THE BOOK OF TOBIT - PART II
AND CONNECTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
I. The cast of characters in the book combine mostly good, but not superhuman, main characters, in the midst of the archangel and the demon, with a less faithful group in the background.
A. Tobit is a faithful Jew with a good family.
1. He faithfully
sticks to God's law and the ancient customs with no complaint.
Even when he suffers blindness because of his fidelity, he considers
God just. He is also very generous, giving thirty percent of his
income to worship and charity, and willing to pay more than just wages,
up to half of everything Tobias brings home, not only the deposit recovered,
but also apparently half of the gift from Raguel.
2. He is very willing to accept
sufferings as a punishment or test from God.
3. He also has
a strong confidence in the value of a good family, as indicated by his
insistence that his son marry a kinswoman and his immediate confidence
placed in Raphael when Raphael tells him of his family.
4. His main flaw is a bit of pride. His introduction is a little boastful and, while he is very willing to pay generous wages, he does not wish to be receive the bonus given to his wife. He also can endure much, including blindness, but when his wife rebukes him for a real failing on his part, it is too much.
- At that point,
he does not even dare to pray for healing, but only for a peaceful death.
5. He wants his son, not only
to recover the money, but likely also to prove himself.
6. Tobit ends
by being, not only an exemplary Jew, but also a visionary, foreseeing
the fall of Jerusalem, but then her glorious rebuilding. He also
foresees the destruction of Nineveh.
B. Anna, Tobit's wife, if very faithful and courageous, but very anxious for family unity.
1. There is no
evidence of a complaint when Tobit is exiled and the family loses its
wealth (temporarily at least) because of Tobit defiance of Sennacherib
in burying the slaughtered Jews.
2. After Tobit's blindness
and loss of Aliqar's patronage, she supports the family.
3. The one thing that throws off her calmness is an upsetting of the family. Thus, when Tobit wonders whether she stole a goat, she sharply rebukes him, ignoring all his previous virtue. And, when Tobias is late in returning home, she becomes frantic.
to protect her son, she at first opposes Tobit's commissioning of
him to recover the money deposited with Gabael.
C. Tobias is the good son, faithful to his parents and in-laws, prayerful, and abiding by the instructions of the angel precisely.
1. He does not have any particularly heroic quality about him. The great rhetoric and prophesy belong to his father. It fact, he is ignorant of the ways in Media and it is his father, not he, who hires the guide.
2. His love for Sarah is pure, based entirely upon the commands of God and adherence to the family traditions. About this love, he is adamant.
D. Sarah is a classic fair, good maiden in distress.
1. She is subject
to despair and even tempted to suicide, but concern for her parents
keeps her back.
2. She does not dare
to pray for an end of the persecution by the demon, but only for either
death or at least an end to false allegations. Nevertheless, her
prayer is crucial to the cure of all of the ills. She is rewarded
by a husband, a family, and prosperous old age.
E. Raguel is a somewhat comical figure.
1. He is a basically
good person, deeply concerned about his daughter and his relative Tobit,
and is generous with her and those who help the family. And when
God delivers his daughter, he gives great praise.
2. But he is
also concerned with popular opinion and willing to be less than honest
for the sake of his daughter and his reputations.
3. His wife Edna
is something of a background figure, clearly concerned with her daughter's
future and maternally loving of Tobit. Unlike Raguel, she has
the courage to see firsthand whether Tobit survived the attack of Azmodeus.
F. The archangel Raphael is the powerful angel in disguise. He knows exactly what the plan is and how to achieve it. Nevertheless, he leaves it for Tobias to carry out the mission, only taking upon himself the task of actually going to Rages from Echtabana and recovering the deposit, a relatively minor point once the demon has been driven away.
1. The angel
serves mostly as a teacher, guiding Tobias towards his goal and teaching
him how to drive away the demon and to cure his father.
