The Hortatory Words of Rafael in Tobit 12:6-10

The Hortatory Words of Rafael in Tobit 12:6-10
Book of Tobit

Before Tobit and Tobias can hand Rafael a generous amount for his wages, more than was originally agreed upon, Rafael summons them aside for a private message that is tantamount to a farewell discourse.181 The two intend to pay Rafael his wage but, instead, they get a revelation that God has recompensed them for their merciful deeds. Although Anna and Sarah are also beneficiaries of God’s goodness, they are not included in Rafael’s address.182 Rafael then exhorts Tobit and Tobias to observe a set of moral precepts. Rafael’s first exhortation to them is to praise and acknowledge God, euvlogei/te ton. qeon. kai. auvtw/| evxomologei/sqe, which is only fitting considering that they have received such an abundance of blessings. His parting exhortation in v. 20 is likewise to bless and acknowledge God, which is like a refrain Rafael sings constantly throughout the chapter. Rafael’s wise counsels remind the reader of Tobit’s own in chapter 4 and imply that the joyful praise of God is the peak of a believer’s relationship with God.

According to Fitzmyer, however, the interpretation that the women were ex-cluded is “as gratuitous as it is eisegetical” in light of Rafael’s exhortation to declare God’s works before all. FITZMYER, Tobit, 290-291. It can very well be that Rafael is addressing Tobit and Tobias in the presence of the ladies, although the Greek recen-sions are quite clear that Rafael called just the two of them: to,te kale,saj tou.j du,o kruptw/j ei=pen auvtoi/j. Day argues that Tobit is consistent with the scriptural tradition in which divine activity is clear in stories with male protagonists, especially when compared to stories like Ruth, Esther and Judith, in which female lead characters have to act on their own, take the initiative, and make their own decision without di-rect divine aid in order to attain salvation. DAY, Power, Otherness, and Gender, 122-124.

In between, Rafael reveals his identity as one of the seven angels who presented Tobit’s and Sarah’s prayer before the throne of God. He also explains his task as part of God’s will. This narrative revelation adds only little information since the reader has known the identity and task of Rafael all along.183 In addition to verbal acknowledgement of God, Rafael asks the two to write down everything that has happened to them in a book, gra,yate pa,nta ta. suntelesqe,nta eivj bibli,on, a record of remembrance and eventually in the absence of the angel the carrier or messenger of God’s accompanying presence.184 Rafael then departs from their midst, never to be seen again, leaving Tobit and Tobias in an act of praise and prayer.

The Two Chief Instructions of Rafael

In his exhortation to acknowledge the works of God, Rafael employs a comparative proverb, declaring that it is better to conceal the secret of a king and to unveil the activities of God.185 While divulging the secret of a king is fraught with perils, and accordingly to be avoided, the proclamation of the wonders of God is a commendable thing to do. It is wise to keep the plans of a king in confidence, but the deeds and marvels of God, even if concealed, are to be declared. While the courtier has the duty to conceal the plans of a king, the believer has the duty to proclaim the secret that is the hidden plans and presence of God in the midst of his people.186 In a sense, the proverb states a preferential option for the behavior of the believer over and above that of the court official.187 After all, the aphorism implies that divine power prevails over secular power for God’s disclosed secrets do not threaten his power but actually demonstrate it. Thus one blesses and declares the glories of the Lord in public without delay or vacillation.188 Rafael, an agent in the divine court, observes his own advice and discloses the hidden dealings of God with Tobit and Tobias in Tob 12:11-14. Before he departs, Rafael asks Tobit and Tobias to realize this instruction concretely in the recording of all that has happened to them in a book. In effect, the book will serve as a reminder of God and his wondrous but mysterious deeds not only for Tobit and Tobias but for others as well. Writing the events down in his own words, bi,bloj lo,gwn Twbit, is Tobit’s act of remembrance, praise and proclamation.
Rafael’s instruction to praise and acknowledge the works of God finds resonance in the vocabulary of the prayers of Sarah and Tobit189 and other minor prayers (cf. Tob 8:5-8;190 8:15-17; 11:14-15; 13:1-8) in the story. As faithful Jews, their prayers find family resemblance in the Song of Miriam in Exod 15:21, the song of Hannah in 1 Sam 2:1-10 as well as the prayers in the Psalms such as Psalms 33 and 111 in which God is blessed and the works of his mighty hand declared. Rafael’s instruction can be taken as a roundabout way of encouraging the practice of prayer.191

