Chapter Thirteen


1) Then Tobit spoke and composed a song of joyful praise; he said:

Blessed be God who lives forever,

because his kingship lasts for all ages.


COMMENTARY:  And so, obedient to the angel, Tobit composes a song.  Would that we were so free with our creativity, that we composed music, poetry, and art whenever we felt moved, without believing that we should either turn out something professional-grade or not bother!

                Jewish tradition calls praising God a “privilege” rather than a “duty”.  Think about the difference, not with guilt, but with an eye to happiness or unhappiness, and what we do or don’t consider healthy.  Do you see thinking today as different or the same in your culture or religion?



2) For he afflicts and shows mercy,

casts down to the depths of Hades,

brings up from the great abyss.

What is there that can snatch from his hand?


COMMENTARY:  Basically, in Tobit’s view, life with God is a roller-coaster, He’s in charge, and there’s not much Tobit can do about it except enjoy the ride.  Plunging makes soaring more ecstatic, and soaring suffuses the plunges with hope about what might come up around the next bend.



3) Give thanks to him, you Israelites, in the presence of the nations,

for though he has scattered you among them,

4) even there recount his greatness.

Exalt him before every living being,

because he is your Lord, and he is your God,

our Father and God forever and ever!


COMMENTARY:  Love and loyalty are not about, “What have you done for me lately?”



5) He will afflict you for your iniquities,

but will have mercy on all of you.

He will gather you from all the nations

among whom you have been scattered.


COMMENTARY:  The exiles of Tobit’s time needed this hope.  Basically, we have here the moral of the story of Tobit.



6)When you turn back to him with all your heart,

and with all your soul do what is right before him,

Then he will turn to you,

and will hide his face from you no longer.

Now consider what he has done for you,

and give thanks with full voice.

Bless the Lord of righteousness,

and exalt the King of the ages.

In the land of my captivity I give thanks,

and declare his power and majesty to a sinful nation.

According to your heart do what is right before him:

perhaps there will be pardon for you.


COMMENTARY:  Here Tobit sees the daily blessings bestowed by God as evidence of hope for mercy in the long run.



7) As for me, I exalt my God,

my soul exalts the King of heaven,

and rejoices all the days of my life.

Let all sing praise to his greatness,


COMMENTARY:  Christians believe that Jesus gave us a mandate to bear witness to Him.  Here Tobit shows what a witness is: someone who testifies as to personal experience.  “As for me...” says what he as an individual knows.  Then following with “Let us all...” is an invitation to share in what he has found gives him joy.


But we must always remember that a witness is not a lawyer, to harangue, and certainly not a judge, let alone a jailer or executioner.  We can state our experience, we can even invite others to share it, but there our mandate stops.



8) let all speak and give thanks in Jerusalem.


COMMENTARY:  Before the creation of modern Israel, Jews used to say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” as an expression of hope that they would someday return to their motherland.  Tobit, as an exile, here expresses the same hope.



9) Jerusalem, holy city,

he will afflict you for the works of your hands,

but will again pity the children of the righteous.


COMMENTARY:  Here “the work of your hands”, before translation, would have been understood by every Jew listening as “your idols”  Which is to say anything human-made that people elevate to godhood.

                I have heard Buddhists tell a story that one day a great master, in the presence of his disciples, spat upon a statue of Buddha, then looked mildly upon the shocked faces all around him.  At last one disciple managed to say, “You shouldn’t spit upon Buddha!”  To which the master answered, “Show me where Buddha is not, so that I may spit there.”

The story springs from a different religion, but it has much to tell Christians as well.  We all perceive God as present in our churches, but is He only there?  And what about when Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto me”?

I love ritual!  I really look forward to Mass every Sunday, and to sacred celebrations.  But I also remember Jesus referring back to King David in the Bible who, when starving, came right into the temple and ate the sacred showbread.  That was so taboo!  But everyone understood that ritual should give way to human need.  Our rituals we make to glorify God, and they are good.  But they do not come ahead of simple kindness, which is the form of worship that God loves the best.  If a child makes a crayon “I love you!” card for Mommy or Daddy, that is a lovely gift to them.  But if that child starts treating the card as a parent and ignores the parents standing right beside her, then she’s got a problem.

I have shocked some people by referring to Bible Idolatry.  I do love the Bible!  But when we put human interpretations and human translations and all of these layers of the work of our own hands up on an altar and worship them, we forget to listen to God’s own voice whispering to our souls.  The tribute must never surpass the reality in our regard.  The biography must not get more love than the person about whom it tells.

