“Eyes to the Blind”: A Dialogue Between Tobit and Job
God chooses to test God’s faithful servant, sending an angel to over- see the trial. Afflicted in body and soul, derided by those around him, the righteous man suffers because he is righteous. Even his wife rebukes him, yet the humbled servant remains faithful. God acts to restore his health, blessing him also with new family, renewed prosper- ity, and a long life. This is part of Job’s story; it is also part of Tobit’s.
The Vulgate (Vg) of Tobit recognizes and names some of the simi- larities between the two tales. Following Tobit’s report of his blindness in 2:11, Vg contains a substantial plus, interpreting Tobit’s suffering by comparison with Job’s (Tob 2:12-18 Vg).1
According to the narrator in Vg, God permitted Tobit to suffer this attack (temptationem, also meaning “trial”) on his body in order that Tobit, like Job, might provide future generations with a model of patient endurance (2:12 Vg). Tobit had kept the commandments from his youth, and (like Job) had ever feared God (2:13 Vg). Even in his suf- ferings Tobit did not grow bitter (contristatus, also meaning “dark- ened” or “clouded”) against God. He would continue to fear and give thanks to God all the days of his life (2:14 Vg). Though Tobit, like Job, suffered insult from kings (cf. Job 2:11 LXX) and from family (Tob 2:15 Vg), yet he persevered in the hope of life from God (2:17).
We recall nonetheless that for a time Tobit, like Job, wished only for death (Tob 3:6). Tobit was indeed darkened by his suffering, for in his time of blindness he could not see the workings of providence. Yet he was not darkened against God, for in acknowledging his sinfulness and that of his people, he could uphold God’s justice and hope for mercy. His exemplar Job, by contrast, knew of no sin to confess, and voiced only his bitter complaint against the creator turned destroyer.2 Their tales are similar, but not the same.
Modern scholars have noted both similarities and differences between the two. Andrew Chester points out that the author of Tobit used biblical books such as Job not simply by way of allusion, but as raw material for constructing the narrative itself.3 Robert Pfeiffer, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Irene Nowell, among others, have identified numerous plot elements in Tobit borrowed from Job.4 Nowell also points to a common narrative structure and shared imagery of light and darkness.5
Carey Moore finds that the “basic problem and imagery” of Job influenced the author of Tobit.6 Yet, as an example of how they differ, we see that Tobit takes the problem of suffering in a new direction, offering models for both a passive and active human response, while also affirming God’s response.7 As Nowell notes, in the borrowing of patterns and motifs, it is above all “the variations that are signifi- cant.”8 As we attend to both similarities and differences between the two books, these insights will help to focus our understanding of the intertextual relationship between Tobit and Job.
By re-using elements of the structure, plot, and imagery of the Book of Job, the author of Tobit enters into dialogue with the earlier book and invites the reader to do the same. The Book of Job speaks to the agony of the human heart when God remains hidden and friends become enemies, when no reasons can make sense of suffering, and no one acts to lift up the one brought low. Job holds God accountable for his suffering. Though God does appear and answer Job, restoring his health and fortune, yet many questions remain unanswered. The reader wants to know, like Job, how do we make sense of suffering? What can we know about God and God’s ways in the world, about God’s disposition toward the faithful?
In Tobit, the author addresses many of the questions raised in Job, returning to traditional answers, but developing them in new ways.9 Tobit affirms the theology of retribution that the Job poem calls into question.10 Yet the author’s understanding of God’s justice, provi- dence, and presence with God’s people differs from that of the Book of Job to the extent that it is shaped by a diaspora mentality and an apocalyptic worldview. Fitzmyer compares the portrayal of God in the two books, citing God’s similar involvement in the lives of those who suffer.11 Yet the manner of God’s involvement differs considerably from one to the other, and this is one of the key contributions of Tobit to the question of human suffering.
