THE BOOK OF TOBIT
INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
IRENE NOWELL, O.S.B.
The book of Tobit tells the story of a good man named Tobit who seems to suffer without cause. In performing an act of charity, burying a dead man, he is struck with blindness and made dependent on his wife. He is so aggrieved by a quarrel with her that he prays to die. Meanwhile, in another city, a young woman named Sarah also prays to die because she has been married seven times, and each husband has died on the wedding night. God hears their prayers and sends the angel Raphael to heal them each of their distress.
Tobit remembers some money he has deposited in another city and sends his son Tobiah to get it. Tobiah and Tobit hire a guide, the angel Raphael in disguise, who not only leads Tobiah to the house of Raguel, Sarah’s father, but also helps Tobiah catch a fish whose parts will be useful in healing both his father and Sarah. Raphael instructs Tobiah to ask for Sarah’s hand in marriage. Tobiah burns the parts of the fish to drive away the demon who is killing Sarah’s husbands; then he and Sarah pray and sleep happily through the night. Meanwhile Raguel, fearing the death of another son-in-law, has dug a grave. When he and his wife, Edna, discover that Tobiah and Sarah are well, they hold a fourteen-day wedding feast. Raphael, who has gone after Tobit’s money, returns to the feast with Gabael, who has held the money in deposit.
Tobiah’s parents are worried sick, however, because their son is late in returning. So Tobiah and his wife set out with Raphael on the return journey. As soon as Tobiah sees his father, he uses the remaining parts of the fish to heal his blindness. When the two men attempt to pay the guide, Raphael reveals his identity and instructs them to praise God. Tobit’s song of praise is the last and longest prayer in this book, which contains prayers or blessings by every character except Anna, Tobit’s wife, and Raphael. After a long and happy life, Tobit calls for Tobiah and Sarah, along with their children, to give them a final instruction. After their deaths, Tobiah gives both his parents and his parents-in-law honorable burials. Finally Tobiah himself dies at the age of 117.
TEXT AND LANGUAGE
The origins of the book of Tobit are somewhat murky. The book is available to us in three Greek recensions, several fragments of four Aramaic and one Hebrew manuscript, the Old Latin version, and the Latin Vulgate. The presence of Aramaic and Hebrew manuscripts at Qumran led to the conclusion that the original language was Semitic, although whether Hebrew or Aramaic is debatable. Most scholars lean toward Aramaic.
The Qumran manuscripts are fragmentary, however. Thus for a primary text one of the Greek recensions is necessary. There are three Greek recensions: GI, represented by two manuscripts, Vaticanus (B) and Alexandrinus (A); GII, represented by the Sinaiticus ms, and GIII, preserved in mss 44, 106, and 107. GII has a strong Semitic flavor, many narrative details, and is substantially longer than the others. It has two major gaps, however—4:7–19 and 13:6–10. GI is written in a more idiomatic Greek and is shorter and more concise than GII. GIII is fragmentary, preserved only from 6:9 to 13:8.
The Old Latin version (VL) represents GII and is useful in correcting and reconstructing S. The Vulgate, Jerome says, was translated rapidly (in one day!) from an Aramaic version. Much of it is dependent on VL. Therefore, it is of less value textually than VL. However, it does provide some interesting interpretations of the story. The Qumran manuscripts support the priority of GII, which will be used as the primary text for this commentary, corrected by the Qumran manuscripts and by the Old Latin, and supplemented by GI where gaps are identified.
Speculation concerning the date of the book of Tobit has ranged from the seventh century bce to the third century ce, with a definite preference for the third to second centuries bce. There are several reasons to support this date with regard to terminus a quo. The confusion concerning historical and geographical data in seventh-century Assyria excludes an early date for the book. The title "law of Moses" or "book of Moses" (Tob 6:13; 7:11–13) became current after the writing of the books of Chronicles (4th cent. bce; cf. 2 Chr 23:18; 25:4; 30:16). The author of Tobit presumes the authority of the prophets as proclaimers of God’s Word (14:4). The prophets were canonized around 200 bce. The fact that the Jews did not accept the book of Tobit in their canon also indicates a late date for the work.
The Maccabean revolt provides the terminus ad quem. There is no evidence in Tobit of the turmoil caused by the persecution begun by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164). The emphasis on endogamy, a practice that died out in the first century bce, the absence of comment on resurrection of the dead, whether belief or non-belief, and the discovery of copies of the book at Qumran support a terminus ad quem in the second century. Fitzmyer suggests that the Aramaic in the Qumran fragments represents the period between the end of the second century bce and the beginning of the second century ce. The most probable date for the writing of the book of Tobit, then, is between 200 and 180 bce.
The most difficult question concerning the origin of the book of Tobit concerns place. Palestine, Egypt, and Mesopotamia have been suggested as possibilities. Assyria and Persia are usually rejected because of the inaccurate geographical references. The eastern diaspora is a stronger possibility.
The other major area of the diaspora, Egypt, is also possible. Some connections exist between Tobit and the Elephantine papyri (5th cent. bce). One source of Tobit is the story of Ahiqar (see the section "The Story of Ahiqar," below), an Aramaic copy of which was found at Elephantine. The marriage contract discovered among the same papyri is very similar to the words of Raguel at the wedding of Sarah and Tobiah. Yet there are also several arguments against Egypt. It seems unlikely that a story written in Aramaic would originate in second-century Egypt. Upper Egypt appears to be a faraway place when the demon is banished there (Tob 8:3).
The third possibility is Palestine. The chief objection to this locale is the setting of the story in the diaspora. Nonetheless, the interest in Jerusalem and its cult may indicate Palestinian provenance. The evidence does not allow a definite conclusion concerning the place of origin of our book.
The book of Tobit is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures and thus is not a part of the Old Testament in the Protestant tradition. It is, however, contained in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of Jewish holy books, and was translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate. Thus it remains part of the Old Testament canon for Roman Catholics and for the Orthodox churches.
The book of Tobit is a work of narrative prose with several prayers in poetic form. The question of its historicity has been widely debated. There are several arguments against its literal historicity. First, inaccuracies appear in the report of Assyrian history. Sargon II (721–705) is missing from the recital of kings in chapter 1, perhaps echoing 2 Kgs 17:1–6 and 18:9–13, in which Sargon is not mentioned. The Assyrian king responsible for the deportation of Naphtali from Galilee, the deportation that presumably included Tobit, was Tiglath-Pileser III (745–727), not Shalmaneser V as Tob 1:2 states. Second, the first-person narrative in the opening chapters may signal questionable historicity. Authors of antiquity sometimes used first-person narrative to make the teller of the tale, and not the author, responsible for its truth. However, Miller argues that the redactors of texts such as Tobit, the Genesis Apocryphon, and Nehemiah preserved the first-person narrative whenever it was available precisely because it was valued as "original autobiography."6 Third, the religious principles of the book are more consistent with the period of the author (2nd cent. bce) than the period in which the story is set (8th–7th cents. bce). Thus, while there may be a historical nucleus to the book, its primary function is not the telling of history. Rather, it has a didactic purpose: to teach and illustrate basic principles of religious faith.
The book of Tobit bears many characteristics of a "romance" that is cast as a successful quest. The genre, however, is affected by the biblical context. The book also has many features of the Hebrew short story, as defined by Campbell.8 Its characters are ordinary people whose everyday lives become signs of the working of God’s providence. The religious purpose of the author is shown by the subject matter and by the use of biblical models and imagery. It is, however, a late example of the genre. A folktale element predominates, and the distinction between legend and Hebrew short story is blurred.
Hence, the book of Tobit belongs to a mixed genre, created to respond to the needs of the post-exilic community to which its author belonged, a genre shared with Esther, Judith, and Susanna. Overall, the book of Tobit is best described as a Hebrew romance.
Other literary forms appear in the book, specifically poetic prayers (3:2–6, 11–15; 8:5–8, 15–17; 11:14–15; 13:1–17) and wisdom speeches (4:3–21; 12:6–10; 14:3–11). The wisdom speeches, which contain several proverbs, may also be classified as farewell discourses.
SOURCES FOR THE PLOT
The Grateful Dead. The plot of the center section of Tobit, the travelogue (chaps. 5–12), is derived from the folktale "The Grateful Dead." The basic story of the Grateful Dead, as found in a widespread collection of folktales, concerns a man who impoverishes himself to ransom and bury a corpse that is being mistreated by the dead man’s creditors. Shortly thereafter, when the poor man is on a journey, he is joined by a stranger who offers to be his servant in return for half of whatever the hero might acquire.
At this point the folktales diverge. The version best known in the Near East and in Eastern Europe is the form that is related to the book of Tobit. In this form the tale is combined with the tale of "The Monster in the Bridal Chamber." The hero in this combination of tales is advised by the stranger to marry a wealthy princess whose former bridegrooms have all perished in the bridal chamber. The stranger then keeps watch on the wedding night and slays the serpent that emerges from the mouth of the princess to kill the hero. Subsequently, the stranger demands half the bride as his payment, but as he threatens to divide the bride with his sword (or actually does), another serpent(s) comes out of the bride, and she is freed from enchantment. The stranger then reveals himself as the grateful dead man whom the hero had buried.
Several similarities exist between this story and the plot of Tobit. Tobit is impoverished because of his practice of burying the dead. His son Tobiah (the hero has been divided into two characters of similar name) is accompanied on a journey by a mysterious stranger who advises him to marry a bride whose husbands have all died on the wedding night. Through the advice and service of the stranger, Tobiah survives the wedding night, and the bride is freed from enchantment. The stranger is offered payment of half the goods acquired on the journey (not, however, half the bride). He then reveals his identity and disappears.
The Story of Ahiqar. A second major source for the plot is the story of Ahiqar (NAB; NRSV, "Ahikar"), who appears in the book of Tobit in four passages (1:21–22; 2:10; 11:18; 14:10). The story seems to have been written originally in Aramaic sometime in the sixth century bce. Fragments of the story in Aramaic were found at Elephantine and have been dated to the fifth century bce. The story of Ahiqar appears in several languages: Syriac, Arabic, Armenian, and Slavonic, and fragments in Ethiopic and Greek. These versions are much later than the Aramaic fragments.
The story of Ahiqar consists of a narrative portion and a set of proverbs. The narrative tells the story of the life of Ahiqar, a royal official at the courts of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. Because he is childless, Ahiqar adopts Nadin, his nephew, and trains him to succeed to his royal position. But Nadin, treacherous and ungrateful, accuses Ahiqar of disloyalty to the king. Ahiqar is condemned to death, but is secretly rescued by the executioner whose life Ahiqar had saved earlier. He remains hidden in a cave under his own house until the king, challenged to a contest of wisdom by the pharaoh of Egypt, expresses the wish that Ahiqar still lived. Thereupon Ahiqar emerges from hiding, answers the pharaoh’s challenge, and is restored to his former honor. Meanwhile, Nadin is imprisoned and dies. The proverbs of Ahiqar are probably older than the narrative and were presumably added to the story to strengthen the impression of Ahiqar’s wisdom.
Similarities between the story of Ahiqar and the book of Tobit can be seen both in content and in literary form. The life of Ahiqar resembles in broad strokes the life of Tobit. Both are faithful men who are unjustly plunged into darkness, but who, because of righteousness, are saved from death and restored to life. The story of Ahiqar is told in first-person narrative, similar to the beginning of the book of Tobit. The wisdom speech of Tobit to his son Tobiah (4:3–21) echoes proverbs in the story of Ahiqar.
General knowledge of the story of Ahiqar is presumed by the author of the book of Tobit. Ahiqar is made a relative of Tobit (1:21), ostensibly to enhance Tobit by connecting him with such a renowned sage. Ahiqar uses his position to help Tobit in his distress (1:21–22; 2:10). He and Nadin come to rejoice in Tobit’s joy (11:18). In the final reference to Ahiqar, Tobit recounts a synopsis of Ahiqar’s life (14:10–11).
Just as the journey of Tobiah (the central section) rests on the outline of the folktale combination of the "Grateful Dead"/"Monster in the Bridal Chamber," so also the life of Tobit (chaps. 1–4; 13–14; the frame) rests on the outline of the story of Ahiqar. The influence of these two sources clarifies the interweaving of first-person narrative, wisdom sections and prayers, and the theme of innocent suffering and vindication with the folktale quest for a bride.
These two sources, however, are insufficient to explain the motivations and the progress of the plot in the book of Tobit. The book is permeated with biblical themes and principles. Folktale elements from the "Grateful Dead"/"Monster in the Bridal Chamber" have been changed in conformity with the tenets of biblical faith. The grateful dead man has been replaced by an angel. The hero is now represented by two figures: the father-hero and the son-hero. The father-hero buries the dead out of respect for biblical injunctions (e.g., Deut 21:23) and is both tested and rewarded for his fidelity. The son-hero wins the bride, not because he buried the dead, but because he has a right to her by Mosaic law (Tob 6:12–13; 7:10; cf. Num 36:8–9). The marriage is planned in heaven (Tob 6:18; 7:11). The bride is delivered from the demon by God, who sends an angel to instruct the hero in exorcism and prayer (6:17–18; 8:2–9). The angel demands no payment but is offered half of the recovered money (12:15).
Modifications have also been made in the borrowing from Ahiqar. Ahiqar himself has been made a Jew. The figure of the son differs in the two stories. In Ahiqar, Nadin is an adopted son; in Tobit, Tobiah is a natural son. Nadin is a classic example of the ungrateful son; Tobiah is an example of the devoted, faithful son. The just man in the two stories is vindicated for different reasons. Tobit is vindicated simply because he is righteous; Ahiqar is vindicated because of a specific form of righteousness, almsgiving.
The Joseph Story. L. Ruppert proposes the Joseph story (Genesis 37; 39–50) as the link between extra-biblical sources and the biblical tradition that is fundamental to the book of Tobit. The Joseph story, the basic biblical analogue to Tobit, is the third and most significant element that must be considered in outlining its plot. In the Joseph story, as in the book of Tobit, an elderly father sends a beloved son (Benjamin), whom he entrusts to a companion (Reuben or Judah; Gen 42:37; 43:8–9), on a dangerous journey to a distant land to obtain relief from a current need. The travelers recognize that the father’s life is so bound up in that of the son that if the son should die, the father would go down to the nether world in grief (Gen 44:30–31; cf. Tob 6:15).
Upon his arrival the son meets a near relative (Joseph/Raguel) who inquires about his father’s health (Gen 45:3; Tob 7:4–5). After the close kinship is revealed, the travelers are welcomed with tearful embraces (Gen 45:14–15; cf. Tob 7:6–8; Gen 43:27–30). Meanwhile, although the father (or mother; note that in Tobit it is Edna who inquires concerning Tobit’s health) fears the son’s death (Gen 37:33–35; 43:14; cf. Tob 10:4, 7), the son escapes danger (Gen 39:1–6; 44:1–45:3; cf. Tob 6:3–4; 8:2–9) and is reunited with the father (Gen 46:30; cf. Tob 11:9–10). With tearful embraces the father (or mother) proclaims readiness to die (Gen 46:30; Tob 11:9; cf. Tob 11:14). As the story draws to a close, the father summons his son(s) and grandchildren to his deathbed, asks for an honorable burial, and makes a statement about the future and about return to the homeland (Gen 47:27–48:2, 15–22; cf. Gen 50:24; Tob 14:3–8; 13:5). There is a final poetic speech by the father concerning the future (Genesis 49; Tobit 13).
Biblical Type Scenes. In addition to the outline from part of the Joseph story, the central scene of the book of Tobit has another biblical analogue. Tobiah’s betrothal (7:1–16), including the preceding departure from the father (5:17–22) and subsequent departure from the bride’s home (10:7–13), is modeled on the biblical type scene of betrothal. The two betrothal scenes closest in pattern to Tob 7:1–16 are Isaac’s (Gen 24:1–67) and Jacob’s (Gen 29:1–30). Genesis 29:4–6 appears almost verbatim in Tob 7:3–5 (see Commentary). In addition, each passage is linked to Tobit by a particular key word. The link to Isaac’s betrothal scene isεὐοδόω (euodoō, "prosper," "make successful"). The link to Jacob’s betrothal scene is ὑγιαίνω (hygiainō, "to be well"). The scenes are also similar in structure.
Two points of correspondence link Tobiah’s betrothal scene with that of Moses (Exod 2:15–21): the number seven (a folktale element) and the name of the father-in-law. Seven daughters meet Moses at the well. The father of Moses’ future bride is named Raguel (or Reuel). Moses’ departure from his father-in-law (Exod 4:18a) also resembles the corresponding scenes in Tobit (10:11) and in Genesis (24:54–61).
The Book of Job. A final pattern influencing the book of Tobit appears in the book of Job. The structure of the two books is similar. Each book contains a "framing" section that sets the stage in the beginning and summarizes the situation at the end (Job 1:1–2:13; 42:7–17; Tob 1:1–3:17; 12:1–14:15). The central action is set into this frame (Job 3:1–42:6; Tob 4:1–11:18). The progress of Tobit’s life is modeled on that of Job. Each man suffers bodily affliction, even though he is righteous (Job 2:7; 27:6; Tob 1:3; 2:10); each is grieved by the sharp words of a wife (Job 2:9–10; Tob 2:14–3:1) and prays for death (Job 7:15; Tob 3:2–6). After his testing, each man is vindicated and rewarded (Job 42:7–17; Tob 14:1–3). Imagery of light and darkness is prevalent in both books. More than a quarter of the occurrences of the wordsאור (ʾôr, "light") and חשׁך (ḥōšek, "darkness") in the Hebrew Bible are in the book of Job. The story of Tobit moves from light to darkness and back to light.
Conclusion. The outline of the plot of the book of Tobit is shaped by several sources. Extra-biblical literature has contributed the patterns of two folktales—the "Grateful Dead"/"Monster in the Bridal Chamber," and the story of Ahiqar—which form respectively a basis for the central travelogue and for the framing story of the just, guiltless man who suffers but is finally vindicated. Biblical literature has contributed four elements: The story of Joseph functions as a pattern for incorporating the story of Tobit into the flow of salvation history; the betrothal scene from the ancestor stories serves as a model for the central scene in Tobit; the book of Job provides a model for the structure of the book of Tobit, the life of its principal character, and its basic imagery; and finally, the story is set in, and permeated by, a context of faith. As Zimmermann says, "The woof comes from the folklore of mankind, and the warp and the pattern, the vitality and the color, come from the religious experience of the Jewish people."
It is not similarities to a pattern, however, but the variations that are significant. The differences between the book of Tobit and the folktales derive largely from the biblical context. The differences between the book of Tobit and its biblical models can be attributed to the influences of a different time and a different historical situation. The location differs from the ancestor stories. The need for burial of the dead, though a prominent theme in Genesis,24 arises from a different cause. The essence of a just life—fear of God and charity toward others—remains constant, but the ways in which justice is enacted differ for the characters in Tobit, who lived in exile, from the ancestors, who lived in Egypt and among the Canaanites. The outline of the plot of Tobit derives from several sources; however, the unique expression of this particular plot reflects the needs and preoccupations of the second-century diaspora.
The Narrator. There are two narrators in the book of Tobit: the first-person narrator of 1:3–3:1 and the third-person narrator of 3:17 through the end of the book. A bridge consisting of two prayers and the introduction of two new characters connects them, but it is unclear whether Tobit remains the narrator in the bridge. The third-person narrator is unobtrusive, reliable, omniscient, and brief. The first-person narrator, by contrast, is more limited in perspective, less knowledgeable and less neutral.27
Dialogue and Reticence. The bulk of the story in the book of Tobit is carried by dialogue. Alter suggests the analysis of (1) the characters’ own speech, particularly the first reported speech; (2) contrasting dialogue between characters; and (3) the discontinuity between speech and reticence. The first reported speech of each character, with the exception of Raphael and Sarah, occurs in the first scene in which that character appears. The first speech is significant as a revelation of character (see Commentary on 2:13–14; 5:4–5). Comparing the speech of various characters is also instructive regarding character. For example, Tobit speaks with greater breadth than does Anna, who speaks in short questions. Also, Tobiah asks many questions and speaks with the haste of youth, whereas Raphael makes long speeches and is generally a vehicle of information (a fitting task for an angel).
The economy of the biblical author is most evident in the reticence of the characters. The most striking example is Sarah, whose only words are spoken in prayer (3:11–15; 8:8). Several times characters simply disappear from a scene (e.g., Tobiah in 2:3–8; 5:10–6:6; 7:11b–8:3; 8:20–21; Raphael in 7:9–16; 10:7–13; 11:9–15).
A frequent feature of dialogue shared in common by all speakers is inclusion—that is, beginning and ending a speech with the same word or phrase (e.g., "take courage" [θάρσει tharsei] in 5:10; "welcome" [ὑγιαίνων ἔλθοις hygiainōn elthois] in 5:14; "child" [παιδίον paidion] in 5:17; "will leave in good health/return in good health" [ὑγιαίνων πορεύσεται/ὑποστρέψει ὑγιαίνων hygiainōn poreusetai/hypostrepsei hygiainōn] in 5:21–22; "eat and drink" [φάγε καὶ πίε phage kai pie] in 7:10–11; "take courage, daughter" [θάρσει θύγατερ tharsei thygater] in 7:16; "take courage, child" [θάρσει παιδίον tharsei paidion] in 8:21; "my child has perished" [ἀπώλετο τὸ παιδίον μου apōleto to paidion mou] in 10:4, 7; "how much shall I pay him?" [πόσον αὐτῶ δώσω τόν μισθόν/πόσον αὐτῶ ἔτι δῶ μισθόν poson autō dōsō ton misthon/poson autō eti dō misthon] in 12:2–3).
Irony. There are two major and several minor types of irony in the book of Tobit. The basic conflict of the book—the problem that the apparent consequence of doing good is not prosperity but suffering—is an example of the "general irony of events." The veiled identity of Raphael constitutes an example of the second major type of irony, "dramatic irony," in which the readers know what the characters do not.30 Raguel’s digging of the unnecessary grave (8:9–18) is also an example of dramatic irony. The "irony of self-betrayal" is evident in the contradiction between Anna’s words and her actions, for she continues to watch the road even though she declares that Tobiah is dead. Irony carries the main theme of the book of Tobit: God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked; yet God remains free. This final type of irony may be called "divine irony."
Imagery and Key Words. The book is built on a basic opposition between death and life. Only chap. 9 has no mention of death or burial. In addition to words referring specifically to death and life, the concept is imaged through the opposition between night and day, darkness and light, blindness and vision. Tobit’s blindness is the physical symbol of the opposition between light and darkness, life and death. It ranks him with sinners as well as with the dead.
A group of abstract terms supports the basic opposition of death and life. Key words on the positive side of the opposition center around healing: health and wellness, safety and salvation, mercy and prosperity are frequently mentioned. With these gifts comes joy. The prayers are particularly filled with expressions of joy. The negative side of the opposition is represented by two clusters of words. The main characters experience and fear distress and reproach. Their distress has two consequences: grief and prayer for deliverance.
One of the major tenets of the book is that these contrasting realities of life and death, suffering and health, joy and sorrow, are in God’s hands. The life-and-death opposition manifested in the characters’ lives is reflected in the portrait of Jerusalem in the final chapters. For a time, Jerusalem will be desolate, but at the proper time it will be rebuilt.
Another set of key words serves to describe the characters in the book. Four adjectives are used consistently to describe Tobit: "noble/beautiful" (καλός kalos); "good" (ἀγαθός agathos); "righteous" (δίκαιος dikaios); and "charitable/merciful" (ἐλεήμων eleēmōn). The cognate nouns of two of these words, "charity" and "righteousness," along with "truth/fidelity" (ἀλήθεια alētheia), form an inclusio that frames the book (1:3; 14:9). Tobit exhorts Tobiah and his children, and also the whole people, to these virtues. These words appear also in descriptions of Raphael (5:14, 22) and in his exhortation to Tobit and Tobiah (12:6–8, 11). They describe not only the character of Tobit, but also the nature of God (3:2; 13:6). Thus the four key words characterize God, God’s messenger, and the human characters in the book. God is noble and good, just and merciful. The messengers sent by God to assist human beings manifest the same qualities. Human beings, in response, are called to be noble and good, just and merciful.
Two further images in the book serve as symbols. The fish that attempts to swallow Tobiah’s foot (6:3) is a symbol of death (see Commentary on 6:3–4). The number seven is a symbol of completion. Sarah loses seven bridegrooms. Tobiah is the eighth husband; he ends the sorrow brought by the previous seven. He is adjured to bring joy to her heart, beginning with the fourteen-day (twice seven) wedding feast (8:20). Then the two return home to celebrate another seven happy days (11:18). Their children number seven sons (14:3). The messenger of God’s providence, sent to bring God’s healing and joy to this family, is Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand before God (12:15).
