Tobit

Chapter 10


 
Wisdom 10:

1) She preserved the first-formed father of the world

when he alone had been created;

And she raised him up from his fall,


COMMENTARY:  Here the writer goes through Biblical history.  She starts with Adam but names no names, assuming that the reader will figure it out.  This deliberate obscurity implies that one can’t really understand these teachings without beginning with a grounding in scripture.

 

In Adam’s case, notice that he fell due to desire for the fruit of knowledge, but recovered by desiring wisdom.  Knowledge and wisdom aren’t synonymous.  Yet as the teaching method in this chapter implies, one builds upon the other.

 

Could humanity have had wisdom without falling?  Perhaps not.  And perhaps we wouldn’t have needed it.  But since we have become predisposed, now, to error, we can at least grow wiser by learning from every mistake we make—even if the only thing we learn is “I need grace!”  The wisdom of Adam was to finally admit his sin.

 

 

2) and gave him power to rule all things.


COMMENTARY:  From my personal viewpoint, exerting power to rule rather than to serve is part and parcel with the Fall.  But how would this writer know that before Christ’s teaching about service?

 

 

3) But when an unrighteous man withdrew from her in his anger,

he perished through his fratricidal wrath.


COMMENTARY:  That would be Cain.  And this makes clear that “perishing” doesn’t automatically mean death, since God spared Cain, and even put His mark upon him to protect him from the wrath of others.  To say that he perished through his wrath goes back to the predominant Jewish view of the afterlife where unworthy souls burn up with regrets till nothing is left.

Cain’s departure from Wisdom, in contrast to Adam’s rediscovery of her, lies in his refusal to admit his temptations to God, who could have healed them before they overpowered him.  God warned Cain that he had temptation within him, but Cain couldn’t bear to face his own Shadow.  He gave to God only his fruit—only his sweetness.  Abel slew a lamb on the altar—thus admitting his capacity to kill, yet giving it to God, which is why it didn’t overpower him.  And so Cain became the first murderer and not Abel.

In offering sacrifice, we don’t give God anything He doesn’t already own, in terms of the sacrifice itself, but we do admit to God that we have a killer in us, which can take many different forms, and we surrender it for God to tame.  For Christians the ultimate sacrifice is Jesus Christ, God incarnate.  We look on the cross and know that we are capable of this, and in admitting that we are that temptation awaits in every one of us, God can help us become someone who can resist the temptation to torment, to kill, and to victimize the innocent.

And here we can see the deadly trap that the devil lays out in antisemitism:  “I couldn’t possibly do anything like that.  Jesus didn’t die for MY sins, he must’ve died for somebody ELSE’s sins—so let’s blame the Jews!”  And so we ourselves become one with that segment who shouted “Crucify him!” for we inflict suffering on the innocent, telling ourselves that this can prove our righteousness.

(For the record, there is not a single person alive descended of anyone who cried out “Crucify him!  The sin be upon us and our children!”  For Barabbas, the one chosen to be spared in Jesus’s stead, was a Zealot freedom-fighter (or terrorist, to the Romans) and the Zealots packed the crowd to win his release that day.  Every single man, woman and child of the Zealots died at the siege of Masada, drinking poison rather than facing enslavement by the Romans.)

(Further for the record, saying that “the Jews” said this is a mistranslation in the first place.  The actual word was “the Judeans”, as in citizens of Judah, but just as all Greeks were “Cypriots” to Middle-Easterners, all Jews were “Judeans” to the Romans, though Greece included far more than Cyprus and Jewry included far more than Judeans, and for that matter, Romans included far more than actual dwellers in Rome.  Jesus and his apostles were Galileans, looked down on by Judeans.)

 

 

4) When on his account the earth was flooded, Wisdom again saved it,

piloting the righteous man on frailest wood.


COMMENTARY:  The writer attributes to Cain the wickedness which the Great Flood washed away, and the “righteous man” would be Noah.  And indeed, somebody had to start the innovation of murder, for it to spread.