How do you tell when you have slipped into idolatry?  Whoever or whatever most influences your decisions is who or what you worship, regardless of what you profess with your lips.  Often these can overlap.  God, through the Bible, tells me to love my neighbor as myself, and so I can obey both simultaneously.  But if I accept an interpretation of a passage of the Bible as a license to hate, disregarding the Holy Spirit in my heart urging me to love, then I have turned a human teacher into my idol, because my soul knows better.

There is also, for Christians, a test given to us by Jesus Christ as to whether a religious teaching glorifies God or gets in the way.  He said, “By their fruit so shall ye know them.”  And the Bible lists the fruits of the Holy Spirit as Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, and Faithfulness or Steadfastness.  These are fruits, not goals; they should spring naturally from following God.  According to the Bible, if your worship fills your life with these fruits, you’re on the right path.  And any spiritual path that tempts you to be hateful or indifferent, anxious, impatient, mean, harmful, and shaky in your faith or fidelity is the wrong one.  May I never forget this guideline, for spiritual pride or any other reason!



10) Give thanks to the Lord with righteousness,

and bless the King of the ages,

so that your tabernacle may be rebuilt in you with joy.

May he gladden within you all who are captives;

may he cherish within you all who are distressed

for all generations to come.


COMMENTARY:  Tobit expresses the hope of the exiles in a different order from what we might humanly expect.  Instead of waiting for the blessing and then giving thanks for it, he recommends giving thanks and then receiving the blessing.

                I didn’t immediately grasp this as a kid.  My family taught me to give thanks for meals before eating them, but I would always sneak a taste, first.  Every so often Grandma would catch me and rebuke me.  But I thought, “How could I thank God for a meal I haven’t tasted?”  I feared it might be sort of insulting, like when a woman asks, “How do I look in this?” and her husband says, “Fine, fine,” without looking up from his book.  Later on, though, I finally got it that thanking God for blessings in advance is an act of faith.



11) A bright light will shine to the limits of the earth.

Many nations will come to you from afar,

And inhabitants of all the ends of the earth

to your holy name,

Bearing in their hands gifts for the King of heaven.

Generation after generation will offer joyful worship in you;

your name will be great forever and ever.


COMMENTARY:  Christians like to interpret this as converting people all over the world to Christianity.  But whether or not, it still works as a prophecvy, for today Jerusalem fills with pilgrims and tourists from all over the world—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Eclectic, and curious.



12) Cursed be all who despise you and revile you;

cursed be all who hate you and speak a harsh word against you;

cursed be all who destroy you

and pull down your walls,

And all who overthrow your towers

and set fire to your homes.

But blessed forever be all those who respect you.


COMMENTARY:  Okay, I don’t agree with cursing.  And I don’t think Jesus authorizes it.  But Tobit has suffered horribly from conquest and antisemitism, and has witnessed still worse suffering than his own, so I can understand his attitude.

                Looking in the Old Testament only, I place against this passage the Book of Jonah.  Most people only remember the part of the story where Jonah got swallowed up by a whale and spit out again, but it’s much more than that, even though it’s the shortest book in the Bible. 

Here’s what went down.  God told Jonah to preach repentance to Ninevah—the same city where Tobit’s residing in misery in the book we’ve been studying.  Jonah wants no part of it: Ninevah is the stronghold of his people’s enemy, committing many crimes against them.  He hates them!  He tries to flee, but God won’t let him (that’s where getting swallowed by the whale comes in—he tried to take a ship to another country, thinking he could evade God that way.)  Against his objections, he winds up in Ninevah, and so he preaches as obnoxiously as he can, “God is going to strike you all down for your sins!”

To his shock the Ninevites repent!  They all don sackcloth and ashes and bewail their crimes and beg God for mercy.  And God grants it.

And Jonah feels utterly devastated.  Not only has God spared Ninevah the punishment that Jonah thinks they richly deserve, the prophet now looks like a fraud, since no destruction rained down after all.  He flees to the desert with suicidal intent, hoping to perish in the wild.  But God causes a vine to grow and shield him from the sun, and God also provides him with food.

Then God lets the beautiful vine wither and Jonah feels heartbroken.  God then asks him if he mourns for the life of a vine, why doesn’t he mourn for all of the many living, breathing human beings in Ninevah?  Why doesn’t his heart break for them?  Renewed, inspired at last, Jonah makes a miraculous journey back from the desert, without need for any other food than what God had given him.



