Chapter Four


1)That same day Tobit remembered the money he had deposited in trust with Gabael at Rages in Media. 2) He thought to himself, “Now that I have asked for death, why should I not call my son Tobiah and let him know about this money before I die?”


COMMENTARY:  Tobit has absolute confidence that God will answer his prayer.  But, like pretty much all of us at some time or another, he thinks that God couldn’t possibly come up with any better idea than his own, so he assumes that this means he’s going to die soon, just like he asked, and so he prepares his son for life without him.



3So he called his son Tobiah; and when he came, he said to him: “Son, when I die, give me a decent burial. Honor your mother, and do not abandon her as long as she lives. Do whatever pleases her, and do not grieve her spirit in any way. 4Remember, son, how she went through many dangers for you while you were in her womb. When she dies, bury her in the same grave with me.

COMMENTARY:  He starts, naturally, with funeral arrangements, but also puts in words of respect and love for his wife.  He points out her valor in the many dangers she faced during her pregnancy.  I don’t know whether this means that she was pregnant during the journey of exile or whether Tobit refers to the dangers of pregnancy itself, in those days before medicine as we know it today, but either way he sets Hannah up as someone deserving.
        We see a lot of chauvinism among many groups who extensively study the Bible but with passages like this removed.  The rest of the Bible does say, “Honor your father and your mother”, but often as though “mother” got added as an afterthought, an adjuvant to “father”.  Here Tobit honors his wife in her own right.  It’s a small bit, but important.



5)“Through all your days, son, keep the Lord in mind, and do not seek to sin or to transgress the commandments. Perform righteous deeds all the days of your life, and do not tread the paths of wickedness.  6) For those who act with fidelity, all who practice righteousness, will prosper in their affairs.*


COMMENTARY:  One can’t help but think, at this point, “How’s that working for ya’ Tobit?”  But the very context of this coming from a man who lost his eyesight the same night that he risked his life doing a righteous deed, a man now praying for death, shows a deeper understanding of what “prosperity” can mean, in a deeper faith.  No matter how much he has lost, Tobit still prospers in his relationship with God, and that is no small thing.  It’s hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it, but that love between worshiper and deity can feel more real than anything else going on in one’s life, ESPECIALLY during hardships, and it satisfies something deep in one’s soul even while one prays for death.


I have prayed for death.  Sometimes the chronic pain and fatigue just wear me down.  I feel as useless as Tobit feels, adding humiliation on top of the physical suffering, and I look forward to release.  And yet, in contradiction to all of that, I still feel incredibly lucky and blessed.  Like Tobit I have love in my life, a spouse who will not abandon me no matter what.  Like Tobit I have faith in something better after I die.  Like Tobit, while I’m here I at least have meaningful work through words, saying whatever helpful thing I can find to offer.  And like Tobit, right here, right now, I feel the joy of God’s love, greater than the pain, greater than my body, greater than my shortcomings, greater than anything as light is greater than any shadow it disperses.  I still have shadows around the edges, and wouldn’t mind leaving them behind, but I also have that light, and nothing in Heaven, Earth, or Hell can take it away from me.


7) “Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, so that God’s face will not be turned away from you. 8) Give in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, do not be afraid to give alms even of that little. 9) You will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. 10) For almsgiving delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness. 11) Almsgiving is a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who practice it.


COMMENTARY:  Again with the almsgiving.  Tobit can never seem to emphasize this enough.  And here he foreshadow’s Jesus’s appreciation of the widow who gave two mites (two of the smallest coins in Roman money) that even if you can only give a tiny bit, it counts. 

         “Do not be afraid to give alms even of that little.”  When we fear that giving even a tiny bit will impoverish us, doesn’t that show lack of faith?  It took courage for Tobit to bury the dead in a land where that was illegal, but it can also take courage to give when we feel poor, ourselves.  Somebody once pointed out, “When have you ever heard of anybody actually becoming impoverished from giving?”  The closest I can come up with is from the autobiography of a Yaqui man, as recorded by another, where he had a store and went out of business from giving food away to the starving.  But—important point—he himself lived to a ripe old age even without the business.  He never lacked for friends to help him out, even as he’d helped them out.

