Raphael and the Big Reveal
The angel drops his disguise when Tobit and Tobias try to pay him. We discuss Raphael’s big reveal and some of the names of God in the Old Testament while covering Tobit 12.1–22.
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What’s my name?
Every rapper says his name in a song. If you get listeners and showgoers to repeat your name as they recite your lyrics, you’re one step closer to fame and immortality—or at least more record sales. Prime examples include “What’s My Name?” (Snoop) and “My Name Is . . .” (Eminem). But rappers aren’t the only ones who fixate on names and their significance.
We encounter several interesting names of God in Tobit. Some major examples are: Holy One (chapter 12), Most High (chapter 4), and King of the Ages, King of Heaven, and Great King (all from chapter 13).
At the top of today’s show, we wanted to run through some of the more common names of God found in Holy Scripture—and especially some notable examples from the “bad” books of the Bible.1
God. El and Elohim (Hebrew), Theos (Greek). These are the basic Hebrew and Greek terms for God seen in, for instance, Genesis 1.1. In the Septuagint, this term is translated as God and Lord about 50/50.
Lord or Master. Adonai and Yahweh (Hebrew), Kyrios and Despotes (Greek). This one is a bit tricky. The Hebrew name YHWH, the tetragrammaton, is God’s personal name; it’s where we get Yahweh or the now outmoded Jehovah. Septuagint translators rendered this word as Kyrios, Lord. And modern English translations follow that same course, rendering the word as LORD in all caps. It’s the most common name for God in all the “bad” books of the Bible.
Almighty. Shaddai (Hebrew), Pantokrator (Greek). God identifies himself to Abraham and later to Moses as “I am God Almighty” in Genesis 17.1 and Exodus 6.3. It’s used throughout 2 Maccabees.
Father. Pater (Greek). It’s unusual to hear this much until the New Testament era when the term goes viral thanks to the Lord’s Prayer. But use of father to refer to God goes all the way back to the Pentateuch. Note Deuteronomy 32.6: “Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?” The name also appears in a couple of Psalms, and in the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi. When it comes to the “bad” books, it’s used quite a bit in 3 Maccabees.
Everlasting One. El Olam (Hebrew), Aionios (Greek). Also not super common but favored by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe and namesake of one of the “bad” books often attached to Jeremiah’s prophecy.
God of Hosts, Lord of Hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth. This is a reference to God and his lordship over his divine council, which we can primarily see as the host of angels (or lowercase-G “gods”) and saintly people who have been included in their number.2 According to one source, “LXX translators preferred to substitute ‘almighty’ for the Hebrew term for ‘hosts,’ which was apparently too awkward for readers of Greek.” God of Heaven is a similar title but is “a later biblical term, appearing mostly at the time of exile and in the Apocrypha.”3
King. Melech (Hebrew), Basileus (Greek). This term makes a showing in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Job and appears in the praises at the end of Tobit (chapter 13).
Most High or The Most High God. El Elyon (Greek).This term is used some forty to fifty times in the Old Testament. The idea conveyed in the name is that God is greater than all the other gods, far above our station and comprehension. See God/Lord of Hosts above. It’s especially common in Genesis, Psalms, and Daniel. Use in the “bad” books is found in Sirach and Tobit (chapter 4 ).
Holy One. Qodesh (Hebrew), hagios (Greek). This name means sacred or set apart. It’s used more than two dozen times in the Old Testament (e.g., Job 6.10; Isaiah 40.25, 43.15) and carries a sense of perfection, distinguishing God from his creatures, though holiness is achievable through union with God. God shares his holiness, which transforms time (feasts), places (sanctuary), people (priests, Israel), objects (relics), plus all the things that pertain to them. “Bad” books usage is, again, primarily in Sirach and Tobit.
Hagios also appears in one of St. Jerome’s more accommodating descriptors of the “bad” books (see Episode Guide 10). Following Jewish custom, he called Tobit and Judith hagiographia, holy writings. While the Catholic and Orthodox churches regard Jerome’s opinion about these and other books as possibly interesting but also nonbinding, it’s intriguing to contemplate what Christians who come closer to his view might make of this distinction.
Do they warrant inclusion with appendix status much as some conservative Protestants want to push the story of the woman caught in adultery to a footnote? Remember that early Protestants possessed—though rarely used—the idea of a New Testament deuterocanon for textually troublesome passages (see Episode Guide 6).
As the story Tobit has thus far shown, it warrants attention from Jewish believers, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and nonbelievers alike. If that were ever in doubt, chapter 12 should cinch the argument.
Time to pay up: Raphael’s wages (Tobit 12.1–5)
In our last installment, Tobias and Sarah went back to Nineveh, Tobit got his sight back, and they all got another week of partying. This was a wedding worth celebrating.
