Books of the Apocrypha: Tobit

The book of Tobit is usually the first listed in the Apocrypha and tells the story of a Jewish family in the Babylonian/Assyrian captivity.  I first read it when my husband and I were dating; he described it to me as a love story and wanted to choose a portion of Tobit for one of the readings at our wedding.  When I received my copy of the new Common English Bible and was trying to decide where to read, I decided on the Apocrypha, a portion of the Bible I’m not yet very familiar with.

Books of the Apocrypha

The book of Tobit begins with an introduction of the author—his genealogy and where he was captured by the Assyrians.  Tobit then tells us about his character: “I, Tobit, was trustworthy and behaved righteously during my entire life. I would help support my relatives and others of my country who were captured and taken with me to Nineveh in the country of the Assyrians” (1:3 CEB).  Tobit talks about worshiping God at the temple in Jerusalem during his youth, even though most of his relatives had started worshiping the golden calf set up by King Jeroboam.

Tobit marries Anna and has a son named Tobias.  In Assyria, he stands up for what he believes, just as Daniel did: “I, however, avoided eating the Gentiles’ food.  Because I kept God in view with all my heart, the Most High gave me favor and good standing before Shalmaneser, and I would buy for him everything he needed.” (1:11-13).  He also continues his pious acts by giving to the poor and providing a proper burial for any Jews killed by the Assyrians.  For doing this, he is persecuted by the Assyrians and loses his possessions until a new ruler comes into power.

Despite his good works, Tobit becomes blind and gives in to despair.  While he is praying for God to take his life, a young woman named Sarah is also praying for death in far away Media.  She has been married seven times, but each time her bridegroom has been killed on their wedding night by an evil demon.  The Book of Tobit becomes the story of God working in unusual ways to answer these two prayers: “At that very moment, the prayers of both Sarah and Tobit were heard in God’s glorious presence.  Raphael was sent to heal the two of them.” (3:16-17)

Tobit remembers that he once left some money with a relative in Media.  He sends his son Tobias to collect this money, but since Tobias has never traveled that far before, he needs a companion.  A man named Raphael seems to suit this need, and so Tobias and Raphael set off for Media.  Tobit’s father gives him a long blessing, full of fatherly advice, before they leave.

Once in Media, Raphael suggests to Tobias that they stay with his relative Raguel and tells Tobias about Raguel’s daughter Sarah and her seven dead husbands.  Just as Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, it seems that Tobias is in a similar position to help Sarah.  Raphael tells Tobit, “The right to inherit her and her father’s estate is yours. The girl is sensible, courageous, and very beautiful; moreover, her father loves her and is a good man.” (6:12)

The rest, you could say, is history.  Tobias is welcomed by his relatives.  Raphael helps him overcome the demon to marry Sarah and also gives him instructions for curing his father’s blindness.  Tobias and Sarah return to Tobit with a fortune from Sarah’s father and Raphael reveals himself to them as an angel.  Tobit offers a long prayer of praise to God for all that has happened to them and gives Tobias a bit more fatherly advice before the story closes with Tobias’ obituary.

The New Jerusalem Bible sums up Tobit by saying, “It is an edifying story, in which the emphasis falls on almsgiving and duties toward the dead; true family life is shown at its best; the ideal of marriage anticipates Christian teaching.  The divine benevolence is at once revealed and hidden in the angel Raphael, the agent of God.  That this providence is with us, day by day, is the lesson of the book.”

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