Apes killing apes was nothing new.  Apes will fight over territory, or for supremacy, and while this rarely results in death sometimes it does.  Occasionally they even wage war.  There was even a case of cannibal mother and daughter eating the babies of other chimpanzees—but as soon as the powerful mother died of natural causes the rest of the apes drove the corrupted daughter out.  She had to find another band, through great hardship, and in this new band she never practiced cannibalism again.  All of this is an animal-level of killing, competing for survival, even if a burgeoning awareness of the tribe shows that some things cross a line and must be punished.

What made Cain’s killing a horrible innovation was the idea that you could murder someone merely for stirring up painful emotions in you, even if the other person did you no wrong.  Cain felt envy that Abel’s offering meant more to God, and pain that he himself could have any dark side at all, that he could somehow wind up morally surpassed by his disgusting butcher-brother.  It didn’t even have a shred of survival-motive to excuse it.

Regarding Noah, the wisdom that saved him had nothing to do with knowledge.  He had no way of knowing, by outward signs, of what was about to crash down in his people.  Yes, it rained lots and lots (“forty days” means “a lot”) but that had happened before.  Forty days of rain is not unusual up here in the Pacific Northwest, for instance.  But mere observation of the weather couldn’t foresee, by itself, what would soon happen.

What scientists discovered was that, during the thawing of ice left over from an ice age in the days of prehistoric humanity, a continent-spanning glacier thawed from the inside out, creating kind of an ice bowl with a small ocean or large sea inside it.  The ice kept getting thinner and thinner, until it took one last, heavy rain of warmer water to shatter it all at once.  The deluge was so great that today’s Black Sea is only a small vestige of what flooded out on the majority of humanity before our forebears had had time to spread out.  The flood covering “all the world” meant, “Everything we had ever seen, visited, or heard of—everywhere that we could verify!”

(Is it still the work of God if you can identify how it happened?  Yes.  That glacier could have melted in other, less destructive ways.  Most glaciers do.  Once, in the dark ages, though, a bowl-glacier’s breaking destroyed multiple villages in Iceland simultaneously, and once something similar but on a smaller scale happened in modern times, so we do have some written record of the phenomenon.  But this would have been the biggest flood ever, and devastatingly sudden.)

So how does someone like Noah, from a primitive people who don’t have any way of seeing a glacier many days’ journey away, know in advance to build a big thing to float in?  Only by listening closely to God, and trusting his intuitive link with the Divine—tapping into a wisdom that goes beyond knowledge.

 

 

5) She, when the nations were sunk in universal wickedness,

knew the righteous man, kept him blameless before God,

and preserved him resolute against pity for his child.


COMMENTARY:  Now we’re talking about Abraham, who almost sacrificed his son before an angel stopped him.  This gets complex. 

 

One one level, God wanted him to experience, and to have all who afterwards heard his story vicariously experience, the depth of grief that such a sacrifice would cause, and the enormous resolution to go through with it anyway—but not to actually go through with it, to be stopped at the last minute—as a preparation (from the Christian perspective, at least) for the sacrifice of Jesus. 

 

Yet at the same time, God wanted all who heard this story to know that God wouldn’t actually require such a thing of them, though He is pleased by our willingness to do anything for Him.  This mattered when the Israelites occupied Canaan, because the Canaanites did practice child sacrifice, and could have vaunted themselves as more devout because they could go so far in their worship—to which the Israelites could respond, “We could, too, if God wanted us to—we’ve already proven that—but God decided that He doesn’t.”  Or, as is written in Aztec glyphs and flower-symbols on the gown of Our Lady of Guadalupe, addressing the human-sacrificing indigenous Mexicans, “I know that you want to give your very lives for God, but my Son wants to give His life for you, instead.”

The wisdom of Abraham is knowing that absolutely nothing is worth as much as God, no matter how greatly you sacrifice—and then gaining the wisdom to learn that nevertheless God will not require fanaticism in His service.

 

 

6) She rescued a righteous man from among the wicked who were being destroyed,

when he fled as fire descended upon the Pentapolis—


COMMENTARY:  Welllll, “righteous” is relative here.  We’re talking about Lot, and the Pentapolis was a lumping together of the five towns of which Sodom and Gomorrah were chief.  The Bible does say that the things Lot saw every day in Sodom burned in him, and burning in the context of the living often refers to temptation in the Bible—yield to one fire while alive, and you’ll yield to another kind after death.  But he resisted enough not to join the mob out to gang-rape his guests.


