Archived Bible Overview Topics  
 
 
Bible Characters
 

Bible Overview encompasses all of our Bible-related articles in one section. Bible Characters "Did You Know" goes into detail about a Bible character we are studying either from that book in the Bible or from one of many stories in the Bible.

This month’s “Did You Know” section focuses on Tobit and Tobias …

Did you know...

  • Both names, Tobit and Tobias (sometimes written Tobiah), mean “Yahweh is my good.”
  • Tobit was the son of Tobiel, which also means “Yahweh is my good.”
  • He was a native of Thisbe in Naphtali.  Their land allotment lay NW of the Sea of Galilee.  After the division of David’s kingdom, Naphtali was one of the northern tribes.
  • Tobit lamented the split, but that concern paled in contrast to his sadness over the people’s refusal to worship in the temple in Jerusalem.
  • Jeroboam, the king of the northern kingdom, had set up “golden calves” at Dan (in the north) and Bethel (in the south) to make it easier for northern citizens not to have to go to Jerusalem.  Most were taking full advantage of that.  Tobit, however, continued to make the trek to Jerusalem to worship.
  • He claimed he was the only one who did so.  He obviously felt very isolated from his countrymen, though occasionally he took his wife and relatives with him.
  • Tobit offered sacrifices and gave alms to the temple, the priests, and the poor.
  • When it was time for him to marry, he took a wife from his tribe.
  • His wife’s name was Hannah, which means “Grace.”
  • According to the story, Tobit was among those who were exiled to Nineveh during the reign of Shalmaneser (727-722 BCE).  Most scholars, however, think the deportation of Naphtali occurred under Tiglath-pileser (745-727 BCE).
  • Tobit was a “young man” when this happened.
  • He continued to be an observant Jew while in exile, refusing to eat Gentile food.
  • As an observant Jew, he followed not only the spirit but also the letter of the law, even in Nineveh.
  • Because he was faithful to the covenant, he was blessed by God.
  • He was in good standing with Shalmaneser and worked in his court. It seems that his position might have been “buyer of provisions.”  This allowed him to travel frequently to Media, where he had family.
  • His was an important position in Shalmaneser’s court.
  • In gratitude for his services, Shalmaneser gave him ten talents of silver.  Scholars argue over the value of this amount, but it might have been $10,000-$20,000, surely a tidy sum in antiquity.
  • On one of his trips to Media, he managed to give this money to his cousins for safekeeping.
  • In addition to his work in the court, Tobit gave alms to poor people in Nineveh and made sure that every dead Jew had a proper burial. 
  • Ironically, it would be those good deeds that would get him into trouble.
  • When Sennacherib took over in 705 BCE, he instituted a new policy that the bodies of dead Jews should be left to rot as a message for others.  Undaunted, Tobit defied this law and carried off the bodies to bury them.
  • For a Jew to remain unburied and have his body rot in the open or eaten by animals was the ultimate degradation.
  • Burying bodies is the main “good work” of the book of Tobit.  After the new king came to power, such actions became very risky.  Tobit was essentially risking his life each time he did it.
  • It was not long before his neighbors turned him in.
  • When the authorities heard what Tobit was doing, they confiscated all of his possessions and would have killed him if he had not vanished, taking his wife and son with him.
  • Within forty days, however, Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him.
  • His successor appointed Ahiquar (Tobit’s nephew) over all the treasury accounts.
  • Previously, Ahiquar had held the position of cupbearer in Sennacherib’s court.  So he had a long history of court service and was well-respected.
  • Ahiquar’s name means “My divine brother is precious.”
  • Because of his position, he was able to intercede on behalf of Tobit.
  • Tobit was forgiven and allowed to come out of hiding.
  • Later, when he and his family were about to celebrate the festival of Weeks/Pentecost, Tobit was filled with gratitude because they had so much food and saddened because so many others had little/none.
  • He told his son to go out into the city and invite to dinner those who were homeless and poor.   In so doing, Tobit was trying to instill the same values into his son.
  • Tobias came back with a report that another Jew was lying dead in the marketplace (obviously a public execution of sorts).
  • Without hesitation, Tobit rose up from the table and grabbed the body and buried it.
  • Later on he washed, but he still decided to spend the night in the courtyard.  Even though he had no problems polluting himself by having contact with a corpse, he was considerate of others and maintained his distance until the time of purification was over.
  • That night, swallow droppings fell into his eyes and a white film formed, impairing his vision.
  • The more he sought medical help, the worse his eyesight was until one day he was totally blind.
  • The irony is sharp.  His misfortune occurred on Pentecost because he wanted to share his provisions with the homeless, to dutifully bury a Jewish body, and to keep the law regarding purification.  Those “good works” led to blindness.  Yet, there is no evidence that he railed against God or even lamented this misfortune.
  • For the first two years of Tobit’s blindness, Ahiquar supported him, but then he was transferred to Elymais, which scholars think was located south of Media.