         And now we get to how almsgiving fends off the Darkness.  That’s the kind of prosperity that Tobit’s talking about.  Tobit knows literal, physical darkness in his blindness, but he experiences a light beyond it.  Real prosperity is security in God’s love.

         Finally, we come to a post-exilic development in theology—if you cannot offer sacrifice at the Temple, not for any political reason, but for reasons truly out of your control, you have to discover something else.  And Tobit has discovered that whatsoever he gives to “the least of these” he gives to God.  Again, we have foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s teachings, the fertile soil, in fact, from which those teachings sprang.  And we also see why Tobit gives it so much emphasis.  The Old Testament praised generosity before this, but Tobit has made it the central pillar of his life, elevating it from a nice thing to do to a sacred offering.

         This matters from the viewpoint of Catholic thought.  Pope Francis declared that any church that does not do charitable work ought to pay taxes, because it’s not doing its job as a church.  He didn’t come up with this out of whole cloth, but from scriptures like Tobit.  A mission without charity is no mission at all—the Good News only makes sense in the context of an actual, physical expression of love.

         Because, for the Catholic, Jesus sacrificing Himself on the Cross is not based solely on an ancient history of blood sacrifices, but also on the post-exilic context of generosity being in itself an offering.  Jesus, stripped even of the clothes on his back, even of some of his skin, gives the last thing that he has—his life—out of charity to us.  If we are to live our lives in imitation of Him, we must show generosity, too.  Even if we can only give two pennies.



“Be on your guard, son, against every kind of fornication, and above all, marry a woman of your own ancestral family. Do not marry a foreign woman, one who is not of your father’s tribe, because we are descendants of the prophets, who were the first to speak the truth. Noah prophesied first, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our ancestors from the beginning of time. Son, remember that all of them took wives from among their own kindred and were blessed in their children, and that their posterity would inherit the land. 13Therefore, son, love your kindred. Do not act arrogantly toward any of them, the sons and daughters of your people, by refusing to take a wife for yourself from among them. For in arrogance there is ruin and great instability. In idleness there is loss and dire poverty, for idleness is the mother of famine.


COMMENTARY:  This overlooks that Moses took an African wife, from what we now call Ethiopia, and when his sister Miriam objected to him marrying not just outside of his tribe but outside of his nation and outside of his race, God punished her by turning her into a snow-white leper till she could get over her preference for white sisters-in-law.  (God soon healed her, at Moses’s request, the point having been made.)

         However, in addition to the exiled Jews trying to hold onto their culture at this time, there is also a legal twist.  Every fifty years came the year of Jubilee, which, among other changes, meant that everybody got their original tribal lands back.  It made it easier to keep track of if people married within their own tribes.  By urging Tobiah to marry a woman of his own tribe, Tobit shows faith that the exiled Jews will someday have their ancestral lands again.

         (Again, I don’t advocate this attitude now, being myself multiracial.  But I want to give the context back then.)

         That Tobit calls it arrogant to marry outside one’s own tribe reflects the injury done to colonized people, that they feel ashamed of their own and think it a mark of distinction to “marry up” with the conquerors.  The Jews of this time, as many conquered folk before and after them, felt inferior.

         And he couples arrogance with idleness.  When you start to think of yourself as better than others is when you start to get ideas about work being beneath you—especially in those days when the wealthy bought slaves to work in their stead, and when many of the exiles were slaves, themselves.  But no one idle prospers, rich or poor.  Trust fund babies, if they don’t find meaningful volunteer work to do, in some form or another, self-destruct over time.  The same can be said on long-term welfare recipients (many of whom do perform volunteer work.  As one dear to me said, if she was going to be paid to be a mother, she felt she owed society every kind of child-related volunteering that she could offer.  She made a big difference in the school that her boys attended, as well as every other activity for children in town.  Since she also took care of her elderly parents, she did a lot of volunteering for programs for the elderly as well.  And she volunteered at the VA just because.  Taxpayers probably got more dollar-value out of her being on welfare than they paid into the system.)  And the same has proven true for people trapped in forced idleness in refugee camps (where, in some countries, working can be a crime) and it’s been long observed that retirees who don’t find something meaningful to do die within a few years of their retirement.  There are many kinds of famine, and a famine of meaning can kill you just as surely as a famine of food.