Still, he wasn’t uncorrupted, himself.  Yes, he abided by the hospitality rules of the desert, in protecting his guests, but he tried to do this by offering his virgin daughters to the mob instead!  At which the “guests” blew their cover, revealing themselves as angels to dispel the crowd miraculously rather than allowing Lot to do such an appalling thing.

 

Later, after they had fled the city’s eventual destruction, Lot got drunk enough for incest on two separate nights, begetting offspring on his own daughters, but to be fair, Israel didn’t yet have rules against that.  Abraham himself was married to his half-sister.  Not until generations in Egypt, witnessing the genetic disaster of the Pharaoh’s line, did they see the light and write down the appropriate taboos.

But at least Lot had enough of a shred of wisdom to pay attention when the angels said to get out of town fast.  So that’s the lesson of this verse: even if you’re a grave sinner, don’t give up—listen for God’s guidance anyway.  That’s the virtue of hope.

 

 

7) Where as a testimony to its wickedness,

even yet there remain a smoking desert,

Plants bearing fruit that never ripens,

and the tomb of a disbelieving soul, a standing pillar of salt.


COMMENTARY:  So what happened, exactly?  Geologic evidence points to a meteor strike.  Mind you, in those days, with the human population so dramatically low compared to today, the odds of such a meteor just happening to land smack dab in the middle of a populated area was vanishingly slim, but it happened.  Rocks don’t lie.

As for the “disbelieving soul”, we’re talking about Lot’s wife, who turned and looked longingly back and turned into a pillar of salt.  Now that’s not as far-fetched as it might seem.  Someone caught in a meteorite’s blast would fall and be buried in debris.  After which the lump with a woman as its core, in that region, would accumulate salt deposits over time.  The valley is full of salt pillars, in fact; there’s no reason why one of them wouldn’t have built up over an outcropping that happened to entomb a woman.

 

But what is the wisdom-lesson here?  The writer ascribes her folly to disbelief.  Even now we have a hard time predicting meteorite impacts.  Why would she believe any claims that the sky was about to fall?  What if she couldn’t tell an angel from a common wanderer, even if he revealed himself?  Human beings are fully capable of not trusting their own eyes when they see something not confirmed by the community, and Sodom wasn’t known for spiritual insight.

So naturally she’d feel reluctant to leave behind known luxury for an uncertain and uncomfortable future.  She’d want more evidence.  But sometimes you don’t get more evidence.  Sometimes all you have to go on is a compelling hunch that you can’t prove comes from your guardian angel’s whisper.

 

How does one tell this from madness?  Pragmatically—by consistent results.  The Bible says that if an alleged prophet tells you something that doesn’t come true, you don’t have to listen to him the next time he opens his mouth.  And to distinguish between a true guidance from God and you’re own imagination, you must further weed out the Three Liars: Wishful Thinking, Fearful Thinking, and Habitual Thinking.  And last, test for the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Lot saw that his guests had supernatural power, driving the mob away with a blinding light.  So he had reason to believe that they were indeed messengers from God and knew what was about to come down on the Five Cities.  His wife didn’t really want to believe it.  Wisdom means knowing when to believe what you don’t want to believe.

 

 

8) For those who forsook Wisdom

not only were deprived of knowledge of the good,

But also left the world a memorial of their folly,

so that they could not even be hidden in their fall.


COMMENTARY:  Isn’t that often the way it goes?  We not only make fools of ourselves, but we do it in front of everybody!  And how painful can you get?  As someone who suffers chronic fibromyalgia, I’d rather have five bad fibro flare days in a row than one day of well-deserved public humiliation.  (I can handle people thinking ill of me and being mistaken, but having lots of people aware of something that I’m ashamed of, now that hits the bone!)

But isn’t it in fact a miserable blessing?  Because you can’t rationalize away the sins seen by everybody, you can’t forget about it, and you can’t convince yourself that you’ll get away with it one more time.  You have to humbly deal with it.  Whereas the more you get away with something wrong, the more convinced you become that you can keep on getting away with more and more, till it all crashes down on you at once, in a far, far greater catastrophe.

