The Unlucky Bride and the Matchmaking Angel
Raphael tries to convince Tobias to marry Sarah. But Tobias has heard about the seven prior suitors—all dead on their wedding night! What will he do? In this episode we cover Tobit 6.7–7.1.
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A wink, a nod, and a literary technique (6.7–9)
Tobias and Raphael, their unnamed dog loping alongside, finally make it to Media. Curiously enough, that’s when Tobias asks Raphael about the medicinal value of the fish guts he’s been carrying since their first night at the Tigris. Raphael tells him the heart and liver can be burned to chase away demons and the gall can be used to heal blindness. How convenient!
It’s a tease of what’s to come, and it’s worth noting here that it’s a constant feature of Tobit’s narrative approach.
In terms of literary technique, the story doesn’t rely on suspense. Instead, it utilizes winks and nods about what’s to come. Each element of the story is connected, and the narrator tells us exactly how before it connects. It’s part of what develops the sense of comedy in the story. Because we’re in on the action at every stage, the story prompts a sense of delight in watching the pieces fall into place.
Just the girl for you (6.10–18)
As the travelers approach Ecbatana, Raphael leads Tobias towards the house of Sarah’s father, Raguel. “He’s your relative,” he explains, “and he has a daughter named Sarah.” The angel is playing matchmaker.
Tobias, it turns out, is next of kin and therefore has a claim to Sarah’s hand in marriage. This idea goes back to Hebrew inheritance laws designed to keep property in the family and save widows from destitution (see Numbers 27.1–11; 36.1–10).
Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers (Numbers 36.8).
Tobit reflects the patriarchal culture in which it was written and first read. Though while it runs counter to modern egalitarian or feminist sensibilities, there’s a view here toward protecting women. These provisions ensured that a woman would retain material wealth and have resources following the death of her husband (see Deuteronomy 25.5–10). A present-day policymaker might handle things differently, but the ancient Israelites and those reading Tobit after its publication were concerned with the long-term care of the vulnerable.
Should Tobias need any encouragement, Raphael also informs him that Sarah comes from a good family with some inheritable possessions. What’s more, she’s “sensible, brave, and very beautiful.” What he doesn’t tell him is that there’s a catch: She is also plagued by a demon that has killed her seven prior grooms. Details!
Move over Henry VIII’s six wives, Sarah had seven husbands! But Raphael didn’t have to mention it. Word got around. After Raphael told Tobias that he would set everything up with Sarah’s father, Raguel, Tobias objected.
I have heard that she already has been married to seven husbands and that they died in the bridal chamber. On the night when they went into her, they would die. I have heard people saying that it was a demon that killed them. It does not harm her, but it kills anyone who desires to approach her.
As the Outlaw Josey Wales said, “Dying ain’t much of a living.” And that would be reason enough to back out of any sort of arrangement with Sarah. But Tobias is actually more focused on the fate of his parents back home:
So now, since I am the only son my father has, I am afraid that I may die and bring my fathers and mothers life down to their grave, grieving for me—and they have no other son to bury them.
Nonetheless, Raphael is insistent. He reminds Tobias that his father wants him to marry a nice Jewish girl. Of course, there must be a nice Jewish girl who comes without her personal demonic tormentor, right? But Raphael preempts the objection.
He says don’t sweat Asmodeus. Once Tobias has married the girl and he’s in the bridal chamber with her, Raphael says he can burn the fish’s liver and heart as incense and that will drive the demon away. He adds,
Now when you are about to go to bed with her, both of you must first stand up and pray, imploring the Lord of heaven that mercy and safety be granted to you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world was made. You will save her and she will go to you.
Despite having to battle a demon to get her, Tobias warms to the idea of taking Sarah as his wife. We know that because Tobias wants to go straight to see here when he hits town.
Coming next week . . .
Tobias and Sarah meet at last, and Raphael takes care of the demon Asmodeus.
Resources for following along
One thing we’ve heard several times from listeners so far is that they’re interested in reading books like Tobit for themselves, but they’re curious about where to find them. Many Bibles published these days don’t include them. To help readers who want to dive into these books for themselves, we’ve pulled together a list of resources we’ve found helpful.
English Standard Version–Catholic Edition, published by Augustine Institute. Perfect for Protestants who are ESV fans. In general, Catholic editions of the Bible of whatever translation have the deuterocanonical books included; though from an Orthodox perspective these editions are missing some texts—e.g., Psalm 151.
New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha. Complete set of apocryphal books, sectioned off between Old and New Testaments.
Standalone study editions:
Jewish Annotated Apocrypha. This is a New Revised Standard Version with detailed commentary and articles from a Jewish perspective. Plus: Contains the Book of Jubilees.
The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. Also NRSV. General study notes and commentary.
Apocrypha: Lutheran Edition with Notes. An insightful ESV study edition from a Lutheran perspective.
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Vol. 15. Contains full texts of several of the apocryphal books—though not the Maccabean books—plus patristic commentary.
Septuagint (Greek Old Testament, which includes apocrypha):
Lexham English Septuagint. Accessible translation with easy-reading layout. Includes several lesser known books as well, including the Psalms of Solomon and Enoch.
And speaking of free, Bible Gateway is a tremendously helpful resource with several translations online, including some such as the NRSV that contain the Apocrypha.