead,’ since inheritance only happened upon the death of the father.

2) In an economy of shepherds and farmers, wealth (bios- manner of life) was in livestock and land. To give the younger son his inheritance meant selling animals and land.

3) In First Century Israel, a ‘distant land’ meant a Greco-Roman city culture.

4) For a Jewish boy, feeding pigs was the nadir of existence.

5) Circumstances of life often “bring us to our senses.”

6) Elder Israelites men generally do not run as they would have to pull up their garment and thus display their ‘naked’ legs.

7) The father orders the servants to bring ‘the finest robe’- his robe. Now the son is clothed in a symbol of family authority.

8) Placing a ring on the finger of the son meant that he was now under the protection of the head of the clan. Other clan/family members could not punish the son for dishonoring his father, as they could have and would have had he just appeared home without his father’s protection.

9) The elder son demonstrated great disrespect by refusing to obey his father.

10) Prodigal Definition: adjective

  1. Rashly or wastefully extravagant.

  2. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: 



How are the two sons different?

How are they the same?

What is the great sin that Jesus is communicating?

What are the two means by which most people demonstrate a desire to maintain control over their lives?

1) Religious People observe the law, in hopes that God will favor them and bless them (give them the life that they deserve).

2) Rebellious People ignore God and focus their lives on getting what they want.

3) Neither group is interested in a personal relationship with God, just getting the things they want.

4) Both supplant God with their own pride in controlling their lives.

  1. Keller The Prodigal God

“Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic way people try to find happiness and fulfilment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.

The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day believed that, while the were a people chosen by God, they could only maintain their place in this blessing and receive final salvation through the strict obedience to the Bible. There are innumerable varieties of the paradigm, but the all believe in putting the will of God and the standards of the community ahead of individual fulfillment. In this view, we only attain happiness and a world made right by achieving moral rectitude. We may fail at times of course, but then we wil be judged by how abject and intense our regret is. In this view, even in our failures we must always measure up.

The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery. In ancient patriarchal cultures, some took this route, but there are far more who do so today. This paradigm holds that individuals must be free to pursue their won goals and self-actualization regardless of custom and convention. In this view the world would be a far better place if tradition, prejudice, hierarchical authority, and other barriers to personal freedom were weakened or removed.”

“Here then is Jesus’s radical redefinition of what is wrong with us. Nearly everyone defines sins as breaking a list of rules. Jesus, though, show us that a man who had violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehavior can be every bit as spiritually lost as the profligate, immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savoir, Lord, and Judge just as teach son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.“

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