 

 

9) But Wisdom rescued from tribulations those who served her.


COMMENTARY:  Those who listen to angels, even if they’re far from perfect, themselves, pay attention to what will save them.

 

 

10) She, when a righteous man fled from his brother’s anger,

guided him in right ways,

Showed him the kingdom of God

and gave him knowledge of holy things;

She prospered him in his labors

and made abundant the fruit of his works,


COMMENTARY:  This just keeps on testing the definition of “Righteous”!  The man in question, Jacob, fled his brother Esau’s justifiable anger because Jacob frankly cheated Esau out of their father’s dying blessing.  Their father had gone blind, so Jacob put on his brother’s stinky shirt to smell like him, and since Esau was hirsute, wrapped his arms in lamb pelts.  I don’t see anything righteous about that!

Yet I do see the righteousness of listening to God in his journeys afterwards.  So the lesson here is that no matter what your past, it’s never too late to start listening to God and doing the right thing.  He eventually matured into a hardworking man who earned his own way instead of stealing from others, and his brother welcomed him back with love.

 

 

11) Stood by him against the greed of his defrauders,

and enriched him;


COMMENTARY:  This is colloquially called “having one’s chickens come home to roost.”  (For non-Americans, I don’t know the origins of the saying—it’s an odd turn of phase—but it means when something happens to you very much like something that you inflicted on others.  It’s going to come back to you as surely as chickens who scatter in the morning will return to their roosts at night.)  Jacob wound up with a father-in-law as tricksy as himself!  But in his years working for this man he learned something about being on the receiving end of chicanery, so God saw fit to get him out of the fix he was in and eventually made him prosper.

 

 

12) She preserved him from foes,

and secured him against ambush,

And she gave him the prize for his hard struggle

that he might know that devotion to God is mightier than all else.


COMMENTARY:  The Greek word used for “devotion to God” is more often translated as “piety”, whereas the Hebrew word would’ve been translated as “Fear of the Lord”, though “devotion” seems closer, at least to me.  The intense regard of a deer watching a lion.

 

 

13) She did not abandon a righteous man when he was sold,

but rescued him from sin.


COMMENTARY:  That would be the Old Testament Joseph, sold into slavery because his brothers envied him (through no fault of his own he had become his father’s favorite, and on top of that shared a couple of dreams which they themselves interpreted as him gaining great power to which they would bow.)  So they sold him into slavery after repenting an intention to kill him.  Contrary to their expectations, though, he thrived, rising in the service of his master, Potiphar, till the man put him in charge of everything and shared all things with him—except, of course, his wife.

So wouldn’t you know it, the wife developed a crazy stalker crush on Joseph!  That’s where wisdom rescuing him from sin comes into the picture.  He kept refusing offers of an affair, insisting that it would be a poor way to pay back his benefactor.

One could say that it did him no good to resist, for in her humiliation she sought revenge on him by accusing him of rape, so he got thrown into prison anyway.  Often it seems like no good deed goes unpunished, as the bitter saying goes.  But his story doesn’t end there...

 

 

14) She went down with him into the dungeon,

and did not desert him in his bonds,

Until she brought him the scepter of royalty

and authority over his oppressors,

Proved false those who had defamed him,

and gave him eternal glory.


COMMENTARY:  Still wise even when incarcerated, he started doing dream interpretations for his fellow prisoners.  He got a reputation for his insight.  So when the Pharaoh had a troubling dream, word came to him that a man in his dungeon might understand what had everybody else stumped.  Joseph’s interpretation enabled Egypt to survive a seven-year famine, so now he wound up promoted even higher, becoming second only to Pharaoh himself!  And eventually he could clear his name of the charges against him.

 

What is the wisdom-lesson here?  That even when it appears that God has abandoned you, God’s plan eventually works out if you hold onto the wisdom and faith.  And part of that involves paying attention to the dreams God gives you (Okay, as a dreamworker I couldn’t resist adding that part! But hey, it’s true!)

 

 

15) The holy people and their blameless descendants—it was she

who rescued them from the nation that oppressed them.


