starts on 2 because last week ended on Tobit 6:1, which just said that Tobiah’s
mother stopped crying, after Tobit reassured her that an angel would watch over
2) When the young man left home,
accompanied by the angel, the dog followed Tobiah out and went along with them.
Both journeyed along, and when the first night came, they camped beside the
COMMENTARY: This shows some of the foreign influence that
made this book suspect. Prior to the
captivity Jews kept working dogs as herd animals, but did not keep them around
the home as pets, considering them unclean.
Tobit had an office job, and his wife wove; neither of them herded for
their livelihood, yet here they are with a family dog.
Some might consider this a
corruption, others an improvement. A
third way of looking at it might be a weeding-process: the captivity forced
people to examine which rules mattered most to them. Tobit apparently felt that so long as he
didn’t eat the dog, no harm could come of keeping a loyal protector around.
For the record, their
route would actually take them nowhere near the Tigris, which lies west of
Ninevah. But the story has symbolic
rather than historic importance. It required a body of water for a fish to appear.
When the young man went down to wash his feet in the Tigris River, a
large fish leaped out of the water and tried to swallow his foot. He shouted in
But the angel said to the young man, “Grab the fish
and hold on to it!” He seized the fish and hauled it up on dry land. 5) The angel then
told him: “Slit the fish open and take out its gall, heart, and liver, and keep
them with you; but throw away the other entrails. Its gall, heart, and liver
are useful for medicine.” 6) After
Tobiah had slit the fish open, he put aside the gall, heart, and liver. Then he
roasted and ate part of the fish; the rest he salted and kept for the journey. Afterward
the two of them traveled on together till they drew near to Media.
This brings up an important concept:
That knowledge can be a gift of God.
More on that later.
A Christian could see in this fish a symbol of
Christ, as the early Christians used a stylized fish to signal to each other
meeting-places and other ways of connecting.
Each letter of the Greek word for fish, “ichthys” (I being also used for
J and both ch and th each being single letters) letter) could stand for “Jesus
Christos Theou Yios Soter” or Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” (For more about this symbol, Wikipedia has an
excellent article, starting with its Pagan roots, detailing the role of Fish in
the Gospel, and continuing on to later church usage.)
If we take the fish as a representation of
Jesus, a Christian can see how Jesus can seize us in a sudden, alarming way,
but that what initially frightens us can turn out to be a great blessing.
7) Then the young man
asked the angel this question: “Brother Azariah, what medicine is in the fish’s
heart, liver, and gall?” 8)
He answered: “As for the fish’s heart and liver, if
you burn them to make smoke in the presence of a man or a woman who is
afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, any affliction will flee and never return.
COMMENTARY: A smudge, in other words. Smudges aren’t just used by Native Americans.
ancients considered the heart and liver the locations of life, love, thought,
soul, everything that makes us who we are.
Catholics, seeing the fish as prefiguring Christ, can see this as
symbolic of offering up Jesus Himself as a holocaust—the sacrifice that saves
us from the powers of evil.
9) As for the gall, if you apply it to the eyes of one
who has white scales, blowing right into them, sight will be restored.”
This might have actually worked if applied immediately after the bird-droppings
hit Tobit’s eyes, because the alkaline gall would have neutralized the acid,
preventing corneal injury. It also might
have some usefulness in dissolving cataracts.
It would probably take a miracle, however, to work years later.
This makes a deeper point, however. Doctors in the ancient world did use fish
gall for some kinds of blindness, though not all doctors knew about it. The important point, often missed, is that
medicine and, by extension science, comes from God. The fact that we have intelligence capable of
discovering and developing cures and other solutions for our problems is God’s
gift, and God can work through non-miraculous as well as miraculous means. When we study science we explore how the
Creator designed the universe.
One could also make a point about the
bitterness of gall. Often our bitterest
experiences can heal us of spiritual blindness, teaching us empathy, humility
10) When they had
entered Media and were getting close to Ecbatana,11) Raphael said to
the young man, “Brother Tobiah!” He answered, “Here I am!” Raphael continued,
“Tonight we must stay in the house of Raguel, who is a relative of yours. He
has a beautiful daughter named Sarah, 12) but no other son
or daughter apart from Sarah. Since you are Sarah’s closest relative, you more
than any other have the right to marry her. Moreover, her father’s estate is
rightfully yours to inherit. The girl is wise, courageous, and very beautiful;
and her father is a good man who loves her dearly.”
