Obviously the main meaning of the parable of the prodigal son is that the Lord welcomes sinners who repent.
But it’s also a Jeremiah reference (Jeremiah 31:9, 18-20), which I hadn’t realized.
“…for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
“Hearing, I heard Ephraim when he went into captivity.
“Thou hast chastised me, and I was instructed, as a young bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Convert me, and I shall be converted, for thou art the Lord my God. For after thou didst convert me, I did penance: and after thou didst shew unto me, I struck my thigh: I am confounded and ashamed, because I have borne the reproach of my youth.”
“Surely Ephraim is an honourable son to me, surely he is a tender child: for since I spoke of him, I will still remember him. Therefore are my bowels troubled for him; pitying, I will pity him,” says the Lord.’
And here’s the prodigal son, Lk. 15:18-20 —
“I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.'”
“And rising up he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and his bowels were moved with compassion, and running to him, he fell upon his neck, and kissed him.”
Btw, Ephraim actually was Joseph’s second son; Manasseh was the firstborn. Simeon and Levi lost their inheritances for killing a man. Simeon’s tribe seems to have died out or gotten sucked into the Levites by Moses’ time. Ephraim received Joseph’s inheritance and was named a tribe in his place. Manasseh received Levi’s inheritance and was named a tribe in his place, since the Levites had their portion from God. (Levites lived among all the tribes, and constituted a sort of 13th tribe.) The first king of the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel was Jeroboam, who came from the tribe of Ephraim.
So yeah, the prodigal son is Ephraim and the northern kingdom, in a lot of ways.