1) So the words of Tobit’s hymn of praise came to an end.
Tobit died in peace at the age of a hundred and twelve and was buried with
honor in Nineveh.
the old man got a decent funeral, just as he had assured for so many others!
2) He was fifty-eight years old when he lost his
eyesight, and after he recovered it he lived in prosperity, giving alms; he
continued to fear God and give thanks to the divine Majesty.
COMMENTARY: I have just learned that “fear God” might be
a mistranslation. The Jewish words for “fear”
and “see, perceive” differ only in their vowels, and that the earliest versions
of the Torah had no vowels at all. (I’m
not writing from Catholic doctrine, here, but from something I recently learned
from a Jewish writer.)
This matters. Mind you, with any powerful being, for
instance a lion or a thunderstorm,
prudence dictates that one respect the fact that yes, these can indeed kill you
if you get in their way, and God is no different. Yet happy are those who love thunderstorms
and lions—not happy are those who fear them.
Fear does not bring happiness.
And service rendered out of fear of punishment is not the same as love.
But when we say instead “happy are
those who perceive God” we have a different message altogether. Happy are those who tune in, who see His
presence everywhere, who hear Him in the wind and see Him in the sunset, who
feel His hand upon their shoulder when they face a long, hard trudge across the
desert of all their plans withering, who know that God is in the room when a
newborn baby cries out for the first time, who know that He is also there by the
deathbed of a beloved.
So many today think that the only way to God is
through the Bible all by itself, that you cannot perceive God at all; he seems
for them this abstraction, a personified philosophy, and not a real and present
Person. But blessed are those who “see”
For us Christians, this puts a whole new context to
Jesus’s encounter with Thomas after His resurrection. To recap for those not familiar with
Christian stories, after the death of Jesus He appeared to all but one of his
disciples resurrected; Thomas had not been in the room at the time. When Thomas hears about it, he doesn’t
believe it, nor will he, he says, unless he himself puts his finger in the
crucifixion-holes in Jesus’s wrists and thrusts his hand into Jesus’s side
where the spear pierced Him to the heart.
But then Jesus shows up again, while Thomas is there, and gently bids
him to put his fingers in the holes, and his hand into His side, to confirm
that He is indeed the same man who suffered crucifixion, now risen from the
dead. And Thomas believes. And that’s when Jesus says, “You believe
because you have seen—blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.”
It’s a wonderful thing to be able to perceive
God! Yet when our faith falters, when we
can’t find Him anywhere (a state that we Catholics call the Dark Night of the
Soul, as in one waiting for the dawn to return again) we can still hold
on. Jesus called blessed those who hang
on, who remain faithful even in the heart of their doubt.
And in a sense Thomas had already done that. He had no more faith left, in the shallowest
sense of the word, and he had lost his hope, but he did not lose his love for
his friends, he came back to them. And
that love put him in a position to see God once more, to perceive Him and
recognize Him again. So those who only
know Jesus as a figure in a book, and yet try to serve Him anyway, have God’s
blessing. I just wish they wouldn’t tell
other people “You can’t see God!” just because they can’t.
3) As he was dying,
he summoned his son Tobiah and Tobiah’s seven sons, and commanded him, “Son,
take your children 4) and flee into Media, for I believe God’s
word that Nahum spoke against Nineveh. It will all happen and will overtake
Assyria and Nineveh; indeed all that was said by Israel’s prophets whom God
sent will come to pass. Not one of all their words will remain unfulfilled, but
everything will take place in the time appointed for it. So it will be safer in
Media than in Assyria or Babylon. For I know and believe that whatever God has
said will be accomplished. It will happen, and not a single word of the
prophecies will fail. As for our
kindred who dwell in the land of Israel, they will all be scattered and taken
into captivity from the good land. All the land of Israel will become a
wilderness; even Samaria and Jerusalem will be a wilderness! For a time, the
house of God will be desolate and will be burned.
Verse 3 sets apart the reference to Tobiah’s children for special
emphasis from the rest of a long statement, to show that Tobiah and Sarah have
enjoyed God’s blessing of seven children.
As to the rest, the Book of Tobit was written after Nahum’s prophecy
came true, but here it shows Tobit acting as though it awaited in the
future. The point remains, however: take
But God will again have
mercy on them and bring them back to the land of Israel. They will build the
house again, but it will not be like the first until the era when the appointed
times will be completed. Afterward
all of them will return from their captivity, and they will rebuild Jerusalem
with due honor. In it the house of God will also be rebuilt, just as the
prophets of Israel said of it.
Words of hope for exiles. “The appointed
times” is generally understood by Jews to mean the Coming of the Messiah, while
Christians see this as a reference to the Second Coming.
6) All the nations of the world will
turn and reverence God in truth; all will cast away their idols, which have
deceitfully led them into error.
Tobit’s listeners would consider this
prophecy, too, to come true during the Messianic Era. The early Christians believed this fulfilled
by the call to preach to all nations, not just Judeah.
will bless the God of the ages in righteousness. All the Israelites truly
mindful of God, who are to be saved in those days, will be gathered together
and will come to Jerusalem; in security will they dwell forever in the land of
Abraham, which will be given to them. Those who love God sincerely will
rejoice, but those who commit sin and wickedness will disappear completely from
The population has grown considerably since then. All of the Children of Israel couldn’t fit in
the Nation of Israel, and certainly not in Jerusalem. But does it have to be taken literally? What could it mean for your heart to dwell
forever in the land of your ancestors?
Couldn’t it mean to walk in their footsteps, to lead the kind of life
that they would approve?