And so the set-up, the match made in Heaven. I like that Raphael uses wisdom and courage
as points of persuasion. Tobiah’s not
looking for a chattel, a silly little dependent to guide and protect, he’s
looking for a partner whose advice he could respect and whose courage he could
count on in hard times.
I still meet men today, many of them devout, who believe that some natural
order dictates that men must be braver, smarter, and better providers than
their wives, who have no role except to cook, keep house, and bear and raise
children. They think that families have
always operated this way since time immemorial and anything else must be a
modern fancy that flies against the tried and true.
Not so! When we go back to genuinely
ancient times, we can see the silly little housewife as a luxury that few could
afford. Certainly such a creature
couldn’t have survived the exile that Tobit and his people had to face, or for
that matter the Exodus. Nor could they
have survived, before then, the hard realities of low-tech or pre-tech
The ideal wife has always had to be wise and
courageous. Anything less would make her
He continued: “You have the right to marry her. So listen to me,
brother. Tonight I will speak to her father about the girl so that we may take
her as your bride. When we return from Rages, we will have the wedding feast
for her. I know that Raguel cannot keep her from you or promise her to another
man; he would incur the death penalty as decreed in the Book of Moses. For he knows that you, more than anyone else, have
the right to marry his daughter. Now listen to me, brother; we will speak about
this girl tonight, so that we may arrange her engagement to you. Then when we
return from Rages, we will take her and bring her back with us to your house.”
Although Numbers 36:6-8 prescribes that a woman with no brothers should
marry within her own tribe so as to keep ancestral property within the family,
it does not impose a death penalty, nor does it require endogamy for a woman
with brothers. But the exile had
scattered Jews away from their prized educational system (they were the only
people in the ancient world to require literacy for a boy to qualify as a man)
and they had lost their scriptures, which they would only rediscover after
their return and the restoration of the temple.
So they clung to whatever they had memorized and tried their best to
live by whatever portions they knew.
Some discrepancies crept in along the way, later corrected with the
uncovering of a Torah in the temple ruins.
14) But Tobiah said to
Raphael in reply, “Brother Azariah, I have heard that she has already been
given in marriage to seven husbands, and that they have died in the bridal
chamber. On the very night they approached her, they would die. I have also
heard it said that it was a demon that killed them. 15) So now I too am
afraid of this demon, because it is in love with her and does not harm her; but
it kills any man who wishes to come close to her. I am my father’s only child.
If I should die, I would bring the life of my father and mother down to their
grave in sorrow over me; they have no other son to bury them!”
No wonder Sarah felt suicidal!
Rumors of her plight have spread beyond her own city and state clear to
Ninevah. And that meant a lot more in
those days, considering the poor cross-country infrastructure. The demon had made her notorious!
16) Raphael said to him: “Do you not
remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own
ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon.
Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife!
COMMENTARY: Angel won’t take no for an answer. Those of us who believe in a divine plan
often nevertheless argue against where it seems to head, giving our angels all
kinds of hard work to wrestle us onto our best path.
When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the
fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense,
and an odor will be given off. 18)
As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and
never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse
with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be
granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world
existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you
will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not
When Tobiah heard
Raphael’s words that she was his kinswoman, and of the lineage of his ancestral
house, he loved her deeply, and his heart was truly set on her.
I can’t help but think that this would really
kill the romantic mood! But Asmodius,
remember, is the Enemy of Marriage, and one of the most destructive forces
against marriage is the notion that conditions must be perfect for romance at
all times, or it’s over. A good, strong
marriage can take in stride the stinky moments, the messy moments, the
unromantic moments. The spirit of
Asmodius can’t stand that kind of real, powerful, lifelong love that can grow
all the more tender when a spouse gets sick all over the bed, or undergoes
disfigurement, or suffers annoying, human moods.
And the second part complements this.
Prayer can anchor the lasting kind of love—especially prayer to bless
the one beloved. Raphael asks Tobiah to
anchor his physical passion on the spiritual love and mercy of his
Creator. Notice that this book does not
portray the physical and the spiritual as conflicting, but rather in
partnership. Here, in this marriage,
prayer protects sexuality, and sexuality shows faith in prayer.