The analysis that follows focuses on the following related themes: the imagery of sight and blindness, light and darkness, and God’s hidden presence; the role of the mediating angel; mastery over forces of chaos; and exile and restoration. I will ask how the author of Tobit develops each of these themes in conversation with the Book of Job. We see that Job’s experience of God’s hiddenness is recast in Tobit’s experience of blindness. To see is finally to see the many ways God acts in the world for God’s people, through forces of creation and chaos, through angels, through the human community, and through the mar- velous tale that tells the story of their encounter. Raphael’s parting speech reveals that even in a chaotic world, in a time of seeming dark- ness, God is ever present, ever sustaining, and enacting God’s plan for healing and restoration. Tobit also knows that just as God has restored Tobit, Sarah, and their families, so God will restore Jerusalem, leading her exiled children home in safety.
Blindness, Sight, and the Hidden Presence of God
Imagery of light and darkness, sight and blindness, pervades the Book of Job. Sight symbolizes knowledge, understanding, and the per- ception of reality (Job 4:8; 5:3; 9:11; 11:11; 22:12; 32:1); the apprehension of revelation (4:16); and human experience (3:10; 7:7; 9:25; 15:17). To see God is to experience God’s presence (42:5). Light symbolizes good for- tune, security, and hope (11:17-18); life (3:20); divine guidance (19:3); and clarity (12:22). God punishes the wicked with blindness and darkness (5:14; 12:24-25; 18:18; 38:15); they grope without understanding (12:24-25). Darkness symbolizes death (38:17). It disorients and frightens (22:11), hiding God from view (37:19-24).
For Eliphaz, Job’s anger toward God can only mean Job’s sight has failed (15:13). He sees neither his own sinfulness nor the consolations God offers. Job does not disagree. Undeserved suffering has wearied his eyes (17:2).12 Mocked and derided (17:2-6), he says, “my eye has grown blind with anguish” (17:7).13
The friends argue that Job’s blindness, indeed all his suffering, owes to sin. According to the traditional view upheld by Zophar and Eli- phaz, God rewards the righteous with light and sight, but punishes the wicked with darkness and blindness (11:14-18; 22:4-11). Job too held this view. But he perceives that he is righteous (32:1), and says, “When I expected light, then came darkness” (30:26). Challenging Job’s inno- cence, Zophar assures him that if he removes sin from his life (11:14), it will brighten: “its gloom shall become as the morning” (11:17). The light of a new day will bring security and hope (11:18).
Yet just as Job’s experience reverses the traditional expectation of reward and punishment, so Job reverses the traditional associations of light and darkness, night and day. Job curses the day of his birth, lamenting that he ever saw light (3:10, 16). Even in the light of day, the path of humans and God’s ways with them remain hidden from sight (3:23). Such light is worse than darkness, and life worse than death (3:20-22).
Job knows that God established the boundaries of dark and light (26:10), and Job himself, for all his cursing, can neither shift nor reverse them. Yet God has done so, obscuring light with clouds (26:9; 37:21) and veiling Job’s path in darkness (19:8). In the past God’s watchful care had illuminated Job’s way like a lamp in the darkness (29:2-3). Now that light is gone. Though others seek to “change the night into day” with talk of approaching light (17:12), only God can lift from Job the veil that has come to feel like a shroud. Yet the very God who transforms the darkness to reveal what is hidden (12:22) remains hidden from Job’s sight (13:24).
This theme of the hiddenness, and the hunger for God’s presence, runs throughout Job.14 Though Job acknowledges God’s wondrous deeds, they are mysterious, past finding out (9:10). If God passes over that Tobit’s blinding also follows immediately upon his being ridiculed by those around him. While it is not clear whether Job’s failing sight in this passage is physical, metaphorical, or both, yet the author of Tobit may have drawn inspiration from these verses.
