This is the second story line of Tobit. It is often overlooked. It’s the same as the first story but told from the perspective of faith. It recognizes that nothing happens by chance, that God has a plan for each of us that justifies even the smallest detail, that working and living within God’s plan brings joy. This storyline echoes the words of the Psalmist who sums it up concisely.
“Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Image by Michael Gaida
By Steve Hall
The Book of Tobit is one of a few stories in the Old Testament which the Spirit has given for our instruction. Some scholars consider it to be inspired fiction. It is a delight to read and has teachings that far exceed its simplicity. There are three story lines; one is obvious, the other less so and the third I will need to explain. In today’s reading we only hear the ending. Let’s take a look at the whole
Within the story line there are three strands which are quickly interwoven as the tale progresses. The first strand opens the book, offering information on the life of Tobit. We hear that he is a Jew who is in exile as a result of the Assyrian conquest of Israel. He has prospered in spite of his exile, while still remaining true to the Law of Moses and the traditions of his people. He is revealed to be a righteous man who cares for the poor and assists his fellow exiles. His very righteousness gets him into trouble with the authorities. Because he buries those from his people who have been executed by the king—a violation of the king's decree, but a requirement of Mosaic Law—he loses his possessions and, for a time, is even imprisoned. His release from prison follows upon the death of the king; for the new king is influenced by Tobit's friend to release him. His release is soon followed by natural circumstances which cause him to become blind. After four years of living in poverty and blindness, he prays for death. "For it is better for me to die than to endure so much misery in life." He says.
The second strand of the story takes us to a distant city and a young woman named Sarah. She is an only child, and her father is a wealthy man. A jealous demon has brought about the death of seven different men, each of whom would have been her husband. As her story opens she is being unjustly reproached by one of the household maids. "You are the one," says the maid, "who kills your husbands. Look! You have already been given in marriage to seven husbands, but you do not bear the name of a single one of them." And so, at the very moment that Tobit prays for the Lord to take his life, Sarah is also praying that the Lord take hers.
At this point, the two stories begin to interweave.
Tobit recalls that he left some money with a friend at another city, and decides to send his son, Tobias, to collect it. The father gives his son instructions and a young man named Azariah is hired as both companion and guide for the journey. While traveling to Media they camp by a river where Tobias sees a large fish. Azariah quickly instructs him to catch the fish and remove its gall, heart and liver as medicines for future use. Again the journey proceeds and the two stay at the house of a kinsman, which just happens to also be the home of Sarah. Having instructed Tobias in how to use the fish liver and heart to expel the demon which has plagued Sarah, Azariah arranges the marriage of Tobias and Sarah. Tobias does as instructed and he, together with his new wife, pray for God's protection.
The family arranges a fourteen day marriage celebration. Azariah is sent on ahead to collect Tobit's funds. He is successful and returns to join in the wedding party. At the end of the celebration Tobias becomes concerned that his parents will be anxious. So, with his father-in-law's blessing he sets out with his beautiful and intelligent new wife, one half of her family's estate and the funds he was sent to collect. Upon arriving home he uses the fish gall to cure his father's blindness; and everyone lives happily ever after—except for the troublesome demon who was banished to the far desert of Egypt. Thus ends the more obvious of the three story lines.
This happened, then that. But as previously indicated, there is a secondary story line presented here. It is told in hints and suggestion, innuendo and implication. It is even sometimes written between the lines. The second story line is more obscure because the distraction of unfolding events get in our way. Even if you read the story of Tobit carefully you may not be able to connect all the dots; but it's really the same story, just told from a different point of view. This is how it might be told:
The Lord sees that Tobit is a righteous man.
The Lord guides Tobit to keep part of his estate in a distant town so that, when his righteousness leads him to cross the evil of the civil authorities, he will not remain destitute.
Soon after the unjust imprisonment of Tobit the Lord arranges for the despot to be removed from office, and for a friend of Tobit to be an advisor of the new king.
Through some unfortunate natural circumstances, Tobit loses his sight; but the Lord knows that that will not last.
God then prods Tobit's memory so that he recalls that distant bank account.
The Archangel Raphael—for that is the true and secret identity of Azariah—is sent by God to be the companion and guide for the young and inexperienced Tobias.
While on the journey, the Archangel recognizes the healing properties of the fish and instructs Tobias in what parts to keep.
It is also Raphael who prepares Tobias for what he will find at the home of his kinsmen and of the tribal law which dictates that he and Sarah should be married.
It was the Lord's intent that Tobias would marry Sarah; so, The Lord was the one who allowed the demon to remove the seven men, each of whom was previously intended as Sarah's husband.
Likewise, the Lord was the one who kept Sarah an only child thereby insuring her rights of inheritance and the bestowal of financial blessings on Tobias.
Through the Archangel, Tobias learns how to defeat the evil demon.
It is also through the journey of the Archangel that Tobit's funds are recovered.
Finally, the new bride and groom return home to Tobit and his wife. Tobit's blindness is cured. The parents celebrate their new daughter-in-law with a wedding feast.
As we understand from today’s reading, Azariah finally reveals his true identity as the Archangel Raphael and encourages them both to continue in their righteous living and to recognize the presence of God in their lives.
Everyone gives thanks and praise to God and they continue to live in the divine presence, confessing to all the wonderful works of God.
This is the second story line. It is often overlooked. It’s the same as the first story but told from the perspective of faith. It recognizes that nothing happens by chance, that God has a plan for each of us that justifies even the smallest detail, that working and living within God’s plan brings joy. This storyline echoes the words of the Psalmist who sums it up concisely.
“Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your habitation,
no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
But, as I said there are three. Three storylines.
Details and circumstances change, but the recorded story of Tobit's life, whether fictional or real, follows the pattern most of us would use if asked to give a brief summary of our lives. We have had our ups and downs, our successes and our failures, our joys and our sorrows. This is the story of your life and my life even though the details are a bit different from those in the Book of Tobit. While busy on my life journey, I saw my life from my own point of view. Looking back, I see it now in highlights, if not in details, from what God was doing. His plan was bigger than mine.
This brief book of Tobit tells the story of my life and I perfectly understand the prayer of Rag’uel, the father of Sarah.
“Blessed are you [Lord], because you have made me glad. It [i.e., my life] has not happened to me as I expected; but you have treated us according to your great mercy.” (Tobit 8:16)
If you read the story I'll bet you will come to see it as your story too if you haven't already.