And again we have the idea that the
wicked disappear. They perish; they do
not suffer eternal torment. (That’s me
being heterodox again.)
8 , 9)
“Now, my children, I give you this command: serve God
sincerely and do what is pleasing in his sight; you must instruct your children
to do what is right and to give alms, to be mindful of God and at all times to
bless his name sincerely and with all their strength. Now, as for you, son,
leave Nineveh; do not stay here.
might have noticed that Tobit has some missing verses, or verses where nobody
knows the cut-off point between two.
This book, being suspect, was not as carefully preserved and poured over
as the ones upon which everyone agreed.
here in verse 8 and/or 9, Tobit repeats his good advice that he gave in the
beginning: to serve God sincerely and do what God likes, to give alms, to
always be aware of Him (to “See” Him) and to bless Him. But this time Tobit ties this to leaving
Ninevah. Part of loving and serving God
is listening to Him.
has led most of his life in Ninevah. Why
does he decide now that his family can no longer do this safely, when the
prophecy has been around for awhile?
Because he is in tune with God; he knows, by now, after 112 years when a
prophecy is about to get real.
you found that, yourselves? That the
older you get, the more you can tell the difference between a real hunch and a
case of the vapors? Over time one learns
to tune in to God and His creation.
10) The day you bury your mother next to
me, do not even stay overnight within the confines of the city. For I see that
there is much wickedness in it, and much treachery is practiced in it, and
people are not ashamed. See, my son, all that Nadin did to Ahiqar, the very one who reared him. Was not
Ahiqar brought down alive into the earth? Yet God made Nadin’s disgraceful
crime rebound against him. Ahiqar came out again into the light, but Nadin went
into the everlasting darkness, for he had tried to kill Ahiqar. Because Ahiqar
had given alms he escaped from the deadly trap Nadin had set for him. But Nadin
fell into the deadly trap himself, and it destroyed him.
COMMENTARY: You will recall that Ahiqar was the kinsman
who helped Tobit with alms in the first years of his blindness. There was a folktale about a wise man famous
for his teaching stories: “The Story of Ahiqar”, AKA Ahikar, told also in
Romanian, Slavonic, Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac versons. Some have even theorized that Aesop might
have been based on Ahiqar.
this tale, Ahiqar, being childless, adopts his nephew Nadin (AKA Nadab) and
trains him to succeed him in his office (for he has served as chancellor under
both Sennacherib and Esarhaddon.) But
Nadin gets impatient for his advancement, and frames Ahiqar for treason—a capitol
offense. But Ahiqar once saved the
executioner from a similar fate, so the executioner fakes Ahiqar’s death and
gives him a chance to clear his name.
Ahiqar goes into hiding in a friend’s house, and this allusion in Tobit
hints that he might have hidden in the friend’s cellar. Eventually Nadin’s plot unravels. (The details have been lost to time, but
might have involved Ahiqar, by that time living in exile, advising the Pharaoh
in a way beneficial to Esarhaddon, casting doubt on the allegations of treason.) So Esarhaddon vindicates Ahiqar and executes
adds the twist that God opens the door for Ahiqar to gain the opportunity to
clear his name, as a reward for his almsgiving.
Generosity might not prevent evil from befalling you, but it can open a
way to escape—even as it did for Tobit, himself.
11) So, my children,
see what almsgiving does, and also what wickedness does—it kills! But now my
spirit is about to leave me.”
him on his bed, and he died; and he was buried with honor.
might seem ironic that Tobit says that evil kills on his death bed. But he understands the difference between
body-death and soul-death.
It’s also interesting that he considers almsgiving
specifically, not just virtue in general, as the opposite of wickedness. For “Love covers a multitude of sins”, as
Jesus said, and also as he spoke of a penitent prostitute, “She is forgiven
much, for she has loved much.” As St.
Paul maintained in 1 Corinthians 13, virtues without love are meaningless, and
avail us nothing.
And again the author makes clear that Tobit “was
buried with honor”. Some have said, of
those who put water out in the desert for illegal border-crossers, “What part
of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” Some
could have said the same to Tobit, for all of those illegal funerals he held by
dark of night. But God’s law comes
before human regulations; no one has the right to ban anything so basic as to
give the thirsty water or perform a funeral for the dead.
For the record, the Catholic list of the Seven Corporeal Works of Mercy are:
1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink
to the thirsty.
3. Shelter the
4. Visit the
6. Bury the
7. Give alms to
12) When Tobiah’s mother died, he buried
her next to his father. He then departed with his wife and children for Media,
where he settled in Ecbatana with his father-in-law Raguel. 13) He took
respectful care of his aging father-in-law and mother-in-law; and he buried
them at Ecbatana in Media. Then he inherited Raguel’s estate as well as that of
his father Tobit.
Fulfillment of Tobiah’s promise, earlier, to honor his in-laws. And he gets just rewards for his care.
14He died highly respected at the age of one hundred
lives even longer than Tobit did. I am
sure that the numbers 112 and 117, as well as the seven sons, all have symbolic
importance in Jewish mysticism, but I have no idea what these might be. I invite anybody with a clue to add what they
15But before he died, he saw and heard of the
destruction of Nineveh. He saw the inhabitants of the city being led captive
into Media by Cyaxares, the king
of Media. Tobiah blessed God for all that he had done against the Ninevites and
Assyrians. Before dying he rejoiced over Nineveh, and he blessed the Lord God
forever and ever.
Cyaxares of Media allied with Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, to conquer
and destroy Ninevah in 612 BC. As for
the gloating at the end, this was more than just vindictiveness. It meant more rights for the Jews in exile.