The second part of his counsels in Tob 12:7b-10 starts with a general admonition “do good, and evil will not find you.” This echoes the principle of reciprocity Tobit earlier enunciated: do good and good things will happen to you. A series of sayings on almsgiving follows, implying that almsgiving is a tangible example of doing that which is good. Later on in v. 10, Rafael reprises Tobit’s grounds for almsgiving – it saves one from death. In light of this, his initial instruction “do good and evil will not find you” actually corresponds to the exhortation “do almsgiving and you will be saved from death.” With this equivalence,

Rafael seems to provide assurance that acts of almsgiving will not remain unrequited but will be met with equal, if not greater, merciful deeds from God. As Tobit has indeed experienced, God may not bury the dead as an act of charity like Tobit, but he restores to the plenitude of life the righteous who despair and pray for death. Needless to say, the second part of Rafael’s hortatory words emphasizes almsgiving, which is also a fundamental concern in Tobit 4. These two blocks of instructions are intimately linked; like Isaiah (cf. Isa 1:15-17) and Ben Sira (cf. Sir 3:6; 34:26), the author of Tobit relates prayer to action.

Tobit and Fasting

Rafael, who seems to have a particular fondness for comparative state-ments, claims that “prayer with truth and almsgiving with justice is better than wealth with injustice.” In GI and GIII versions as well as in the Vetus Latina, prayer is paired with fasting instead of truth, as it is in GII. Several scholars claim that the reading ‘prayer with fasting’ is very likely, even a “better reading” since the couplet ‘prayer and fasting’ is attested biblically in Neh 1:4, Joel 1:14 and Jer 14:12 and extra-biblically in T. Jos 10.1.192 This reading, however, could be far from the truth.

Certainly, this does not mean that the words of an angel of the Lord are unreliable. God forbid that an angel would tell lies (although Rafael’s record belies the claim since he did have some mental reservations early in the story)!193 Indeed, if angels lie, it would be difficult to trust their message!194 This only means that a theologically-inclined scribe altered the phrase, substituting ‘fasting’ for ‘truth’ when the practice became an important concern during the postexilic period.195 It could also be that proseuch. meta. avlhqei,aj got corrupted and was understood or incorrectly interpreted by the copyist as proseuch meta. nhstei,aj.

This is the first occurrence of the word nhstei,a ‘fasting’ in the GI Tobit story. All of the characters except Anna196 engage in prayer, but it is nowhere mentioned in the account that any of the characters practice fasting.197 The concept of fasting is simply foreign to its narrative universe. On the other hand, truth is a significant notion in Tobit. In his self-portrayal, Tobit states that he walks in the ways of truth and righteousness, which presumably are the ways of God. In his prayer in Tob 3:2, Tobit explicitly declares that the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth. He consequently instructs Tobias to walk in the ways of truth. Tobias does obey his father and declares on his wedding night that he is taking Sarah as his wife in truth (cf. Tob 8:7).

Truth, which is oftentimes synonymous with fidelity in the LXX, characterizes an action or a speech and demands the acknowledgment of the full or real state of affairs, whereby nothing is concealed, falsified or suppressed.198 Truth designates integrity, sincerity and honesty. Prayer with fidelity or integrity is thus a prayer in which a person stands naked and vulnerable before the Lord, hiding nothing and trusting in everything God has promised. With humility and honesty, Tobit and Sarah pray out of their own experiences, declaring before the Lord the real state of their souls and concealing nothing from him. In their prayers, they express their sincere loyalty to God. Further, they both personify the virtue of integrity in the narrative. The prayers de profondis of Tobit and of Sarah in their respective moments of sorrow are clear examples of this type of prayer. From a narrative point of view, therefore, prayer and truth go hand in glove.

In fact, the perfect parallelism created from the pairings ‘prayer with truth’ and ‘almsgiving with righteousness’ is a pithy condensation of the lessons learned from what has happened so far in the narrative.

As Tobit and Tobias are about to give Rafael a substantial amount of money, Rafael seems to imply in his aphorism that, compared to the value of the practice of prayer and almsgiving which Tobit has ob-served in his life, this wealth, though considerable, pales in signi-ficance. Rafael’s saying accentuates the incomparable worth of Tobit’s deeds of piety embodied in the narrative. Of course, the deeds of piety of this most pious of men do not include fasting. In his unveiling of God’s hidden activity, Rafael implies that both Tobit’s prayer and his acts of charity comprise the remembrance or the memorial offering, the mnhmo,sunon, that he brought before God.199 In the context of the story, therefore, the pairing ‘prayer with truth’ is more probable than ‘prayer with fasting.’ Moreover, considering that fasting has a ritualistic ring to it,200 it is somewhat strange to find it suddenly in a series of sapiential exhortations or in a narrative that tends less to cultic observances. To-bit, for one, never mentions it in any of his instructions. But he does charge his children in his valedictory speech in Tob 14:9 to praise the name of God in truth. In light of the above, it is more likely that the pair ‘prayer with truth,’ preserved in the oldest codex, is the more original reading.