This theme of the hiddenness, and the hunger for God’s presence,
runs throughout Job.14 Though Job acknowledges God’s wondrous deeds, they are mysterious, past finding out (9:10). If God passes over him, Job cannot see him; though God has been near, Job does not per- ceive him (9:11). East, west, north, and south, nowhere does God appear (23:8-9). Job suffers in this eclipse of God’s presence,15 fearing what God has in store (23:14-16).
Tobit, like Job, languishes in the dark, unable to discern God’s plan. His days are darkness without light; he counts himself among the dead and prays for release from a life in shadows (Tob 3:6; 5:10).16 Hope and comfort are never denied Tobit (we know of his nurturing nephew and supportive wife, 2:10-12; God’s plan to heal him, 3:17; and his obedient son, 5:1), yet for a time he renounces both (5:10). Tobit’s blindness comes to symbolize his failure not only to envision God’s plan for his healing (he thinks only of death), but also the failure to recognize that God sustained him through his family even in his years of suffering (3:6; 5:10).17
Tobit clung to a myth of self-sufficiency (1:6), which blinds him even to God’s workings in the world.18 His infirmity renders him dependent on others, but he places little confidence in them (3:13-14). Referring to his blindness, Tobit twice describes himself as ajduvnato” toi'” ojfqalmoi'” (2:10; 5:10).19 !Aduvnato” signifies weakness or infirmity, powerlessness, inability, even impossibility. The doctors failed to restore his sight (2:10), and Tobit has accordingly surrendered all hope for a better life. The angel Raphael counters Tobit’s grim attitude with words of courage and a promise of healing. Tobit asks if Raphael will be able (dunhvsh/) to accompany his son Tobiah on his quest for their family fortune. Raphael answers that he will be able (dunhvsomai, 5:10).
Raphael’s ability will counter Tobit’s inability, and will empower Tobiah to be the agent of a healing and restoration that Tobit had thought impossible.
Though Tobit cannot see Raphael, he hears him make the promise that he will go with his son, and knows that it will be so (5:10, 17, 22). Out of the terrifying darkness shared by Tobit and Job, the Book of Tobit affirms God’s presence with God’s people, and promises that light to all (13:11). After the restoration of his sight, family, and fortune, Tobit sings to the Israelites that even in exile, when God has scattered them in the four directions, God “has shown you his greatness even there” (13:3-4).
“Oh that today I might find him,” Job cried (23:3). He vowed that he would see God with his own eyes (19:26-27), and in the end he did (42:6). Yet Elihu suggested that even when Job could not see him, God was neither absent nor silent: “For God does speak, perhaps once, or even twice, though one perceive it not” (33:14).20 The author of Tobit gives to the reader who has felt with Job the sting of absence, darkness, and silence, a new understanding of how God speaks to God’s people and walks among them even when they do not perceive it. Tobit and Tobiah do not set out to find God, nor do they see God directly. Yet they see God’s works revealed to them, encountering God in disguise throughout the story (12:11-22).
Three occurrences of the verb “to find” (euJrivskw) in Tobit show the forms God’s mysterious presence takes among a people in exile. Tobiah “finds” three things: a dead man, family, and an angel.
Tobit sends Tobiah to find the poor; he finds a dead man in need of burial (2:2-3). Tobit counsels his son to practice almsgiving, or acts of charity (ejlehmosuvnh), for God will not turn God’s face from those who turn their faces toward the poor (4:7 GI). Almsgiving, he tells Tobiah, delivers from death and keeps one from entering darkness (4:10 GI; cf. 12:9). Yet when Tobit buries the dead man (an act he earlier counted as ejlehmosuvnh, 1:16-18) on the day of his feast, he is rewarded with blind- ness, entering a state of darkness that is death to him. To what end? Raphael later tells Tobit that when he buried the dead man, God decided to test him (12:13-14). In this trial Tobit learns that his under- standing of God’s ways in the world, like Job’s, is too narrow. Not only light but also darkness serves God’s ends (cf. Job 38:8-11, 16-17, 19- 21). As unfathomable as darkness and the mystery of innocent suffering is the mercy of God. The plan that is hidden from view is God’s plan to heal the wounded, reunite God’s faithful people, and restore their good fortune; this is what Tobit in his trial learns to see.
