The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tobit, man of sorrows

Tobit has a wrenching story, and I'm only five chapters in. Living after the division of the Kingdom of Israel, Tobit, though being of the tribe of Naphtali in the North, continues to worship in Jerusalem. Then being carried off into exile in Assyria he at first finds favor in the foreign administration. But when the new king Sennacherib arises, Tobit finds himself on the run, being hunted down for surreptitiously burying the bodies of fellow Jews executed by the tyrant. All of this eventually leads to Tobit losing his eyesight when sparrows defecate into his eyes while he sleeps beneath a wall. A rough life, to be sure!

Yet the major message thus far in the book is that Tobit remained righteous throughout it all. He is determined to pass on this lifestyle of charity and piety to his son Tobias.

In chapter 4 Tobit is preparing for his death and so gives some ultimate instructions to his son before sending him on a risky journey to retrieve some money. First Tobit commends the care of his wife to his son. Then he implores his son to walk with God. A significant portion of that is expressed through charity:

Indeed, almsgiving, for all who practice it, is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.

Tobit then turns to some instructions with which I as a Christian am not comfortable. Tobias should only choose a wife from among his Jewish kinsmen. He must also apparently "give [no bread] to sinners." The latter is clearly contradicted by Jesus' ministry, and the imperative to marry only within ethnic groups is arguably countermanded by Paul's declaration that "there is neither Jew nor Greek."

Nonetheless I feel quite comfortable reading Tobit thus far. He seems to have been a fairly positive example of righteous and charitable living in a world fallen to pieces.

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