The Providence of God. A basic premise of the book is that God cares for human beings. God’s plan shapes human history, affecting both individual lives and national destinies. Individual lives are woven together in a common journey. The circle of interwoven lives widens from the individual (Tobit) to the larger family, to the whole people, and finally to all nations who will come to Jerusalem.
The agents of God’s providence are an angel, human beings, and natural objects and events. The developed figure of the angel (messenger) is one of the major contributions of the book of Tobit to Old Testament theology. The angel Raphael functions as guide and protector, conveyor of information, mediator of prayer, and one who tests. His words and identity, however, are veiled and ambiguous. God’s work through him is not immediately obvious to the other characters in the story.
The primary agents of God’s providence in this book are human persons. The clearest example is found in the actions of Tobiah. Through his obedience, God heals both Tobit and Sarah. God’s providence is also shown through natural materials, such as the medicinal properties of the fish organs.
The Justice of God. The book of Tobit also asserts that God is just. The understanding of God’s justice is expressed in the theory of retribution: God rewards the just and punishes the wicked. The apparent contradiction of this theory, found in the suffering of the just man Tobit, generates the conflict of the plot. How can God be just if the apparent consequence of doing good is not prosperity but suffering? Only at the end is it clear that Tobit’s unflinching faith is justified: The wicked are indeed punished (the destruction of Nineveh), and the just are rewarded (the prosperity of Tobit and his family).
The Freedom of God. Although Tobit ultimately receives reward, the story of his life demonstrates that the doctrine of retribution is not a simple equation. The concept of God in this book is not that of a deterministic fate, but of a personal God who is merciful and just, caring and provident, and who blesses the righteous out of the depths of divine freedom.
The Virtuous Life. The book of Tobit provides a guide and an example for human living. The virtuous life is demonstrated first of all in three sets of relationships in family life: the relationship between parents and children; the marriage relationship; and respect for women. The relationship between parents and children is characterized by instruction, obedience, respect, and love.
There are several examples of the faithful and supportive marriage relationship. The relationships between husband and wife for each of the three married couples differ, but love is expressed in each. The interaction between Tobit and Anna is the liveliest of the three and portrays both positive and negative sides of the relationship. The relationship between Raguel and Edna is less obvious, but there is evidence of mutual interdependence and support. The relationship between Tobiah and Sarah is set firmly upon trust in God’s plan and obedience to God’s law. It begins with prayer, in which marriage is seen as a gift from God. Raguel, Edna, and Tobit all express the hope that marriage will bring joy, and they regard children as a blessing. They recognize marriage not only as a bond between two people, but also as a bond between families.
The respect for women shown throughout the book is also an element of virtuous family life. The three female characters are carefully drawn and are given significant roles and distinct personalities. Sarah, although the most silent and passive character in the story, reveals in her prayer that she is strong in self-knowledge, capable of deliberation, and has been instructed in the law and in prayer. She is "sensible and beautiful" (6:12). Edna, who never appears without Raguel, has a more limited role and autonomy than Anna. Nonetheless both women are respected by their husbands and are contributing members of their families. Tobit’s grandmother Deborah is honored for her instruction of the young Tobit. Women are regarded as competent persons, capable of relating to God through prayer and obedience to the law, capable of providing help and support to their husbands, capable of instructing and guiding their children. They do not, however, have public responsibilities in either the economic or the religious sphere. They are seen primarily in relationship to their families.
Two virtues are expressed not only within the family, but also within the wider kinship group. The first isἐλεημοσύνη (eleēmosynē), which is translated as "almsgiving," "charity," or "mercy." This virtue, mentioned in the inclusio that frames the book (1:3; 14:9), is linked to the major statement of the book that God rewards the just and punishes the wicked. What God rewards is almsgiving. The second virtue exercised within the kinship group is hospitality. Raguel, whose character is modeled on that of Abraham, is the primary example of the hospitable person. The hospitality of Tobit can be seen in the alacrity with which he greets Raphael (5:10), his joyous welcome of his daughter-in-law Sarah (11:17), and the feasts he hosts (2:2; 11:17–18). Tobiah follows his father’s example in inviting Gabael to join the wedding feast in Ecbatana (9:2, 5–6).
Both eleēmosynē and hospitality are limited in the book of Tobit to one’s own kindred and people (1:3, 8, 16–18; 2:2–3; 4:17). The diaspora setting of the story helps to explain the limitation to the covenant community. Survival as a people depended on mutual support. Fear of being led astray or contaminated by non-believers encouraged exclusivity. Yet the separation from non-Jews, though evident in matters of food (1:10–11) and marriage (1:9; 4:12–13), does not extend to contempt for other peoples, such as appears in Ezra-Nehemiah or the books of Maccabees.
The relationship of the righteous person to God is characterized by observance of the law and the practice of prayer. Tobit himself is the primary example of faithful observance (1:6–11). He exhorts his son to the same careful observance (chap. 4). Observance of the law is expected not only with regard to detailed external practices, but also through an inner spirit of piety toward God and charity toward neighbor. The relationship with God is to be characterized by fear (4:21; 14:6), love (14:7), and sincerity (4:6; 13:6; 14:7). The habit of prayer is the most pervasive expression of inner devotion to God. The book has been called "a school of prayer";35 the frequency of prayer and its incorporation at major turning points of the plot indicate its importance. The story is a graphic illustration that prayer is answered. The continual turning to God in prayer indicates that God is the real hero and principal actor of the book. The virtuous life, learned through prayer and the law, is modeled on God, who is righteous, merciful, and truthful.
Craghan, John. Esther, Judith, Tobit, Jonah, Ruth. OTM 16. Edited by C. Stuhlmueller and M. McNamara. Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1982. A theological commentary for a general audience, highlighting literary criticism.
Dancy, John C., W. J. Fuerst, and R. J. Hammer. The Shorter Books of the Apocrypha. Edited by P. R. Ackroyd et al. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972. Translation and brief commentary for the general reader.
Fitzmyer, J. A. Tobit: Qumran Cave 4, xiv. DJD 19. Edited by M. Broshi et al. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995. Critical edition of the Qumran fragments with a thorough analysis.
Hanhart, R. Tobit. Septuaginta, Vetus Testamentum Graecum 8/5. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1983. The critical edition of the Greek recensions.
Moore, Carey A. Tobit. AB 40A. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1996. A new translation and comprehensive commentary, based on both the Greek recensions and the Qumran fragments.
Nickelsburg, G. W. E. "Tobit." In Harper’s Bible Commentary. Edited by J. L. Mays. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Analysis of literary, religious, and social aspects of the book, plus commentary.
Outline of Tobit
I. Tobit 1:1–3:17, Distress in Ecbatana and Nineveh
A. 1:1–22, Tobit’s Virtuous Life
B. 2:1–3:6, Tobit’s Distress and Prayer
C. 3:7–15, Sarah’s Distress and Prayer
D. 3:16–17, God’s Answer to Both: Raphael
II. Tobit 4:1–6:1, Preparation for the Journey to Media
A. 4:1–21, Tobit’s Instructions to His Son
B. 5:1–6:1, The Hiring of a Guide
III. Tobit 6:2–18, The Journey to Media
A. 6:2–9, Catching the Fish
B. 6:10–18, Raphael’s Instructions
IV. Tobit 7:1–11:18, Resolution and Recovery
A. 7:1–8:21, Sarah’s Healing
B. 9:1–6, Recovery of the Money
C. 10:1–11:18, Tobit’s Healing
V. Tobit 12:1–14:15, All’s Well That Ends Well
A. 12:1–22, Revelation of Raphael’s Identity
B. 13:1–17, Tobit’s Prayer
C. 14:1–15, Epilogue
Distress in Ecbatana and Nineveh
The first section of the book of Tobit introduces readers to the main characters and to the conflict that drives the plot. This is a story of two families: Tobit’s family in Nineveh, and Raguel’s family in Ecbatana. The title character, Tobit, is described as a scrupulously virtuous man who is struck with blindness while performing a virtuous act, burying the dead. His wife, Anna, is an industrious woman with a sharp tongue. They have one child, their son, Tobiah. The first member of Raguel’s family to be introduced is Sarah, the daughter of Raguel and Edna. She is in great distress because a demon, Asmodeus, keeps killing her bridegrooms. The prayers of Sarah and Tobit bring another major character into the story, the angel Raphael. Raphael is commissioned by God to bring healing to both. Finally, God is an actor behind the scenes throughout the book.
Two plots are introduced in this opening section. The first plot develops in three sequences. The first sequence begins with the statement of Tobit’s character: "he has walked on the paths of truth and righteousness." This statement gives rise to questions: How is his righteousness manifested? What will be his reward? These two questions are answered almost immediately. Tobit performs acts of charity, especially burying the dead. His reward seems to be blindness. The second sequence begins with the announcement that Tobit has married Anna, a woman of his own kindred. Anna and their son, Tobiah, will be major actors in the following story. The third sequence begins with the news that Tobit has gone to Media and deposited money there. The question raised by this sequence is, What will happen to the money? The second main plot begins with the introduction of Sarah. Her distress gives rise to the question, How will she be delivered? The plots join in 3:16–17 with the answer to the prayers of Tobit and Sarah. Raphael has been sent, but now the question remains: How will he function? Two new questions are also posed: How will Tobit be healed? How will Tobiah meet and marry Sarah?
The conflict of the story arises from the suffering of Sarah and Tobit. Each character seems to be afflicted unjustly. The theory of retribution, which is described most fully in Deuteronomy 28, holds that righteous people will be blessed by God, while wicked people will be punished. Both Sarah and Tobit seem to be righteous. Why, then, are they afflicted? Does their suffering suggest that God is not just, and the theory does not hold? How can this conflict be resolved?
The resolution to the conflict is suggested already at the end of this first section. In answer to the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, God sends the angel Raphael to heal them both. Thus the suspense of the story resides not in whether they will be healed, but in how they will be healed.
Other major elements of the book are mentioned in the first section:
(1) Prayer is a major theme throughout the book. Six substantial prayers are woven into the plot. Five of the characters turn to God in prayer.
(2) Acts of charity (almsgiving) are presented as the chief element of Tobit’s righteousness. These acts also are the primary support of Tobit’s hope for a happy life. Anna challenges Tobit precisely on this point when she asks what good his righteous deeds have done him (2:14). God’s apparent disregard of Tobit’s faithfulness in charitable acts is the reason for the despair in his prayer.
(3) An angel is commissioned as a minister of God’s providence.
(4) The inclusion not only of individual characters, but also of two families, suggests the importance of marriage and family life.
TOBIT 1:1–22, TOBIT’S VIRTUOUS LIFE
1:1–2. The first two verses of the book begin with the title character and give the setting of the story. The name of the main character in the Qumran fragments is "Tobi" (טובי ṭwby), which is probably a shortened form of "Tobiah," the name of his son. Tobit is introduced with a five-member genealogy. The names are all theophoric—that is, they contain the name of God, אל (ʾēl). For example, Tobi-el means "God is my good"; Hanani-el, "God has shown mercy": Rapha-el, "God heals." These names in Tobit’s genealogy suggest the piety of his family.
Tobit’s tribe is also identified. Naphtali is a northern tribe; its territory runs from the south end of the Sea of Galilee northward to the Huleh basin. In the eighth century bce the Assyrians took over Galilee, including the territory of Naphtali. Many of the leading citizens were taken captive into Assyria. The sorrow of this captivity is described by the eighth-century prophet Isaiah (Isa 9:1[8:23]). But Isaiah also holds out hope for the people: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isa 9:2[9:1]).
The book begins as historical annals do, with "the book of the deeds" (βίβλος λόγων biblos logōn; cf. LXX 3 Kgdms 14:29; 15:7, 23, 31; 16:5, 14, 20, 27). Some of the historical information in the title, however, is incorrect. The author has confused Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 bce), the Assyrian ruler who deported the citizens of Galilee, with his successor, Shalmaneser V (727–722 bce), who began the siege of Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom. Shalmaneser’s successor, Sargon II (722–705 bce), defeated the northern kingdom, destroyed the capital city, and took captive the ten tribes of Israel.
1:3. The story of Tobit begins with a first-person narrative that continues until the scene changes to the house of Raguel in Ecbatana (3:6). Tobit describes himself with three words that will characterize him throughout the book: truth (αλήθεια alētheia), righteousness (δικαιοσύνη dikaiosynē), and charity (ελεημοσυνη eleēmosynē). These character traits are illustrated by the practices of his youth (vv. 4–9), his continued fidelity when he was taken into captivity (vv. 10–15), and the specific charitable act of burying the dead (vv. 16–22).
1:4–5. Tobit is a living example of fidelity to the law of God as it is laid out in Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy requires that worship be centralized in the Jerusalem Temple and that all sacrifices be offered there (Deut 12:11–14). When the ten northern tribes separated from Judah in the tenth century bce, their king, Jeroboam, did not want his people to continue worshiping in Jerusalem. The Temple was a strong reminder of the power of David and Solomon; the temple liturgy encouraged support of the Davidic monarchy, which continued to rule in Judah. So Jeroboam built two alternate shrines for the people of his kingdom—one in Bethel and one in Dan. Since he had no ark of the covenant, he installed golden bulls (or calves) in each of the shrines, presumably as pedestals for the God of Israel. These bulls are always judged to be idolatrous by the authors of the books of Kings, who are from the southern kingdom, Judah (see 1 Kgs 12:27–31). In fact, they may well have been occasions for idol worship by the Israelites in the north. Tobit claims that, even though he lived in the north and was a citizen of the northern kingdom of Israel, he never participated in the worship at Dan. He even claims that he went alone to Jerusalem to worship.
Another historical incongruity appears in Tobit’s statement that he had been living at the time of the division of Israel into two kingdoms (922 bce). Since Tiglath-pileser’s deportation of the Israelites to Assyria took place at the end of the eighth century, that would make Tobit a very old man, indeed!
1:6–7. Deuteronomy also prescribes certain festivals that must be celebrated in Jerusalem: Passover, Weeks, and Booths (Deut 16:1–17). Tobit claims that he went faithfully to Jerusalem for the festivals and offered the required tithes (vv. 6–7).
Tithes (the contribution of a tenth of one’s income) are prescribed in several places in the law. In Leviticus a tithe of crops and animals is required in order to support the priesthood and maintain the Jerusalem Temple (Lev 27:30–33). In the legislation in Numbers (Num 18:21–24, 30–32), which precedes the centralization of worship prescribed in Deuteronomy, the tithe is intended to support local worship—the Levites and the local sanctuaries—and possibly also for upkeep of the levitical cities (Joshua 21) in the time of David. A tenth of this tithe was to be given to the Jerusalem sanctuary (Num 18:25–29). When Deuteronomy abolished the local sanctuaries and minimized the service of the Levites, the tithe was to be used for a sacrifice and festal banquet at the Temple in Jerusalem (Deut 14:22–26). Every third year, however, the same tithe was to be used for the relief of the poor in the home area of the giver (Deut 14:18–29; cf. Deut 26:12). Thus on years one, two, four, and five of the seven-year sabbatical cycle, the pilgrim brought the tithe in kind or in money to Jerusalem; in years three and six, the tithe was stored for the needy—strangers, orphans, widows, and landless Levites.
In the post-exilic period, however, when the entire Pentateuch became normative, the three passages were interpreted as referring to three different tithes. Thus the first fruits of crops and the firstborn of animals were to go to the priests in the Temple (Lev 27:26–27, 30–33), and the first tithe of crops and animals to the Levites (Num 18:21–24). The "second tithe" was intepreted in two ways. Either the tithe for the banquet (Deut 14:22–26) was replaced by the "poor tithe" (Deut 14:28–29) in the third and sixth years, or the "poor tithe" was levied over and above the banquet tithe in those years, thus becoming a "third tithe." Josephus, a first-century ce Jewish historian, regarded the "poor tithe" as a "third tithe."
The situation in the book of Tobit is complicated further by a discrepancy between the two major recensions of the book. GI mentions a "third" (τὴν τρίτην tēn tritēn) which is specified in the Old Latin as a "third tithe" (et tertii ad decimationem). GII describes the tithe of "the third year" (ἐν τῶ τρίτω ἔτει en tō tritō etei). Whether Tobit is giving two tithes or three, he is scrupulously careful to follow the law concerning tithes.
1:8. Tobit credits his grandmother Deborah with teaching him the law to which he is so faithful. She is the first of several strong women to appear in this book. Tobit’s respect for her authority mirrors the advice of Ben Sira, whose book was written about the same time as the book of Tobit: "The Lord … confirms a mother’s right over her children" (Sir 3:2 NRSV; cf. Sir 3:4, 6, 10). Tobit will follow her example in instructing his own son and grandchildren (4:3–21; 14:3–11).
1:9. Tobit also follows the custom of endogamy, marriage within the tribe and clan. The custom seems to be based on the laws concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, in whose case there was no male heir to guarantee the retention of the ancestral property within the tribe and clan (Num 27:5–11; 36:2–12). In order to keep the heritage within the ancestral tribe, these women were required to marry within the clan: "Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the Israelites shall marry one from the clan of her father’s tribe, so that all Israelites may continue to possess their ancestral inheritance" (Num 36:8). The custom is also based on the example of the ancestors. Abraham sends a servant back to his kindred in Mesopotamia to find a wife for his son Isaac (Gen 24:3–4). Rebekah and Isaac give similar instructions to their son Jacob (Gen 27:46–28:5). In the post-exilic period interpretation of the law, marriage within Judaism is encouraged as a protection against the false worship of the Gentiles. The custom is carried to the extreme by Nehemiah, who forces the returning exiles to divorce their non-Jewish wives (Neh 13:23–30; cf. Neh 10:31). Tobit is very careful in his observance of this custom. He marries not only within Judaism, not only within his tribe and clan, but also within his "ancestral family" (πατριά patria). Deselaers considers patria to represent the "ancestral house," a unit even smaller than the clan.
1:10–11. Tobit’s fidelity to the law, practiced so earnestly in his homeland, continues after he is deported to Assyria. The example he gives concerns the dietary laws, an observance that gained significance during the exilic period. Tobit implies that he has kept the dietary laws found in the Pentateuch concerning clean and unclean food (see Lev 11:1–47; Deut 14:3–21), the prohibition against eating blood (Lev 7:26–27; 17:10–14; Deut 12:23–25; 15:23), and the avoidance of food sacrificed to idols (Exod 34:15). Again Tobit describes himself as the only one who remains faithful to the law.
1:12–13. Now Tobit asserts his belief in the theory of retribution. Because he is faithful, God rewards him. Tobit’s good fortune consists in obtaining a position of responsibility in the Assyrian court as the procurator for King Shalmaneser. This is a position of great trust for a man who is a deportee from a defeated country. He travels from Nineveh, in modern Iraq, to Media (the land of the Medes), in modern Iran, to buy for him.
Excursus: Theory of Retribution
The theory of retribution is expressed most clearly in Deuteronomy 28. A series of blessings that apply to every situation in life is listed as a reward for obedience to God’s commandments (Deut 28:1–14). A series of curses that correspond exactly to the blessings and expand upon them is listed as a consequence of disobedience (Deut 28:15–68). The theory is illustrated throughout the historical books of Joshua–2 Kings. When the people are faithful, they are successful; when they sin, they are defeated (e.g., Josh 7:1–8:29; Judg 3:7–11). The theory holds for individuals also: David’s sin leads to his punishment (2 Sam 11:1–12:15).
Neither in Deuteronomy nor in the book of Tobit, however, is retribution an automatic or impersonal equation. Blessing comes when it is undeserved (see Deut 7:7–8). The author of Deuteronomy continually emphasizes the dangers to Israel of attributing blessing and prosperity to their own power or merits (see Deut 8:17–18; 9:4–6). The election of Israel is the free choice of a loving God who chooses them as a special people for no reason other than love of their ancestors (see, e.g., Deut 4:32–40; 7:6–11; 10:15; 23:6). A corollary to God’s undeserved blessing is that no punishment is without hope. If the people return to the Lord and obey, God will have mercy on them (Deut 30:1–10).
In addition to undeserved blessing, however, Israel also experiences what seems to be undeserved suffering (Deut 8:2, 5). This "testing," according to Deuteronomy, is for the purposes of discovering the people’s fidelity (8:3) and of showing them that the blessings are gifts from God and are not earned by their own power (Deut 8:16–17). Tobit believes in the theory of retribution, but he seems dangerously close to attributing his good fortune to his own merits.
1:14. Another historical incongruity appears here. Tobit lives in Nineveh and works for the king. This is not implausible, since there were four great cities in the heartland of Assyria: Nineveh, Asshur, Calah, and Arbela. But Nineveh was not established as the capital city until the reign of Sennacherib, twenty or more years after the reign of Shalmaneser V.
Tobit also gains prosperity in his new position. He is able to deposit in savings ten talents worth of silver. The exact value of this deposit is impossible to calculate, but a talent is usually considered the equivalent of three thousand shekels. Thus ten talents is a large sum of money.
1:15. Shalmaneser V (726–722) was in fact succeeded, not by Sennacherib, but by Sargon II (721–705), who was not in the direct line of succession. The book of Tobit seems to be dependent on 2 Kings, which mentions Shalmaneser (18:9) and Sennacherib (18:13), but not Sargon. Only Isaiah (Isa 20:1) mentions Sargon.
Sargon II began a dynasty that lasted until the end of the Assyrian Empire in 612 bce. He was succeeded by his son Sennacherib in 705. A change in political power always stirred up hope in occupied countries, and widescale revolt often followed the death of a powerful ruler. Sargon spent most of his reign reconquering the territory won by his father, Tiglath-pileser III, and adding new territory to the empire. The Medes were involved in the struggle against Urartu. It is possible that this unrest made the roads to Media unsafe, as Tobit reports.
1:16–17. At this point in the narrative Tobit begins to recount his acts of charity (eleēmosynē). After listing two common works of mercy, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, he describes in detail his primary work of burying the dead. His account indicates that life for the Israelite exiles in Assyria was already precarious under Shalmaneser, even though Tobit himself holds a position of trust. Bodies of the exiles were simply thrown out and left unburied. To be left unburied was an abomination for Jews.
Burial of the dead as a practice of charity is a theme found also in Genesis. Jacob makes his proper burial a sign of Joseph’s charity and fidelity toward him (Gen 47:29). Burial is the specific practice of charity that receives the most attention in the book of Tobit (e.g., 1:18–20; 2:3–8; 4:3–4, 17; 6:15; 14:1–13). In the Greco-Roman period, burial, rather than cremation, was the customary practice among the Jews. They considered it a work of mercy to bury not only family members but also strangers, even non-Jews.
1:18–20. Shalmaneser’s successor, Sennacherib, ruled Assyria for twenty-four years (705–681). During the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem at least once and perhaps twice. Although he defeated and sacked several other Judean cities, notably Lachish, he did not destroy Jerusalem. According to 2 Kgs 18:14–16, Hezekiah paid him a large tribute. It is possible that this payment relates to a first invasion in 701, which Sennacherib himself reports, claiming that he "shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage." In 2 Kgs 19:35–36, the story is told that, when Sennacherib was encamped opposite the Ethiopian troops under King Tirhakah (2 Kgs 19:9), who had come to help Hezekiah, a disaster struck the Assyrian army and Sennacherib returned home in disgrace. Is this the same invasion or a later one? The presence of Tirhakah, whose reign did not begin until 690, the occurrence of two differing reasons for Sennacherib’s departure, and the announcement of his death (681 bce) immediately following (2 Kgs 19:37) argue for two invasions—one in 701 and the other at a later date, but before 687, when Hezekiah died.
Josephus also reports the incident. He tells three stories of Sennacherib’s disgrace from different sources. Two concern Sennacherib’s siege of Pelusium; the third concerns Jerusalem. In the first instance, Sennacherib departs because of fear of Tirhakah. In the second, he leaves because mice have chewed up the bows and armor of his soldiers. In the third, he retreats because God has sent a pestilence into the camp (cf. the angel of the Lord in 2 Kgs 19:35). Josephus reports Sennacherib’s death immediately following the third story.
Tobit relates that Sennacherib’s anger against the Israelites was great because of his forced retreat from Jerusalem. For this reason he executed many of them and left them unburied. Thus the need for Tobit’s charitable act of burying the dead increases. This action puts Tobit himself in danger of death. He saves his life by fleeing but loses all his property except the money that has been deposited with Gabael in Media. He and his family are reduced to temporary poverty.
1:21–22. Sennacherib was assassinated, apparently, by two of his sons. A third son, Esarhaddon, who claimed to be in hiding at the time of the assassination, took the Assyrian throne (680–669 bce) and established peace at home and in the territories. The book of Tobit, which is apparently dependent upon 2 Kings for its historical information, has telescoped the events even further than has 2 Kings. Tobit reports that Sennacherib was killed less than forty days after his return from Jerusalem.
