My journey through the Old Testament has brought me finally to the Book of Tobit. It has been many, many years since I have read this particular book of the Bible, and it has been a great joy to find it again. [For my Protestant readers, Tobit is a biblical novella, essentially a wisdom book encoded into a morality play. An extended parable, if you will.]
The first passage is a prayer uttered by Sarah, daughter of Raguel and Edna. She is inspired (or driven, perhaps) to say it because she has been married seven times before, but each time she was married her husband died before they could consummate their union. Her maids taunted her over this, and she fled upstairs to her room. At this point she is in utter despair, and has considered hanging herself, although she ultimately rejects that path. So instead she turns towards God:
11 At that same time, with hands outstretched toward the window, she prayed and said,
“Blessed are you, merciful God!
Blessed is your name forever;
let all your works praise you forever.
12 And now, Lord, I turn my face to you,
and raise my eyes toward you.
13 Command that I be released from the earth
and not listen to such reproaches any more.
14 You know, O Master, that I am innocent
of any defilement with a man,
15 and that I have not disgraced my name
or the name of my father in the land of my exile.
I am my father’s only child;
he has no other child to be his heir;
and he has no close relative or other kindred
for whom I should keep myself as wife.
Already seven husbands of mine have died.
Why should I still live?
But if it is not pleasing to you, O Lord, to take my life,
hear me in my disgrace.”
I found that prayer to to be deeply moving, and my heart was heavy after I read it the first time. Largely because it matches so well with many of the frustrations that I have heard from some of the single women who I have corresponded with since I started this blog. And I can attest that the sense of frustration and loneliness is not unique to women.
The second passage, also from Tobit, falls directly into the Wisdom book type of scripture. Here Tobit, an Israelite patriarch living in Nineveh, is offering advice to his son Tobias, who is departing his father’s house to carry out a task assigned by his father:
5 “Revere the Lord all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments. Live uprightly all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing; 6 for those who act in accordance with truth will prosper in all their activities. To all those who practice righteousness 7 give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. 8 If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. 9 So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. 10 For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps you from going into the Darkness. 11 Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.
14 “Do not keep over until the next day the wages of those who work for you, but pay them at once. If you serve God you will receive payment. Watch yourself, my son, in everything you do, and discipline yourself in all your conduct. 15 And what you hate, do not do to anyone. Do not drink wine to excess or let drunkenness go with you on your way. 16 Give some of your food to the hungry, and some of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus as alms, and do not let your eye begrudge your giving of alms.
Reading this passage, you can see some clear synergy between the instruction in righteous living given here and the teachings of Jesus. Central is the theme of charity, and of doing well to others. I think that this is especially true with the Gospel according to Matthew, which has numerous teachings that are very similar or expand/clarify upon this wisdom.
For example, here is our Savior talking about storing treasure:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Tobit advises us to store up real treasure, which is the Favor of God. Jesus explains that the favor of God extends beyond this life and into the next, where “neither moth nor rust consumes”, i.e., where the ravages of time have been swept away.
As for avoiding darkness and death:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Charity is part of the act of faith, and in acting upon our faith set ourselves among the sheep, the loyal flock of the Lord.
And then of course you have the Golden Rule:
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
This is a more positive application of the principle that Tobit instructs his son in. It isn’t simply about not doing wrong to others, but about doing right by them. For our Father in Heaven sees and remembers, and we shall not lose our reward.