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.