The succession of Esarhaddon is good news for Tobit. Through the good word of his nephew Ahiqar, Tobit is allowed to return to Nineveh. Ahiqar is modeled on the wise man of the same name who was active at court during the reigns of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon (see Introduction).
1. The overwhelming impression conveyed by Tobit’s report of his youth is that of a man scrupulously faithful to the law. Even when observance becomes difficult because of the division of the kingdom, Tobit remains faithful. Even when his neighbors and family transfer their allegiance and change their practices, Tobit perseveres. The plurality of modern society presents constant challenges to believers who strive to remain faithful to their religious belief and practices. It is sometimes difficult to find a supportive community to encourage one in worshiping regularly and helping the poor. Tobit suffers from the lack of such a community.
2. A gnawing suspicion arises that Tobit is overly careful. His interpretation of the law seems too literal. "He alone" is better than all his kindred. If there is a suggestion that perhaps two or even three tithes are called for, Tobit is there with his offering. He marries not just within Judaism, but within his ancestral family.
Tobit’s letter-of-the-law fidelity prepares the reader for the challenge that will come to his faith. Is he relying on external practices to earn a reward from God? Or is a loving relationship with God the source of his fidelity and reward enough? Is he capable of enduring ambiguity, the test of suffering and the uncertainty that comes in its wake? Or will he crumble in despair?
These questions confront everyone who strives to lead a holy life. Is security or love the motive for faithful observance? Only love is strong enough to sustain us to the end.
3. The theory of retribution is alive and well in the late twentieth century. How often does one hear (or think), "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" It comes to mind when good things happen. In The Sound of Music, Maria sings "Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good!" She is expressing the theory of retribution, that good things happen to us because we have been good. It does not seem to occur to her that something good could happen simply as a free gift of God. More often, however, the question "Why me?" is provoked, not by blessing, but by suffering. "When bad things happen to good people," to cite Kushner’s title, we want a reason, an explanation.
The assumption that retribution—good or bad—is an automatic equation (good behavior = blessing; bad behavior = suffering) is both immature and a denial of basic tenets of the Christian faith. It is left over from our childhood, when our parents disciplined us with reminders of this theory. It also regards suffering simply as punishment for sin. It is undoubtedly true that there is a connection between sin and suffering. But the connection is not simple. It is not always the sinner who suffers; sometimes innocent people suffer for the sins of others. Sometimes suffering is not caused by sin at all, but is simply a part of human life. No human being, no matter how holy, lives a life free of suffering.
There is a further danger in Christianity: identifying suffering as a badge of true holiness. The center of Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that the sinless one took on the sins of all humanity. "God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). We also believe that we are called to complete in our bodies what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (see Col 1:24). This is the great reversal, the redemption of human suffering that gives it meaning. But this is not an automatic equation. Just as it is not possible to say that anyone who suffers must be a sinner, neither is it possible to say that anyone who suffers must be holy.
So it is perilous to see the theory of retribution as automatic. Doing so causes us to make false judgments: Sufferers are sinners; the prosperous are holy (or the reverse). It also causes us to deny God’s freedom. God is free to give good gifts to us whether we deserve them or not. God is free to forgive our sins without charge. God is also free to allow us to suffer, to allow human life to take its course, whether we deserve it or not. Human beings are also free to accept blessings with thanksgiving, free to accept suffering in patience and hope (and the reverse). Tobit is about to learn both aspects of this freedom.
4. Tobit is described as a righteous man because he does merciful works. The seven corporal works of mercy in Christian tradition are these: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the stranger, visit the sick, minister to prisoners, and bury the dead (see Matt 25:35–36). These works are expressions of a living faith in action. Too often we take the easy route, exercising compassion at a distance by writing a check or dropping off a bag of clothes. Tobit’s example shows us that sometimes it is necessary to experience other people’s misery firsthand. What people need is not only financial help but also a human touch. There are countless opportunities to serve in food kitchens or to work in homeless shelters. Prisoners are in need of visitors, as well as education and religious services. These "hands-on" works of mercy are not easy. We may experience scorn and rejection. We may be repulsed by dirt and disease. Perseverance in the works of mercy, however, has a surprising reward. Those whom we serve begin in turn to teach us the amazing compassion of God.
5. Burying the dead remains one of the corporal works of mercy. In normal situations most people are not compelled actually to dig graves for abandoned corpses (although this may be necessary in war-torn areas). However, it is certainly a duty of families to arrange for the proper burial of their dead, and a responsibility of the state when the deceased has no family.
What is "proper burial" of the dead? In North American culture much money is spent in the denial of death. The body is made to look as lifelike as possible. Elaborately decorated caskets are sometimes purchased. The casket is lowered into the grave only after the family has left. Huge memorial markers may be installed. The question is not whether the body of a human being should be honored. It certainly should. All human beings are created in the image of God and destined for resurrection, body and soul. The question is one of emphasis. How can we as a culture learn to face and ritualize the reality of death? Only an honest recognition of that reality allows us to believe with grateful awe in the reality of resurrection.
TOBIT 2:1–3:6, TOBIT’S DISTRESS AND PRAYER
Tobit’s first-person narrative now moves from the general summary of his good life to a specific story of his burying the dead. This specific act of charity results, even if indirectly, in the suffering that will afflict him throughout most of the book. This suffering constitutes the conflict of the book: Why is this good man afflicted? This question is asked by Anna, Tobit’s wife (2:14), and by Tobit himself in his lament (3:6).
The Vulgate adds a comparison between Tobit and Job:
Now this trial the Lord therefore permitted to happen to him, that an example might be given to posterity of his patience, as also of holy Job.… For as the kings insulted holy Job, so his relatives and kindred mocked him, saying, "Where is your hope, for which you gave alms and buried the dead?" (2:12, 15–16)
By implication, Anna is compared to Job’s wife. Moore notes, however, that this is a false comparison, since Job’s wife was angry with God, whereas Anna is angry with Tobit.
2:1–2. The family of Tobit prepares to celebrate one of the three great pilgrimage festivals of Judaism, the Feast of Weeks. This feast, like the other two (Passover/Unleavened Bread and Booths), is a celebration of harvest. The Feast of Weeks is observed at the beginning of the wheat harvest (May/June). Its date is set by Deuteronomy as seven weeks (or fifty days) after the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest—that is, after the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev 23:15–16; Deut 16:9–10). The fifty-day count gives the Greek name to the feast,πεντηκοστή (pentēkostē, "Pentecost," "fiftieth"). Because Passover is connected to the historical event of the exodus from Egypt, the Feast of Weeks became associated with the historical context of the covenant-making on Mt. Sinai (see Exod 19:1).
Because Tobit is in exile, he cannot make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem as Deuteronomy required (Deut 16:16). But he is careful to observe the other prescription for the celebration: "All shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you" (Deut 16:17 NRSV; see also Deut 16:11, 14). He decides to share his festival meal with a poor Israelite as his offering to the Lord.
Tobiah is sent to find a poor person. Tobit teaches his son the law of God by example. Tobit’s practice of charitable acts agrees with the advice of his contemporary, Ben Sira. His sharing of the festival meal replaces his offering of the customary sacrifice. Ben Sira says that "one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering" (Sir 35:4 NRSV). The recipient of Tobit’s alms will be a faithful Israelite. Ben Sira advises one to give to "a brother or a friend" (Sir 29:10 NRSV), to a person who is devout rather than to a sinner (Sir 12:1–7).
2:3–6. Instead of finding a poor Israelite to share the meal, Tobiah finds the body of an Israelite in need of burial. The man seems to have been executed, killed in the marketplace. Moore points out thatἐστραγγάληται (estrangalētai) should be rendered as "exposed" instead of "strangled." The corpse has not been buried but instead has been put on public display (cf. Esth 9:13).
Tobit’s action is predictable. The burial becomes the focus of his entire effort. His festival dinner is sandwiched between preparations for the burial and the burial itself. The occasion reminds him of a saying of the prophet Amos (Amos 8:10) concerning the approaching day of judgment against Israel. The citation points up the irony of the situation. Amos’s oracle decries wealthy Israelites who are exploiting the poor. Tobit, on the other hand, seems to have had his feast turned to mourning precisely because he is helping the poor.
2:7–8. The burial becomes the occasion for further mockery by his neighbors. No one else seems to care that fellow Israelites are lying unburied. Rather, the one man who is tending to this duty is scorned for his actions. His characteristic act of charity seems to result in curse, not in blessing.
2:9. After the burial Tobit washes himself and sleeps outside, perhaps because of ritual uncleanness from contact with a corpse. According to pentateuchal legislation, Tobit will remain unclean for seven days as a consequence of burying the dead. Ritual washing is called for on the third and seventh days, but only on the seventh day is the uncleanness removed. Anything Tobit touches will also become unclean and have the power to communicate uncleanness. It would seem that Tobit’s house, though not the place of the man’s death, could well be considered unclean also, since the corpse was probably kept there until evening. Josephus reports the Jewish custom that "after the funeral the house and its inhabitants must be purified." Tobit’s attempts to comply with the ritual even in exile constitute a further example of his rigorous observance of the spirit of the law as well as of the letter.
Excursus: Uncleanness and Purification
According to Num 19:11–22 there are several consequences of contact with a dead body. They include the following: (1) A person who touches a human corpse is unclean for seven days. The ritual for purification calls for washing on the third and seventh days with lustral water—i.e., water in which the ashes of the red heifer have been mixed. (2) The tent in which a person dies is unclean for seven days. The tent as well as all the vessels and persons in it must be sprinkled with lustral water on the third and seventh days. (3) Anything touched by an unclean person also becomes unclean and renders unclean anyone else who then touches it. (4) The person who remains unclean defiles the sanctuary of the Lord and shall be cut off from the community.
Further questions are raised by the circumstances: Was lustral water for purification available to the Israelites in Nineveh? Apparently ashes of the red heifer were saved after the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce and until the Amoraic period (3rd–4th cents. ce), but their availability in Nineveh is questionable. Was this legal purification necessary chiefly for entrance into the Temple or for participation in the temple liturgy? If so, the exiles had no immediate legal need for purification.
2:10. The attitude toward Tobit’s medical condition reflects a traditional belief. Although it is unknown whether scales on the cornea are ever caused by hot bird droppings, Tobit’s blindness is attributed to natural causes. Nonetheless, medical assistance is useless to him. Every attempt to heal him drives him further into darkness (cf. the woman with a hemorrhage in Mark 5:26; Luke 8:43). Only God has the power to heal. Ben Sira advises that one honor physicians because their services are needed, but also remember that "their gift of healing comes from the Most High" (Sir 38:1–15).
2:11. Anna goes to work outside the home in order to earn money the family needs for sustenance and survival. It appears that the work she did was weaving, an assumption that is made specific in the Old Latin version. In ancient Mesopotamia, women of the lower classes were employed by the temples and the palace in various occupations—cooking, baking, cleaning, spinning, and weaving. Woven cloth was made from both goat hair and sheep’s wool; it was dyed and fashioned into various items of clothing. Because of her family’s need, Anna becomes the Bible’s first working mother.
2:12. Anna is a capable and independent woman. There is indication that she is good at her job. Her employers not only pay her full wages, but also give her a bonus. The bonus, a young goat, becomes the occasion for the first dialogue between Tobit and his wife.
2:13–14. This dialogue is revealing of the characters of both Anna and Tobit. Dependent on her wage-earning ability, the blind Tobit strikes out at his wife with the suspicion that her bonus is stolen goods. His suspicion reveals both the pain of the helpless man and his extreme concern for obedience to the law. This scene is still part of the first-person narrative. As narrator, Tobit reports his anger and disbelief, but he gives no indication that his suspicion against Anna is justified.
Initially Anna answers Tobit’s suspicion with a simple explanation (2:14a). In the face of his persistent disbelief and anger, however, she turns the conversation to her own advantage by attacking him on a vulnerable point. His trust in the justice of God to reward good deeds seems to have been in vain. Either his apparent good works are false, or he has been betrayed by God (2:14b). In either case, he is now forced to depend on her. The economy of speech by the narrator in this scene is noteworthy. There is no comment about Anna’s emotional state. It is revealed entirely by her words.
Anna has now raised the critical question concerning the theory of retribution and Tobit’s trust in it. If virtue is truly rewarded with blessing and, conversely, if suffering is a sign of wickedness, then how can the suffering Tobit claim to be a virtuous man? If the blessings are not there, perhaps the righteousness does not exist either.
3:1–2. Prayer is one of the strongest and most pervasive elements in the book of Tobit. The title character Tobit prays at three significant points in his life: (1) when he has reached a point of despair because of his blindness and his dependence on his wife; (2) when he is healed; and (3) when he realizes that God has sent an angel to help him. He also exhorts his son to pray (4:5, 19), and later also his grandchildren (14:9). The immediate cause of this first prayer is Tobit’s argument with Anna. Her attack on his virtue and his motivation is the final blow, leading him to pray for death.
Tobit begins in traditional fashion by focusing first on God. His concept of God emphasizes the same virtues that are predicated of himself in the introduction (1:3): righteousness (δικαιοσύνη dikaiosynē), charity/mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē), and truth (ἀλήθεια alētheia). Just as these virtues are demonstrated through Tobit’s actions, so also Tobit asserts that they are demonstrated through God’s actions. God’s deeds are righteous; God’s ways are mercy and truth. These three virtues characterize God’s judgment of the whole world. Whatever Tobit’s own distress may be, he acknowledges that it is not a reflection of malice or capriciousness in God.
3:3–4. Tobit then turns to the possible causes of his suffering. Although he has earlier asserted that he is also righteous, charitable, and true, he is aware of his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people. His sins may be unwitting, but they offend the justice of God. He regards himself not as an individual before God, but as a member of God’s people. Since the people have been sinful, he shares in their guilt and in their punishment.
Tobit recognizes that only God can remedy his situation. He begs God to remember him and to look upon him. God’s remembering is not simply recollection. It brings divine mercy into one’s life (see Noah in Gen 8:1; the Israelites in Exod 2:24; Hannah in 1 Sam 1:19). For God to look upon a person also implies divine mercy. Tobit asks God to look upon him with favor.
3:5–6. In keeping with his belief in the theory of retribution (God punishes the wicked and rewards the just), Tobit acknowledges God’s right to exercise strict justice. But Tobit is deeply wounded by grief. His long-term grief over his illness has been brought to a crisis by the argument with his wife, Anna. He suffers crushing anguish. He can think of only one way that God’s mercy might be exercised for him. So, even as he prays that God might act according to the divine will, he asks to be allowed to die. It has not occurred to him that God might mercifully give him a happy life. There is no indication that death is the only response Tobit will accept, but it is the only one that he can imagine.
Excursus: Beliefs About Death
In his prayer for death, Tobit follows the example of some of Israel’s ancestors. When Moses is overwhelmed by the people’s murmuring in the desert, he prays: "If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery" (Num 11:15 NRSV). When Elijah is fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel, he prays: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors" (1 Kgs 19:4 NRSV). In his anger over God’s mercy toward Nineveh, Jonah says, "It is better for me to die than to live" (Jonah 4:8 NRSV).
None of these people pray for death in the hope of eternal life. Their prayers are simply pleas to be released from present suffering. Tobit’s prayer makes clear that he has no hope for life after death. Once God takes his life breath, he expects simply to return to dust. His "eternal home" will be the grave.
Belief in resurrection and in meaningful life after death began to emerge only with the latest OT texts. Israel had encountered the cult of the dead in Egypt, and perhaps also in Mesopotamia, and had rejected the tendency to idolatry that sprang from it. Only in the middle of the second century bce did a concept of resurrection develop. Even so, both concept and details were hotly contested. Did resurrection apply only to the righteous (2 Macc 7:14), or would there be a general resurrection of righteous and wicked alike (Dan 12:2)? Did resurrection include the body (2 Macc 7:11, 22–23), or did it apply only to an immortal soul (Wis 3:1–4; 9:15)? The controversy over resurrection of the dead also is evident in the NT. The Sadducees attempt to show the foolishness of such a belief when they challenge Jesus with the story of the woman with seven husbands (Mark 12:18–27). Paul escapes his enemies when he turns a trial against him into an argument over belief in resurrection (Acts 23:6–10).
The author of the book of Tobit does not believe in resurrection. Rather, he believes in Sheol (Greek, Hades), a shadowy existence that can best be described as suspended animation (3:10; 4:19; 13:2). In Sheol there is neither pain nor pleasure, neither joy nor sorrow. There is no ranking of persons by power or wealth—only the radical equality brought about by death (Job 3:11–19). One joins one’s ancestors in the family grave and persists there (e.g., Gen 15:15; 1 Kgs 11:21; 1 Chr 17:11; Ps 49:19). There is no agreement on whether God can or cannot be found in Sheol (see Pss 6:5; 139:8).
1. Tobit will not eat his festival dinner until he can share it with a poor person. Some churches take up collections for the poor during penitential seasons, such as Lent, and at festival times, both religious and secular, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Are there other celebrations that might remind us to share the gifts we have been given with those who have less? What a response to consumerism it would be if each of us celebrated our birthdays by giving a gift to the poor.
2. Tobit not only teaches his son the observance of the law, but also shows it to him in practice. Thus his son has a living example to follow. Moreover, Tobit involves him in the charitable act. My father used to say that there are three ways to teach someone how to tie a knot: (1) Tell her how; (2) take a string and show her how; (3) give her a string and let her do it as you describe and demonstrate. Only the third way is effective for long-term learning. Tobit shows himself to be a good teacher as he involves Tobiah in his charitable act.
3. Tobit does everything he can to be cured. Sickness and suffering are not simply to be endured; every reasonable effort must be made to relieve the situation. The skill of physicians and the knowledge of pharmacists are gifts from God to be used in the improvement of human life. However, no human being can cure every illness; no human being can forever escape death. In the end, life and death, sickness and health, are in the hand of God.
Great suffering may also lead to prayer for death. There comes a time when death, even if it means oblivion, is preferred to a life of agony. Tobit, however, does not take matters into his own hands. Instead, he asks God for death. He does not attempt suicide, but it is clear that if death comes to him he will not resist it. Our society struggles with the arrival of death. Physician-assisted suicide, which is often a response to extreme suffering, is an attempt to hasten the arrival of death. Advance directives, on the other hand, are instructions not to resist death by extraordinary means when there is no hope for a reasonable quality of life in the future. For Christians, this decision to allow death to arrive is shaped by respect for God’s gift of life in the present, courage to share in the sufferings of Christ (Phil 3:10), and faith that, having died with him, we will also share in Christ’s resurrection (Rom 6:10).
4. Women have been severely criticized for working outside the home and not staying home to care for house and children. Paradoxically, women on welfare have been criticized for not having outside jobs. It is a no-win situation in our society. The story of Anna illustrates that such mistrust and criticism are millennia old. However, in this book, which is so concerned with family values, Anna also demonstrates that a working mother is not necessarily destructive of the family. In fact, her employment sustains the family.
5. Tobit suspects his wife of stealing, or at least of accepting stolen goods. The virtue of kindness that he exercises in public seems to falter at home. His distress at his own situation leads him to lash out at the one person who is his primary support. This is an all-too-common response to frustration and stress. Because we cannot or will not deal with the primary cause of our stress, we take it out on those who have little or nothing to do with it. Often the victims of our reaction are those closest to us, those whom we assume will not abandon us. In the worst case, this projection of anger onto an innocent victim explodes into domestic violence, either verbal or physical.
TOBIT 3:7–15, SARAH’S DISTRESS AND PRAYER
In the next section the scene shifts from Tobit’s house in Nineveh to Raguel’s house in Ecbatana. The two scenes are parallel: Each consists of (1) hard words and grief (2:13–3:1, 7–9); (2) prayer for death (3:2–6, 12–15); (3) God’s acceptance of the prayer (3:16); and (4) the consequence of the prayer (3:17). The events in Ecbatana not only parallel those in Nineveh, but also are simultaneous ("on the same day" [ἐν τῆ ἡμέρα ταύτη en tē hēmera tautē, 3:7], "on that day" [ἐν τῆ ἡμέρα ἐκείνη en tē hēmera ekeinē, 3:10], "at that very time" [ἐν αὐτῶ τῶ καιρω en autō tō kairō, 3:11, 16–17]).
In v. 17 it becomes evident that the narrative voice has changed. From 1:3 to 3:1 the narrator is Tobit himself; from 3:17 to the end of the book, the story is told by a third-person narrator. Between 3:1 and 3:17 appears a bridge containing the prayer of Tobit (Tobit speaking in the first-person) and the introduction of Sarah and her prayer (possibly still Tobit telling the story from hindsight). But in 3:17, Tobit is spoken of in the third-person.
There are significant differences between the two narrative voices. The third-person narrator has greater freedom of movement than the first-person narrator, can report thoughts and feelings of other characters, and observes actions even when characters seem to be alone. Tobit the narrator reveals no other character’s thoughts and feelings—only his own. He tells the story of the conflict between Tobit (the character) and Anna with objectivity and realizes the truth that Anna was indeed given the goat that the character Tobit suspected had been stolen. But Tobit the narrator is not always reliable. In emphasizing his own fidelity to God’s law, he announces that he alone went to Jerusalem to worship (1:6), a fact that Tobit the character later contradicts (5:14). Thus the third-person narrator is omniscient and reliable. The first-person narrator is neither.
3:7. Another main character is introduced in this section: Sarah, daughter of Raguel. Her name, which means "lady" or "gentlewoman," links her to the ancestral story of Sarah, wife of Abraham. Like Abraham’s wife, the Sarah of this story is kept from those for whom she is not destined (3:8; 6:18; cf. Gen 12:10–20; 20:1–18). Through Tobiah, she will become the mother of sons who are the hope of the future people of God (Tob 14:3; cf. Gen 17:19, 21).
Ecbatana, the home of Raguel’s family, is the ancient capital of Media. The site of modern Hamadan is Iran; it is located in the Zagros mountains about 325 miles southeast of Nineveh.
3:8–9. Echoing the final word of Tobit’s prayer (ὀνειδισμός oneidismos, "reproach"), the narrator reports the distress of Sarah, who is "reproached" by her father’s maids. The same word will recur as the reason for her prayer for death (v. 10) and twice in the prayer itself (vv. 13, 15).
Sarah is afflicted by the demon Asmodeus, who keeps killing her bridegrooms. The story of her affliction is repeated five times in the course of the narrative. In each telling, the emphasis shifts and the suspense heightens. In this section, the narrator (v. 8) presents the basic facts in a simple and straightforward fashion: (1) Sarah has been married to seven men (2) whom the demon Asmodeus has killed (3) before the marriages could be consummated. The taunts of the maids (vv. 8–9) repeat the first and last points—seven husbands, dead before the consummation of the marriages. But the maids twist the facts of the second point in order to deepen Sarah’s grief. They accuse her of murdering the men and seem to know nothing of the demon Asmodeus. They point out Sarah’s childless state and the likelihood that she will remain so. Sarah will repeat the story in her prayer (v. 15); Tobiah (6:14–15) and Raguel (7:11) will recount the same events with additional details.
The name of the demon is perhaps derived from the Persian aeshma daeva, "demon of wrath." The role of the demon in the story is related to the folktale "The Monster in the Bridal Chamber" (see Introduction). The hero in this tale is advised by a stranger to marry a wealthy princess whose former bridegrooms have all perished in the bridal chamber. On the wedding night, a serpent emerges from the mouth of the bride-princess to kill the hero. The stranger kills the serpent and frees the bride from her affliction. In the book of Tobit, Sarah will be freed from her affliction through the assistance of the angel Raphael (8:3).
Seven, the number of Sarah’s dead husbands, is significant throughout the book. In the Bible it signifies completion or fullness. Sarah has already had a complete number of chances at marriage; she should expect no more. Tobiah will be outside the number, one more than can be expected. Her marriage to him will be sheer gift.
3:10. Sarah is the most silent character in the book of Tobit. After listening to the cutting abuse of the maids, to which she makes no reply, she retires to an upstairs room with the intention of hanging herself. As she deliberates over her decision, we are allowed to overhear her interior monologue.
Sarah contemplates suicide as a solution to her distress. Suicide is not directly prohibited in the OT. Those who commit suicide when faced with military defeat, imminent capture, or disgrace are not condemned for their actions: e.g., Saul and his armor bearer (1 Sam 31:4–5); Ahithophel (2 Sam 17:23); Zimri (1 Kgs 16:18); Razis (2 Macc 14:41–46). The prohibition of suicide, however, is implied in the prohibition concerning bloodshed (Gen 9:4–6) and the command not to kill (Exod 20:13). Sarah ultimately rejects suicide out of love for her father, who would suffer for her action. Instead, she pleads with God either to take her life or to end her suffering.