13) Go, then, rejoice and exult over the children of the righteous,

for they will all be gathered together

and will bless the Lord of the ages.


COMMENTARY:  Speaking to God, Tobit has faith that both God’s desire and his own will someday be fulfilled.



14)Happy are those who love you,

and happy are those who rejoice in your peace.

Happy too are all who grieve

over all your afflictions,

For they will rejoice over you

and behold all your joy forever.


COMMENTARY:  Tobit specifies a kind of joy that affliction cannot contradict, that can exist side by side with grieving, inexplicable, really, to any who haven’t experienced it: “The peace that passes understanding”.



15)  My soul, bless the Lord, the great King;


COMMENTARY:  More and more I’m learning that the original verse breaks have nothing to do with the punctuation that we later inserted in translation.  There was no punctuation, originally.  Nor do the verses necessarily end a sentence.  Rather, each verse ends according to poetry, and each stands alone as well as forming part of a whole.  Indeed, we lose whole layers in translation, for every letter meant a number and the combinations of numbers also had symbolic meaning, worthy of years of study.

                So the above phrase, which looks to our modern eyes as merely an introduction, stood alone in the mind of the author of Tobit.  Acknowledging God’s sovereignity had immense meaning all by itself, regardless of anything that it led into.  Scholars could spend hours discussing the meaning of “My”, “Soul”, “Bless”. “Lord” “Great” and “King” and what they all add up to together.  In this generation, on the other hand, we skim the words, already truncated to fit our hasty language, and then go looking for the Cliff notes.  Yet imagine the Bible in Entish!



16) for Jerusalem will be rebuilt as his house forever.

Happy too will I be if a remnant of my offspring survives

to see your glory and to give thanks to the King of heaven!

The gates of Jerusalem will be built with sapphire and emerald,

and all your walls with precious stones.

The towers of Jerusalem will be built with gold,

and their battlements with purest gold.


COMMENTARY:  The other day I read a post where a man said that he didn’t care about global climate change because nothing he could do would make any effect within his lifetime, nor would any of the changes impact him, based on his age and his location.  What a contrast with Tobit, who would be happy if even a remnant of his offspring survives to see, as he views it, God glorified in the rebuilding of Jerusalem!

                Also interesting that he looks on this as a future happiness that he could enjoy—generations after his death.  That presupposes not only an afterlife, but one in which the dead can look in on the world of the living.

                As for jewelry as architecture, I don’t believe it’s required to take this literally.  Unalloyed gold makes awfully flimsy material or towers and battlements!  It simply means that Tobit imagines the New Jerusalem as an adornment for God.

And for the record, what we so blithely translate today as “sapphire” and “emerald” actually just said, “dark blue stones” (to distinguish from “light blue stones” often translated as turquoise or aquamarines) and “green stones.  Doubtless the author did indeed mean fancier stones than your average rocks, but we’re pretty sure the “sapphires” were lapis lazuli instead, though there are other candidates as well, and the “emeralds” could have been any number of possible green crystals or semiprecious stones.

The thing is, sapphires and emeralds were pretty much unknown to the region at this point, as the mines for these didn’t exist within the boundaries of any empire that had yet to reign there, most merchants prior to the great road-building projects of Greeks and Romans did not yet go to places that couldn’t be reached by boat (and the precious stones come from the pressure and vulcanism of mountains) and the few who traveled far with laden pack animals preferred to carry lightweight goods like silk or spices rather than rocks, unless it was a survival necessity like salt.  The volcanic gems were almost unheard-of.  Just a cautionary note about overly trusting translation.



17)The streets of Jerusalem will be paved

with rubies and stones of Ophir;


COMMENTARY:  Now, the Stones of Ophir might indeed be rubies, sapphires and emeralds.  Ophir was a legendary port where rich and exotic things might wind up.  We don’t know today whether it lay in Africa or Asia, and one sixteenth century theologian even suggested Peru in the Americas.  India is a popular candidate for where Ophir might lie, and this country does indeed have access to rare volcanic gemstones.  But basically “stones of Ophir” means, “Any gemstones unfamiliar to me.”

                The point?  This song suggests that strange and exotic things from strange and exotic places will beautify even the humblest parts of the New Jerusalem.



18) The gates of Jerusalem will sing hymns of gladness,

and all its houses will cry out, Hallelujah!

Blessed be the God of Israel for all ages!

For in you the blessed will bless the holy name forever and ever.


COMMENTARY:  As the song begins in praise, so it ends.

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