The story picks up now with what seems like a return to a sense of calm. But no. This will be among the most explosive chapters in the entire book. The action begins Tobit calling his son to settle the amount of Raphael’s wages.
“My son,” he’s says, “see to the wages of the man who went with you; and he must also be given more.” This calls back to chapter 4 when Tobit warns his son about holding out on his employees: “Do not hold over till the next day the wages of any man who works for you, but pay him at once” (4.14 and see Episode Guide 4). As we also know from the New Testament, “The workman is worthy of his hire.”
The agreed fee was a drachma a day. But Tobias sees Raphael’s contribution as both singular and critical to their success. “He has led me back to you safely,” says Tobias, “he cured my wife, he obtained the money for me, and he also healed you.” How much is that worth? Tobias decides to give half of everything he brought back.
Tobit agrees: “He deserves it.” In his commentary, St. Ambrose remarks at this point:
Give the hired servant his reward . . . and do not defraud him of the price of his labor, because you too are a hired servant of Christ, and he has sent you to his vineyard, and a heavenly reward is laid up for you. Do not therefore injure the servant working in truth nor the hired servant giving his life, do not despise the needy man who spends his life at his labor and maintains it by his hire.4
So Tobias tells Raphael to take half the treasure.
Glory and a wink (Tobit 12.6–7)
Raphael pulls Tobias and Tobit aside and exhorts them to praise God and give thanks for what he’s done for them. “It is good to praise God and to exalt his name, worthily declaring the works of God,” he says. “Do not be slow to give him thanks.”
And then Raphael says something curious: “A king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be acknowledged and revealed” (Anchor Bible). This line is the decoder ring for the story: God, who is King over all, has secrets that are kept by his servants. But those secrets will be revealed when the time is right because the works of God must be declared.
Raphael is laying the groundwork here for his reveal.
What doing good looks like (Tobit 12.8–10)
The line is also a proverb that stands at the head of several others. “Do good, and evil will not overtake you,” he says, which echoes Tobit from chapter 4: “For if you do what is true, your ways will prosper through your deeds” (verse 6).
He then exhorts them in line with the moral teachings we’ve encountered so far:
Pray and fast
Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness: These are the core elements of ancient Jewish and Christian piety, crucial to the practice of the faith. Not surprisingly, many commentators have seen many parallels in Raphael’s message here to the Sermon on the Mount, especially the section in Matthew 6:
Almsgiving. Give to the needy, “that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Prayer. The passage begins by comparing the prayer of the hypocrites for attention with prayer in secret to God, and concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, and the importance of forgiveness.
Fasting. “When you fast. . . .” Again, as he did with prayer, Jesus praises fasting discreetly
Righteousness. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Raphael then comes back to almsgiving, saying it “saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life. . . .” We recall the importance Tobit placed on almsgiving in his earlier exhortation to Tobias (see Episode Guide 4).
This emphasis on almsgiving, including its saving effect, is echoed in another “bad” book of the Bible: “Water will extinguish a blazing fire: and almsgiving will atone for sin” (Sirach 3.30). And church leaders have similarly encouraged the virtue. Said Pope St. Leo I, “This virtue makes all virtues profitable: for by its presence it gives life to that very faith.”5
Raphael then contrasts his statement about a full life: “Those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.” And Raphael picks up the thread from his earlier wink and nod.
Raphael’s big reveal (Tobit 12.11–15)
“Now I will tell you the whole truth and hide nothing from you,” he says. “I have already said that a king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be gloriously revealed.” And then he connects the dots, revealing what he once concealed.
He takes us back to the beginning, when Tobit left his Pentecost feast to bury the dead. “I was sent to test you,” he says. Recall from Episode Guide 5 that this testing was the reason for the disguise. Tobit’s character is being tried throughout this story.
“It was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, and likewise whenever you buried the dead,” says Raphael. “And at the same time God sent me to heal you and Sarah.”
So who is this strange man they thought they knew? He’s no man at all. “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”
This is the first time Tobit and Tobias hear the angel’s true name, which means “God heals.”6
The role of angels
Other passages of scripture tell us something about these angels. Gabriel tells us in Luke that he is one of these angels. We encounter them again in Revelation 1 and 4 as seven stars, seven golden lampstands, and seven torches. We also see the role of angels bringing prayers before God in Revelation 8 (see Episode Guide 3).
Other archangels are named in Scripture: Gabriel not only appears in Luke (1.19, 26–38), but also Daniel 9.21. Then there’s Michael (Daniel 10.13; Jude 9) and Uriel (2 Esdras 4.1, another “bad” book of the Bible). Beyond the canonical scripture, there’s also 1 Enoch 10.28 which lists six angels: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, and Gabriel, and a Greek fragment identifies Remiel.