3:11–13. Sarah, like Tobit, is sorely aggrieved by abuse, enough so to consider death. But she is capable of deliberation and strong enough to abandon her life to God rather than to cause grief for others. She understands the proper formula for prayer. She faces the window, no doubt toward Jerusalem (see Dan 6:11), spreads out her hands in the traditional gesture, and begins with the formula, "Blessed are you" (v. 11; cf. Dan 3:26, 52; Jdt 13:17). She blesses God and calls upon all creation to help her give praise. She puts her trust in the mercy and holiness of God. She moves almost immediately from the invocation to the heart of her plea. Her whole body is involved in the prayer—hands, face, eyes. Having rejected suicide, she asks God for death in order to be delivered from her distress.
3:14–15. Sarah calls upon God again, this time with the title "Master" (δέσποτα despota), connoting subservience before the all-powerful God. Sarah recognizes God’s holiness; she also knows her own: She is "innocent of any defilement with a man"; she has never disgraced either her own name or that of her father. In accordance with the theory of retribution, she should be able to expect reward from God. But now she has no hope. There is no one else with whom to make a proper marriage; she cannot perform the daughterly duty of providing Raguel with an heir. All she wants is deliverance from her misery. She prays for death, but she also allows for the fact that God might "look favorably" upon her, "have mercy" on her, and silence the reproaches she has endured. She is willing to accept any response from God that relieves her of her anguish.
It is instructive to compare her prayer with that of Tobit. The author has skillfully contrasted the prayer of an older man with that of a young woman. Tobit recalls the historical situation of exile and the sins of his ancestors before asking God to take his life. Sarah, although she begins her prayer with a traditional formula of blessing, moves almost immediately to her own situation. Tobit asks God not to turn away from him (v. 6); Sarah turns toward God. She also gives God greater freedom in dealing with her. Tobit says to God, "Deal with me as you will," but then presents only one alternative: "Command my spirit to be taken from me" (v. 6). Sarah presents the same solution, "Command that I be released from the earth" (v. 13), but also allows for another possibility (v. 15).
Interior monologue and prayer are the two most reliable witnesses to the inner life. Thus this scene reveals several things about Sarah’s character. She has a clear understanding of who she is. She knows that her father loves her (vv. 10, 15). She also knows her own integrity and innocence (vv. 14–15). She expects to abide by the custom of marriage within the kinship group; however, she is well aware of the empty future ahead for her if there is no eligible man to marry. There are no other possibilities for her life. "Why should I still live?" she cries (v. 15).
Belief in demons does not play a major role in modern religious consciousness. We are, however, very aware of evil in the world and in our own lives. The demon in this story has left Sarah hopeless. She has lost seven husbands and can expect no more. Evil still has power to render people hopeless. Some men and women feel trapped in abusive marriages. Parents who are unemployed despair of being able to feed themselves and their children. Floods or tornadoes, as they destroy a lifetime of work and precious keepsakes, crush a family’s hopes. People caught in an oppressive political system fear for their lives if they attempt reform.
In the fight against evil, we are challenged to act even when the situation seems hopeless. We are called to help others—to staff shelters, to work in relief programs, to join the struggle for justice and peace. We also recognize, however, that in the end evil can be overcome only with God’s help. We are also called to pray.
Sarah’s prayer is a courageous cry in the face of despair. Her belief that God cares, that God is both powerful and merciful, keeps her from committing suicide. Our own daily prayer, "Deliver us from evil," gives us courage to do what we can against evil and strengthens our faith that in all things we conquer because of him who has loved us (Rom 8:37).
TOBIT 3:16–17, GOD’S ANSWER TO BOTH: RAPHAEL
The prayers of Tobit (vv. 2–6) and Sarah (vv. 11–15), which occur simultaneously, are also answered simultaneously. The answer to both prayers joins the two main plots, the sequence dependent on Tobit’s charitable deeds, leading to his blindness, and the sequence culminating in Sarah’s affliction by the demon Asmodeus. Each sequence has ended with a prayer. Both prayers are heard, and Raphael is sent in answer to heal Tobit’s blindness, to free Sarah from Asmodeus, and to marry her to Tobiah.
Scholars often point out that these verses destroy the suspense by telling the reader the outcome of the plot in advance. However, creating suspense is not the main purpose of this story. Its main purpose is to show God’s action in the lives of ordinary believers. These verses serve that purpose well.
First, God’s action is revealed by the fact that God hears. The confidence of Tobit and Sarah that God will pay attention to their cries is well founded. Second, God acts indirectly through a mediator, sending an angel to answer both prayers. Third, God intends a surprise. Sarah fears that there are no other potential husbands. Tobiah has not so much as thought of marriage. No one has prayed for the angel’s third task. It is simply a gift from God.
It is often difficult to believe that God hears and answers prayer. We pray intensely, and nothing seems to happen. Tobit and Sarah do not know that their prayers have been answered. Tobit is still blind, still smarting from Anna’s sharp words. Sarah is still unmarried, still bruised by the maid’s words. Many events will happen before their suffering is relieved. But both prayers have been answered: The angel is already on the way.
Preparation for the Journey to Media
What will happen to the money Tobit deposited with Gabael? This question, generated by the exposition of the plot (1:14–15), now introduces the sequence concerning a journey into Media. Tobit begins the sequence by remembering the money (4:1). He decides to send Tobiah to Media for it (4:2) and informs him of his decision (4:3, 20). The decision to send Tobiah to Media hints at the answer to another question raised in the exposition: How will Tobiah (NRSV, Tobias) meet and marry Sarah?
Tobiah’s response to information concerning the money is twofold. He agrees to go to Media (5:1), but he poses two complications: First, how will he identify himself to Gabael (5:2)? Tobit solves this problem by telling him about the signatures (5:3). The second complication will bring Raphael into the picture. Responding to Tobiah’s objection that he does not know the way to Media, Tobit instructs him to find a trustworthy guide (5:2–3). The guide Tobiah finds is Raphael (5:4). This fact forms the initial answer to the question of how Raphael will function.
Several facts about Raphael move the sequence forward. He knows the way to Rages and is acquainted with Gabael (5:6). Raphael’s expertise, coupled with the uprightness of his supposed family (5:13–14), convinces Tobit to approve him as a guide. Tobit’s approval leads immediately to the departure of Tobiah and his guide (5:15–17). But in spite of the guide’s good qualifications, Tobiah’s parents worry (5:18–6:1): Will he return safely? Meanwhile the reader learns two other facts about Raphael that contribute to the plot. Tobit has asked about Raphael’s family and character and been satisfied with the answers. The reader also learns that Raphael’s origins are upright and that he is trustworthy, but for another reason: He is an angel of God (5:4). Thus the reader has a better grasp of the truth of Tobit’s reassurance to Anna than does Tobit himself. It is true, as he says, that an angel accompanies Tobiah (5:17, 22). The other piece of information, which at this point is more significant to the reader than to the characters, is that Raphael knows the way to Ecbatana (5:6). This fact also contributes a partial answer to the question of how Tobiah will meet and marry Sarah.
Three remaining questions have been generated by this sequence (4:1–6:1): Will Tobiah get the money? Will he meet and marry Sarah? Will he return safely? Two questions untouched by the sequence remain from the exposition: How will Sarah be delivered from Asmodeus? How will Tobit be healed?
TOBIT 4:1–21, TOBIT’S INSTRUCTIONS TO HIS SON
Chapter 4 is Tobit’s farewell discourse to Tobiah. The farewell discourse is a speech usually given when a person is about to die, addressed to that person’s descendants or followers as a kind of legacy or inheritance. The farewell discourse may include the announcement of the speaker’s departure; a reminder of the past; an exhortation to be faithful to God’s commandments and to one another; a prediction of the future; a blessing of peace and joy; and a promise that God will remain with the hearers. Several of the major figures in Israel’s history are reported to have given farewell discourses: Jacob (Gen 47:29–49:33); Moses (the whole book of Deuteronomy); Joshua (Joshua 22–24); David (1 Chronicles 28–29). There are three farewell discourses in the book of Tobit: two by Tobit (4:3–21; 14:3–11) and one from Raphael (12:6–10).
4:1–2. Tobit assumes that, since he has asked God for death, death is imminent. There are two important matters to attend to before he dies: the money deposited with Gabael (cf. 1:14) and the instruction to be given to his son, Tobiah. Tobit takes care of these things in reverse order.
4:3–4. Tobit has instructed Tobiah by example; now he instructs him also by word. In teaching his son, Tobit is following the example of his grandmother Deborah (1:8). His instruction begins with an exhortation to care for Tobit and Anna, Tobiah’s parents. Tobit, who is so attuned to death and burial, wants to be sure that the proper rituals are performed for him. Tobiah is also instructed to honor his mother.
This section resembles the biblical wisdom literature, especially the Wisdom of Ben Sira, a book written about the same time as the book of Tobit. The responsibility of parents to instruct their children and of children to heed that instruction is a frequent wisdom theme. Ben Sira says, "He who teaches his son will make his enemies envious,/ and will glory in him among his friends./ When the father dies he will not seem to be dead,/ for he has left behind him one like himself" (Sir 30:3–4 NRSV; see also Prov 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15, 17; Sir 7:23–24; 30:1–13). Proverbs advises the child to heed the instruction: "My child, do not forget my teaching,/ but let your heart keep my commandments;/ for length of days and years of life/ and abundant welfare they will give you" (Prov 3:1–2 NRSV; see also Prov 1:8–9; 2:1–5; 4:1–13, 20–22; 5:1–2; 7:1–4; 13:1; 19:27; 23:22–25).
The instruction to honor one’s mother is especially significant: "With all your heart honor your father,/ and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother./ Remember that it was of your parents you were born;/ how can you repay what they have given to you?" (Sir 7:27–28 NRSV; cf. Prov 6:20; 10:1; 15:20; 19:26; 20:20; 30:17; Sir 3:1–16). Children are to be particularly solicitous when the parents are old: "My child, help your father in his old age,/ and do not grieve him as long as he lives;/ even if his mind fails, be patient with him;/ because you have all your faculties do not despise him" (Sir 3:12–13 NRSV).
Echoes of the Pentateuch also appear in this section. In Jacob’s farewell discourse, he requests proper burial from his sons (Gen 47:29–31). The command in the decalogue to honor parents is singled out for emphasis by a motive clause, "that you may have a long life in the land" (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16). The primary pentateuchal influence, however, is Deuteronomy, in which the duty of parents to instruct their children is emphasized. Israel is exhorted to teach the children the saving deeds of God (Deut 4:9; see also Deut 4:10; 6:1–2). The great commandment to love God is to be drilled into the children (Deut 6:7; see also Deut 11:19–20). Much important instruction is to be given as a response to the question of children: "When your son asks you …" (Deut 6:20–21; see also Deut 32:7). In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, the injunction to educate the children regarding God’s law appears twice (Deut 31:12–13; 32:46).
4:5–6. Tobit gives Tobiah a general rule for life: Remember God and keep the law; do good and avoid evil. To remember God is to seek God’s presence actively in one’s life. Awareness of God’s presence then forms the foundation for discerning and doing what is good. Faithfulness to this way of life, according to the theory of retribution, results in reward.
4:7. Tobit tells Tobiah of a way in which the practice of righteousness is to be enfleshed—giving alms. He returns to the image he used in his prayer (3:6) of God’s face being turned away. Tobit links the relationship with God to one’s relationship to the poor. God’s response to Tobiah will mirror Tobiah’s response to the poor.
4:8. Tobit enunciates a principle of moderation. Alms are to be given in proportion to the resources of the giver.
4:9–11. Tobit lists the benefits of giving alms. Alms, rather than impoverishing the giver, actually are a way of storing treasure against the day of need. When Tobit says that alms are a way of escaping death, he is not declaring a belief in life after death. There is no evidence of this belief in the book. Rather, he is asserting the conviction that alms will protect the giver from premature death, a strong statement in the mouth of one who expects to die soon! Alms also are equivalent to offering sacrifice, a practice unavailable to the Israelites in exile.
Almsgiving (ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē) is perhaps the most significant virtue in the book of Tobit (see Introduction). The development of the concept conveyed by this word is one of the major contributions of this book to OT theology. Griffin describes four categories of meaning for eleēmosynē in this book: (1) "as charitable deed" (e.g., 1:16; 14:10; cf. 1:3; 2:14); (2) "as monetary alms and almsgiving" (e.g., 4:8b, 16–17; 12:8); (3) "as characteristic of a person," specifically Tobit (7:7; cf. 9:6; 14:11); (4) "as characteristic of God" (3:2; 13:6). The third and fourth categories represent most of the usage in the OT, with the exception of the later books Ben Sira and Daniel. The first two categories represent NT usage. The book of Tobit (along with Ben Sira), in which all four meanings are represented, stands at the midpoint of the development of the word. The active expression of eleēmosynē in charitable deeds and monetary alms predominates in this book. Tobit specifies his charitable deeds as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and burying the dead (1:1–17). He enjoins the same acts of eleēmosynē on his son (4:3–4, 16–17).
The basic principles regulating almsgiving are the same in Tobit and Deuteronomy, although the concept is not as fully developed in the latter. Alms are to be given willingly (Deut 15:10; see Tob 4:8, 16) and in proportion to one’s income (Deut 16:17; see also Deut 15:14; Tob 4:8, 16). Charity to the needy is restricted to those within the community (4:17; see Deut 14:29; 16:14).
Ben Sira, however, is most similar to the book of Tobit in the theology regarding almsgiving. According to Ben Sira, giving alms delivers the giver from sin (Sir 3:30–31; see Tob 12:9–10) and is a worthy offering before God (Sir 34:18–35:4; see Tob 4:11). The almsgiver is saved from premature death and destruction (Sir 29:10–13; 40:17, 24; see Tob 4:10; 12:9; 14:10). The giving of alms is limited, however, to the righteous (Sir 12:1–7; see Tob 4:17). The amount to be given is to be decided according to the means of the giver, but without fear or hesitation (Sir 18:15–18; 35:9–10; see Tob 4:8, 16).
4:12–13. Marriage is an important theme in the book of Tobit, both the blessing of it and the necessity for a proper attitude toward it. In his catalog of virtues, Tobit includes respect for marriage. First, he instructs his son to be faithful to the sexual demands of marriage and to avoid fornication. Then he teaches his son the proper way to find a wife.
Endogamy, marriage within the kinship group, is understood by Tobit as a requirement, taught both by the law (Exod 34:15–6) and by the examples of the ancestors. Abraham, whose wife may have been related to him (Gen 20:12), insists that his servant "not get a wife for [his] son from the daughters of the Canaanites" but go to Abraham’s own homeland to find a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:3–4). Rebekah and Isaac give similar instructions to their son Jacob (Gen 27:46–28:5). Nothing is said in the Pentateuch concerning kinship between Noah and his wife. For this information, the book of Tobit depends on a tradition found in the book of Jubilees (4.33). Tobit himself married within his own family (ἐκ τοῦ σπέρματος τῆς πατριᾶς ἡμων ek tou spermatos tēs patrias hēmōn, 1:9). According to Tobit, refusal to follow the example of the ancestors in this very important matter will result in disaster for young Tobiah. Tobit ignores the fact, however, that both Joseph (Gen 41:45) and Moses (Exod 2:21; see Num 12:1) married foreign wives.
The way to find a proper wife was hotly debated in the centuries following the Babylonian exile. The strongest condemnation of marriage to foreigners appears in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 9:1–4; Neh 13:23–27). Ezra demands that men divorce their foreign wives (Ezra 10:1–44). By contrast, the book of Ruth, which may have been written in the post-exilic period, tells the story of a foreign wife who becomes the great-grandmother of King David.
4:14. As he approaches the end of his discourse, Tobit presents a collection of maxims to guide his son in his relationship toward others, toward himself, and toward God. He is to be honest in his dealings with others, especially those who work for him (Ben Sira also advises justice toward laborers [Sir 7:20], asserting that withholding wages is equivalent to murder [Sir 34:26–27]). Again, Tobit equates one’s relationship to God with that to one’s neighbor; to act justly toward the laborer is to serve God. Tobiah must also be just toward himself. His life is to be based on wisdom and discipline. His actions will bring reward, according to the theory of retribution.
4:15. The Golden Rule, "what you hate, do not do to anyone," is to guide Tobiah’s actions. He is to avoid drunkenness, the enemy of discipline and wisdom. Ben Sira similarly advises against excessive drinking: "Let not winedrinking be the proof of your strength" (Sir 31:25; see also Sir 31:26–31).
4:16–17. The principles regarding almsgiving reappear: giving according to one’s means; giving to the just but not to sinners. Even the dead and those who mourn them are to be cared for. The command to "place bread on the grave of the righteous" seems to speak of offering food to the dead. Because this practice is expressly forbidden by Deuteronomy (Deut 26:14; see Ps 106:28)—one of the main sources for the theology of the book of Tobit—it probably refers to gifts of food for the mourners (see Jer 16:7; Ezek 24:17, 22).
4:18. Tobiah must recognize that he is not self-sufficient. He is to seek out the wise and accept any useful advice. Again Tobit reflects the same principles as does Ben Sira, who counsels the young to wear away the doorstep of the wise (Sir 6:36; cf. Sir 6:32–35).
4:19. With regard to God, Tobiah is to be generous in praise. He is to expect help and reward from God; on the other hand, he is to accept whatever God sends. Thus the theory of retribution is both affirmed (v. 14) and questioned (v. 19). Tobiah’s faith is to be founded on the memory of God’s goodness to the chosen people and on the commandments of his father.
Tobit’s instruction in vv. 14–19 echoes the proverbs that are part of the story of Ahiqar (see Introduction). Tobit exhorts Tobiah, "Do not drink wine to the point of drunkenness or let drunkenness go with you on your way.… Pour out your bread on the grave of the righteous but do not give to sinners" (vv. 15, 17). Ahiqar says, "My son, it is better to remove stones with a wise man than to drink wine with a fool. My son, pour out thy wine on the graves of the righteous rather than drink it with evil men."70 One of the Aramaic proverbs in Ahiqar states: "If you desire, my son, to be [exalted, cast yourself down before God], who casts down the exalted person and e[xalts the humble person]." This proverb can be compared to v. 19: "If [the Lord] chooses otherwise, he casts down to deepest Hades."
4:20–21. Finally Tobit comes to the practical point of his speech to Tobiah, the recovery of the money that has been deposited with Gabael. He informs his son of the amount and location of the money and adds a moral instruction to the practical information. The theory of retribution, which is the reward in this present life, is again affirmed: Faithfulness to God will bring Tobiah great wealth. Faithfulness to God is defined by three elements. First, Tobiah is to fear God, to maintain loving reverence in his relationship to God. The second and third elements are the negative and positive consequences of fear of the Lord: avoiding sin and doing good. Tobit’s sentiment is a common wisdom theme. It appears in Psalm 34:
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace and pursue it."
(Ps 34:11–12, 14 NRSV; see also Ps 37:27; Prov 3:7; 14:16; Sir 21:2)
1. Caring for elderly parents is a great concern in our society. People are living longer today than at any time in history. Adults do not ordinarily continue to live with parents in the family home, especially after marriage. The elderly often are left alone after the death of a spouse, and they frequently face economic anxiety and frail health. Their sons and daughters, the "sandwich generation," are burdened with their own children, homes, jobs, and economic needs. Tobit instructs his son never to abandon his mother. Presumably he would include himself if he were not so certain of his imminent death. How can we be faithful to Tobit’s instruction? How can society help? How can the church help? The growing trend toward complexes for assisted living, where older people have both privacy and the opportunity for convenient health care, communal meals, recreation, and sometimes also religious services, is a partial solution. Home health care and Meals on Wheels serve some of the needs of the elderly. Situations where nursing home care is a necessity place a strong obligation on family members to visit frequently. Are there other solutions?
2. The instruction of children is perhaps more vital now than at any time in history. Children are more mobile, have more money, and develop a social life outside the family at a very early age. The crucial responsibility of parents to instill values and to provide support is difficult. Tobit teaches Tobiah both by example and by word. His teaching did not begin only when he believed his death to be imminent, however. This responsibility for children’s instruction from infanthood on is another area in which parents need the help of society and the church.
3. The word almsgiving is rarely used in modern American English. Hopefully the concept is not so rare. When my mother went into a nursing home, her mail began to come to me. Hardly a day passes that I do not receive at least one or two appeals for charitable contributions. The frequency of the appeals indicates to me that someone must be answering them. Other ways of giving alms are also available. People who have more energy than money help with projects such as Habitat for Humanity, which provides low-cost housing for the needy. Soup kitchens and shelters are staffed by volunteers and are supported by contributions of food and bedding as well as money. Major fund drives, such as United Way, organize our charitable contributions. The Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul Society help us turn our crowded closets into "clothing the naked."
The list of possibilities is long. Tobit’s exhortation gives us the guidelines: Give willingly; give according to what you have—little or much; and rejoice that your gift has become a treasure, an excellent offering in the presence of God. Christians believe that almsgiving does not merely save them from premature death, but leads to eternal life. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that the treasure is not for this life only: "Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy" (see Luke 12:33).
4. The Golden Rule is stated here in the negative, rather than in the positive as in the Gospels ("Do to others as you would have them do to you" [Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31]). This saying has long been the "rule" for believers. It is based on the commandment "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18). Leviticus adds: "You shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev 19:34 NRSV). The sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy prescribes rest even for slaves, because the Israelites are to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt (Deut 5:15).
Robert Fulghum says that everything he needed to know he learned in kindergarten. Most of us learned the Golden Rule at least that early. It really is everything we need to know. Tobit’s whole instruction can be summarized with this simple sentence. Paul tells us that it is, in fact, the whole law: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Rom 13:8).
5. Just and prompt payment of laborers is an issue of social justice that has intensified in the modern world. In Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII promoted the recognition of workers as partners with management in the production of goods. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes states that "remuneration for work should guarantee one the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for oneself and one’s family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level."
Capitalism is not a good in itself; profit cannot be the only or even the primary goal. Justice toward all, especially toward the more vulnerable members of society, is both Tobit’s demand of Tobiah and the demand placed on all who would be faithful to God’s teaching.
6. Tobit does not forbid his son to drink wine; rather, he advises his son to avoid drunkenness. There are two issues here: moderation and addiction. Moderation is the exercise of discipline recommended by Tobit. I have heard asceticism defined as "taking only what one needs." Saint Benedict advised his followers to practice moderation in all things. The other issue is addiction, the enslavement to something. Addiction is an illness that can only be healed with help. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous provides lifelong support to those who suffer from alcohol addiction.
7. Tobit advises Tobiah to "seek advice from every wise person." The practice of spiritual direction has a long history among believers. It is rooted in the wisdom tradition of the instruction of a "son" (disciple) by an elder. In the Christian tradition it flowered among the desert fathers and mothers and continued especially in monasticism. Today many people seek out a "wise person" who will help them look at their lives honestly in order to see both the direction in which God is leading them and the pitfalls that lie in the way. Tobit’s advice is an affirmation of the communal nature of faith. We do not go to God alone, but as a community, each helping the other.
TOBIT 5:1–6:1, THE HIRING OF A GUIDE
Following the long speech of chap. 4 the action resumes. The primary purpose of chap. 5 is to introduce the angel Raphael, who will act as a guide for the young Tobiah. The reader is already prepared for Raphael’s appearance. He has been sent in answer to the prayers of Tobit and Sarah to heal them both (3:17). Now the reader discovers how Raphael will function: as a guide on the journey.
Raphael is a main character in the scenes of preparation, journeying (chap. 6), and conclusion (chap. 12). In these scenes, his identity as an angel is kept clearly before us. The narrator introduces him as the angel Raphael (5:4). After the lengthy negotiation over identity and trustworthiness, we are reminded (ironically) by the unsuspecting Tobit that an angel travels with Tobiah (5:17, 22). The narrator continues to refer to Raphael as "the angel" throughout the journey (6:2, 4, 7). But as soon as the travelers approach Ecbatana, Raphael’s angelic character fades from sight. We are not reminded of it again until the revelation speech in chap. 12.
5:1–2. In his response to his father’s long speech, Tobiah presents several anticipated difficulties. He seems somewhat helpless. He does not know how to get the money; he does not know how he will be recognized by Gabael. He does not even know how to get to Media. This uncertainty contributes to the impression of Tobiah as an inexperienced young man. He is not unwilling, however, to go on the journey. His questions show that he has already taken the task upon himself, and he accepts and acts upon the answers his father gives him.