‘Prayer with Truth’ and ‘Almsgiving with Justice’

One detects a certain internal order in the hortatory words of Rafael.201 The significant couplet ‘prayer with truth’ and ‘almsgiving with justice’ are easily the two main categories under which the entirety of Rafael’s instructions can be classified. The first part of the instructions in Tob 12:6-7 has a theocentric focus (the prayer-with-truth section) while the second part of the exhortations is other-directed (the almsgiving-with-justice section). The middle section gives particular attention to almsgiving. In it, Rafael reiterates and expands Tobit’s justification in Tob 4:10 for endorsing the practice. In addition to Tobit’s reason

evlehmosu,nh evk qana,tou ru,etai "almsgiving saves one from death," Rafael adds two more grounds: that almsgiving purifies all sin "kai. auvth. avpokaqai,rei pa/san amarti,an,” a sentiment that is also found in Dan 4:24, and that it will grant full and satisfying life to those who engage in it, “cortasqh,sontai zwh/j.” This clarifies Tobit’s earlier assertion as to why almsgiving is a dw/ron avgaqo,n or a good gift before God. The expiation of sin in the OT is usually done through cultic sacrifices. In Tobit, sins can be atoned for by way of charitable works. If a person transgresses the commands of the Lord and commits sin, his deeds of charity will pay off and purge him of his sins. He will enjoy life with God and the blessings such life bestows. Understandably, the cultic form of atonement is once again downplayed.

Rafael’s God-focused instructions in Tob 12:6 and 20 bracket his aphorisms on almsgiving. This means that the praise and public acknowledgement of God and his works entail a very practical and concrete behavior, i.e., doing almsgiving with righteousness. Rafael’s instructions mirror the two major concerns of Tobit, namely the doing of righteousness by way of almsgiving, and the faithful glorification and acknowledgement of God, which in the final analysis are two sides of the same coin: the remembrance of God.202 Ultimately, these two counsels reflect the balance and the relationship between love of God and love of neighbor, for practical behavior reveals one’s attitude towards God – the worship of God in terms both active and practical.203 Remembering what God has done is therefore both an impetus for praise and a motivation for proper conduct.204

Rafael himself connects these two admonitions in a chapter filled with revelations. He suggests a relationship between prayer and works of almsgiving in his explanation of the unseen divine activity in Tob 12:12-14.205 Tobit has not only prayed in truth but has also done deeds of compassion by burying the dead. For this, he experiences God’s mercy and receives divine help, which though hidden from him for a time, needs to be acknowledged and proclaimed. Even though they are unaware of it, God’s saving help does come to those who are true and righteous. Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, God does not fail to remember those who remember him in faithful prayer and in righteous deeds, for both of these serve as reminder, remembrance, record, memorial offering, the mnhmo,sunon before the throne of the Most High. Anyone well-versed in Scriptures knows that good things hap-pen when God remembers (cf. Gen 8:1; Exod 2:24).

To a certain extent, the reiteration of the central themes such as truth, almsgiving, and righteousness (cf. Tob 12:8) and the simple structure of Rafael’s instructions is not a mere matter of congruence but of affirmation of Tobit’s counsels in chapter four. A divine messenger now supports Tobit’s words. Rafael thus reminds not only Tobit but also the reader of the efficacy of the counsels Tobit espouses and which he earlier gave to his son Tobias.

Proclaim the Words of God

Tobit 12 practically opens and ends with the call to praise God. In all actuality, as soon as Rafael finishes telling Tobit and Tobias to bless and acknowledge God, he immediately repeats an equivalent instruc-tion. At first sight, the sense of both exhortations appears similar. Upon closer analysis, however, there is a difference between the two instruc-tions. First, the wording is different. Whereas Rafael starts his instruc-tions by saying to.n qeo.n euvlogei/te kai. auvtw/| evxomologei/sqe evnw,pion pa,ntwn tw/n zw,ntwn a] evpoi,hsen meqV umw/n avgaqa,, he concludes by saying tou.j lo,gouj tou/ qeou/ upodei,knute pa/sin avnqrw,poij evnti,mwj kai. mh. ovknei/te evxomologei/sqai auvtw/ (cf. Tob 12:6). The first verb upodei,knumi 'to declare, show' of the second exhortation replaces euvlogew 'praise, extol, speak well' of the first. In a way, the second parallelism expands the sense of the first one. Since the object of the verb upodei,knumi is touj. lo,gouj tou/ qeou ‘the words of God,’ blessing or speaking well of the Lord acquires the additional meaning of declaring the words or wonders of God. What can be the significance of the expression ‘proclaim the words of God?’

