Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tobit Intro and Chapter 1

Author: Unknown

Date: Between the fourth and second centuries BCE.

Major Themes: The Book of Tobit is a love story. A father sends his only son into the world so that he may find a bride, save her, and bring her back rejoicing to his parents. The same story is told by the Lord in John 3:16. From the beginning, God has been working in history to bring man out of the darkness of sin and death and into the glorious light of Christ. This is the story of salvation, and the Book of Tobit is an icon of that story. Within Tobit's narrative lies a shadowy outline of God working in history from the beginning to the end of the age, as He makes preparation for the uniting of man and all creation to God in Christ.

Background: The story of Tobit is set against the backdrop of the Assyrian exile in Nineveh. Family tragedy, hope, and divine intervention are interwoven to communicate the presence of God's providence.

The Book of Tobit

*Tobit's Early Years in Israel and Nineveh*
1. This is the book of the words of Tobit, the son of Tobiel, the son of Hananiel, the son of Aduel, the son of Gabael, of the seed of Asiel, from the tribe of Naphtali.+ 2. He was led captive out of Thisbe in the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians. Thisbe is south of Kedesh Naphtali, in Galilee above Asher.+

3. I, Tobit, walked in the paths of truth and righteousness all the days of my life. I did much almsgiving to my brethren and to the people who journeyed with me as exiles to Nineveh, in the country of the Assyrians.+ 4. In my young days, when I was in my own country, the land of Israel, the entire tribe of my father Naphtali turned away from the house of Jerusalem, which was chosen from all the tribes of Israel, to sacrifice for all the tribes. This temple, the habitation of the Most High God, was sanctified and built for all generations forever.

5. Now all the tribes that joined in the revolt sacrificed the heifer to Baal. The house of Naphtali, the tribe of my father, also revolted. 6. But I alone traveled frequently to Jerusalem for the feast days, as it is written for all of Israel in an everlasting ordinance. I would carry the firstfruits and the tithes of my harvest and the first-shearing.+ 7. These I would give to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar. I would offer the tenth of all the harvest to the sons of Levi who served at Jerusalem. I would also sell off the second tenth and go and spend it at Jerusalem each year. 8. The third tenth I would give to whom it was fitting, as Deborah the mother of my father commanded me, for I was left an orphan by my father. 9. When I became a man, I took Anna for a wife from my own kindred. With her I became the father of Tobias.+

10. When I was taken captive to Nineveh, all my brothers and those from my race ate from the bread of the Gentiles.+ 11. But I protected myself by not eating it. 12. For I remembered God with all my soul. 13. So the Most High gave me grace and comeliness before Shalmaneser, and I became his purchasing agent. 14. I would go into Media. And one time in Rages of Media, I entrusted to Gabael, the brother of Gabrias, ten talents of silver.+

15. When Shalmaneser died and his son Sennacherib reigned in his place, the roads were unstable and I could no longer travel to Media. 16. In the days of Shalmaneser, I did much almsgiving to my brothers. 17. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw anyone of my people dead, cast outside the wall of Nineveh, I would bury him.+ 18. If King Sennacherib put someone to death when he came trying to escape from Judea, I buried them secretly. For in his anger, he put many to death, and the bodies were sought by the king; but they were not found. 19. But one of the men of Nineveh went and made known to the king concerning my burying them. So I hid, and when I knew I was being sought to be put to death I was frightened and ran away. 20. All of my possessions were seized and I had nothing left except Anna my wife and Tobias my son.

21. But not even fifty days passed before two of King Sennacherib's sons had killed him and escaped into the mountains of Ararat. Thus Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place. He appointed Ahikar, the son of my brother Anael, to be over all the accounts of his kingdom and over the entire government. 22. Ahikar then entreated on my behalf, so I came to Nineveh. Now Ahikar was the wine-pourer, the kepper of the signet ring, the administrator and the accountant. Esarhaddon appointed him second to himself, and he was my nephew.+

OSB Notes:

+1:1 - Tobit means "the Lord is good."

+1:2 - Thisbe is in modern-day Lebanon (ancient Phoenicia), north of the Sea of Galilee. Naphtali (v. 1) was led captive to Assyria under the predecessor of Shalmaneser (4Kg 15:29).

+1:3 - Nineveh is on the east bank of the Tigris River, which is in ancient Babylon and modern-day northern Iraq. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria.

1:6-8 - Tobit reminds us to be faithful to the Lord even when it is inconvenient. The everlasting ordinance (v. 6) is recorded in Dt. 12:11-14.

+1:9 - Anna means "grace."

+1:10, 11 - The bread of the Gentiles is described in Dt. 14:3-21 as unclean food for the people of God.

+1:14 - Media was an area south of the Caspian Sea, part of modern-day Iran.

+1:17 - Not to bury the dead was seen as a curse, the ultimate in disrespect (4Kg 9:10, Jer 8:2; see also 2:3-8).

+1:22 Ahikar, the nephew of Tobit, carries the name of a hero popular in ancient literature. He becomes second in command under the new king.


  1. Oooooh, enjoyed this! Thanks for providing the background, setting and the footnotes for better understanding. I'll look forward to the next chapter! How many are there?

    Tobit sounds like quite a man! :)
    I like how the intro part related his story to John 3:16. I will read with interest!

  2. Susanne,

    There are 14 chapters in Tobit, so it's a fairly short book.

    He does, doesn't he? I think that the listing at the beginning of Tobit's acts was meant to show us that he was a righteous man, one who hadn't done anything to 'deserve' the pains and suffering that he got. So suffering is just a function of the world, but his righteousness and obedience to God doesn't go unrewarded, in the end. But you'll have to wait for that. :)


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