5:3. The experienced father reassures his worried son. First he tells Tobiah what he must present to Gabael in order to get the money. The matter of the signed bond is somewhat confusing in the text. Apparently, according to a practice known in the ancient world, the document was written in duplicate on the same parchment or papyrus. Then the document was torn or cut in half. Tobit took his half home and put Gabael’s half with the money. Tobit will now give Tobiah the half in his possession, so that he can claim the money (see 9:2).
Tobit deals with Tobiah’s other difficulty by instructing him to find a trustworthy guide who will travel with him and show him the way to Media. Although this difficulty seems secondary to the task of regaining the money, the money will become secondary as the plot progresses and the instructions of the guide will become primary.
5:4. The appearance of Raphael in this scene gives several clues to his angelic status. First, Tobiah simply finds Raphael standing in front of him. The immediacy suggests an angelic appearance. Raphael is an ironic character, one "who poses as less than he is" and "who understates things." As a character, he is an example of dramatic irony, in which the readers know what the characters do not.78 The narrator sets up the ironic situation by informing the reader that Tobiah "did not perceive that he was an angel of God."
5:5. Raphael claims to be an Israelite; the reader knows that he is an angel. His subsequent announcement of his purpose, "I have come here to work," is also ironic. The reader knows what his task is (3:17), but Tobiah does not.
5:6. Raphael knows exactly what Tobiah needs, and he claims extraordinary knowledge. He knows Media well. He knows all the routes, all its plains, all its roads, and he knows that the way is safe (5:6, 10, 16). Raphael knows the very kinsman Tobiah intends to visit, and he knows the distance to Ecbatana, which Tobiah does not intend to visit but will. In fact, however, Raphael’s knowledge of geography is not very good. Rages is approximately 185 miles from Ecbatana. The distance took Alexander’s army eleven days to cover. Perhaps an angel moves more swiftly! also, Ecbatana is not situated on a plain, but has a higher altitude than Rages.
5:7–8. Tobiah politely begins to negotiate with the potential guide, but the young man still needs the approval of his father. In fact, his father will pay the wages. The aura of haste that surrounds Raphael is another characteristic that hints at his angelic status. He agrees to wait, but insists that Tobiah not be long (see also 8:3; 9:1–6; 11:3).
5:9. When Tobiah informs Tobit that he has found a possible guide, Tobit’s response reveals his love for his son. He wants to know Raphael’s lineage and his trustworthiness. His concern for strict religious observance, which he will deduce from Raphael’s supposed family, is emphasized again. Only a man who can be trusted both to know and to observe the law of God is worthy to be his son’s companion.
The irony continues in this section. Raphael’s name, like Tobit’s, is ironic in the context of the story. He plays upon the meaning of his name, "God heals," saying to Tobit, "Take courage! God’s healing is near."
5:10. Tobit’s grief and constant awareness of his blindness spill out in his very first words to Raphael: "What joy is left for me?" His treatment of the unknown Raphael is notable for its reverence. Tobit greets Raphael first, although the latter appears to be the younger, since Tobiah addresses Raphael as "young man" (vv. 5, 7, 9).
5:11–12. Raphael seems reluctant to reveal his identity to Tobit. This is a common theme in angelic appearances. Both the angel who wrestles with Jacob (Gen 32:30) and the angel who announces Samson’s impending birth (Judg 13:18) refuse to reveal their names. Tobit’s characteristic gentleness is again revealed as he turns aside a sharp remark (v. 12) by repeating without rancor his question concerning Raphael’s family and by asking pardon for his persistence.
5:13. The pseudonym Raphael uses to mask his identity is also an ironic revelation of his function. He tells Tobit, "I am Azariah [YHWH has helped], son of Hananiah [YHWH is merciful]." The statement is true, but not in the sense that Tobit understands it.
5:14. Tobit’s own words are also ironic. Twice he has expressed his desire for a true answer concerning Raphael’s identity (vv. 12, 14). When Raphael does answer him, Tobit exclaims, "Welcome!" (lit., "May you come in wellness!"). The wordὑγιαίνω (hygiainō, "to be well") is subsequently picked up by Raphael (v. 16) and becomes an ironic echo of the angel’s name and function. Tobit concludes that Azariah (Raphael) is of good lineage. Indeed!
5:15–16. Tobit’s business arrangements with Raphael demonstrate Tobit’s justness and his generosity. He states clearly what the salary will be, and he promises a bonus if the travelers return safely. Raphael answers Tobit with a typical angelic answer, "Fear not" (cf. Gen 21:17; Dan 10:12; Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10; Acts 27:24). Then he repeats the key word hygiainō ("to be well"). This word, which occurs only forty times in the whole Septuagint, appears twenty-five times in the book of Tobit. Eight of the occurrences are in vv. 16–22 (translated "good health" or "safe"). A key theme of the book is healing, "to be well."
5:17. Tobit, the man of prayer, pronounces a blessing upon Raphael and upon his son, Tobiah. His prayer for Tobiah is another example of irony. Tobit’s prayer for a good angel to accompany his son has already been answered. The readers know this, but he does not.
5:18–20. The final character to appear in this section is Anna, the mother. Again she reveals the immediacy of her emotions. She has been described as a woman inclined to passion and despair. As her son, Tobiah, leaves, she makes a scene, weeping and complaining that Tobit is sending him away.
Anna follows the pattern set in the dialogue of chap. 2. As soon as the immediate subject of her worry is stated, she turns the conversation to an attack on Tobit, accusing him of preferring money to the life of their son. She strikes again at Tobit’s trust in God’s providence, implying that she is content with what God sends, but that he apparently is not.
The personal pronouns are significant in this and subsequent scenes. Anna, identified by the narrator as "his [Tobiah’s] mother," says to Tobit, "Why is it that you have sent my child away?" (v. 18, italics added). After a single mention of "our child" (v. 19), she continues to refer to Tobiah as "my child" (10:4, 7) until he returns from the journey that has worried her so much.
5:21–6:1. Tobit responds to his wife’s worry with assurance. His words are deeply ironic. He repeats the religious cliché with which he bade farewell to Tobiah, "a good angel will go with him." He does not know how true his statement is. The scene closes with an incredible economy of detail. After Tobit’s comforting words, the narrator tells us, Anna stops weeping.
1. The Letter to the Hebrews warns us not to neglect hospitality, because through it some have entertained angels unawares (Heb 13:2). Tobit welcomes Raphael with respect even though he sees him simply as a man in search of a job. There is a fascination with "angels in disguise" in popular culture. Stories abound in which an ordinary person—night nurse, postal worker, tow-truck driver, cleaning woman—is recognized later as an angel. The angel is known because he or she brings a message (angel means "messenger"). The message may give encouragement to do the right thing even though it is hard. It may provide comfort in the face of sickness or death. It may be a warning that one’s life has taken a wrong turn. In the last analysis, the message is always, "God loves you."
2. Wellness is a popular theme in our society. There are wellness workshops and wellness retreats. Books promise to teach us wellness. Exercise machines and health clubs promise to lead us there.
What is wellness? What does it mean to be a truly healthy human being? The word health has to do with wholeness. A healthy person is a "whole" person. Our experience teaches us that wholeness does not, however, always mean the absence of disease or injury. Wholeness has far more to do with the integrity of a person’s spirit. The Special Olympics give us a glimpse of those who may not be physically sound but whose courage and joy testify to their health and wholeness.
The challenge of wellness comes in the recognition that we do not have absolute control over our lives. We do what we can to maintain physical health—eating wisely, exercising, resting—and spiritual health—prayer, companionship, the practice of virtue. But we only do this well if we accept our own situation honestly—our strengths, our weaknesses, the accidents or diseases that may afflict us. True wellness is a consequence of humility, the recognition that life and health are gifts from God.
3. The book of Tobit portrays God’s providence working subtly in the midst of ordinary life. The angel sent to help Tobit and Sarah seems to be an ordinary human being. A common fish is the means of healing. Even the ordinary speech of the characters reveals the hidden work of God. Both Tobit and Raphael use the customary greeting: "Well-come." Tobit assures Anna of Tobiah’s safety with the pious wish, "An angel goes with him." Part of the irony in this story comes from the characters’ unconscious use of these terms and phrases.
Many of our common English words also conceal religious concepts. "Good-bye" is a contraction of "God be with you." "Holiday" comes from "holy day." We use phrases out of habit: "God bless you," "God keep you." We wish each other well without knowing it with "farewell" and "welcome." A brief moment of attention to our language may also reveal to us the hidden work of God.
The Journey to Media
The book of Tobit bears some characteristics of the romance. A common form of the romance is the successful quest, which falls into three main stages: the dangerous journey, the mortal struggle, and the exaltation of the hero. The hero may embark on the journey for several reasons—e.g., to rescue a bride from a perilous situation or to obtain hidden treasure. Frequently the struggle involves a dragon-killing theme—e.g., victory over a serpent or water monster, such as Leviathan. After the hero passes through the symbolic death of the struggle, the conquered sea monster may become the source of life for him or for others. Throughout the quest, the romantic hero moves in a double world. He is human, not divine, but extraordinary events happen in his favor. The ordinary laws of nature yield to his marvelous actions. At the successful completion of the quest, a "new society" may form around the hero and heroine. This new society is often inaugurated by a festive ritual, such as a wedding or a banquet.
In the book of Tobit the central movement of the plot is a quest for money (4:1–2, 20–5:3), which becomes a quest for a bride (6:10–18; cf. 4:12–13). The hero, Tobiah, embarks on a dangerous journey. He conquers a water animal (6:3–6), which becomes a means of life and healing (8:2–3; 11:10–14). With the help of an angel, he survives a mortal struggle with a demon (8:2–3; cf. 6:17–18). During the quest the angel’s assistance puts the hero in touch with a world beyond ordinary human experience. The story ends with a description of the happy and prosperous life of the hero and his bride after the successful completion of the quest (14:1–2, 11–15). The wedding signals the hope for the "new society," the new Jerusalem whose future citizens are symbolized in their seven sons (13:9–17; 14:3).
The journey falls into two segments, each dealing with one of the questions generated by preparation for the journey. It begins with the last question from the previous sequence: Will Tobiah return safely? On the first night of the journey he is attacked by a fish, which attempts to swallow his foot (6:3). By heeding Raphael’s encouragement and advice, he conquers the fish (6:4); in obedience to Raphael’s instructions, he sets aside its gall, heart, and liver for future use (6:5–6). Raphael’s repsonse to Tobiah’s inquiry concerning these strange instructions suggests an answer to the two questions that have been ignored since the exposition: How will Tobit be healed? The fish’s gall can restore sight (6:9). How will Sarah be delivered from Asmodeus? The burning of the fish’s heart and liver will drive away demons (6:8).
The second segment of the journey begins as the travelers approach Ecbatana (6:10). The repetition of this place-name, which occurs in 3:7 (see also 5:6) hints that this section will deal with the question of whether Tobiah will meet and marry Sarah. Raphael introduces the subject immediately and advises Tobiah of his right to marry Sarah (6:11–13). In response, Tobiah objects. He has heard of Sarah’s affliction and of the deaths of the previous bridegrooms (6:14–15). Again he raises the question that concluded the previous sequence: Will I return safely? Raphael urges him to twofold obedience: First, he should obey his father’s will and marry a woman from his own family (6:16), and, second, he should obey Raphael’s instructions and, with prayer and the burning of the fish’s liver and heart, deliver Sarah from Asmodeus (6:17–18). Thus the fish, which represents the first threat to his safe return, becomes the first assurance of his safety. Tobiah’s response is assent and intense love for Sarah. The question is answered: How will Sarah be delivered from Asmodeus?
The four major questions treated by this sequence have collapsed into two: Will Tobiah marry Sarah, escape death, and deliver her? Will Tobiah return safely and heal Tobit? The only question left untreated in this sequence is whether Tobiah will get the money. That question is intensified, since the action seems to be shifting toward Ecbatana and away from Rages.
TOBIT 6:2–9, CATCHING THE FISH
6:2. A trio departs from Nineveh on the journey: the angel, the boy, and a dog. The narrator continues to remind us that the guide is really an angel in disguise. The dog (which reappears in 11:4) is probably a feature of underlying folktale.
They camp the first night along the Tigris River. In the story this marks the end of a long day, which began with the payment of Anna’s wages (2:12). The geography is confused. Nineveh lies on the eastern side of the Tigris River; the travelers intend to travel farther east to Ecbatana (and Rages). There is no need for them to backtrack to the river.
Excursus: Day and Night
The terms "day" (ἡμέρα hēmera) and "night" (νύξ nux) are significant in this story of blindness and sight. The distribution of the terms signals the flow of the plot. The word "day" occurs primarily at the beginning and end of the book (14 times in the first five chaps., 14 times in chaps. 8–11, and 4 more times in chaps. 12–14, but not at all in 6:1–8:18. The word "night" occurs almost exclusively in this central section (10 times in chaps. 6–8, and once in 10:7 [Anna weeps all night]; it occurs only one other time, when Tobit is afflicted with blindness in 2:9). Of the ten occurrences between chapters 6 and 8, seven refer to the wedding night of Tobiah and Sarah. Of the three remaining uses, two refer to the wedding nights of the previous bridegrooms (6:14; 7:11) and one to the travelers’ first night on the journey. Thus the following pattern emerges:
The story begins with Tobit walking "all the days of his life" in truth and righteousness (1:3). He buries a man on Pentecost after sunset (2:4, 7) and is then plunged into night (2:9). Tobiah joins him in a journey into night—a night that begins with the journey into Media (6:2) and ends in Ecbatana as the servants fill in a grave before dawn (8:18). "Night," which had begun as a word of sorrow (2:9; 6:14; 7:11), gradually becomes a word of joy (6:11, 13, 16; 7:10–11): "They slept the whole night" (8:9). Anna, however, does not yet know of the transition from night to day. She still keeps watch by day, goes home at sunset, and weeps all night (10:7). But her sunset has already been conquered by the dawn in Ecbatana. Tobiah’s journey into night (6:1–8:18) has resulted in a return to daylight both for Sarah, whose previous wedding nights ended in disaster (6:14; 7:11), but who now celebrates a fourteen-day wedding feast (8:20; 10:7), and for Tobit, who celebrates his return to light by another seven-day feast with the newlyweds (11:18). The final chapters of the book tell of the happy length of days of them all.
6:3–4. A very large fish leaps out of the water and attempts to swallow Tobiah’s foot. In GI the fish attempts to swallow Tobiah whole! The fish serves as a symbol of the power of death. The struggle with the fish occurs at night, a traditional time for the dominance of evil. This night is the first on the journey that will lead Tobiah to risk death in order to deliver Sarah from Asmodeus. The fish symbolizes not only the beginning of this struggle with death, but also the means to life. Once it is conquered, its vital parts become for Tobiah the means to heal both his bride and his father. Thus the fish recalls the traditional association of water and water monsters with chaos, which, once conquered, become the means for creation (e.g., Gen 1:2; Job 38:8–11; 40:24–41:26; Pss 74:13–15; 89:10–11; 104:25–26; 107:23–30; Isa 27:1–3; 51:9–11).
6:5. The procedure described here concerning the parts of the fish to be used for each healing is repeated twice more for each healing, suggesting the folktale "law of three" and increasing anticipation of the actual events. In answer to Tobiah’s question, Raphael tells him what will happen when the fish’s heart and liver are burned (v. 8). In response to Tobiah’s fear, Raphael makes the instruction specific to him: "When you go into the bridal chamber …" (vv. 17–18). The final repetition describes Tobiah’s actions on the wedding night (8:2–3). Each repetition grows more specific in detail until Sarah’s deliverance is accomplished. The initial instructions for Tobit’s healing also are given by Raphael in response to Tobiah’s question (v. 9). The two repetitions in chap. 11 (11:7–8, 11–13) increase in specific detail. When each healing finally occurs, the reader knows exactly what to expect.
6:6. Tobiah follows Raphael’s instructions precisely, a continuing sign of his trusting obedience. He then eats part of the fish. It will become important to note that there is no mention that Raphael also ate (cf. 12:19). Finally, Tobiah salts the fish. This may simply be a reference to a common means of preserving food, but it may also reflect the belief that salt is a purifying agent that can drive away evil influences, thus removing the deathly quality of the fish and enhancing its life-giving properties.
6:7–9. Raphael now assumes his role as messenger. In answer to Tobiah’s question, he tells him how to use the parts of the fish for healing. His reply indicates that he knows who has which affliction. In the instruction regarding evil spirits he mentions "a man or a woman"; in the instruction regarding eye ailments he simply mentions "a man" or "a person" (ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos). The reader knows that it is a woman who is afflicted by a demon and a man who is blind. (See Reflections at 6:10–18.)
TOBIT 6:10–18, RAPHAEL’S INSTRUCTIONS
6:10–11. Raphael announces that they are staying in Ecbatana at the house of Raguel. This has been the real goal of the journey all along (cf. 3:17; 5:6), though Tobiah has thought that they were heading for Rages.
The second long day of this story (6:10–8:18) is hastened on its way by the constant repetition of "night," ("this very night," vv. 11, 13, 16; 7:10–11). Suspense builds as attention is continually drawn to Sarah’s eighth wedding night: "Tonight we must stay with Raguel" (v. 11); "Tonight I will ask the girl’s father" (v. 13); "Tonight we must speak for the girl" (v. 13; see also 7:10–11).
6:12–13. Raphael continues to supply information as he exhorts Tobiah to marry Sarah. The exchange between Tobiah and Raphael is a virtual monologue by Raphael, punctuated by only a single objection from Tobiah. The marriage of Tobiah and Sarah will be founded on Tobiah’s obedience to the message the angel brings. Raphael tells Tobiah that he, as the closest relative, has the right to marry her. He even states that Raguel would incur the death penalty for refusing the marriage, a penalty mentioned nowhere else with regard to endogamy.
6:14–15. Tobiah’s speech manifests the qualities characteristic of him in the first section of the book. He speaks with the haste of youth; short clauses often linked by "and" come tumbling out without apparent order. But his speech makes up in passion what it lacks in organization. He musters all the arguments he knows to avoid what he fears is a life-threatening marriage.
Tobiah’s speech contains the fourth repetition of the story of Sarah’s seven previous husbands (see 3:8–9, 15). It contains all three of the basic facts told by the narrator (3:8): (1) Sarah has been married to seven husbands; (2) the wicked demon Asmodeus has killed them; (3) they have died before the marriage could be consummated. But Tobiah’s own preoccupation is evident in his fourfold repetition that the bridegrooms have died: "her husbands died in the bridal chambers … they died … it was a demon who killed them … it kills any man who desires to approach her" (vv. 14–15). Finally Tobiah expresses his real fear: "If I should die" (v. 15, italics added). The demon’s motive for killing Sarah’s bridegrooms appears in the Qumran manuscript 4QToba, Greek ms 319, and the Old Latin: It is in love with her.
6:16–18. Raphael instructs Tobiah in the means to free Sarah from the demon Asmodeus—means that include not only the use of the fish entrails but also prayer. (It seems that Tobiah has already forgotten what he learned about the fish at the Tigris.) Raphael also declares that Sarah was set apart for Tobiah before the world existed. They are to be gifts to each other. Tobiah will save her from her affliction, and she will be his companion and the mother of his children.
Throughout the journey Tobiah obeys Raphael. He follows Raphael’s curious instructions concerning the fish (vv. 3–6), and he allows Raphael to persuade him concerning marriage to Sarah. The willingness to marry a kinswoman also accords with his father’s command (4:12–13). Having heard all of the angel’s words, Tobiah immediately falls in love with Sarah—a strange comment to our modern ears. Tobiah loves her because she has been designated by God for him and because she is the means for his obedience to his father. Tobiah’s love is an act of the will, not a movement of the emotions.
1. Guided by an angel of God, Tobiah journeys into night and is threatened by a monster of chaos. Obedient to the angel’s instructions, he conquers the watery monster and saves its life-giving parts. Through his obedience, not only he but also his father and his future wife will be brought from night into day. Christian life is often called the Way (see Acts 9:2; 18:25–26; 19:9, 23; 24:4, 14, 22). Living a Christian life can be described as a successful quest. We, too, go into night and are threatened by death and evil. But, like Tobiah, we are not alone. In various ways God leads us on the journey. Through obedience we and those whose lives we touch will be brought from night into eternal day. Our obedience is modeled on Christ, who is himself the Way (John 14:6).
2. The fish, symbol of chaos, becomes a means to life. The sage in the Wisdom of Solomon says that "God did not make death," there is "no destructive poison" in the creatures of the earth (Wis 1:13–14 NRSV). The poison results from being swallowed by created things, enslaved by them. How many healing drugs are death-dealing when used in excess! Tamed and applied wisely, however, they can restore life.
Resolution and Recovery
The three questions remaining at the end of the journey will be answered in the three-part resolution. Resolution 1 focuses on the question with which the journey ended: Will Tobiah meet Sarah, escape death, and deliver her from Asmodeus?
The arrival of Tobiah and Raphael at Ecbatana and at Raguel’s house (7:1–2) commences the sequence of resolution 1. Tobiah’s revelation of his kinship with Raguel (7:5), implying his right to Sarah (see 7:10), leads to his request that Raphael ask Raguel for Sarah as Tobiah’s bride (7:9). Raguel overhears and objects in words similar to Tobiah’s earlier words (7:11; cf. 6:14). Tobiah’s insistence and his refusal to eat lead Raguel to agree to the betrothal (7:11). The betrothal itself has several consequences. First, the banquet continues, and Sarah and the bridal chamber are prepared (7:14–16). Subsequently, Tobiah is led to Sarah (8:1). He remembers Raphael’s dual instructions (8:2). He burns the heart and liver of the fish, which results in the expulsion of the demon and his binding by Raphael (8:2–3). He prays with Sarah (8:4–8), and both survive the night and sleep peacefully (8:9). Thus the first major question (Will Tobiah marry Sarah, escape death, and deliver her from the demon?) is answered positively.
Between resolutions 1 and 2 appears a transitional sequence. Raguel, anticipating a negative answer to the question of Tobiah’s survival, digs a grave for him (8:9–10). His discovery that Tobiah is still alive (8:14) has a threefold result: Raguel prays in thanksgiving (8:15–17); he has his servants fill in the grave (8:18), thus ending all reference to the death of Sarah’s husbands; and he joyfully prepares a wedding feast (8:19).
The enforced delay caused by the wedding feast (8:19) leads directly into the two final sequences of the resolution. Because he cannot leave Ecbatana, Tobiah sends Raphael to collect the money (9:1–3). Here is the first mention of the money since the departure (5:19). The question of the money is resolved with dispatch. Raphael goes to Rages (9:5), obtains the money with the aid of the signed bond (cf. 5:3), and brings Gabael to the wedding feast, along with the money (9:6). The second major question of the resolution (Will Tobiah get the money?) has also been answered positively.
One question remains: Will Tobiah return safely and heal Tobit? The question is intensified because the enforced delay in Ecbatana has caused his parents to worry (10:1–7). At last Tobiah, Raphael, and Sarah depart for Nineveh (10:7–11:1). Armed with the gall of the fish and Raphael’s repeated instruction (11:4, 7), Tobiah arrives, is announced by his mother (11:5–6), and heals his father (11:10–14). As a consequence of his healing, Tobit prays in thanksgiving (11:14–15) and in his joy becomes the cause of joy for the city (11:16–18). Sarah’s arrival increases the joy (11:17), and the wedding feast is celebrated again (11:18). The final question is answered. Tobiah has returned safely with both money and bride and has healed his father. The grief of the exposition (3:1, 10) has been turned to the joy of the resolution. The challenge concerning Tobit’s reward for charitable deeds (2:14) has also been answered.
TOBIT 7:1–8:21, SARAH’S HEALING
The events ending this second long day of the story (6:10–8:18) concern not only the deliverance of Sarah from the demon that has been afflicting her, but also the joining of two families. The significance of family is evident, first, in the scene in which the travelers arrive. The recognition of Tobiah as Tobit’s son is a cause of great joy. Second, the close family relationship gives reason both for the marriage to happen and for Raguel’s hesitation out of fear for Tobiah’s life. Finally, the marriage itself is the joining not only of Tobiah and Sarah, but also of their families.
Tobiah’s betrothal to Sarah (7:1–16), including the preceding departure from his father (5:17–22) and subsequent departure from the bride’s home (10:7–13), is modeled on the biblical type scene of betrothal. Elements that recur in the betrothal type scene (e.g., Gen 24:1–61; 29:1–14; Exod 2:15–22) are a traveler, one or more young women, a well, the drawing of water, a sense of haste, and a meal. Not all of these elements appear in this scene.
7:1–2. When the travelers arrive in Ecbatana, Tobiah puts his newfound love for Sarah into action. He orders his guide, Raphael, to bring him immediately to the house of Raguel. Raphael complies with dispatch.
