Tobit

Chapter 6


 
Wisdom 6:

1) Hear, therefore, kings, and understand;

learn, you magistrates of the earth’s expanse!

2) Give ear, you who have power over multitudes

and lord it over throngs of peoples!


COMMENTARY:  Remember how the first chapter started by addressing judges and urging them to rule wisely?  We’ve come full circle here, back to addressing leaders, except the tone has changed—more grand and yet more ominous.

 

 

3) Because authority was given you by the Lord

and sovereignty by the Most High,

who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!


COMMENTARY:  We hear a lot these days about God giving authority to leaders, from a faction who didn’t say peep about it when someone not from their party held office, some people even going so far as to claim that saying anything against the current administration will incur the wrath of God.  This ignores the fact that practically every prophet in the Bible called out their leaders on every infraction, on orders from the same God who let said leaders hold office in the first place.  Because the flip side of receiving power is being held to a higher standard of behavior.

 

 

4) Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you did not judge rightly,

and did not keep the law,

nor walk according to the will of God,


COMMENTARY:  The law of God, as brought down by Moses.

 

 

5) Terribly and swiftly he shall come against you,

because severe judgment awaits the exalted—


COMMENTARY:  The down side of power that nobody likes to think about when they’ve got their eyes fixed on glory.

 

 

6) For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy

but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.


COMMENTARY:  God has compassion for those who have less power over their fate, and who face the temptations of desperation.  But how can He give lenience to those who boast of having their way in everything they want?  How, then, can they say they felt trapped?  And how much more patiently would he regard those who sin out of want or crushing misery, than he would on those who sin for their own self-indulgence, not driven to it but seeking it as an entertainment?  People who sin because they can get away with it, flaunting their impunity before men, forget that they have no impunity before God.

 

 

7) For the Ruler of all shows no partiality,

nor does he fear greatness,

Because he himself made the great as well as the small,

and provides for all alike;

8) but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends.


COMMENTARY:  One might think that verse 8 contradicts verse 7, that God does show partiality to the lowly, but in fact He acts in justice—because justice examines and allows for mitigating circumstances.  Those with fewer mitigating circumstances honestly deserve a harsher fate for their transgressions.

As for providing for all alike, my first thought was, “If that’s true, then how come we even have “rich” and “poor” people?  Yet examining doubts, instead of trying to suppress them, leads to greater faith and understanding.  In this case it leads to the thought, “God indeed provides for all alike—in resources.  It is human beings who mess it up for each other.  “God rains on the just and the unjust” alike, but that doesn’t stop the strong from stealing water from those more vulnerable.  God didn’t create poverty—we did.

 

 

9) To you, therefore, O princes, are my words addressed

that you may learn wisdom and that you may not fall away.


COMMENTARY:  Anyone might be princely sometime in their lives.  For don’t we all, however briefly, wield power now and then?  The power to wound with our words or to heal with them, the power to bully or protect, the power to avenge or forgive, to curse or bless.  We all have need of wisdom in how we use our talents and opportunities.

 

 

10) For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed will be found holy,

and those learned in them will have ready a response.


COMMENTARY:  Response to those who judge our fate, that is, up to and especially God.

 

 

11) Desire therefore my words;

long for them and you will be instructed.


COMMENTARY:  It is not enough to grudgingly yield to wisdom as a last resort, when all else fails.  One must long for her, seek her out—woo her.

 

 

12) Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom,

and she is readily perceived by those who love her,

and found by those who seek her.


COMMENTARY:  Unlike much else that we might desire, wisdom doesn’t wither with time.  And of course you find whatever you look for, and often miss what you don’t.

 

 

13) She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her;


COMMENTARY:  Because the very act of seeking wisdom, of realizing how desirable it is, is the first stage in developing it.

 

 

14) one who watches for her at dawn will not be disappointed,

for she will be found sitting at the gate.