  • This transfer meant that Ahiquar’s financial support ended, and life became very difficult for Tobit and his family.
  • Since Tobit was completely blind, his wife went out to do “women’s work.”  This is not specified, but most think she would have been working in someone’s household.
  • Surely this was a blow to Tobit’s image and esteem.  After all, this was the person who had a big position in the king’s court.  Now he was disabled and unemployed.
  • One day in addition to paying her for her services, Hannah’s employers gave her a goat to take home.  It might have been for an upcoming feast day, which would suggest that she was working for a Jewish family.
  • When the goat started to bleat, Tobit assumed she had stolen it and accused her of doing so.  It highlights his inability to see; he didn’t know it was there until it started making noise.  Scholars don’t know why he did this.  Nothing in Hannah’s character suggested she’d be the person to steal something.  So maybe this was yet another affront to his ego and lashing out was his poor way of handling things.  It shows how tense things had become and the stress they were under.
  • Hannah yelled back saying, “And look what your good deeds have gotten us!”
  • There was little that Tobit could say to that.  He prayed deeply, asking for forgiveness for himself as well as the nation. Then he asked God to take his life in order to end his suffering.
  • On the very same day in Ecbatana, another righteous person was praying – Sarah.
  • The distance between Nineveh and Ecbatana was about 185 miles.
  • Sarah’s name means “Mistress.”
  • At that moment, one of her servant girls was insulting her because she had been given in marriage to seven men, but each night the demon, Asmodeus, killed them off before the marriage could be consummated. 
  • If it’s a Hebrew word, Asmodeus means something like “Destroyer.”  He was known as the demon of lust.  The idea was that he loved Sarah and would not allow any other man to be with her.
  • The servant didn’t know about the demon, so she assumed that Sarah was doing the killing. 
  • Sarah thought about hanging herself, but she was an only child and couldn’t imagine bringing such shame to her parents.
  • So she also prayed that God would take her life and put her out of her misery.
  • At this point, these two incidents seem totally separate, though both people are of the tribe of Naphtali.  Later, readers will find out that they are close kinsmen.
  • Nonetheless, both of their prayers were heard in the glorious presence of God.
  • God decided to send the angel, Raphael, to heal them both.
  • Raphael, the angel’s name, means “God has healed.”
  • God’s plan was to give Sarah in marriage to Tobias and to heal Tobit’s blindness.
  • This information is given to readers but not to any of the characters in the story.
  • As Tobit prepared to die, he remembered the money he had given his cousins in Media for safekeeping.
  • He called Tobias and started by counseling him on the major issues of life.
  • First, he was to provide a proper burial for Tobit, and then he needed to take care of his mother.  He was also to follow in Tobit’s footsteps, always doing good and being true to the Lord. 
  • There is some irony here because of the fact that Tobit’s life had not been blessed despite all of his good works. This comes at a time in Jewish history when they believed good works would be rewarded with great blessings.  Tobit’s life had not turned out that way.  Still, he expected integrity and faithfulness from Tobias, which indicates that Tobit was a very righteous man.
  • Only after he had counseled him in all these aspects did Tobit mention the ten talents awaiting him in Media.
  • His final counsel was: “You have great wealth if you fear God, flee from all sin, and do what is good in the sight of the Lord your God.”  Obviously, Tobit believed that God really was going to end his life.
  • Yet, Tobit did not want Tobias to attempt this 185 mile journey alone.
  • Tobias went out to look for someone to accompany him and who should he run into but Raphael, the angel!
  • When asked if he knew the way to Media, Raphael replied that he often stayed there with Gabael (who just happened to be the guy holding the bag of money) because they were kinsmen.  (Though this seems to be an amazing stroke of luck, it, of course, reflects the providence of God.)
  • Tobit wanted to meet him and when pressed for a name, Raphael said it was Azariah, which means “Yahweh has helped.”
  • Both Tobit and Tobias had no clue as to Azariah’s true identity even though he told Tobit he would soon be healed.
  • Tobit wished them a safe journey, saying, “May [God’s] angel accompany you both and protect you!”  (Another example of great irony!)
  • On the first night out, Tobias and Raphael/Azariah camped by the Tigris River.
  • When Tobias went to bathe, a fish jumped out of the water and tried to swallow his foot.  Scholars see much symbolism in this event.  Typically, water represents chaos; then it’s an attempt to disrupt their trip.  “Feet” sometimes has sexual connotations; then it’s an attack on his manhood.
  • Azariah told him to grab the fish.
  • He hauled it out on the shore, and Azariah told him to cut out the heart, liver, and gall bladder.  What he couldn’t eat, he salted and took with them.  Since he ate it, it could not have been an unclean fish. (Now, as an angel, Azariah never ate anything, which he will point out later in the story.  Tobias, however, didn’t catch on to any of this.)