Raguel, whose name means "friend of God," shows in this scene the characteristic virtues of another friend of God, Abraham. Abraham is noted for his hospitality, entertaining angels unawares (Gen 18:1–15; cf. Gen 19:1), and for his fatherhood, both of a beloved child and of a host of nations (Gen 17:4–5). Raguel is also generous in hospitality. As soon as he has greeted Tobiah and Raphael, he brings them into his home and introduces them to his family.
"Raguel" is also the name of Moses’ father-in-law (spelled "Reuel" in most translations; Exod 2:18; Num 10:29) and of an archangel in 1 Enoch 20:4; see also 1 Enoch 23:4). Tobiah has been instructed by his father to follow the example of the ancestors in finding a wife from his own kindred. He has not only done that, but has also found a father-in-law worthy of his ancestors.
7:3–5. The scene of welcome is based primarily on Jacob’s betrothal (Gen 29:1–30). In Genesis, Jacob, the son sent by his father to find a proper bride (Gen 28:1–5), arrives in Haran and greets a group of shepherds. When Tobiah and Raphael arrive at the house of Raguel, they have the following conversation with Edna:
The two betrothal scenes are linked by the key wordὑγιαίνω (hygiainō, "to be well"). This concept is highly significant for the book of Tobit. About two-thirds of the occurrences of the word in the Septuagint are found in the book of Tobit. The two passages also fall into a similar pattern. The traveler is greeted with embraces when he makes himself known as a relative (Gen 29:12–13; see Tob 7:6). He loves his prospective bride (Gen 29:18; see Tob 6:18), who is beautiful (Gen 29:17; see Tob 6:12). The father of the bride is reluctant to agree to the marriage (Gen 29:23–27; see Tob 7:10–11), and in both cases seven is a significant number. Laban requires Jacob to serve seven years for Leah and seven more for Rachel (Gen 29:20, 27); Raguel is reluctant to agree to Tobiah’s marriage to Sarah because of the deaths of seven previous husbands (Tob 7:11). Jacob serves a total of fourteen years; Tobiah and Sarah have a fourteen-day wedding feast (Tob 8:20).
The betrothal scene of Tobiah also resembles the betrothal scene of Isaac (Gen 24:1–67). The two scenes are linked by structure and vocabulary. In both scenes, the father sends someone (servant or son) to find a bride from his own kindred (Gen 24:3–4; see Tob 4:12–13), although Tobit is unaware that this is the purpose of his son’s journey. The man in whose care the future bride is found prepares a meal for the traveler (Gen 24:33; see Tob 7:9), but the traveler refuses to eat until the betrothal has been arranged (Gen 24:33; see Tob 7:11). The host yields, recognizing that the marriage has been decided by the Lord (Gen 24:50; see Tob 7:11). He gives the woman to the traveler, saying, "Take her with you" (Gen 24:51; see Tob 7:12). When the host wants to delay the travelers, the servant/son asks, "Let me go back to my master/father" (Gen 24:56; see Tob 10:7); the return journey follows immediately.
The key wordεὐοδόω (euodoō, "to prosper, make successful") also links the two scenes. The word occurs seven times in the Septuagint of Genesis 24 (LXX Gen 24:12, 21, 27, 40, 42, 48, 56). It appears in the words of Abraham, who sends his servant (Isaac’s surrogate) to find a bride for his son from his kindred. It occurs in the prayers and hopes of the servant and in the servant’s account of his mission. In the book of Tobit, euodoō is found in Tobit’s hope for his son’s journey. In the wedding ceremony, Raguel prays for Tobiah and Sarah: "May the Lord of heaven prosper you both" (v. 11; see also v. 12). At their departure, Raguel repeats his prayer (10:11), and Edna extends the hope for prosperity to them all (10:12). Finally, the word occurs in Tobiah’s own account of his journey (10:13; 11:15).
7:6–8. The theory of retribution surfaces again in Raguel’s exclamation concerning Tobit. He repeats the adjectives used throughout the work to describe Tobit, "good and noble, upright and charitable" (cf. 1:3; 9:6; 14:2). He bewails the disaster that has befallen Tobit in his blindness. How is it that such a good person could be overtaken by suffering rather than prosperity (cf. 2:14)?
The scene is filled with tears. Raguel weeps; Edna weeps; Sarah weeps. They weep for joy at recognizing a relative. They weep in sorrow over Tobit’s misfortune.
7:9. From this point on Raguel, the host, seems continually occupied with banquets. The first of these feasts is spread in welcome of the two travelers. The scene echoes Genesis 18, where Abraham and Sarah prepare a feast for God in the person of three strangers.
The marriage scene presents the crisis in Tobiah’s development into a mature person. He has already begun to take control of the action by his command that Raphael bring him to the house of Raguel (v. 1). As they recline to eat, Tobiah gives Raphael another command: "Ask Raguel to let me marry my kinswoman Sarah" (v. 9). This statement reveals several things about Tobiah at this crucial moment. He is not yet ready to take his life in his own hands and ask in his own name; he is still dependent on Raphael, the guardian appointed by his father. But that relationship is changing. Although he asks Raphael to make the request, he has made his own decision and is beginning to act on it with dispatch.
7:10–14. Raguel is caught in a dilemma regarding his daughter. He knows that he must obey the Mosaic law (as interpreted in his time) and marry her to a near kinsman (see 6:12–13). According to the decision rendered regarding the daughters of Zelophehad (Num 36:5–12), the daughters of a man who has no sons must marry into a clan of their own ancestral tribe, lest their heritage pass from one tribe to another.
But, according to the Qumran text 4QTobb, Raguel loves Sarah dearly. He is aggrieved over the misfortune of the seven previous bridegrooms, and he repeats the story for the fifth and final time. Like the maids (3:8–9), he knows nothing of Asmodeus. But he adds yet another note to increase the suspense: All of the other bridegrooms, like Tobiah, were kinsmen. Raguel also knows nothing of Raphael’s angelic status and his advice. And he is concerned for good reason. Perhaps even the keenness of his hearing can be attributed to his fearful anticipation of Tobiah’s question.
The next statement Tobiah makes signals the turning point in the depiction of his character. At this moment he takes responsibility for his own life and decisions: "I will neither eat nor drink anything until you settle what belongs to me" (v. 11). From here on Tobiah is in charge of his own actions. He is ready to become the instrument of healing. In spite of his reluctance, Raguel is persuaded by Tobiah’s persistence to agree to an immediate marriage.
The terms "brother" (ἀδελφός adelphos) and "sister" (ἀδελφή adelphē) are terms of endearment, expressing the intimate relationship between husband and wife or between lovers (see Cant 4:9–10, 12; 5:1–2; 8:1). Tobit uses the term "sister" for Anna (5:22; 10:6), as do Raguel for Edna (7:15) and Tobit for Sarah (8:4, 7). Both of Sarah’s parents call her Tobiah’s "sister" (8:21; 10:12). The term contributes to the idea that marriage joins not only two individuals, but also two families.
The marriage ceremony itself consists of several elements: First, the father gives the bride to her prospective husband, joining their hands (i.e., giving her hand in marriage). Second, there is an oral statement of the marriage, in which the father proclaims the marriage and declares it to be in accordance with the law of Moses; the father also blesses the couple. Third, a written contract is completed. Finally, a meal is eaten. All members of the family are involved in the ceremony. The father and the bride have major roles; the bride’s mother brings the material for the written contract.
The formula pronounced by Raguel, "Take your sister; from now on you are her brother and she is your sister, given to you from this day and forever" (v. 11), echoes the ancient marriage formula found at Elephantine. It is unusual, however, that the father rather than the bridegroom makes the statement. In the "Contract of Mibtahiah’s Third Marriage" (5th cent. bce), the formula reads: "She is my wife and I am her husband from this day forever."
The ceremony is permeated with references to the law and customs concerning marriage. Raphael has already exhorted Tobiah to marry Sarah in accord with his father’s command (6:16). He states that Raguel must give Sarah to Tobiah under pain of death, "according to the decree in the Book of Moses" (6:13). Raguel reiterates this obligation (v. 10) and refers to "the decree of the book of Moses" twice in the marriage ceremony (vv. 11–12). The written contract also states that "he gave Sarah to Tobiah as his wife according to the decree of the Mosiac law" (v. 13).
The marriage ceremony is reminiscent of Israel’s covenant theology, for the relationship between husband and wife is one image used by the prophets to describe the covenant (see, e.g., Hosea 2; Jer 2:2). The marriage formula is echoed by the covenant formula: "I will be your God; you will be my people" (see Jer 30:22; Ezek 36:28). The Sinai covenant is also sealed by a meal (Exod 24:1–2, 9–11). Eating together, sharing the same food, is a sign of sharing the same life.
7:15–16. Edna prepares her daughter for her eighth wedding night. She is a strong mother. She exhorts her daughter to courage in what seems to be an impossible situation. Twice she uses a word that appeared in connection with both healings,θάρσει (tharsei, "take courage"). The word occurs six times—first in Raphael’s encouragement of Tobit (5:10), twice in this scene at the beginning of the wedding night (v. 16), twice at the conclusion of the wedding night (8:21), and once as Tobiah prepares to heal his father (11:11). Edna also pronounces a blessing over her daughter.
8:1. When the meal is finished, Tobiah is led to the bedroom, the site of his impending confrontation with Asmodeus. Apparently Sarah is already there (7:15–16).
8:2. Tobiah’s chief action in the remainder of the book is healing. He follows Raphael’s instructions regarding the fish’s liver and heart. The notion that foul odors would drive away demons was common in the ancient world. Josephus reports that a certain Jewish exorcist named Eleazar drove demons out of people by holding a ring in which an aromatic herb was embedded to the nose of the one afflicted. The practice, which comes from the tradition of folk medicine, is magical. In the book of Tobit, however, the magical nature is muted; it is recommended by an angel along with prayer as only one part of a complicated remedy.
8:3. The second part of the remedy requires the assistance of the angel. As soon as the demon is repelled by the foul odor, Raphael follows him to Egypt and binds him there. Upper Egypt is the southern part of that country. Except for the Nile Valley and the Mediterranean coastal fringe, Egypt is primarily desert, and demons were believed to live in desert places. The angel protects the human beings by taking the demon back where he belongs and preventing any further access to them. Raphael returns immediately, another indication of the haste that characterizes the angel.
8:4. The third part of the remedy is also given to Tobiah through Raphael’s instruction. Tobiah and Sarah are to pray together. The prayer indicates that the banishing of the demon is not due to magic, but to the power of God.
8:5. Tobiah’s prayer reveals that he is a worthy son of his father. He begins by blessing God with a threefold invocation. The invocation is similar to Sarah’s prayer (3:11), moving from God, to God’s name, and then to God’s works. But like his father, Tobiah will connect his story to that of his people, so he invokes God as the "God of the ancestors." He recognizes God as the God of both the past and the future, faithful to the ancestors and blessed forever.
8:6. Tobiah then recalls an example from the Word of God that is appropriate to his situation (Gen 2:18–24; see also Gen 2:6). He acknowledges God as the creator, especially of human beings, and as the originator of marriage. From the mention of creation in v. 5, he moves to the creation story and aligns himself with the very beginning of the history of his people (see 3:3–5). In recalling the story of Adam and Eve, he cites three elements: God recognized that human beings should not be alone; the woman was created as help and support for the man; and the man and the woman are the parents of all the living. These elements he regards as the foundation of his own marriage. It is not good for him or for Sarah to be alone; they need each other. God has given them to each other. He hopes that Sarah will be his help—a help like himself. They are each the only child of faithful parents in exile. They are both obedient and honor God’s law. They are even related. Suitable partners for each other, they hope also to follow the example of Adam and Eve and have children.
It is instructive to note what part of the story Tobiah leaves out. There is no mention of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or of the strain in the relationship between Adam and Eve after they eat the fruit of that tree. His recalling of the creation story shows his hope for a positive marriage experience.
8:7. Tobiah’s prayer reveals his respect for his new wife and his hopes for a long and happy marriage. He also believes in his own goodness. He knows that his marriage is based on obedience and faith, and not on lust. Obedience is the foundation of his love for Sarah (see 6:18). He asks for a blessing on the marriage bond sworn between them. He prays that God will be merciful to them and that they may grow old together. This is also a prayer for protection from the demon that has so recently been banished. Both he and Sarah have faced death and are now willing to pray for life. The Old Latin (VL) adds the request: "Bless us with children."
8:8. Sarah proclaims her agreement by saying, "Amen, Amen." These are the only words she speaks in the presence of another human being.
8:9a. A reasonable assumption in this verse is that Tobit and Sarah consummate their marriage. Jerome’s Latin translation of the book of Tobit, however, adds a comment that Tobiah and Sarah did not consummate the marriage for three nights. Tobiah says to her: "Sarah, get up and let us pray to God today and tomorrow and the next day. For these three nights we are joined to God; when the third night is over, we will be joined to each other. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like pagans who do not know God" (vv. 4–5). This interpretation is found nowhere else in the textual tradition. The Vulgate text, however, inspired the medieval Christian practice of the "Tobias-nights," three days of continence after the wedding before the marriage was consummated.
8:9b–10. Raguel’s fear that Sarah’s eighth bridegroom will meet the same fate as the previous seven is not allayed by the prayers and blessings of the marriage ceremony. While Tobiah and Sarah are sleeping peacefully, he gets up to dig the eighth grave. His fear is inspired not only by love for his daughter, but also by sensitivity about his own honor. Sarah has already recognized the importance of honor to her father (3:10). We glimpse it in the motive he gives for his secret gravedigging: If necessary, Tobiah might be buried "without anyone knowing about it." Otherwise, he says, "we would become an object of ridicule and derision."
Raguel’s digging of the unnecessary grave for Tobiah is an example of dramatic irony. There is a disparity of understanding between readers and characters. We know the grave is unnecessary, but Raguel does not. A further ironic touch appears in Raguel’s presumption that he can bury Tobiah without anyone’s knowing about it. Will the guide ask no questions? Will his parents never miss him? Have the neighbors not noticed the arrival of the strangers?
8:11–14. In this scene Raguel and Edna appear together. The tenderness of Raguel’s feeling is suggested by the fact that he cannot bring himself to check the situation. Instead, he asks his wife to send a maid to report on Tobiah’s condition. The request indicates Edna’s authority over the maids.
8:15. Upon hearing the good news that their son-in-law is alive and sleeping peacefully, Raguel and Edna turn to prayer. This prayer is usually attributed to Raguel alone (as the Greek in GI suggests and the Old Latin states directly), and it seems to be the prayer of an individual. But GII clearly says, "They blessed … they said."
This prayer, like those of Sarah and Tobiah, contains a threefold blessing. In contrast to the previous prayers, however, the invocation comes, not in the first strophe, but at the beginning of each strophe. Also in contrast to the previous prayers, God is addressed directly, "Blessed are you." The first strophe also calls God’s people to bless the Lord.
8:16. After the blessing, the second strophe reports the current situation. Raguel (and Edna) had feared that this eighth bridegroom would die, but God has prevented that tragedy. They recognize that their good fortune is due to the mercy and compassion of God and that God has power to protect people. They acknowledge that God’s ways are surprising.
8:17. The third strophe turns to thanksgiving and petition. God is addressed as "Master" (δέσποτα despota). Raguel and Edna ask God to care for their daughter and son-in-law, to be merciful to them, to keep them safe, and to give them full lives. God has already acted in compassion and mercy; to be consistent, God should continue to do so. They also seem to play on God’s compassion by referring to Tobiah and Sarah as "two only children." Just as the prayer of Tobiah flowed from the context of marriage, so also the prayer of Raguel and Edna represents the petition of parents for their offspring.
8:18–20. Raguel orders the grave to be filled in and plans a second banquet more generous than the first. He prepares a fourteen-day wedding feast, twice as long as the ordinary celebration. His primary motivation is love for his daughter. He instructs his new son-in-law to bring joy to her spirit. The introduction to this banquet suggests even more strongly the parallel between Raguel and Abraham (cf. v. 19 with Gen 18:6–7).
8:21. Raguel tells Tobiah of his right to inherit Raguel’s estate, a point Raphael had made on the journey (6:12). The inheritance will be received in two portions: half now, half when Raguel and Edna die. The right to inherit is set within the context of family. The marriage of Tobiah and Sarah has joined the families of Tobit and Raguel, the effect of which is that their property also becomes common. The property of both families will now come to the children of both families, and since they are the only children, Tobiah and Sarah will inherit all of the property.
The word that introduces both healings (θάρσει tharsei, "take courage") is repeated by Raguel at the end of his talk with Tobiah.
1. Blessing is a sharing of God’s life and power. In Gen 1:28, God blesses human beings with the power to participate in creation and the responsibility of caring for it. The genealogy in Genesis 5 is evidence of the effectiveness of God’s blessing. God also blessed the ancestors—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—with children (Gen 17:15–17; 26:3; 28:13–15). Human beings are also empowered to bestow God’s blessing. Isaac blessed Jacob (Gen 28:1–4). Rebekah’s family blessed her (Gen 24:60). Jacob blessed his sons and through them the whole people (Gen 49:1–28).
The blessing of children by their parents has been a custom in many homes. But it is not just solemn occasions that call for blessing. Blessings are appropriate when one leaves the house, at bedtime, before an important event, at celebrations. Blessing is a sharing of God’s life and power. It symbolizes the gift of life that parents have given their children; it symbolizes the gift of life that comes from God. Blessing renews the familys bond with one another and with God.
2. Tobiah is the chief minister of healing in the book. He prepares himself for this task by prayer, obedience, and love. All three of these preparations are other-centered. Through prayer, he recognizes that the power to heal belongs to God and that he is only the minister of that power. His obedience puts into action the recognition that the wisdom to heal belongs to God. This wisdom may be passed from one human being to another (or be communicated by an angel!), but its origin is in God. Tobiah’s love for Sarah and for his father turns his focus totally toward them, and not to his own aggrandizement.
Power, love, and wisdom are demanded of those who exercise ministry in the Christian community today. The Holy Spirit bestows these gifts (see 2 Tim 1:7) so that the ministry of Christ may continue in the world. The person called to ministry must always remember that these gifts come from God. In a spirit of humility and obedience, faithful ministers will listen to God’s Word in Scripture and in the voices of the needy as well. They will act, trusting in God’s strength rather than in their own. They will lead others to grateful praise of God.
3. Marriage is a solemn undertaking. The marriage of Tobiah and Sarah begins in a ceremony of blessing. Both parents speak a blessing over the couple. The various forms for blessing a bride and groom in a modern wedding echo the prayer of Tobiah in recalling God’s plan of mutual support in the creation of Adam and Eve and in praying for children and a happy old age.
The marriage of Tobiah and Sarah is founded on prayer and community. In their prayer (8:5–8), marriage is construed as a gift from God, dependent upon God for success and perseverance. It is seen as part of God’s plan, reaching back to Adam and Eve, and as a participation in God’s creation. Their marriage contributes to the ongoing life of God’s people. It symbolizes the relationship between God and the people and the love of Christ for the church (Eph 5:31). When the broader focus is lost and a wedding is seen as a private event involving only two people, the creative, world-building power of marriage also is lost. Married people are a living symbol of the church and thus are cocreators with God.
4. God surprises us all with great generosity. In the Gospel of Luke, when the angel tells Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that he will have a son (Luke 1:13), Zechariah doubts the angel’s word. Vincent McCorry, in More Blessed Than Kings, has observed that this was not because Zechariah did not believe that God could give him a son, but because he doubted that God would! Raguel does not doubt that power of God to care for his family. His prayer is evidence of that. But he does not believe that God will care for his daughter and her eighth bridegroom. When Raguel realizes his mistake, his response his noteworthy. He is not embarrassed; he does not offer excuses. In genuine humility, he turns to God in surprised thanksgiving. Raguel is a worthy model to teach us how to respond to God’s generous gifts.
TOBIT 9:1–6, RECOVERY OF THE MONEY
9:1–2. The original purpose of the journey, at least in the minds of Tobit and Tobiah, was to recover the money Tobit had deposited with Gabael (1:14; 4:1–2, 20). Now Tobiah is prevented from accomplishing that goal by his marriage, which in fact was God’s purpose for the journey. So Tobiah sends his faithful guide to recover the money and to bring Gabael to the wedding.
9:3–4. Tobiah knows that his journey will already be longer than he anticipated, and he does not want to lengthen the delay. He knows well that his father will be expecting him on a certain day and will grieve when he does not arrive. His concern is well founded (cf. 10:1–7).
The fourteen-day wedding feast is the longest stretch of time in the story. The progress of the feast is not recounted, but the sense of its length is indicated by the repeated reference to counting the days. Tobiah tells Raphael that Tobit is counting the days (9:4). The narrator tells the reader that Tobit is, indeed, counting the days (10:1). Thus, although the length of telling time for the fourteen-day wedding feast is short (8:19–10:7, only 16 verses), the sense of its length is conveyed psychologically by the notion of counting days and the sevenfold repetition of the word "day" between the two ends of the fourteen-day feast (8:19; 10:7b).
9:5. The pace of the interlude, Raphael’s journey to get the money, is extremely rapid. There is no indication of the length of the two-way journey. An uninformed reader might assume that Raphael traveled to Rages one day and returned with Gabael the next. The distance to Rages, however, is approximately 185 miles. An angel might be able to cover the distance in a day, but what of the servants and camels and Gabael on the return journey? It is virtually impossible for the travelers to have reached Ecbatana before the wedding feast ended.
Gabael acknowledges the signed bond with no comment and immediately presents the money in sealed bags. Thus Tobiah’s concern about how to demonstrate his right to the money is unfounded (5:2). The signed agreement between Tobit and Gabael is recognized as valid.
Raphael’s other purpose in making the journey is to convey information. He informs Gabael of Tobiah’s marriage and invites him to the wedding feast.
9:6. When the travelers return to Raguel’s house, Gabael greets Tobiah with the key words that describe Tobit’s character: "good and noble, righteous and charitable" (καλοῦ καὶ ἀγαθοῦ, δικαίου καὶ ἐλεημοποιοῦ kalou kai agathou, dikaiou kai eleēmopoiou). He proclaims Tobiah to be "the very image" of his father; he is also "good and noble" (see 1:3; 7:7; 14:2). Gabael adds another blessing to the many already showered on this marriage. He, too, recognizes the familial implications of the union and extends the blessing to Sarah’s parents. This is clear in the Old Latin text: "the father and mother of your wife [patri et matri uxoris tuae]." Siniaticus reads: "your father and your wife’s mother." (See Reflections at 10:1–11:18.)
TOBIT 10:1–11:18, TOBIT’S HEALING
The final question posed by the exposition—Will Tobiah return safely and heal Tobit?—is answered in the affirmative in this section. The distress of Tobit and Anna keeps the tension alive. However, the reader is now assured by Tobiah’s success in delivering Sarah from the demon that he can also use Raphael’s advice to heal his father. The departure from Ecbatana is a long Near Eastern farewell. It serves to reiterate the emphasis on family and to continue the spirit of grateful joy that surrounds the wedding feast.
The last major scene of the resolution is told slowly, with careful detail and repetition, pointing to the careful construction of the scene. The procedure to be followed with the parts of the fish is given twice more (11:6–8, 11–13; see 6:9). Each telling provides a fuller account. The description of the healing process alternates with the parents’ welcome and gradually takes precedence.
Detail and repetition slow the climax of the scene, and the alternation in perspective presents it in a style suggestive of cinematic technique (in which the action is seen first from the angle of one camera, and then from another). In what follows, note that the perspective of Tobiah and Raphael appears in the passages on the left, the perspective of Anna and Tobit in the passages on the right. The passages on the left emphasize the healing process; the passages on the right emphasize the welcoming. Tobit’s eyes are the major focus of the passages on the left, and the act of seeing is the major motif of those on the right. Both perspectives merge at the end of the passage:
Raphael said to [Tobiah],
Meanwhile Anna sat watching the road …
When she saw him coming,
she exclaimed to his father,
"Tobit, your son is coming" (11:5–6).
Raphael said to Tobiah,
"I am certain that his eyes will be opened.
Smear the fish
This medicine will make the cataracts
shrink and peel off from his eyes;
then your father will again be able
to see the light of day" (11:7–8).
Then Anna ran up to her son,
threw her arms around him, and said to him,
"Now that I have seen you again, son,
I am ready to die!" And she sobbed aloud.
Tobit got up and stumbled out
through the courtyard gate (11:9–10).
Tobiah went up to him
with the fish
and holding him firmly,
blew into his eyes.
"Courage, father," he said.
Next he smeared the medicine on his eyes,
and it made them smart.
