Today’s passages, like those of last week, are mostly drawn from the Book of Tobit. Readers should be able to pick up a theme running throughout the passages selected for today. The first is part of the exhortation given by Tobit to his son Tobias before he leaves for Media, the same instruction that I quoted from last week.
12 “Beware, my son, of every kind of fornication. First of all, marry a woman from among the descendants of your ancestors; do not marry a foreign woman, who is not of your father’s tribe; for we are the descendants of the prophets. Remember, my son, that Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our ancestors of old, all took wives from among their kindred. They were blessed in their children, and their posterity will inherit the land. 13 So now, my son, love your kindred, and in your heart do not disdain your kindred, the sons and daughters of your people, by refusing to take a wife for yourself from among them. For in pride there is ruin and great confusion. And in idleness there is loss and dire poverty, because idleness is the mother of famine.
Two things caught my eye here. The first is the clear command to avoid fornication, or otherwise translated, impurity or sexual immorality. This is significant given this is an Old Testament book, where such commands are less clear than they are in the New Testament. The second bit that I found interesting was the exhortation to marry from among your kindred. I don’t know about you, but when I first read that my thoughts were immediately drawn to those “Christian” women who ignore the men at church and go “missionary dating” instead. In the past it might have been men who refused to marry from among their kindred, but it definitely seems to be the case now that a lot of supposed Christian women won’t marry their brothers of faith. This is, correctly I think, identified as the product of pride in this passage, which matches up with Elspeth’s recent assessment of the matter.
The next passage takes place when Tobias, accompanied by the disguised Archangel Raphael, nears their destination:
10 When he entered Media and already was approaching Ecbatana, 11 Raphael said to the young man, “Brother Tobias.” “Here I am,” he answered. Then Raphael said to him, “We must stay this night in the home of Raguel. He is your relative, and he has a daughter named Sarah. 12 He has no male heir and no daughter except Sarah only, and you, as next of kin to her, have before all other men a hereditary claim on her. Also it is right for you to inherit her father’s possessions. Moreover, the girl is sensible, brave, and very beautiful, and her father is a good man.”
I included the first couple of verses to provide context, but it is really the last one that holds my interests. Specifically the last sentence. Raphael, having already explained why family duty and property reasons indicate that Tobias should marry, then provides four qualifiers for why Sarah would make a good wife:
- Has a good father
The word sensible or wise is perhaps the most common positive attribute given as a quality of a good wife. Sound judgement is another excellent descriptor of this quality. After her religious faith, no other attribute of a woman is as important as this. In fact, Proverbs has a humorous take on just how important this is: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without good sense.” Considering that a wife is going to be a man’s First Officer in the household, and thus responsible for it while he is out and managing much of it even when he is in, sound judgment is essential for her to carry out that role.
Bravery may seem at first to be an usual quality to laud in a potential wife, as it is often considered a masculine virtue. But bravery and faith are intertwined- you cannot have real, lasting faith without bravery. In addition, much of the female resistance to submission to a husband is founded in fear. This makes courage an important antidote for women to fight this rebellious part of their nature.
There are some who say that beauty is not an attribute that a devout Christian man should care about, but that is not at all what scripture indicates, either here or elsewhere. Rather, men are warned that beauty alone should never be a guiding factor in deciding upon a wife. At best it is vain or fleeting, and at worst can pose a dire peril. Beauty is something that a man looking to marry can and should value, but that desire should be tempered with the wisdom to recognize other attributes as more important first.
Finally, Raphael makes note of the fact that Sarah’s father is a good man. This is, of course, not a description of her. At least not directly. But a wise reader would understand that Raphael is pointing out a fundamental truth: you can gauge the character of children by their parents, especially the father. A woman with a good father, and even better, a woman with a good relationship with her good father, is one that is likely to be of strong character and worth herself.
All of this together adds up to Sarah being exactly the kind of woman that a man who is a devout follower of the Lord should seek after to take as his wife.
This brings us to the last passage. Tobias and Sarah have just married, and have gone to her room, which is to be the bridal chamber. Tobias, per the instructions of Raphael, has just burned the heart and liver of a fish in order to ward off the demon that has killed off all Sarah’s previous husbands. The only set of instructions left for him to accomplish is to pray:
4 When the parents had gone out and shut the door of the room, Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah,“Sister, get up, and let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety.” 5 So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias began by saying,
“Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
and blessed is your name in all generations forever.
Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever.
6 You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve
as a helper and support.
From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone;
let us make a helper for him like himself.’
7 I now am taking this kinswoman of mine,
not because of lust,
but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
and that we may grow old together.”
8 And they both said, “Amen, Amen.” 9 Then they went to sleep for the night.
I will be honest with you, this prayer moved me when I first read it. There is an earnestness and thankfulness present that cannot help but inspire. The part at the end which mentions growing old together was especially touching- this is something that you rarely hear these days as far as marriage is concerned. It matches well with the, in my view, important lines about: “I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity.” This part of the prayer highlights the difference between relations between a husband and wife, and the sin of fornication. Fornication is born purely of lust- it is a desire to take only, and to gratify the self without concern for the other. In this it is inherently disordered. But Tobias is taking his wife, i.e. consummating their union, with sincerity- that is, with fidelity. His actions (and her actions) are born of commitment and loyalty to one another. Thus the conjugal act is not about taking but instead about giving, and is therefore unitive, bringing them together as “One Flesh.” There is more to this prayer, so much more, but what I have already covered demonstrates the depth and beauty and sacredness of marriage and the joining of husband and wife together.
[One of my Lenten password protected posts will act as a companion post to this one. I expect to have it up an hour or two after this post is uploaded.]