The active presence of God also manifests itself to them in family, especially in children, a joy in the present and a promise for the future. When Tobiah goes in search of his family fortune, what he finds first is kin (7:1).21 Finally, Tobiah searche s for a guide, and finds an an gel (5:4, 9).22 When Raphael has revealed his identity and ascends to heaven, Tobit and Tobiah understand that God worked wonders for them through the presence of this angel. They proclaim the “marvelous deeds God had done when the angel appeared to them” (12:22).
Advocate and Accuser
Before Raphael came to earth to help and to heal Tobit, Sarah, and their families, he interceded for them in the heavenly court, presenting embodied in the human community, above all in one’s children. Whereas Sarah’s maid insults her by saying, “may we never see your son or daughter” (3:9), following her marriage, her parents each express a fervent wish to see Sarah and Tobiah’s children before they die (10:11, 13). The hope they express echoes the good fortune of Job himself, who lived to see children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren before he died (42:16). Job complained that as the wicked grow old, “their progeny is secure in their sight; they see before them their kinsfolk and their offspring” (21:8). Job thought this blessing should be reserved for the righteous, yet the righteous Job had lost his children. Where was God’s justice? Tobit finally sees that it is less a question of justice than of grace. Only by God’s mercy can he see his son again (11:15). Knowing (and surely shar- ing) Anna’s anxiety to see their son Tobiah return safe from his journey, Tobit assures her, “your own eyes will see the day when he returns to you” (5:21). Tobit knows and promises that an angel will ensure his safe return (5:22). Naming his parents’ fear that they will never see him again, Tobiah urges Raguel to let him go home (10:7). Anna, who as she pined for him called Tobiah “light of my eyes” (10:5), exclaims on his return, “Now that I have seen you again, son, I am ready to die!” Tobit too, when he regains his sight, exclaims, “I can seen you, son, the light of my eyes!” (11:14). He praises God’s mercy for restoring his sight and allowing him to see his son again (11:15). to God a record of their prayers and deeds (3:16-17; 12:12-14). The motif of the interceding angel complements that of the accuser, or Satan.23
Both accuser and advocate figure in the Book of Job. The Satan enters the scene in Job 1:6, “when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord” (cf. Job 2:1; Tob 12:15). God asks the Satan to consider Job, who is “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8). The Satan challenges God to test Job’s piety by removing the hedge of blessing God has placed around him (1:9-11). God agrees, and twice sends the Satan to afflict Job.
If Job suspects the Satan’s role in bringing about his suffering, he does not speak of it. Yet for a time he is certain he has an advocate in heaven, ready to help him in his trial. “Even now,” he proclaims, “my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high” (16:19).24 Elihu also speaks of such a figure, in a passage that resonates strongly with Tobit. Such an angel helps to ensure the efficacy of the sinner’s prayer, instructing one in righteousness and allowing one to experience healing, the joy of God’s presence, light, and new life (33:23-30).
Raphael fulfills just such a role in Tobit. God commissions Raphael to heal Tobit and Sarah (Tob 3:17; 12:14). Through Raphael the author of Tobit illustrates and emphasizes God’s healing and life-giving power. Raphael’s very name (literally “God heals”) underscores the point. Whereas in Job, God sent an angel to strike his servant, in Tobit, God sends an angel to heal. Advocate takes the place of accuser. Through this advocate, God heals the afflicted, raises up the downcast, and gives new life to those who longed for death.
Chaos, Providence, and Holy Help
God accomplishes this work not only through Raphael, but also through Tobiah, whom Raphael instructs and empowers. Raphael teaches Tobiah how to repel the demon that afflicts Sarah by means of a fish’s heart and liver (and by prayer, 6:8, 17-18). He teaches him how to heal his father Tobit’s blindness by rubbing the fish’s gall on his eyes (6:9; 11:8).