2. At the end
of the adventure, he gives wisdom advice to Tobit and Tobias, adding
the idea that the righteousness behind almsgiving is more important
than the amount. He also adds fasting to Tobit's advice for
3. When he reveals
who he is, Tobit and Tobais fall down in fear, knowing that angels are
too glorious for humans to behold.
G. The demon Azmodeus is the personification of selfishness. He is some sense "loves" Sarah, but it is a selfish, destructive love and thus the opposite of Tobias' pure love.
1. In the end,
although terrifying, the demon falls to the power of the prayer and
fidelity of Tobias and Sarah, indicating the power of God working through
even ordinary people.
2. The book presents
Raphael, not Azmodeus, in detail, for it is knowledge of the angels,
not demons, that people are meant to pursue.
H. Ahiqar is a legendary figure of the ancient far east.
1. He is faithful and generous is the midst of the faithless and power hungry court of Nineveh.
- The book cross-references
an account of his generosity with neighbors creating the goodwill that
allowed him to escape when the king believed false allegations from
Ahiqar's treacherous nephew Nadab. Ahiqar's wisdom eventually
led to his vindication. This story is one example of Tobit's
general principle that almsgiving saves one from death.
2. He is also
very helpful towards his uncle Tobit, but the irony is that he would
be now forgotten to the world if it were not for this book about Tobit.
Thus, his continuing reputation is another image of the principle that
almsgiving saves one from death.
I. In the background,
there are the kings of Assyria who rise and fall, and the faithless,
nameless neighbors of Tobit who fade into obscurity. Part of the
idea is that, without generosity and courageous worship and fidelity
to the law, all people and powers fade into history.
J. Finally, on a
lighter point, is the faithful dog, who follows Tobias and Raphael and
on their journey and returns with them.
II. Although not speaking directly of the Messiah or of an afterlife with rewards for good and punishment for evil, the book sets up these themes, as well as some of the moral teachings of Jesus.
A. Tobit does not speak of a coming Messiah, but does foresee the great and glorious new Jerusalem in which all nations will come to worship God. See Tobit 13:9-118, 14:11. He thus reflects the great prophesies of a glorious, restored Israel. See, e.g., Isaiah 56:1-8, 60:10-21; Micah 4:1-8; Zech. 8:18-23. Tobit describes this new Jerusalem in terms of a great jeweled city. The end of the Book of Revelations takes up both of these aspects, describing the new glorious Jerusalem, in which all nations will gather to glorify God. See Rev. 21:9-27.
B. Although the Book
of Tobit does not expressly deal with an afterlife, Tobit tells his
son that almsgiving will preserve one from death. See Tobit 4:10.
The angel Raphael affirms that teaching in his wisdom discourse near
the end. See Tobit 13:9. Tobit takes this advice of his
and the angel to mean that almsgiving will bring one more into God's
providence, will provide one with friends in case of need, and will
preserve one's descendants and reputation. However, as with
his assurance to Sarah that an angel will guide Tobias, see Tobit 6:22,
he is more right than he knows. Jesus will take up this theme
that generosity to those in need is key to everlasting life. See,
e.g., Matt. 6:20, 19:21-24; 25:31-46.
C. The Book of Tobit
also anticipates some of the basic moral principles of the New Testament.
For example, Tobit tells Tobias, "Do to no one what you yourself dislike,"
anticipating Jesus' statement "Do to others what you would have
them do to you. This is the law and the prophets." See
Tobit 4:15, Matt. 7:12. And, near the end, Raphael summarizes the life
of holiness in terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and distinguishes
between publicly giving glory to God and keeping a king's secret.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focuses at one point on prayer, fasting
and almsgiving, and balances doing them in secret with letting one's
good deeds show forth to give glory to God. See Matt. 5:16, 6:6-18.
D. The Book of Tobit also introduces the notion that angels guide all of us, a theme Jesus and the Letter to the Hebrews will take up. See Matt. 18:10; Heb. 1:14.