COMMENTARY:  Now we’re going from Joseph to the entire nation of Israel, since Joseph’s brothers went into Egypt as the only place with food during that seven-year drought, and bowed to him before he revealed himself to them (a really emotional scene, some of the best storytelling in the Old Testament!)  As a result, these, the sons of Israel/Jacob, settled in Egypt, where their descendants became the Israelites.  Like Jacob, they became enslaved, and like him they escaped.  Which leads us to our next fellow in this Biblical Hall of Fame tour...

 

 

16) She entered the soul of the Lord’s servant,

and withstood fearsome kings with signs and wonders;


COMMENTARY:  Now, as you’ve probably figured out, we’re talking about Moses, working miracles to draw his foster-brother Pharaoh’s attention to the plight of his people, while his brother Aaron translated to overcome his speech impediment.

(A curious coincidence, that Moses would have a speech impediment, and wind up raised as an adoptee in the royal household, where everybody had cleft palates.  Did that make it easier to pass him off as part of the royal line?  So what seemed like a curse could have saved his life!)

 

 

17) she gave the holy ones the reward of their labors,

Conducted them by a wondrous road,

became a shelter for them by day

a starry flame by night.


COMMENTARY:  The Bible verses referred to say that God became a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  I could see smoke being a shelter, in the sense of creating a smokescreen between the refugees and any who might prey on them.

What exactly is a “starry flame”?  One full of sparks, perhaps?  It’s a lovely image.

By saying that Wisdom became these signs makes me wonder.  Could only the wise see them?  If so, that wouldn’t make for a very effective smokescreen!  Perhaps instead it took discernment to tell the Pillar of Smoke from an ordinary desert dust-devil.  One would have to tune in, as it were.

 

 

18) She took them across the Red Sea

and brought them through the deep waters.


COMMENTARY:  Many theories have abounded as to natural phenomena that could explain the parting of the Red Sea—a natural rock ridge swept clear by a strong wind, a misnamed different sea prone to extreme tidal variation, etc.—many of which have strong possibilities.  But there remains this one distinction that makes it miraculous:  It happened precisely when the fleeing Israelites needed it, and ceased precisely in time to sweep their pursuit away.  Some miracles are miracles of timing.

 

Wisdom knows to hope in God when all seems impossible, not just in a wishful way, but actively scanning for the exit that one expects to open up.  One should, of course, proceed with prudence about one’s affairs and not count on miracles to get you out of every fix you get yourself into, lest you become reckless—that would be like a rich man’s wayward son who expects his father to bail him out of every bad consequence that he brings upon himself.  And of course even the most virtuous sometimes face martyrdom blamelessly, or there might be some other very good reason beyond our understanding for our suffering.  But if it is God’s plan to rescue you, He will, so it’s always a good idea to watch and see if the sea will part.

 

 

19) Their enemies she overwhelmed,

and churned them up from the bottom of the depths.


COMMENTARY:  “Churned up”, in that after swirling them around in the chaotic tides of water rushing in with great force, their dead bodies eventually churned back up to wash up on the shore.

 

 

20) Therefore the righteous despoiled the wicked;

and they sang of your holy name, Lord,

and praised in unison your conquering hand,


COMMENTARY:  That’s a nice way of saying that they looted the bodies.  But why not?  These were aggressors trying to drag them back into slavery, who owed them something for hounding after them in the first place.  And the Israelites had a daunting desert to cross, and could use extra supplies.

 

 

21Because Wisdom opened the mouths of the mute,

and gave ready speech to infants.


COMMENTARY:  “The mouths of the mute” refers to Moses with his speech impediment, despite which he became the greatest leader in Jewish history.  Ready speech to infants refers to proverbial wisdom “from the mouths of babes” referred to in several places in the Bible, which basically means that sometimes the innocent, especially small children, can voice something beyond their conscious understanding, being both tuned in to God and undistracted by worldly deceits.  I remember, for instance, hearing a priest trying to explain how to do God’s will, and getting more and more tangled in his own words, and plainly more embarrassed and lost, only to be loudly interrupted by a normally shy, developmentally disabled woman crying out, “Love God!”  He was stunned, and then praised The Lord that she had explained it all.



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