As Tobiah, angel, and dog set out on the journey to retrieve the family fortune, night overtakes them, and they make camp beside the Tigris river (6:2). They have left the safety of home behind them. Night and water, by contrast, symbolize their encounter with the chaotic and the unknown (though there is greater depth to each; see below). As Tobiah dips his foot into the water, a great fish leaps up to devour his foot (or, according to G1, his entire self, 6:3). Raphael empowers Tobiah in the struggle that ensues, calling out to him, “Seize the fish and become its master!” (6:4)25 Tobiah masters (ejkravthsen) the fish and brings it up onto the ground. Following Raphael’s instructions, he cuts it up for food and saves its vital organs for the healings he will later perform (6:6).
Nowell has noted that Tobiah’s struggle with the fish symbolizes and anticipates the struggle with death he will soon undertake when he faces the demon Asmodeus.26 Language denoting first downward (katevbh) and then upward (ajnhvnegken) motion images this struggle in terms of descent (as into the netherworld, a motif repeated several times in Tobit) and ascent (returning to the earth, dry land, place of life, light, and order). The forceful language of power and mastery in both the Greek and Aramaic suggests that in this symbolic act Raphael empowers Tobiah in a greater battle against death, darkness, and chaos.
In another context, God asked Job whether he could master the great sea creature Leviathan (Job 40:25-41:26 [NRSV 41:1-34]). Will Leviathan serve him (40:28 [NRSV 41:4])? Will Job capture the beast and trade him to merchants to cut up (40:30 [NRSV 41:6])? The unspo- ken answer is no, Job is powerless before him. None on earth can dominate him (41:25 [NRSV 41:33]),27 for Leviathan is king of the proud creatures of chaos (cf. 41:26 [NRSV 41:34]). Job must learn the place of the chaotic in God’s creation, so he may understand that not all God’s works fit neatly into Job’s vision of the world.
Tobiah’s great fish may not match the terror of Leviathan, yet it par- takes of the traditional symbolism of the chaos monster.28 Job and his readers have learned their lesson: chaos is real and humans are small; God has created both. The author of Tobit takes the conversation in a new direction. Human creatures do not have an arm like God’s, to be sure, and alone cannot overcome the powerful elements of chaos in the world. Yet the very name Azariah (“Yh[wh] helps”), assumed by Raphael when he takes human form, promises God’s assistance to the faithful in their time of need. With the aid of God and the angels, they can overcome the forces of chaos, darkness, and despair that threaten their existence as a holy people.29 enables Tobiah to create and enforce a boundary that the demon cannot cross, driving him from the intimate space of Sarah’s chamber to a desert location where no humans dwell. Tobiah need not have an arm like God’s to keep the demon at bay, for it is not his task to wrestle and bind him. That is the angel’s task, performed far away and out of sight, almost on another plane, with such speed that the reader cannot doubt that the angel’s strength is far superior to that of any demon. This is good news for one who fears demons and the chaos they represent, and relies for safety and strength on the help of God and God’s angels. As we consider the role of Asmodeus in the light of Job, we may note that the demon, whose name as transliterated in Aramaic could be taken to mean “Destroyer” (from the root dmv), takes on the Satan’s role (and God’s, as far as Job saw it) as supernatural tormentor. Yet consistent with apocalyptic dualism, this demon does not act with God’s permission (so far as we are told), but of its own accord. By replacing the Satan with the advocate, and relegating the destroyer to the realm of lesser demons, the book paints a world in which God is on the side of God’s people rather than against them. The biblical portrayal of God as wounder and healer asserted so boldly in Deut 32:39 was influential for both Job (e.g. 5:18) and Tobit (11:15; 13:2; see further Weitzman, “Allusion, Artifice and Exile”). Though God heals Job in the end,
Tobiah’s victory over the fish also points to the surprising ways God uses these forces to God’s own providential ends.30 Amy-Jill Levine has noted that the great fish that attempts to swallow part or all of Tobiah on his journey from Nineveh also recalls the fish appointed by God to swallow Jonah whole as he flees his call to preach to that same city (2:1).31 Repetition in Jonah of the verb hnm, “to appoint” (2:1; 4:6, 7, 8) illustrates how God turns the wild and sometimes destructive forces of nature, even the smallest little worm, to serve the aims of providence and divine mercy. Levine’s comparison helps us to see more clearly the way in which the author of Tobit continues the conversation with Job in the wake of God’s speech from the whirlwind.