Books like Tobit reflect a growing understanding of angels in Jewish thought at this time. God governs his creation but uses means. He sends his messengers, the angels. This is what’s going on in Hebrews 1.14: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” When we talk about God as the Lord of Hosts, per the name discussion above, we’re talking in part about his position at the head of this host of angels.
St. Augustine says of angels:
[They] do not want themselves, but God, to be adored. They are messengers, announcing whatever message they have been given to announce; they are ‘attendants,’ doing whatever they have been ordered to do, presenting our prayers to God, not demanding them for themselves in God’s stead.7
And St. John of Damascus says,
They take whatever form the Lord may command, and thus they appear to people and reveal the divine mysteries to them. They live in heaven and have as their one work to sing the praises of God and minister to his sacred will.8
Raphael’s reveal brings to mind Hebrews 13.2 and the injunction to show hospitality to strangers because “some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” It’s easy to jump to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis as the “some people” the author has in mind. But knowing how popular the Book of Tobit was during this period, it’s also easy to imagine “some people” includes Tobit, Tobias, and the rest of those taken in by Raphael’s disguise.
Now we faceplant (Tobit 12.16–19)
In response to this news, Tobit and Tobias do what pretty much everyone does when they encounter an angel: they hit the dirt (for comparison see Genesis 18.2; 19.1; Numbers 22.31; Judges 13.20; Daniel 8.17). Raphael then jumps in with the standard response: “Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God for ever” (compare Genesis 21.17; Luke 1.13, 30).9
Raphael then discloses a few more mysteries. He was acting on God’s will, not his own. Tobit and Tobias had seen a vision of Raphael as a human, but did not see him as he really is. When Tobias saw him eating along the road during their journey, for instance, he was seeing a vision, not the real thing.
Interestingly, a note in The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha says many ancient rabbis, as well as Philo and Josephus, taught that the angels visiting Abraham and Sarah likewise pretended to eat.10 Compare that with Jesus after the resurrection, who in his risen body really did eat (Luke 24.23, 42). The gospel goes out of the way to ensure we know Jesus was physically raised, and his appearances were more than a visiting angel.11
Get up and write down (Tobit 12.20–22)
Tobit and Tobias are still on the ground, and Raphael tells the pair to get up. He next tells them to write down what they experienced. This is part of declaring the works of God discussed before—and it’s ostensibly why we have the book of Tobit and why the book begins with first-person narration.
After that, Raphael ascends and vanishes from sight.
Still stunned, Tobit and Tobias find their feet again and bless God, singing and praising: “And they acknowledged God for these marvellous deeds of his, when an angel of God had appeared to them.”
Irene Nowell, O.S.B., in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6:
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are three pillars of righteous living in Jewish tradition. Christians, too, declare days of fasting and prayer. Many churches keep the tradition of almsgiving, providing places for food, clothing, and money to be collected for the poor. Lent is a special time for these practices.
Raphael’s words teach us that the three practices cannot be separated: “Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteous” (12:8). Prayer without action is empty, a soul without a body. Fasting by itself is a work of pride, proving one’s self-discipline. Charitable giving without the other two is cold; the gift has never touched the giver’s life. Raphael shows us that genuine prayer will lead us to share God’s concern for the poor. That concern will urge us to fast, to take only what we need so that we will have something to share with the poor.12
Coming next week. . .
As the Jewish Annotated Apocrypha notes, many medieval versions end the story here. But there’s more story to come. Next week, we’ll close out the book with chapters 13 and 14.
The following treatment relies on Apocrypha: Lutheran Edition with Notes, 384, and Blue Letter Bible’s index of God’s names in the Old Testament.
For more on this point, see Stephen De Young, The Religion of the Apostles (Ancient Faith, 2021), especially chapter 3.
Quoted in John Litteral, ed., The Early Church Fathers Bible Commentary: The Book of Tobit (CreateSpace, 2017), 90.
Quoted in Litteral, Early Church Fathers: Tobit, 94.
For more on this, see Irene Nowell in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 6 (Abingdon Press, 2015), 148.
Quoted in Sever J. Voicu, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 15 (InterVarsity Press, 2010), 28.
Quoted in Voicu, ACCS 15.29.
JAA 171. St. Bede seems to think that the food was consumed, but not exactly eaten. “It is probable that the food eaten was consumed as soon as it reached the spiritual or heavenly body. Like water thrown onto a burning flame.” Quoted in Litteral, Early Church Fathers: Tobit, 97. Either way, something was seen by humans that didn’t operate as it seemed to.
Irene Nowell, in NIBC 6.149.