Then, beginning at the corners of Tobit’s eyes,
Tobiah used both hands to peel off the cataracts.
When Tobit saw his son,
he threw his arms around him and wept,
he exclaimed, "I can see you, son,
the light of my eyes!" (11:10–14)
The return journey gives Raphael one more chance to instruct Tobiah. The arrival in Nineveh reveals the great love uniting all the members of Tobit’s family. Their joy increases even more with Tobit’s healing and his welcome of Sarah. The moment is punctuated by yet another prayer.
10:1–3. The relationship between Tobit and Anna is artfully portrayed in this scene as both worry about the delay of their son. Tobit’s interior monologue reveals his own concern. He rehearses all the things that might have gone wrong. He wonders whether Gabael is dead, when his real fear is that Tobiah is dead.
10:4–5. Anna is the more vocal of the two parents. As Tobit’s worry mounts over Tobiah’s delay, hers does as well. In contrast to Tobit’s silence, she begins to weep and wail. Now not only does she refer to Tobiah as "my child," but she also takes the responsibility for his absence, a responsibility she had previously laid at Tobit’s feet (5:18): "Woe to me, my child, the light of my eyes, that I let you make this journey" (italics added). Tobit’s reassurance is not as effective in silencing her as it was when the journey began. She continues to wail and cry the whole night. The Old Latin (VL) and one of the Greek manuscripts (LXXd, recension GIII) indicate that she also stopped eating.
10:6. Anna expresses Tobit’s real worry. He, however, does not confess his concern to her. Rather, he replies to her gently and with reassurance. Ironically, he mentions that something unexpected may have happened. It is certainly true that none of the characters except Raphael expected the marriage that is causing Tobiah’s delay.
10:7–9. Anna’s worry over Tobiah has the peculiar mix of despair and hope so often characteristic of mothers. Even as she repeats "my child has perished," she stations herself near the road to watch for his return. This juxtaposition of maternal hope and despair is reminiscent of Rebekah, who sends one son away to keep the other from killing him (Gen 27:42–45); of Hannah as she grieves over her barrenness, yet has the courage to pray (1 Sam 1:7–11); and of the Shunammite woman as she doubts and hopes in Elisha’s promise of a son and as she prays for the life of that son (1 Kgs 4:16–17, 28–30).
Anna’s sharp tongue is again in evidence, and, as before, the target of her words is her husband, Tobit. She turns his reassurance into a retort and insists that his hope (which her actions reveal that she also holds) is in vain. Tobit suffers not only from her cutting words, but also from her sleeplessness and loss of appetite.
The departure scene reveals both Tobiah’s care for his parents and Raguel’s characteristic hospitality. Tobiah insists on leaving, in spite of Raguel’s urging that he remain. Tobiah has already recognized that his parents are worried (9:4). He knows that Tobit is counting the days, as indeed he is (9:4; 10:1). Tobiah knows also that Anna (along with Tobit) does not believe that he will return alive (v. 7; cf. v. 3).
10:10. The warmth of Raguel’s nature is demonstrated by his tender farewells to his daughter and new son-in-law. He is a rich man, with servants, slaves, flocks, and herds. He is also a generous man. He gives lavish and frequent feasts, and he does not hesitate to give Tobiah half of everything he owns when the newlyweds depart. He has kept his promise with regard to the inheritance (8:21).
10:11–13. This is the most extended and affectionate of the departure/arrival scenes and the only one in which there is genuine interaction between Tobiah and the other characters (cf. 5:17–22; 7:1–8). Raguel bids him a fatherly farewell with a prayer for his safety and prosperity. Edna entrusts her beloved daughter, Sarah, to him. Both Raguel and Edna address him as their own son.
Raguel is a concerned father. He exhorts Sarah to honor Tobiah’s parents as her own and to live a life worthy of a good reputation. Edna, too, is concerned for her daughter. She exhorts her new son-in-law concerning responsibility for his wife and her happiness.
Edna hopes to see her motherhood extended in grandchildren. The expectations of the older generation concerning the marriage of Tobiah and Sarah are instructive. In addition to the expectation of marriage within law and custom (see 1:9; 4:12–13; 7:10–11) is the hope that their marriage will bring joy (v. 12; see 8:20; 11:17). Children are seen as a blessing in marriage. Everyone concerned with the wedding of Tobiah and Sarah hopes to see their children (vv. 11–12; see 6:18; 13:16; 14:3, 9, 11).
Tobiah responds to these blessings with a pledge of honor and a feeling of happiness and joy, which overflows in thanksgiving to God.
11:1–4. The return journey is summarized in one verse (v. 1). Raphael, who seems always to be in a hurry (cf. 5:8), hastens Tobiah on the last stage of the journey by preparing him for his second act of healing. Raphael was sent to heal both Tobit and Sarah (3:17). However, God’s providence is manifested chiefly through human agents. Through his obedience to Raphael’s instructions, Tobiah is enabled to be the instrument of God’s healing. The dog, a remainder of the story’s folktale origin, appears only at the beginning and end of the journey (see 6:2).
11:5–6. The two great loves of Anna’s life are her husband and her son. Since Tobiah’s departure, Anna has been referring to him as "my child" (5:18; 10:4, 7). Now she watches the road by which "her son" is to come. The welcome scene reveals Anna’s tenderness toward her husband. Aware of his worry and inability to see, she turns to Tobit (who is with her as she watches the road) and says "Tobit, your son is coming."
11:7–8. God’s providence in the healing of Tobit is manifested through natural materials. (The heart, liver, and gall of the fish are medicines that correspond to ancient healing lore.) Fish gall was used in Assyria as a medicine for eye ailments. The use of gall from other animals, especially pigs and turtles, is also known from Egypt. The medicinal use and preparation of gall is also discussed by Pedanius Dioskurides, Pliny, and Galen.96
11:9–10. When her son finally comes, Anna embraces him and declares with tears that her life has reached its fulfillment. He is alive; now she is ready to die. The scene is reminiscent of Jacob’s greeting to Joseph, whom he had supposed was dead (Gen 46:29–30). Tobit also loves his son. As soon as he hears the news of Tobiah’s arrival, the blind man gets up and stumbles out through the gate.
11:11–12. Tobit is afflicted with blindness due to a thickening or whitening of the cornea, a condition often treated with gall. Tobit reports that his eyes sting or smart. The effectiveness of the gall in healing is directly related to its caustic, heat-producing properties. The medical knowledge of eye diseases and their remedies is amazingly accurate in the book of Tobit.
11:13–15a. Tobit’s response to the healing is first an expression of delight in the son who is truly the "light of his eyes." Then this man of prayer turns immediately to God. His prayer is an ecstatic outburst of joy.101 He begins with a triple blessing: He blesses God, God’s name, and God’s angels. Four times he uses the wordεὐλογέω (eulogeō, "to bless"). Twice he mentions God’s angels, even as he unknowingly stands in the presence of the angel sent by God to help him. Despite its brevity, the prayer contains the basic principle of Tobit’s life and of the book: God afflicts, and God has mercy. Blessed be God! His exclamation closes as it opened, with delight in seeing his son Tobiah.
11:15b. The scene ends with a summary that echoes Raphael’s commission in 3:17. In one sentence Tobiah relates the successful resolution to two of the three questions left at the end of the journey: Will Tobiah meet Sarah, marry her, and deliver her from Asmodeus? Will Tobiah recover the money? The scene itself has answered the third question: Will Tobiah return safely and heal Tobit? Meanwhile Tobit continues blessing God and rejoicing.
11:16–18. Tobit’s welcome of Sarah and the simple reference to another seven-day feast end this scene speedily. His welcoming of Sarah reveals his joy and his concept of marriage. He continues to shower blessings everywhere. The root word "bless" (eulogeō) appears six times during his welcome. He blesses Sarah, her parents, his son, and God. He also recognizes Sarah as his daughter, thus emphasizing the family connections brought about by marriage. He calls her "daughter" four times in this short speech. Tobit also repeats the key wordὑγιαίνω (hygiainō, "be well," "well-come") twice in his greeting of Sarah.
From here to the end, the characteristic tone of the book is joyful. Tobit cannot stop rejoicing and praising God (11:15–16). When he announces God’s gift to him, all the Jews in Nineveh also rejoice. At the wedding feast, Ahiqar and his nephew Nadin join in the general rejoicing. According to all of the reliable textual witnesses except GII (GI, VL, Syriac, Vulgate), everyone celebrates with joy for seven more days.
1. The older generation looks forward to the children of Tobiah and Sarah with delight. The love that holds their marriage together must bear fruit in some way. The joy that surrounds their marriage will be redoubled by the gift of life to others. Children are a gift in marriage; the outward turning of the energy that comes from mutual support is a necessity. This truth is not simple. Some couples are unable to have children. Their struggle to conceive and the sometimes interminable wait to adopt can cause great suffering. Some couples decide for good reason not to have children. There may be other concerns: health; economic distress; other family pressures. Some, on the other hand, remain childless out of selfishness. They are truly barren. Some who have children abuse or neglect them. The trust placed in them by God and society is betrayed; the gift is destroyed.
2. A painting by the nineteenth-century artist Jean-François Millet is titled Waiting. It portrays an old woman, her back to the observer, leaning forward into the road, down which she looks intently. To her right an old man, apparently blind, hesitates in a doorway. The painting is an interpretation of Anna and Tobit waiting for Tobiah. The painter was scorned for portraying biblical characters as nineteenth-century French peasants, but his message is very clear: The parents are still waiting for their beloved child.
All parents worry about their children, some more than others. Raising children is an awesome responsibility. The challenge of balancing the need to protect them with the need to give them freedom is ever present. In the end, parents must recognize that they exercise this responsibility in the name of God, who gave their children life. God alone can care for them in every situation.
3. Our mobile society causes us to say good-bye to loved ones with increasing frequency. The farewell at Ecbatana is permeated with blessings and expressions of love. Those kissed with tenderness at the beginning of the journey are instructed to stretch out their love toward those who wait for them at its end. God is entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the departing ones, for those left behind, and for those who await their arrival. Here is a model for our frequent good-byes.
4. In the story the angel instructs Tobiah to use methods of healing known to the medical community of his time. Ben Sira exhorts us to "honor physicians for their services" (Sir 38:1 NRSV; see also Sir 38:2–8). God works through natural means, through the power of created elements and the knowledge and skill of human beings. There are two ways we can strive to be healed of our ills, and both are necessary: Pray to God and seek the services of competent medical personnel (see Sir 38:9–15).
Tobit’s immediate response to his healing is grateful prayer. Jesus praises the leper who returns to give thanks for his cure and grieves over the nine who do not (Luke 17:17–18). It is easy to turn to God in prayer when we are in need and to forget to return in praise when God answers our prayer. Tobit is an example for us of genuine gratitude.
5. Dom Columba Marmion, a nineteenth-century Belgian Benedictine, said that joy is a sign and a consequence of the presence of God. The irrepressible joy of the last chapters of the book of Tobit is certainly a sign of God’s presence and power. The characters in this story allow God to work in them and through them. They do not hinder God’s action by resistance. Therefore, God’s blessing and love can flow into them and through them to others. The only possible response is genuine joy.
All’s Well That Ends Well
A few loose ends remain to be tied up in the final chapters. The reader knows that Raphael is an angel, but the characters do not. The offer of wages for him (12:1–5), far exceeding the promise in 5:15–16, leads to Raphael’s refusal of payment and the revelation of his identity (12:15). The main themes of the plot are reiterated in his exhortation (12:6–10): God, who rewards charitable deeds, is just and deserving of praise. Raphael then summarizes the plot and his function in it (12:12–14), exhorting Tobit and Tobiah to pray in thanksgiving (12:17–20). Raphael’s exhortation is followed by Tobit’s song of praise (13:1–17).
The story has returned to its original calm. The epilogue (14:1–15) reports the permanent state of prosperity of the characters and their final end, thus reinforcing the claim of the plot that God rewards charitable deeds.
TOBIT 12:1–22, REVELATION OF RAPHAEL’S IDENTITY
Chapter 12 consists primarily of Raphael’s farewell discourse. (See the Commentary on 4:1–21 for a description of the farewell discourse form.) Raphael’s farewell discourse includes the following elements of the form: the announcement of his departure (v. 20); a reminder of the past (esp. vv. 12–14); and an exhortation to be faithful to God’s commandments and to one another (esp. vv. 6–10). The only prediction is the promise that "those who give alms will enjoy a full life" (v. 9). Two other elements that are ordinarily found in the form are a blessing of peace and joy and a promise that God will abide with the hearers. Raphael’s presence has itself been a blessing and a sign that God remains with Tobit and Tobiah. The idea of blessing is reversed as Raphael reminds them repeatedly to bless God (vv. 6, 17–18, 20), which they promptly do (v. 22).
In the book of Tobit, Raphael’s role as a symbol of the providence of God is threefold: He has prepared Tobiah for the two healings; he has guided Tobiah on the way; and he continues to inspire and encourage the spirit of prayer. But because God heals (the meaning of Raphael’s name) and because the providence of God leaves room for human freedom, Raphael leaves the main action to the human characters throughout the book. He continually fades from sight as they make use of his instructions and preparations. Thus it is no surprise that when his mission is over, he ascends to God; and Tobit and Tobiah can no longer see him (v. 21). Raphael’s mission has been successful. They are healed; they have found the way; and they turn in thanksgiving to God (v. 18).
12:1. Tobit had promised Raphael a drachma a day for guiding Tobiah to Media and had also suggested the possibility of a bonus if they returned safely (5:10, 15–16). Tobit also exhorted Tobiah to pay promptly the wages of those who worked for him (4:14). Consistently he has practiced what he preaches, and this scene is no exception. As soon as the wedding feast is over, he summons Tobiah to pay Raphael both wages and bonus.
12:2–3. Tobiah’s response reveals his gratitude, his humility, and his generosity. In a string of short clauses he lists the gifts of Raphael: guidance, the two healings, the return of the money. Humbly he gives credit to Raphael for the two healings, although the angel had only given the instructions. Tobiah does not mention his own part in carrying out Raphael’s instructions.
12:4–5. Tobiah has suggested that he might give Raphael half of the riches they have brought back, and Tobit agrees to the suggestion. When Raphael is summoned, Tobiah makes the offer (the Greek texts omit the name, but the Old Latin identifies Tobiah as the one who makes the offer). The concept of giving half the wealth is a remnant of the story’s folktale background. In the tale of "The Grateful Dead," a stranger (the ghost of the grateful dead man) offers to serve and guide the traveler for half of whatever he may acquire. In the book of Tobit, half the wealth signifies Tobit’s and Tobiah’s generosity.
Tobiah ends his offer to Raphael with the customary blessing, "Go in health." Thus in this story of healing the key word,ὑγιαίνω (hygiainō, "to be well"), appears for the last time in the farewell to the angel whose name is "God heals."
12:6–7a. Raphael does not directly refuse payment. Rather, he delivers a wisdom speech, instructing the two men in the basic principles of a good life: prayer, almsgiving, and the theory of retribution. These themes constitute the theological pillars of the book. Raphael begins with an instruction concerning prayer. He reminds the men that prayers of praise and thanksgiving can never be offered in isolation. None of us alone can muster enough strength to give God fitting praise. Thus, in the tradition of the psalms, hymns are ordinarily addressed to others who might join in praising God. Twice Raphael tells them to proclaim to "all the living" what God has done for them. Then, to help them remember, he gives them a little proverb contrasting God’s work and a king’s secret. Wisdom entails knowing which to hide and which to proclaim.
12:7b–10. Raphael’s final statement about prayer ("prayer with fasting is good") is embedded in the beginning of an exhortation concerning almsgiving ("better than both is almsgiving"). His words about almsgiving are based on the theory of retribution. Thus all three themes are linked together.
First, Raphael states the positive principle of retribution: "Do good and evil will not overtake you." Then he illustrates what "doing good" means through the primary example of almsgiving. The benefits of almsgiving are many: It is truly life-giving; it sustains life better than wealth does; it preserves life by cleansing one from sin; and it saves one from death and ensures a full life. Raphael closes this part of his speech with the negative side of retribution: "Those who sin and do evil are their own worst enemies."
The book of Sirach, written in the same century as the book of Tobit, also emphasizes the benefits of almsgiving. Giving alms delivers one from sin (Sir 3:30–31) and saves one from death (Sir 29:10–13; 40:17, 24).
12:11–14. In the second part of his farewell, Raphael finally reveals to Tobit and Tobiah his angelic identity. He sets his revelation under the rubric of the proverb he had given the two men earlier concerning the proclamation of the works of God. Raphael also practices what he preaches.
Raphael eases into the revelation of his identity first by describing his mission. He identifies three of his functions: mediating prayer, testing, and healing. He tells Tobit and Tobiah what the reader has known since 3:17: He was sent, specifically in answer to their prayer, to heal Tobit and Sarah.
Raphael does not perform the healings himself. Rather, his name declares that it is God who heals. In fact, Tobiah performed the actions that led to both healings. The angel has only been the messenger between God and human agents.
Raphael’s role as one who tests is not developed in the book. Several possibilities of testing suggest themselves: (1) He is somehow implicated in Tobit’s having become blind (2:3–10); (2) he tests Tobit by not revealing his identity (5:11–14); (3) he tests the obedience and trust of Tobiah in the incidents with the fish, the marriage, and the healings. These possibilities, however, remain in the realm of speculation. Since so much of the book echoes Genesis, the suggestion of "angel as one who tests" may be based on the model of the angel with whom Jacob wrestled (Gen 32:24–25).
Raphael’s statements concerning healing and testing provide a necessary caution concerning the theory of retribution. In this theory, the good are rewarded, and the wicked are punished. But Raphael says that he was sent to put Tobit to the test precisely because of his good deed of burying the dead. It seems that doing good results in suffering rather than in blessing. But "at the same time" (ἅμα hama; a word suggesting the introduction of Raphael in chap. 3), he is also sent to heal Tobit and Sarah. Suffering and healing come simultaneously from God. This ambiguity is a major part of the book’s message. Only from God’s perspective can blessing and suffering be understood.
Raphael functions as a mediator of prayer throughout the book. He is sent in answer to prayer (3:16–17). He instructs Tobiah to pray on the wedding night (6:18). He urges Tobit and Tobiah to pray in thanksgiving (12:6–7, 17–20). Now he reveals that he presents prayers before the glory of the Lord (v. 12).
12:15. Finally, Raphael proclaims his true name and identity. He is one of the seven "angels of the presence." In the OT, angels (or heavenly beings) surround the throne of God (see 1 Kgs 22:19; Job 1:6; 2:1; Ps 89:5–7). The book of Revelation describes seven angels (or spirits) standing before the throne of God (Rev 1:4; 4:5; 8:2).
The names of three of these angels are known to us from the Bible: Gabriel (Dan 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26); Michael (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev 12:7); and Raphael (only in the book of Tobit). The apocryphal book 1 Enoch (dating back to at least the 3rd cent. bce) lists the following six names: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, and Gabriel (1 Enoch 20:1–8). One of the Greek fragments of Enoch, discovered at Akhmim at the end of the nineteenth century, adds the name of Remiel. Both Akhmim fragments add a final phrase: "Seven names of archangels."
12:16–17. The response of Tobit and Tobiah to Raphael’s revelation of his angelic identity is typical of the OT: They fall on their faces (see Gen 18:2; 19:1; Num 22:31; Judg 13:20; Dan 8:17). Raphael’s encouragement is also a typical angelic response, "Do not fear" (see Gen 21:17; Luke 1:13, 30).
12:18–20. A theology of angels is further developed in Raphael’s final words. He insists that he is only a messenger; thanks and praise are due to God, not to him. Worship of angels is forbidden by the NT (Col 2:18; Rev 22:8–9), just as worship of the "host of heaven" was forbidden by the OT (see Deut 4:19; 17:3; Jer 8:1–2). He also describes himself as a spirit. What seemed to them to be evidence of a body—eating and drinking—was only illusion. The spiritual nature of angels is suggested also in the NT (see Matt 22:30 and par.; Heb 1:14).
12:21–22. Once they have recovered from their fear, Tobit and Tobiah cannot stop praising and thanking God. Like the disciples after Jesus’ ascension, they continually bless God in joy (see Luke 24:52–53). God’s care of them has been revealed through God’s messenger, an angel.
1. Generosity to those who work for us is made difficult by the impersonalization of much of today’s labor. When the worker is a housekeeper, a cook, a gardener, or someone else with whom we interact personally, it is much easier to give an appropriate bonus, gift, or helping hand. How can we discover ways (other than the ubiquitous Christmas bonus) to be generous to other workers in our technological society?
Tobiah lists all the good things brought to him by Raphael. The acknowledgment of a worker’s value and achievement is often worth more than monetary reward. Tobit and Tobiah also meet with Raphael in person. What has largely contributed to the success of many companies is the personal attention paid to the workers and their needs. Perhaps there is a way, within the structure of modern business, for supervisors on each level to be empowered to share a worker’s evaluation and to give a bonus.
2. Raphael instructs Tobit and Tobiah to praise God with thanksgiving. A habit of prayer that begins with thanksgiving is not just a good idea—it is a recipe for happiness. But this habit must be learned; it is not our natural inclination. There are about twice as many laments as there are hymns in the book of Psalms. Almost all the requests for prayer that come to the minister have to do with trouble: Someone is sick or has lost a job. It seems we are eager to pray when we are in need, but forget to praise God when good things happen to us.
The habit of giving thanks to God leads to the awareness that alone we can never muster enough strength to give God fitting praise. We need others to help us. The psalms teach us how to ask: We call faithful people (Ps 149:1), all nations and peoples (Ps 117:1), everything that has breath (Ps 150:6). Psalm 148 provides the longest list: "fire and hail, snow and mist, storms, winds, mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild beasts and tame, snakes and birds, princes, judges, rulers, subjects, men, women, old and young" (see Ps 148:8–12).
"It is good to conceal the secret of a king, but to acknowledge and reveal the works of God" (Tob 12:7). Raphael calls us also to proclaim to all the world the good things God has done for us.
3. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are three pillars of righteous living in Jewish tradition. Christians, too, declare days of fasting and prayer. Many churches keep the tradition of almsgiving, providing places for food, clothing, and money to be collected for the poor. Lent is a special time for these practices.
Raphael’s words teach us that the three practices cannot be separated: "Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness" (12:8). Prayer without action is empty, a soul without a body. Fasting by itself is a work of pride, proving one’s self-discipline. Charitable giving without the other two is cold; the gift has never touched the giver’s life. Raphael shows us that genuine prayer will lead us to share God’s concern for the poor. That concern will urge us to fast, to take only what we need so that we will have something to share with the poor.
TOBIT 13:1–17, TOBIT’S PRAYER
Chapter 13 is the last and longest prayer in this book of prayer. It can be considered in two parts: (1) Tobit’s praise of God’s justice and mercy and gratitude for his healing (vv. 1–8) and (2) Tobit’s meditation on the new Jerusalem (vv. 9–17).
13:1–8. These verses comprise the prayer of an individual who has been delivered from the deepest distress and affliction (see 3:2–6). The prayer is couched, however, in general terms and phrases that draw from the wealth of biblical prayers. Thus, like the prayers of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1–10) and Jonah (Jonah 2:3–10), it becomes a prayer of thanksgiving for all who are delivered from distress.
In this way Tobit himself becomes a model for his people Israel. He can bear witness that the God who chastises also shows mercy, that the One who leads down to the darkness of Sheol also leads out into the light. He can also assert that the God who has scattered the people will again gather them. For this reason, Tobit calls his kindred to turn to God and join in his praise.
This prayer has elements of both the songs of thanksgiving and the hymns. As in songs of thanksgiving, the memory of Tobit’s own affliction and deliverance is very near. He expresses his intention to give thanks and praise to God. However, no detailed description of his distress appears. The general phrases concerning God’s deliverance resemble the hymn, as do the repeated calls to give praise and the list of reasons for praise.
Just as the story of Tobit’s life exhibits the basic principles of deuteronomic theology in narrative form, so also this prayer exemplifies much of deuteronomic theology in the language of prayer. The concept of joy permeates Deuteronomy (e.g., Deut 12:7; 14:26; 16:11; see Tob 13:1, 7). The theory of retribution is a deuteronomic concept (Deuteronomy 28). If the people obey God, they will have long life in the land; if they disobey, they choose death and doom (Deut 30:17–20; see Tob 13:5). The living God gives people a choice between life and death (v. 1). Deuteronomy exhorts the people to turn back to God with their whole heart and soul (Deut 30:2, 10; see Tob 13:6). In Deuteronomy, Israel is required to worship God in the place the Lord chooses—that is, Jerusalem (e.g., Deut 12:5, 11, 14). In his youth, Tobit was faithful to the cult in Jerusalem (1:6–8). Now confident of a return from exile, he exhorts his people to praise God again in Jerusalem (v. 8).