  • Along the way, the angel told Tobias what to do with those fish parts.
  • When they arrived at Media, Azariah said they needed to stop at the home of Raguel – their relative and the father of Sarah.
  • Raguel means “Friend of God.”
  • Azariah told Tobias he was the nearest relative and had the right (maybe even obligation) to marry her.  He would also inherit half her father’s estate.
  • Tobias was not thrilled with that since he had heard about the seven previous husbands.  He knew his parents would be overcome with grief were he to die.
  • The angel told him to burn the liver and heart of the fish in the bridal chamber.  The smell would chase the demon away.  At that moment, Tobias fell in love with Sarah, sight unseen.
  • Both parents were delighted to meet Tobias and happy that he wanted to marry their daughter.
  • The parties drew up a legal marriage document according to the decree of Moses.
  • Nonetheless, Edna, Sarah’s mother, cried uncontrollably, and Raguel told his servants to go quietly to dig a grave for the young man.  Both parents were convinced the outcome would be the same for the eighth husband – and they really liked this one.
  • Edna’s name means “Pleasure.”
  • As soon as the couple reached the bridal chamber, Tobias did what Azariah told him to do.  He burned the heart and liver of the fish.
  • The stench so repelled the demon that he fled to the northern part of Egypt where Azariah followed him and bound him hand and foot.  He would never trouble Sarah again.
  • Then Sarah and Tobias prayed that the Lord would keep them safe.  Afterwards, they lay down to sleep.  It is not known whether the marriage was consummated that night.
  • In the middle of the night, Raguel sent a servant to see if Tobias was still alive.  When he was told that they were sleeping peacefully, he told the servants to fill in the grave.
  • The next morning, Raguel prepared oxen and rams for the wedding feast that would last fourteen days.  He swore an oath that Tobias could not leave until it was over.
  • Because Tobias was involved with the wedding celebration, he sent Azariah to Gabael to retrieve the money.  They each held half of a bond, so there were no questions on either side.  Gabael even returned with Azariah to the wedding feast.
  • As the days wore on, Tobias knew that his parents would be starting to worry about his lengthy absence.  He didn’t want to waste any time in getting back home.
  • His assumptions were correct. Tobit and Hannah were seriously worrying.  They thought the worst and Hannah, especially, was very upset.  She cried night after night – all night long.
  • At the end of fourteen days, arrangements were made for the newlyweds to leave.  Raguel was true to his word. He gave Tobias half of his estate.  The other half would be theirs when both parents were deceased.
  • Both parents blessed the newlyweds and kissed them goodbye.
  • Edna gave Tobias some extra advice on how to treat her daughter, but the parting was in peace.
  • Each day, Hannah stood by the road waiting and watching, hoping to see some sign of Tobias.
  • As the travelers approached Nineveh, Azariah suggested they go on ahead to make things ready for Sarah.
  • As soon as Hannah saw them, she started yelling with joy.  Hugs and kisses were exchanged by all.
  • When Tobias kissed his father, he spread the gall from the fish over his father’s eyes.
  • Apparently, it was very irritating for eyes.  In rubbing his eyes, Tobit wiped off the white film, and he was able to see.
  • Tobit and Tobias both rejoiced and praised God with all their might.
  • His parents’ joy was unbounded once they heard about Sarah.  They heartily welcomed her with open arms into their family.
  • All the Jews of Nineveh shared in their joy.  They celebrated their wedding for another seven days.
  • After all the festivities, Tobit wanted to settle up with Azariah, which included paying him for his work during the journey.
  • At this point, Azariah told them who he really was – an angel sent by God.  Both Tobit and Tobias were shocked and a bit fearful.  Yet, Azariah assured them of God’s providence and care for them.  His job was to bring the healing God had decreed.  Their job was to proclaim God’s great mercy.  They were supposed to write everything down that had happened.  Then Azariah simply disappeared.
  • Tobit took the angel’s words seriously.  He prayed out loud and long, proclaiming God great mercy to anyone who would listen.  He also prayed for his countrymen.  If God could bring about such healing in Tobit’s life, what more could he do for the people of Israel! 
  • Tobit, apparently, lived a happy life after that.  He passed on when he was 112.  He was 58 when he became blind and was blind for four years.  He continued to give alms and to praise God.
  • Before he died, he called Tobias (who now had seven sons) and told him to leave Nineveh and to return to Media.  He predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem as well as its restoration.  When the temple would be rebuilt, people would see and be converted to the one God.
  • He made Tobias promise that he would leave the day his mother was buried. 
  • Tobias obeyed his father’s request.  He left Nineveh and moved back to Ecbatan to live with Raguel and Edna.  Tobias lived until he was 117. 
  • Before he died, he heard about the destruction of Nineveh and knew that its prisoners were taken to Media.  Tobias blessed God.
  MJC
   
 
   
  Copyright © 2010, BibleWise. All Rights Reserved.