COMMENTARY:  Elders who could no longer work sat by the gates of cities, talking among themselves, ripe with experience.  The most inquisitive children also came to the gates to see the coming and going of merchants and novelties.  Inevitably the children wound up asking questions of the elders and of travelers, and learning a great deal.  Possibly from this a tradition evolved in Jewish society to judge disputes by the gates, to make public declarations there, and to gather for major community decisions.

But there might be more to this verse than that.  This might refer to the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, the one directly facing the Temple Mound, now bricked up and a point of much controversy.  By some reckoning it was part of the Temple structure itself.  If this is the Gate of Mercy (Sha’ar Harahamim in Hebrew, Bab al-Rahma in Arabic) as some believe, then Jewish tradition says that the Shekinah (The Divine Presence, or the feminine aspect of God) would enter here, and so would the Messiah.  Either a causeway or a cedar plank walkway held up by marble pillars extended from the temple, over the Kidron Valley and out to the Mount of Olives through this gate—a passage reserved for the High Priest and his entourage, and only for taking out the sacrifice or the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement.  However, since mention crops up of others and coming and going this way, presumably they had a lower walkway for regular use.

 

Christian folklore makes this the gate where Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, met, and where Jesus entered on Palm Sunday riding on a donkey.  Some consider it the “Beautiful Gate” mentioned in Acts 3, next to which a lame man sat and begged from those going to the Temple, a man whom Peter healed.

Muslims also know it as Bab al Zahabi, meaning “Gate of Eternal Life”.  This structure has two arched openings side by side, So according to Islamic folklore some divide this into the southern “Gate of Mercy” and northern “Gate of Repentance”.  It also had importance in early Islam associated with “The end of time” but the details have been lost to us.

However, this particular structure wasn’t actually built till the 6th century or the 8th century A.D., depending on which archaeologist you talk to.  Whoever built it, though, did so on the ruins of an earlier gate.  Some in fact have argued that it’s a Christian structure entirely, as it’s rather awkwardly placed in relation to the ruins of the Temple, but lines up well, from the opposite approach, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  But then nothing ancient quite lines up the way it originally did; structures have shifted dramatically with repairs over centuries, which is why the streets of Alexandria, once ideally lined up to channel breezes from the sea, have become stagnant and stifling.

Throughout history Christians, Muslims, and Jews have taken turns declaring The Golden Gate off limits to each other, which makes it hard for archaeologists and historians to investigate it as thoroughly as they’d wish.  Interfaith violence has broken out there repeatedly over the centuries, and continues occasionally to this day.

 

An archaeologist did recently fall into a hole before it and landed in a mass grave (probably used within a hundred years, as some of the skeletons still had ligaments holding the bones together)  And down there he also saw the remains of an older arch.  However, when he came back to investigate the next day, he found the hole filled up in record time.

 

Perhaps we are not as open to visits from Wisdom as we were of old.

 

 

15) For setting your heart on her is the perfection of prudence,

and whoever keeps vigil for her is quickly free from care;


COMMENTARY:  The simple fact of wanting to learn increases one’s skill in navigating life every time one indulges this desire, which removes many a cause for anxiety.

 

 

16) Because she makes her rounds, seeking those worthy of her,

and graciously appears to them on the way,

and goes to meet them with full attention.


COMMENTARY:  God meets us more than halfway, like the father of the prodigal son in the parable, running at the sight of his return.  And yes, even though the writer refers to the wisdom of God as “She”, it’s still the same, singular God.

This feminine aspect of God is the Shekinah, which we have discussed before.  A number of Middle-Eastern cultures consider emotion a masculine quality and logic a feminine one, opposite to how European and American culture reckon it.  (Sadly, this has often led, in cultures who see it this way, to the glorification of men reacting emotionally, while belittling women as ploddingly pragmatic, in much the same way that tapestry-weaving is an esteemed skill in cultures where men mainly do it, and an unimportant pastime wherever it’s left to women.)  Therefore God becomes feminine when dispensing wisdom.

This adds to my suspicion of a female author, that the feminine side of God would get so much emphasis.  But I haven’t read of any scholars putting forth this view.

