HISTORICAL BOOKS: Tobit
Better death than life for me,
for I have endured groundless insult
and am in deepest sorrow.
Imagine falling asleep outside on a warm summer night, only to wake up blinded by bird turds that fell on your eyes. Such is the strange fate of Tobit, a faithful Jew whose observance of the Torah has put him at odds with the Assyrian king, under whose rule Israel has fallen.
Many miles away, Sarah, the daughter of one of Tobit’s relatives, is having a few problems of her own. She’s been married— and widowed— seven times, thanks to the pernicious acts of Asmodeus, the jealous demon who kills each of her bridegrooms on her wedding night. Talk about relationship problems! Pushed to the edge, poor Sarah aks God to take her life [3:11-15]. Tobit meanwhile prays to be delivered from the misery of his seemingly incurable blindness [3:2-6].
Hearing the words of these two faithful servants, God dispatches trusty archangel Raphael to bring healing. The angel, disguised as a fellow Israelite, accompanies Tobias, Tobit’s son, to the country of the Medes, where Tobit has stashed some money. Media also happens to be where Sarah and her father Raguel live, and son and angel pay them a visit en route. Upon their arrival, Raphael urges Tobias to seek Sarah’s hand in marriage— a prospect that, given the circumstances, freaks Tobias out. But Raphael arms Tobias with “demon repellent”— some fish heart and liver to burn on his wedding night. The reek sends the demon packing, and Tobias makes it through his wedding night alive.
After a few weeks at his father-in-law’s house, Tobias returns home with his new wife as well as the cash. He applies fish gall (another of Raphael’s home remedies) to Tobit’s eyes, restoring his sight. Tobit rejoices at his good fortune, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Tobit, which means “Yahweh is good,” is set in the 8th century B.C., during the time of Assyrian domination, but the book is believed to have been written between 200 B.C. and 170 B.C. It illustrates the rewards of living a life of trust in God, and it remains a moving story of God’s desire to heal our deepest wounds. It establishes Raphael as the angel of healing. Tobit is one of the seven deuterocanonical books.