Weitzman uses the allusion in Tobit 13 to Deuteronomy 32 (cf. Tob 13:2 with Deut 32:39; Tob 13:6 with Deut 32:20) to link Tobit 12–13 with Deuteronomy 31–32, the farewell speech and song of Moses. He concludes that the biblical allusions in the book of Tobit move from the beginning of the Pentateuch (the betrothal scenes from Genesis, the similarity between Raguel and Abraham, the Joseph story) to its end (Deuteronomy). He also notes that the allusions all come from scenes that take place outside the land of Israel. The farewell speech and the Song of Moses occur just before the people’s entrance into the land. Thus the biblical allusion to the whole Pentateuch reinforces the content of Tobit’s life story and his song. Tobit’s life is lived according to the Torah from beginning to end. His song promises that the banishment from the land of Israel will soon end.
After the title, the first section can be divided into four strophes: (1) invocation and call to prayer (vv. 1b–2); (2) reasons for praise (vv. 3–5); (3) call to conversion (v. 6a–h); (4) Tobit as example of one who praises God (vv. 6i–8). Strophe 1 is a general, third-person statement concerning God. Strophes 2 and 3 are in the second person, directed to the hearers. Strophe 2 begins and ends with a statement about being scattered among the nations. Strophe 3 has an inner unity owing to the repetition of "whole heart," "whole soul," "whole voice." It ends with an echo of strophe 1 ("bless," "king of the ages"). Strophe 4 is Tobit’s own, first-person declaration of praise. He repeats the notion of God’s kingship from strophes 1 and 3. The whole poem is bound together by the repetition of the key words of blessing and praise:εὐλογητός/εὐλογέω (eulogētos/eulogeō, "bless") in vv. 1 and 6; ἐξομολογέω (exomologeō, "give thanks/acknowledge") in vv. 3, 6, 8; ὑψόω (hypsoō, "exalt") in vv. 4, 6–7.
The second section of Tobit’s prayer (vv. 9–17) can be considered in four units: (1) the call to Jerusalem, vv. 9–11; (2) curses and blessings, vv. 12–14; (3) Tobit’s own prayer, vv. 15–16d; (4) the new Jerusalem, vv. 16e–17. The division is based on content. The poetic structure is not clear, and the lengths of the units vary. Each unit contains a call to praise God (vv. 10, 13, 15, 17).
The key word "bless/blessed" recurs frequently in this second part of Tobit’s prayer (eulogeō in vv. 10, 13, 15, 17; eulogētos in vv. 12, 17). Two repeated terms connoting the breadth of the prayer are "all" (πᾶς pas; see also vv. 4–5) and "forever/ages" (αἰών aiōn; see also vv. 1, 4, 6). All who are captives, all who are distressed for all generations will be comforted (v. 10). All who despise, hate, revile, destroy, overthrow Jerusalem will be cursed (v. 12). All the children of the righteous will be gathered together (v. 13). All who grieve over all Jerusalem’s afflictions will behold all its joy (v. 14). All of Jerusalem’s walls will be built of precious stones; it will stand as God’s house for all ages (v. 16). Its light will shine to all the ends of the earth, and people from all the ends of the earth will come to give praise (v. 11). All its houses will sing, "Hallelujah," as God is praised for all the ages (v. 17).
The hope for the new Jerusalem is everlasting. God will cherish the distressed within it for all generations forever (aiōn). Those who stand in awe of Jerusalem will be blessed forever (v. 12), and those who rejoice over it will see its joy forever (v. 14). Jerusalem will be rebuilt as God’s house forever (v. 16), for God is King and Lord of "forever" (vv. 10, 13), whose name will be blessed forever and ever (vv. 11, 17).
Tobit’s description of Jerusalem as the hope of the future reflects the vision of Israel’s prophets. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with precious stones (Isa 54:11–12) and will be the source of great light (Isa 60:1–3), which many nations will come to see (Isa 60:1–14; see also Mic 4:2; Zech 8:22). Those who love Jerusalem will rejoice (Isa 66:10, 14), while those who do not serve Jerusalem will be destroyed (Isa 60:12). In the prophets’ glorious vision of the future, the scattered will be gathered again (Isa 35:1–10; 52:1–12; Jer 31:7–14), and the blind will be restored to sight (Isa 35:5; 42:16; 58:8, 10). The new Jerusalem upon which Tobit builds his hope is the one the prophets have described.
In Tobit’s final prayer, his personal character traits are raised to a public and national level. He, an ordinary man, a model of the true Israelite, is willing to present himself as an example for his people. His trust in God’s justice and mercy is strong enough not only to support his own life, but also to demand an equal trust from his nation. His love of Jerusalem flows through his whole life, allowing him to identify with it to such an extent that he can recognize its sorrow as his sorrow, and hope for its joy as he has known joy. His awareness of his responsibility to make public proclamation in thanksgiving for God’s gifts to him (see 12:6–7, 18–20) leads him to call all his people to join in his hymn of grateful praise. Even as he recognizes that his life is dependent on the pleasure of God (see 3:6), he knows that his life makes a difference. He is set up as an example, and he is called to exhort and instruct not only his son and his grandchildren, but all the kindred of his nation and finally all humanity (vv. 8, 11).
13:1a. Tobit wrote his prayer with joy. The concept of joy occurs frequently in the book of Tobit: He complains that because of his affliction he has no joy (5:10); God brings joy to Raguel and Sarah by means of Tobiah (8:16, 20); joy returns to Tobit (11:15–16) and to all the Jews of Nineveh through God’s mercy (11:17–18). The prayers are particularly filled with expressions of joy: Raguel’s (8:16–17) and Tobit’s (13:1, 7, 10–11, 13–14).
13:1b–2. Tobit begins his prayer with eulogētos ("blessed"). This word begins four other major prayers in the book: Sarah’s (3:11); Tobiah’s (8:5); Raguel’s (8:15); and Tobit’s (11:14). Tobit praises the living God and, as Raphael had exhorted him, calls his people to praise God before all other living beings (see 12:6). He proclaims that God and God’s kingdom are eternal (see 3:11; 8:5, 15; 11:14).
In the second verse of his prayer, Tobit announces the theme of the whole prayer: God is just in everything, both in chastisement and in mercy. This theme appears throughout the book. The earlier prayers ask God for mercy (3:15; 8:7, 17); the later prayers praise God for righteousness in both punishment and mercy (11:15; 13:2, 5, 9; cf. 14:5).
God’s power and presence extend to all places. Nothing can escape the One who leads down to Sheol/Hades and back again. In his counsel to Tobiah (4:19), Tobit reminded his son of the power of God. Tobit knows of it from his own experience. He considered himself as good as dead (5:10), but God’s mercy restored him to the light (11:14–15). These ideas appear frequently in other biblical prayers as well—for example, the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:6), the prayer of Jonah (Jonah 2:3, 7), and some psalms (e.g., Pss 30:4; 86:13). The idea is echoed also in the book of Wisdom (Wis 16:13, 15).
13:3–5. Each strophe of this poem builds on the preceding one. In the second strophe, the general statements of strophe 1 concerning God’s righteousness and power are applied specifically to exiled Israel. Tobit is an example for the exiled nation, which also seems as good as dead (see Ezek 37:1–14). Thus the second strophe begins with a summons to the dispersed Israelites to praise God among the nations where they have been scattered. Even there they remain in God’s hand, and they must proclaim God’s greatness before all the living (12:6; see Deut 32:3; Sir 39:15). Proclaiming God’s deeds among the nations also is a frequent theme in the psalms (see Pss 9:12; 96:3; 105:1).
Who do they proclaim? Their God is the Lord, the eternal God (see Pss 18:32; 40:6; 71:19; 77:14). This God is "our Father." The concept of God as the father of the people Israel begins with Exod 4:22: "Israel is my son, my firstborn" (see Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9). The title "my father" appears in Jer 3:4 and Sir 51:10. However, most references to God as "our Father" appear in prayers of the post-exilic period (Isa 63:16; 64:7; see also Sir 23:1, 4; Wis 14:3).
Israel, however, has not been exiled simply for the purpose of proclaiming God before the nations. The people must recognize God’s righteousness in their chastisement (see 3:2–5). God as father disciplines disobedient children (see Prov 13:24; Sir 30:1), but will again have mercy and gather them together (see Ps 106:46; Jer 23:3; Ezek 36:24).
13:6a–h. The third strophe builds on the second. Since it is God who chastises and has mercy, exiles and gathers, Israel can hope for mercy only by turning to God. This is the great prophetic cry ofשׁוב (šûb, "turn"; e.g., Isa 31:6; Jer 3:12, 14, 22; Hos 14:2–3). When Israel turns, God, too, will turn (Zech 1:3; Mal 3:7); never again will God’s face be hidden (see Ps 30:8).
Israel, however, must act in wholeness and in truth (see 4:6; 14:9). With open eyes, Israel must see God’s action, bless God’s righteousness, and exalt the One who rules over all times and places (Pss 145:13; 146:10). Again Tobit is the example. He walks in truth and righteousness (1:3). Both his eyes and his heart have been opened to God’s light (11:13–15, 17). He praises God’s righteousness (3:2).
13:6i–8. In the final strophe of the first section, Tobit declares his own praise of God. He, the true Israelite, gives himself as an example to the nation. He has called Israel to praise with four imperatives: "acknowledge/give thanks" (exomologeō) in vv. 3 and 6; "recount/show" (ὑποδείκνυμι hypodeiknymi) in v. 4; "bless" (eulogeō) in v. 6; and "exalt" (hypsoō) in vv. 4 and 6. He repeats two of these verbs and a related verb in his own recital of praise: "acknowledge/give thanks" (exomologeō) in v. 6; "declare/show" (δείκνυμι deiknymi) in v. 6; "exalt" (hypsoō) in v. 7. He who has suffered adversity praises God and proclaims God’s greatness. He who has called Israel to declare God’s majesty before the nations himself declares God’s strength and majesty before his own sinful nation, Israel.
Tobit repeats the call to turn and act in righteousness. In words echoing the "perhaps" of Joel 2:14, he declares his confidence in God’s mercy (see also Amos 5:15; Jonah 3:9). Perhaps God will relent and act mercifully (lit., "do alms" [ποιήσει ἐλεημοσύνην poiēsei eleēmosynēn]).
Three linked words of the book appear in these last two strophes. If Israel acts in "truth" (ἀλήθεια alētheia, v. 6) and "righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη dikaiosynē, v. 6), the Lord of righteousness (dikaiosynē, v. 6) will show "mercy" (ἐλεημοσύνη eleēmosynē, v. 6) to them. The book itself is framed by an inclusio of these three words (1:3; 14:9; see also 3:2).
Tobit ends the first section in the same spirit of joy with which he began. He concludes this prayer made "in the land of his exile" by calling for prayer "in Jerusalem" to the God who rules all space, "the king of heaven."
13:9–11. In the first unit of the second section, Tobit suggests that the pattern of his own story offers hope to Jerusalem, destroyed and depopulated. He repeats the terms "afflict" (μαστιγόω mastigoō) and "have mercy" (ἐλεέω eleeō) from his general description of God and from his call to the exiled Israelites (see vv. 2, 5). He refers to God as "King of the ages" and "King of heaven," echoing his initial statement about God and his final petition (see vv. 2, 7). He emphasizes again the need for righteousness (see v. 6), and just as he called the exiled Israelites to give thanks and bless God, so, too, now he calls the city to do the same.
The theme of retribution undergirds the unit. The powerful God, King of the ages, who punished Jerusalem for wickedness, will restore the city and its righteous citizens. Restoration comes, however, not only because of the renewed righteousness of the people, but also because of the mercy of God. The central concern of the section is introduced: Jerusalem, God’s holy city, must be restored and the Temple rebuilt. Then the Israelites will be comforted, and all nations will be drawn to the city to worship God. The theme of joy continues to permeate the prayer.
13:12–14. The second unit begins with curses and ends with beatitudes. The list of curses varies in the textual witnesses. The Qumran text 4QToba and the Old Latin offer the fullest text:
Cursed be all who despise you and revile you;
cursed be all who hate you
and speak a harsh word against you;
cursed be all who destroy you
and pull down your walls.
Anyone who has destroyed Jerusalem in the past or who does so in the future comes under this curse.
Cursing does not dominate the unit, however—blessing does. The beatitudes that end the unit are anticipated in v. 12 with a blessing on those who stand in awe of Jerusalem. In GII, the same term used for "fear" of the Lord (οἱ φοβούμενοί σε hoi phoboumenoi se) is here applied to God’s city. (In GI, the blessing is for those who "love" the city [οἱ ἀγαπῶντές σε hoi agapōntes se].) The city is then called to rejoice over the people who will be gathered again within it to bless God (see vv. 3–5, 10, 17). God is named "Lord of the ages" (see "King of the ages" in v. 10).
The beatitudes balance the curses, and the theme of joy recurs. Along with a threefold exclamation, "Happy are (μακάριοι makarioi)," is a threefold statement of joy: Those who rejoice (χαρήσονται charēsontai) in Jerusalem’s peace and those who once grieved over its afflictions now will rejoice (charēsontai) and behold Jerusalem’s joy (χαράν charan) forever.
13:15–16d. In the third unit Tobit breaks in as the singer of the prayer. Here the call to praise is to himself ("my soul" [ἡ ψυχή μου hē psychē mou]). He calls himself to bless the Lord, "the great King" (see "king" in vv. 6–7, 10 and "kingdom" in v. 1). His reason for praise echoes the reason he has given to Jerusalem: The city will be rebuilt as the house of God (see v. 10). He speaks a beatitude over himself, a prayer that his descendants will see the restored city and themselves give thanks to "the King of heaven" (see v. 7).
13:16e–17. The fourth unit is a description of the new Jerusalem. The name of the city is repeated four times, as if Tobit cannot let go of the delight of its name (see "name" in v. 11). The promise of rebuilding from vv. 10 and 16 is fulfilled in Tobit’s vision. Gates, walls, towers, and streets will be made of gold and precious stones. As if answering the call to prayer, even the gates and the houses will sing hymns and cry out, "Hallelujah" (see Ps 24:7, 9).
Tobit ends his prayer just as he began it, with a call to praise: "Blessed be God … for all ages!" This call is addressed to the new Jerusalem, wherein God’s name will be blessed forever.120 Jerusalem remains the place where God has chosen to set the divine name (see Deut 12:5, 11).
1. Tobit believes that, just as his suffering mirrors that of his community, so also his healing is a sign of hope for it. Christians have been taught that together we are the body of Christ, that "if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Cor 12:26 NRSV). It is impossible for Christians to celebrate eucharist without being joined to one another. In the Liturgy of the Word we tell the story that gives us a common identity. We recite the creed that expresses our common belief. As we pray in petition for those in need and in thanksgiving for those who have been blessed, we acknowledge that their pain and joy are also ours. We share the meal that expresses the sharing of our lives. If we eat and drink without discerning the body (i.e., Christ in one another), we eat and drink judgment on ourselves (see 1 Chr 11:29). Finally, we are set forth to live the mystery we have celebrated: our oneness in Christ Jesus.
2. In Christian theology the new Jerusalem is also the hope of the future. The book of Revelation describes a glorious city in which "there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain" (see Rev 21:4). The glory of God will be its light (Rev 21:23); the river of life-giving water will flow from God’s throne (Rev 22:1). God will be so present there that a temple will no longer be needed (Rev 21:22). There all the faithful will see God’s face and praise God’s name forever (Rev 22:3–4).
The new Jerusalem is an image of the life that awaits God’s faithful people. The reality of this new life is impossible to describe. "Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard" what God has prepared (see 1 Cor 2:9). We know two things: This new life has been won for us by Christ, and our delight will be the sharing of God’s presence with one another.
TOBIT 14:1–15, EPILOGUE
At its end, the story returns to its original calm. The epilogue (14:1–15) reports the permanent state of prosperity of the characters and their final end, thus reinforcing the claim of the plot (and the theory of retribution) that God rewards charitable deeds.
Tobit’s final instruction to Tobiah (vv. 3–11) is the third and final farewell discourse of the book (see chaps. 4 and 12). It has several of the elements of the farewell discourse: Tobit announces his imminent death (v. 11); he recalls the past and predicts the future; he recalls the words of the prophets concerning the exile and predicts that they will indeed be fulfilled (vv. 4–7); he also recalls the story of Ahiqar (v. 10). He exhorts his children and grandchildren to keep God’s commandments and to be virtuous and honest (v. 9). He wants to protect his children and grandchildren from the destruction he is sure will overwhelm Nineveh (vv. 9–10).
14:1–2. The end of Tobit’s life is a confirmation of the truth of the theory of retribution. He, a just man, is richly blessed. He enjoys a full old age with prosperity, and he lives to see his grandchildren, seven in number,123 signifying a perfect fullness. Deuteronomy promises these rewards to the just (e.g., Deut 4:40; 5:29; 6:1–2; 11:21; 30:19–20). Tobit is like Job, who, although he suffered for a time, "lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations … and Job died, old and full of days" (Job 42:16–17 NRSV). The description of the righteous person in Psalm 112 promises powerful and blessed descendants, wealth, and riches (Ps 112:1–3). Wisdom herself gives long life, riches, and honor (Prov 3:16; 8:18): "The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life" (Prov 22:4 NRSV).
14:3–8. Tobit exhorts his son to trust the Word of God, spoken through the prophets (vv. 3–4, 8). He has already demonstrated his familiarity with the Word of God and his habit of looking to that Word to shed light on his own life. When the joy of his Pentecost feast turned to mourning, he recalled the appropriate words of the prophet Amos (Tob 2:6; cf. Amos 8:10). Now he exhorts his son to believe God’s Word and to act on it. Tobiah will live to see his father’s faith justified (v. 15). (The author, writing in the 2nd cent. bce, already knows that Assyria was defeated and Nineveh destroyed.)
Tobit cites Nahum, a seventh-century prophet whose whole work consists of rejoicing over the fall of Nineveh in 612 bce. The Greek recension GI reads "Jonah" instead of Nahum. Jonah is a fictional work about a prophet who is sent by God to Nineveh. When, after some resistance to God’s call, he finally goes to Nineveh, his words are instrumental in converting the whole city. God, who had intended to punish the Ninevites, instead forgives them, much to Jonah’s chagrin. Tobit’s whole message is changed if one reads "Jonah" instead of "Nahum." Tobiah would have no need to leave Nineveh. All its citizens would turn to God, and God would turn to them in blessing instead of destruction.
Tobit’s vision of the restoration of Israel echoes the prophets and the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. Jeremiah describes a vision of the restored Jerusalem and its faithful population (Jer 31:7–14; 33:6–22). Ezekiel envisions the Lord’s return to a glorious new temple, built according to the pattern of the old one (Ezek 43:1–5; see also Ezek 40:1–42:20). The prophet Haggai had the singular commission to tell the returned exiles to rebuild the destroyed Temple, and within a few months the work began. However, Haggai remarks that to those who "saw this house in its former glory" the new Temple seemed like nothing (Hag 2:3). Ezra also reports the weeping of the old men who had seen the former Temple (Ezra 3:12–13).
14:9. After his discourse on the prophetic word, Tobit instructs his son and grandchildren in righteous living as he had earlier instructed his son (4:3–21) and as his grandmother had instructed him (1:8). His exhortation includes those virtues of which his own life has been an example: truth, righteousness, almsgiving (1:3), and mindfulness of God and prayer (see 3:2–6; 5:17; 11:14–15; 13:1–17). Not only are his son and his grandchildren to live such lives, but they also are to exhort their children as he has done for Tobiah and for them.
14:10–11a. Tobit concludes by telling a little story to illustrate his belief that "almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going into the dark abode" (4:10; see also 14:11), just as he, the almsgiver, has been freed from darkness (11:14). (For a synopsis of the story of Ahiqar, see the Introduction.) This incident is itself an example of theology of narrative—that is, telling a story in order to inculcate virtue in the midst of a book that is doing the same thing. Throughout the book, the instructions of the father to the son are embodied for the son in the actions of the father. For Tobiah, Tobit’s actions speak as loudly as his words.
14:11b–14. Tobit, who had risked everything to give honorable burial to others (1:17–20; 2:7–10), is himself buried with honor. After Anna’s death, she is buried next to Tobit. Raguel and Edna are buried in Ecbatana. Finally, the death of Tobiah is reported. Thus this book, which is preoccupied with death and the ceremonies surrounding it, closes with the deaths of all the main characters except Sarah and Raphael.
Tobit assumes the responsibility for the care of his parents and his wife’s parents in their old age and for their honorable burial. He is again obedient to his father, but now it is the obedience of the grown man, responsible for his own actions. He heeds his father’s instruction in carrying out the proper burial of Tobit and in burying his mother next to his father (see 4:3–4). He also obeys his father by leaving Nineveh immediately after the death of Anna (see v. 10). He is an example of filial love.
Tobiah’s life also testifies to the validity of the theory of retribution. Like his father, he is a just man. He lives a long life, dying at the age of 117. He is also prosperous, having inherited the estates of both Tobit and Raguel, and he has a full number of descendants: seven sons.
In his prayer on their wedding night, Tobiah had asked that he and Sarah might grow old together. There is a hint of the patriarchal background of the book in the fact that the death of Sarah, the most silent character, is not even reported. This gap, however, also allows the reader to assume that she did not die young. Surely an early death would have been mentioned. It would seem that Tobiah’s prayer was answered.
14:15. The final verse of the book announces the destruction of Nineveh. Alter describes one of the functions of narration as providing a "chronicle of public events and context of meaning." The chronicle of public events is minimal in Tobit, occurring only in chaps. 1 and 14. The title of the book situates the beginning of the story in the reign of Shalmaneser. The succession of Assyrian kings is briefly (and incorrectly) noted, and a few pertinent events during each reign are mentioned (1:15, 18, 21). The story of Tobit’s early days is woven into this brief chronicle.
From the last mention of the reign of Esarhaddon in 2:1 until this final chapter, the book is silent concerning public events in Assyria. In chap. 14, the fall of Nineveh to Cyaxares, king of Media, is reported. This public event is also woven into the lives of Tobit and Tobiah. Tobit predicts Nineveh’s fall, relying on the prophet’s word. Tobiah, having heeded the warning and left Nineveh, rejoices over its fall.
The chronicle of events does not simply provide a historical backdrop for the story of Tobit. It also provides a subtle context for interpretation. Assyria, personified in its kings, was wicked. These kings were responsible for the exile, suffering, and death of many of God’s people. Tobit is an example of those who suffered under their rule. His virtue grew under the distress they caused. But, as his life witnesses to the truth that God rewards the righteous, the fate of Nineveh testifies that God punishes the wicked. For this reason, Tobiah rejoices (v. 15). The narrative economy is striking. Nineveh and its rulers appear only at the beginning and end of the story. But even this subtle reference to the wicked city and its fall provides an effective contrast to the story of the just man set in its midst.
1. A certain psychological exercise recommends that a person write his or her own epitaph. What do you want to be remembered for? It might be equally revealing to consider what you would want to say in your farewell discourse. What would you want to remember? What would you want to recommend to your survivors? For what would you give thanks to God? Tobit had two chances to give a farewell discourse. Some of us might not have a chance to give even one!
2. The commandment to honor one’s parents is not so much a command for children to obey parents as it is a command for adults to care for their aged parents. Tobiah and Sarah give a worthy example to follow of caring for parents in their old age. Ben Sira promises a reward for this solicitude:
Help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins;
in the day of your distress it will be remembered in your favor;
like frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.
Whoever forsakes a father is like a blasphemer,
and whoever angers a mother is cursed by the Lord. (Sir 3:12–16 NRSV)
Care for aged parents is of increasing concern in modern society. As Social Security and Medicare falter, the burden on the family increases. The community, the church, and the extended family share responsibility as we strive to honor this commandment.
3. In the book of Tobit, the chronicle of public events provides a contrast to the lives of faithful people. Nineveh falls in disgrace; Tobit lives a long and virtuous life. The man who was once punished for having buried outcasts is now buried with honor. The story of Tobit is told to illustrate the theory of retribution: The good are blessed, and the wicked are punished. But the story also teaches that retribution is not always obvious: The good may suffer for awhile, and the wicked may prosper. People who strive to be faithful to God’s way continue to be challenged by this apparent injustice. Christian faith in the resurrection postpones the day of reckoning and puts retribution out of sight. Nonetheless, innocent suffering continues to be a stumbling block. The book of Tobit teaches a hard truth: Reward and punishment are in the hands of God. Eternal life is not won by the righteous; it is God’s gift.
Return to Bible Study Materials
Return to Home Page 返回主頁