Now his elder son was in the field
By "the elder son" is meant, not angels, as has been observed on ( Luke 15:11 ) nor truly converted persons, of some standing in the church; for though these may be said to be elder than young converts, and are more solid and settled, yet they are not ignorant of spiritual mirth; nor of the Gospel sound; nor are they angry at the conversion of sinners; nor will they ever speak in such commendation of themselves; or say that they never had a kid, much less a fatted calf, as this elder brother does: nor the Jews in general, in distinction from the Gentiles, as has been remarked in the above place: the Scribes and Pharisees in particular are meant, in opposition to the publicans and sinners: now these are said to be "in the field"; in the world, which is comparable to an uncultivated field; being overrun with the briers and thorns of sin, and sinful men; where beasts of prey inhabit, and who are fitly signified by lions, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword; and out of which the garden of the church is taken and separated, and fenced by distinguishing grace: now this elder brother, the Scribe and Pharisee, notwithstanding all his sobriety and morality, was in a state of nature and unregeneracy, in the same condition he came into the world; and was under the influence of the god of the world; and was taken up with the things of the world, the honours, riches, and profits of it; and though he was in the Jewish church state, yet was in the field of the world; the ceremonies of that state, were the rudiments of the world; and the sanctuary in it, was a worldly sanctuary; and the chief men in it, were the princes of the world: and this elder son was in the field at work, working for life: to work is right, when men work from a principle of grace, in the name, faith, and strength of Christ, to the glory of God and religion, and their own and others good; and ascribe all they do to the grace of God, and acknowledge their own unworthiness; but to work, in order to obtain righteousness, life, and salvation, proceeds from wretched ignorance, and is an instance of the pride and vanity of human nature; and is not only a vain and fruitless attempt, but a piece of wickedness, it being a denial of Christ, as God's salvation: now while the younger son, the publicans and sinners, were received and entertained in the house and kingdom of God their Father, the elder son, the Scribe and Pharisee, were without in the field, labouring to obtain life by doing;
and as he came and drew nigh to the house.
The Ethiopic version reads, "to the border of the city": he "came" out of the field, the world; not that he was come out from the world, and had left the company of the men of it, or parted with the sins and lusts of it; but he came from his labour, having done his day's work, and the task of duty he had set himself; and was now going for his hire, for what he imagined he had merited: and
drew nigh to the house;
for he did not go in, ( Luke 15:28 ) he only made some advances to it, and took some steps towards entrance into it; namely, into a visible church; he came to hear the word, as the Scribes and Pharisees did; and to attend on ordinances, particularly at the administration of the ordinance of baptism, and seemed desirous of submitting to it in John's time; but never came to Christ in a spiritual way; nor entered into the kingdom of heaven, the Gospel dispensation; and did all that could be, to hinder others, especially publicans and sinners;
he heard music and dancing.
The Syriac; Persic, and Ethiopic versions, leave out "dancing": the former only reads, "the voice of the singing of many", and the next, "the voice of singing"; and the last, "pipes and songs"; by "music" is meant not the instrumental music used in the Old Testament church; nor vocal singing in the new; but the preaching of the Gospel by the ministers of it, the servants, in ( Luke 15:22 Luke 15:23 ) setting forth the love of God, the righteousness of Christ, peace, pardon, and salvation by him; in which, as in music, there is a distinction of sounds, the voice of Christ in the Gospel, and the several doctrines of it, are distinctly pronounced, discerned, and understood: and there is also, as in music, an harmony and agreement; the Gospel does not give an uncertain sound, nor contradict itself; it is not yea and nay: and, like music, it is delightful and charming; it is a sound of love in all the three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit; of free grace, and rich mercy; of liberty, reconciliation, forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life: and as music, has a powerful and attractive virtue in it; so the Gospel is mighty and efficacious in the hand of the Spirit of God to quicken even dead sinners, to draw them to Christ, to allure, charm, and comfort them: "dancing" may design those expressions of joy, which are delivered by young converts at hearing the Gospel, as by the three thousand, in ( Acts 2:41 ) by the inhabitants of Samaria, ( Acts 8:6 Acts 8:8 ) and by the jailor and his household, ( Acts 16:34 ) and by many others: now all this the elder brother, the Scribes and Pharisees, "heard"; not so as to know the true meaning of it, as appears from the following verse; nor as to approve of it; or so as to feel the power, and enjoy the sweetness of it; nor as to practise what was heard; only externally hearing, they heard, but understood not, their eyes were blinded, and their hearts were hardened.