The Book of Exodus speaks of the Ten Commandments as words that came forth directly from the mouth of God (cf. Exod 20:1).206 In the Midrash on Exodus, it is from Sinai where the prophets receive their message and the sages receive their wisdom because they were all standing in the assembly with Moses before God, and received a share of the Torah although they did not yet exist.207 The sages say that wis-dom, knowledge and understanding come from the mouth of God (cf. Prov 2:6). The psalmist, on the other hand, complains that Israel neither listened to nor obeyed God’s word but followed their own designs (Ps 81:12-13). In light of this biblical tradition and midrashic interpretation, it is likely that tou.j lo,gouj tou/ qeou refers to the commandments of God subsumed under the notion of Torah as wisdom. Deuteronomy uses the term not to refer to particular stipulations of the law but to a body of laws. For Israel, Torah is the equivalent of the intellectual traditions, or the wisdom, of other peoples.208 In light of this, to declare the words of God is to show the wisdom of God before all the nations. This translates concretely into the observance of his commandments in the midst of others. As Deut 4:6 states, keeping God’s precepts gives evi-dence to the wisdom of God’s people. Rafael’s admonition to declare the words of God corresponds with Tobit’s prohibition neither to transgress the commandments of God nor to blot them out from one’s heart. In his prayer in Tob 3:5, it is precisely the violation of the law and the unwillingness to perform divine commands that Tobit cites as the reason why the divine judgment over him and his ancestors is true and just.

From a narrative point of view, it is interesting to note that the healing of Tobit’s blindness and the expulsion of the demon Asmodeus, who is responsible for the deaths of Sarah’s seven husbands, are both achieved by following the words and instructions of Rafael.209 As he enters the bedroom in Tob 8:2, Tobias remembers the words of Rafael and places the liver and the gall of the fish over live coals, with the smoke, or most likely, the stench, causing the demon to run away to Egypt. In Tob 11:1-14, Tobias listens to Rafael’s directions as they hurry along home, and following them to the letter, applies the proscribed cure and eases Tobit his father into the light. Rafael, for all his angelic status, does not perform deeds of wonder. He simply persuades and advises Tobias on what to do and gives him clear directions along the journey step by docile step. Miracles happen when Tobias obeys his words. It is the word-guided, direction-based actions of Tobias that lead to the resolution of all the problems in the narrative. The words of Rafael are the divine guidance while Tobias is the human instrument. In short, the narrative portrays Rafael to be a giver of advice and provider of information but not a wonder-worker.210

Since the angel Rafael is God’s mediator or alter-ego when dealing with humans,211 one can say that the pedagogical words of God will never cease to make wonders when obeyed and observed. This would have a special significance for the Tobits of the Hellenistic world. It would have encouraged them in the midst of difficulty and anxiety to remain faithful to the words of God, declaring them visibly by faithful observance. With the divine words enfleshed in acts of righteousness and compassion, those who suffer, literally find in such deeds the comfort and the healing presence of their God.


From a narratological perspective, Tob 4:3-19, 21 is a mixture of testa-mentary and sapiential exhortations. Tobit gives specific instructions that deal with the consequences of his death. But in more important respects, Tobit presents in his general exhortations a program for life, giving these instructions and precepts to Tobias as he leaves for a life-changing journey. Profoundly influenced by deuteronomic ideals, Tobit’s instructions have as basic ground the remembrance of the Lord. This universal principle is instanced by three general instructions namely, the practice of righteousness, the practice of education and discipline, and the practice of prayer and praise. In turn, Tobit points out and upholds certain behaviors that concretize the three general instructions. The main motive for heeding the exhortations is the deu-teronomic principle that human righteous deeds will be compensated with divine righteous actions.

The instructions of Rafael in Tob 12:6-10 and Tobit’s farewell dis-course in Tob 14:8-11a repeat and thus demonstrate the heavy importance of Tobit’s initial wisdom lecture. With these three general instructions, Tobit reinterprets the fundamentals of what it means to fulfill the remembrance of the Lord in the land of exile and death. In Tobit’s mind, three things are constitutive of fidelity to God and his laws while expectantly waiting for the future restoration of the exiled to the homeland; they are the practice of righteousness expressed primarily in material works of charity, education in the wisdom of God, and prayer and praise of God.

Originally posted 2020-03-10 08:48:27.