 

 

17) For the first step toward Wisdom is an earnest desire for discipline;

18) then, care for discipline is love of her;

love means the keeping of her laws;

To observe her laws is the basis for incorruptibility;

19) and incorruptibility makes one close to God;


COMMENTARY:  This is a “sorites” a rhetoric technique “Where the predicate of each part becomes the subject of the next”. So let’s follow this logic-chain, shall we?

We’ve already remarked that the first step in wisdom is the desire to learn it.  To seek education is to impose a discipline upon oneself, studying without anyone telling you to do so, and listening to one’s elders of one’s own volition.  This in turn shows love for the Shekinah, to which she responds radiantly.  When you love someone, you delight in doing what pleases her and dislike doing what doesn’t, so if you love the Wisdom of God, it gives you a motive to keep God’s laws.  To observe them faithfully leaves no room for corruption.  Incorruptibility further endears one to God.

 

 

20) thus the desire for Wisdom leads to a kingdom.


COMMENTARY:  Obviously, not everybody who desires wisdom winds up king of anything.  However, Jesus might have had this verse in mind when He said, “The Kingdom of God is upon you,” meaning something not near so obvious.  As He also said, His kingdom is not of this “world”.  Sadly, the European mindset that literalizes and simplifies everything, and believes in only one reality at a time, assumed that, since they saw “the world” as meaning “everything”, and since the devil is the prince of this world, that Earth, the foundation upon which humanity builds, must not be of God, which is ridiculous since nature comes from God.  But if there is only one world, then how could Jesus have a kingdom in another world?

Yaqui philosophy, though, has this covered.  There are multiple worlds.  There’s the human world, the wild world, the mystical world, the magical world, and the dream world.  From this one could deduce that the Kingdom of God is not a man-made thing with walls and castles and armies and a crown, not of the human world which is fallen, but can be found in everything else, everything real.

 

 

21) If, then, you find pleasure in throne and scepter, you princes of peoples,

honor Wisdom, that you may reign as kings forever.


COMMENTARY:  Keep in mind that the Book of Wisdom came into being after the Davidic line of Kings had long lost their throne, and only very recently been replaced by the Hasmodean Dynasty, who in turn had probably either fallen or teetered in danger of falling to Rome at the time of this writing. So, the author says to the Hasmodeans either, “Wise up and don’t blow it this time,” or “You brought about your own downfall”, but since we can’t precisely date the penning of this line, we don’t know which.

 

 

22) Now what wisdom is, and how she came to be I shall proclaim;

and I shall conceal no secrets from you,

But from the very beginning I shall search out

and bring to light knowledge of her;

I shall not diverge from the truth.


COMMENTARY:  I can relate to this!  For I’m searching out knowledge, myself, even as I post these studies, barely a half-step ahead.  And I try to be as honest as possible, even with my doubts. Did this writer feel as nervous about doing this as I do now?

 

 

23) Neither shall I admit consuming jealousy to my company,

because that can have no fellowship with Wisdom.


COMMENTARY:  What does jealousy have to do with it?  There are always some who want to hoard information, occulting it to all but a few initiates, so that they can have power over the ignorant.  This has nothing to do with real wisdom.

This is not the same as keeping some things away from people for their own well-being.  You don’t teach surgery to one who has never learned asepsis, nor advanced martial arts to one who hasn’t first mastered her temper, nor the medicine ceremonies of one culture to someone in another culture without enough common ground to make it safe and useful.  The difference is whether you withhold information out of love or contempt.

 

 

24) A multitude of the wise is the safety of the world,

and a prudent king, the stability of the people;


COMMENTARY:  The more wise people you have the safer the world becomes, because they have the tools to solve their problems and resolve their differences nonviolently and thoroughly.  And if a leader is individually wise, he or she will create the conditions for more to become wise, thus increasing the stability of peace.

 

 

25) so take instruction from my words, to your profit.

 

COMMENTARY:  The chapter concludes with an invitation to better one’s life through education.



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