14)“Do not keep with you overnight the wages of those who have worked for you, but pay them at once. If you serve God thus, you will receive your reward. Be on your guard, son, in everything you do; be wise in all that you say and discipline yourself in all your conduct.


COMMENTARY:  And why would somebody keep wages overnight that they could pay on the spot?  Because they can.  To show off who’s in power.  Tobit considers this a failure in self-discipline.  Giving in to bullying power-displays is, in fact, a sign of weakness.  He tells his son not to do everything that he could get away with, at the expense of others, but only what is fair.

         What a different business-model from what we see today!


15) Do to no one what you yourself hate. Do not drink wine till you become drunk or let drunkenness accompany you on your way.

COMMENTARY:  Another version of the Golden Rule.  Interesting, though, that Tobit pairs it with an admonition against drunkenness, because people’s best intentions go out the window with a few too many.  “In vino veritas” only applies to the fact that drunk people have a hard time not accidentally revealing too much of themselves, but the angry drunkard doesn’t say what he actually believes, he says what he thinks will most hurt, and is often horrified later when his words are repeated to him, at how he threw his most cherished values out the window.  In drunkenness we do what we ourselves hate.



16) “Give to the hungry some of your food, and to the naked some of your clothing. Whatever you have left over, give away as alms; and do not let your eye begrudge the alms that you give.


COMMENTARY:  Tobit just can’t emphasize generosity enough.  As for that last bit, though, “do not let your eye begrudge the alms that you give”—isn’t that typical of us, that we will eye what we give away and think, “Oh, what am I doing?  I want that back!”  So Tobit recommends not just generosity in acts, but also in attitude.  Ideally, we should think about the happiness that our gift will cause, and let that make us happy, instead of regretting or even resenting our giving.
        Some time ago I wrote about the difference between gratitude and guiltitude.  In true gratitude you feel happy about what you received, and happy about the person who gave it to you, who is happy that you have it, and you feel blessed and pleased, and so does the other person.  The other person is too pleasurably focused on you and your delight to even think about herself.  Gratitude makes the world a blissful place: the more you cultivate it, the more reasons you see to rejoice, everywhere you look.

         Guiltitude, in contrast, is miserable all around.  The giver resentfully demands “gratitude”, which can never be commanded without poisoning it.  The recipient duly hangs her head, ashamed to receive what the other person takes pains to imply is an undeserved generosity costing the giver way too much in one way or another, “So you’d better appreciate it!”  What they really say is, “Don’t enjoy it, you feckless worm, because I sure didn’t enjoy giving it to you!”  So, in this scenario, nobody benefits by the transaction—not the resentful giver, nor the shamed and secretly resentful receiver.  You’ve heard the saying, “It’s the thought that counts”, about people giving a small gift with great love, but it works the other way, too.  1 Corinthians 13:3 applies:  “If I give all that I own to the poor, and hand over my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

         So why do we, all too often, teach guiltitude in Church?  You’d think that Jesus, more than anyone, would be above guiltitude, but not all preachers and priests seem to understand that.  We act as though Jesus begrudged His sacrifices, that instead of the cross removing guilt we ought to feel guilty about the cross itself!  How many openly preach so hard on the unworthiness of humanity for salvation that Jesus comes across like a madman to go through so much for such disgusting creatures—what a perversion of the generosity of God!  What if it really means, “Jesus loves you this much!  He finds you lovable!”



17) Pour out your wine and your bread on the grave of the righteous, but do not share them with sinners.


COMMENTARY:  This refers to giving “the bread of consolation” to mourners.  Like other passages in the Old Testament, about loving your friends and hating your enemies, it shows an early stage in our spiritual evolution, but Jesus upgrades His expectations, to require a stricter generosity than this.  We are to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, judge not lest we be judged, and remember that we are ALL sinners.


18) “Seek counsel from every wise person, and do not think lightly of any useful advice.


COMMENTARY:  Never stop learning.  Never assume that you already know it all.  Never be too proud to ask questions and listen to the answers.



 19 At all times bless the Lord, your God, and ask him that all your paths may be straight and all your endeavors and plans may prosper. For no other nation possesses good counsel, but it is the Lord who gives all good things. Whomever the Lord chooses to raise is raised; and whomever the Lord chooses to cast down is cast down to the recesses of Hades. So now, son, keep in mind these my commandments, and never let them be erased from your heart.