In that speech, God not only confronted Job with the mysteries of creation, but also assured him that what humans perceive as unfath- omable, God comprehends and orders. Light and darkness each has its proper place (38:19). Though they venture forth, God leads them back (38:20). Both serve God’s purposes. Darkness swaddles the sea (38:9), and enforces the limit upon the water that would otherwise threaten humankind (38:8-11). Water can symbolize either chaos and danger (the mighty sea and swift river) or stability and sustenance (rain, drink, source of fertility). In either form it serves God’s purposes. So too do water creatures and the darkness from which they strike.32
From Exile to Restoration
The setting of exile accounts for many of the new ways in which the Book of Tobit develops the themes it shares with Job. Both Levine and Will Soll identify the condition of exile as the underlying problem addressed by Tobit.33 As Levine writes, “Tobit attempts to uphold the book leaves the reader with a far more vivid sense of God’s destructive nature than of God’s tender healing. While Tobit can confess, like Job (19:21), “it was he who scourged me” (Tob 11:15), yet this book’s main emphasis is on God’s healing mercy, as Tobit proclaims in his joyful song of praise (13:2).
Jewish traditions in a land where governmental hostility to such piety is rampant.”34 They struggle there with “the apparent absence of God and the impression that the world is a place of chaos.”35
In this topsy-turvy foreign land kings murder, demons destroy, and neighbors deride. In exile the Israelites can no longer seek God in the temple. Instead they find God in the practices of piety and charity, in family, in community, in sacred writings (like the Book of Tobit itself) that teach and give hope.36 Through these they are sustained and sus- tain one another. Raphael intervenes not only to guide Tobiah in the conquering of the fish and the healing of Sarah and Tobit, but also to remind them of those enduring helps God has given the faithful so they may maintain their identity, their strength, and their joy in a threaten- ing world. God has given them the law, their community and families, the promise that prayer will be heard. The author gives this happy tale as well, with its call to joy and laughter, and its bright hope for the future.
The Book of Job ends with Job’s restoration, including reconcilia- tion with his friends, family, and wider community (42:7-11), restora- tion of his material fortune, (42:10, 11-12), and the birth of seven sons and three beautiful daughters (42:14-15). He lives to a glorious old age, and before he dies sees not only his children, but also grandchildren and great-grandchildren (42:16-17).37 The restoration of the fortunes of Tobit and his family parallels Job’s in many ways.38
Yet just as the author of Tobit develops the theme of chaos common to Job and Tobit to symbolize the condition of exile, so the author expands this theme of restoration to include the restoration of Israel.39 The safe return of Tobiah and the restoration of Tobit and his family prefigures and gives surety for the ingathering of God’s people, when they will return to rebuild Jerusalem and dwell secure in their ancestral land (14:3-8). In that day the light of God’s presence will shine forth from Jerusalem to all the corners of the earth (13:11).40 The Book of Tobit gives new sight to a people blinded in the darkness of exile, to see God, to know God will deliver and restore them, and to know that God works among them and strengthens them in every place and every hour. As Tobit sees, so we too see, and rejoice.
Originally posted 2020-01-20 13:37:34.