COMMENTARY:  A conquered people often discard, by degrees, their old ways, and look to “other nations” for wisdom.  Disaster soon follows.  Often the soul-sickness takes the form of substance abuse, and this holds true around the world, from Irishmen to Australian Aborigines.  Add on top of this the Judeo-Christian belief that the God of Israel is the one true God and you have a strong argument for not looking elsewhere for your guidance.  (Most Jews believe that people of any nation can enjoy the rewards of righteousness in the afterlife, that that much is not exclusive, but this does not contradict a belief in having the real God.)

         The second part shows Tobit’s shift in understanding about the “prosperity” of those who do good.  God’s choosing to raise some up and cast others down has moved from this life to the next.  To understand what he means I decided to look into the Jewish concepts of the afterlife.  I found out that these concepts had seen only the most rudimentary development at the time of the Torah and still are not set in stone.  In Tobit’s day they had no clear word for the afterlife, and “The Grave” didn’t quite cover what Tobit was trying to say, so he borrowed the Greek concept of Hades.  They have since developed a vocabulary for this, however.
    Judaism leaves the question of what happens after death open to individual speculation.  You are not supposed to decide your actions out of desire for reward or fear of punishment, but out of desire to do what is right.  This approach makes the issue less pressing than it might have seemed otherwise.

         But theories did later abound.  The Sadducee opinion that there is no afterlife has not survived through the ages; most Jews believe in something, and that how you live matters as to whether you will prosper or not after you die, but they don’t believe in the same absolute Heaven/Hell dichotomy that most Christians do.  What most Jews believe in bears a closer resemblance to the Catholic concept of Purgatory.  When Catholics say that they base Purgatory on “tradition” rather than the Bible, in this case at least they reach back to pre-Christian Jewish tradition.
        Some Jews, of Tobit's time and now, say that you’ve got a maximum of twelve months to work out your sins.  Some teach that every sin in your life becomes a demon, or a fire, of your own making, to torment you during that period.  If you haven’t worked out all of your sins in a year, some say that you will cease to exist, and some say that you cannot cease to exist, but you will spend eternity in remorse.  Others say that ideally, if you can finish confronting your sins within the twelve-month period, you enjoy the privilege of joining your ancestors in eternal bliss (as in Jesus’s account of Lazarus being embraced “in the bosom of Abraham”) but if you can’t get your act together in a year, either your sins burn you up and you cease to exist, or you spend eternity cut off from your people—a terrifying fate especially for those suffering exile already on Earth.  Many Jews believe that all of the righteous dead will be resurrected in the Messianic era, while the wicked stay dead.  Some, especially among the Chasidic Jews, believe that they will be resurrected by way of reincarnation.  Some survivors of the Holocaust have gone searching for reincarnated loved ones lost in concentration camps, and among these some believe that they have indeed found them.
        I discovered a curious thing while researching this.  (And at this point I have to say that what follows goes against Catholic doctrine, but I’m not going to hush it up because of that.  But neither will I claim that it’s Catholic doctrine when it’s not.)  The adjective that Jesus used for the “eternal” fires of Hell,
aionios, does not mean that the process lasts forever, but that the result o that process becomes permanent--ash, which is consistent with Malachi 4:1 and 3:  "For behold the day is coming burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble.  And the day that is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord o hosts, that shall leave them neither root nor shall trample the wicked for they shall be ashes under the soles of  your feet.

    On the other hand, shamans all over the world, from different cultures, tell of a place where some dark souls get trapped forever, or else forever banish themselves.  These shamans, most of them not Christian, say that they have visited this place in visions.  If we go there, we send ourselves. 


20) “Now, I must tell you, son, that I have deposited in trust ten talents of silver with Gabael, the son of Gabri, at Rages in Media. 21) Do not fear, son, that we have lived in poverty. You will have great wealth, if you fear God, avoid all sin, and do what is good before the Lord your God.”


COMMENTARY:  So Tobit does not expect to live long enough to reclaim his silver, but hopes that his son will have a chance to gain access to it after he dies.  He hopes that a life lived virtuously will open up an opportunity for Tobiah.

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