The Narrative Role of Rafael’s Instructions

Rafael’s Instructions

The Narrative Role of Rafael's Instructions
Book of Tobit

Since there is a narrative ellipsis between the periods after the instructions and before the departure of Tobias, one can presume that before leaving home Tobias has followed his father’s sound instruction to pray that his ways be properly guided (cf. Tob 4:19), for indeed, an angelic companion in human guise has appeared to direct him along the way.194 The complex realization of God’s design, the manifestation of which has started with the response to the prayers of Tobit and Sarah, unfolds unforeseen along the way. The healing of Tobit’s blindness and the wedding of Tobias to Sarah eventually complete the mission195 of Rafael whose name means ‘God heals.’196 Disguised as Azariah, a name which means ‘Yahweh helps,’ Rafael has now truly extended the help of God, after having healed the two protagonists beset with misfortunes. Indeed, Rafael personifies the message of redemption.197 For both families, at least, all’s well that ends well.

Rafael – From Ignorance to Knowledge

It is said that quest narratives move in both the pragmatic and cogni-tive directions.198 The pragmatic aspect revolves around the order of doing but the cognitive aspect derives from the order of knowing. The former involves a resolution plot while the latter a revelation plot and they are typically intertwined, for the progress of the plot “through time correlates with a progress in knowledge.”199 The mission of Tobias to retrieve the money is a plot of resolution. But the writer has em-ployed this type of plot to serve a greater purpose, for Tobias’s pursuit becomes an instrument of an increase in knowledge on the part of the characters. First, they discover that their supposed kinsman Azariah is in all actuality the archangel Rafael.200 Second, they find out after the events that the ever-providential God still controls the movement of history; they realize the hidden boundlessness of God’s mercy in the events that have transpired.201 They discover as true the claims of Psalm 112, that those who delight in God’s commands, those who are gra-cious, merciful and just, will enjoy happiness and their prosperity shall endure forever. At this point in the story, the characters pass from ig-norance to knowledge, albeit incomplete, of God’s inexplicable ways.

While the first group of exhortations in chapter four contributes to the change of situation from bad to good, unhappiness to happiness, Rafael’s instructions contribute to the dramatic change from ignorance to knowledge on the part of the characters. As in apocalyptic stories, such discovery or insight is bestowed by an angel. The climax involves Tobias and Tobit’s discovery, and their bewilderment that God remains at work though in a secret and baffling manner.202 In a way, Tobit’s eyes have been healed of their blindness not only physically but also spiritually. With the white scales off his eyes, Tobit now praises God for he sees the more profound meaning of a Reality that continues to confound and confront him.

Words of prayer in Tobit 3 give way to words of revelation in Tobit 12 after the journey which is in fact a progressive unearthing on the part of the characters of God’s plan and presence. With four references to kru,ptw ‘to hide, conceal’ in vv. 6, 7, and 11 and five instances of the use of evxomologe,w ‘to confess, acknowledge, declare, make public’ in vv. 6, 7, 20, 22, in addition to u`podei,knumi ‘to show, point out’ in vv. 6 and 11, and avnakalu,ptw ‘to uncover, unveil’ in vv. 7 and 11, the vocabulary of the chapter underscores the theological tension in the story. Up to this point, the divine activity is concealed from the characters though not from the reader. In this chapter that concludes the saga of Tobias, the characters finally come to know the hidden, or more accurately, the disguised presence of God in their midst and how the plan of God has subsumed all human plans.203 They find out that, in a manner that ex-ceeds human imagination, God has woven from disparate strands a marvelous blanket of mercy for his pious children. Unlike Tobit who has instructed Tobias only once to bless the Lord (cf. Tob 4:19), Rafael repeatedly commands Tobit and Tobias to praise God and ac-knowledge his works, for it is God who is ultimately responsible for proper and successful guidance.

Rafael as Wisdom Teacher

Stepping into the role of a wisdom teacher who provides access to com-prehending the mysterious ways of the awe-inspiring God, Rafael gives Tobit and Tobias a series of sage advice before departure. The first section of Rafael’s wise counsels in Tob 12:6-7a focuses on the praise and acknowledgement of the works of God. As such, Rafael can be aptly called a teacher of the praise of God.204 Since Rafael cannot em-phasize enough the importance of this instruction, this specific com-mand makes the chapter abound with a vocabulary of praise and blessing. The reason for Rafael’s cantus firmus to glorify God in this chapter of revelation is to make sure that the transcendent character of God, rather than Rafael’s character, gets the proper recognition for all that has happened.205 It is the role of God, not the role of Rafael206 that deserves credit. But with Rafael as Tobias’s guide and companion, the reader can easily entertain the thought that the story has a happy end-ing thanks to Rafael. With the characters still unaware, and with the reader possibly forgetting the earlier claim that Rafael is but an emis-sary sent by God in Tob 3:16-17, and the statement of Trito-Isaiah that it was not a messenger or angel but the Lord himself who saved his loyal people from their affliction (cf. Isa 63:8-9), there arises the risk of misconstruing the favorable turn of events as Rafael’s responsibility. The angel knows better however, and demands that Tobit and Tobias know that he is a mere but effective instrument of God’s mercy. It is due to God’s initiative that all the good things have happened to To-bit’s family. With this instruction, Rafael withdraws from the limelight as he reveals his identity and mission and allows God to take the center stage in the whole drama. His repeated instruction to praise God di-rects all the attention to the Merciful One who is responsible for it all.

To a certain extent, Rafael’s insistent demand that God be blessed counters Tobit’s prayer in Tob 11:14-15, in which angels are praised quite excessively alongside God. Rafael’s instruction to praise God, which follows his first-person statements of revelation, functions as a necessary narrative corrective to possibilities of misinterpretations. Ra-fael’s role as a divine instrument is not to eclipse in any way the role of God in the beneficent events that have happened in the story. With his exhortation to praise God, Rafael implies that the sole fitting predicate of euvloghto,j is God alone.207 In this way, the writer provided a direct narrative means so as not to compromise the strictly monotheistic orientation of the story.

Since Rafael serves as the medium through which Tobit and Tobias pass from ignorance to knowledge of the concealed working out of God’s grace in their lives, Rafael’s exhortations confirm in effect the validity of, as well as confer a divine stamp of approval upon, Tobit’s earlier instructions. In fact, in his discourse, Rafael reaffirms the es-sence of the instructions of Tobit in chapter four, for Rafael’s instruc-tions are really a variant of Tobit’s. From his angelic lips, the funda-mental exhortation to almsgiving and prayer finds divine confirmation. Rafael notes that Tobit’s prayer and performance of merciful acts deli-vered him from death, for God sent Rafael to heal Tobit who prayed for death when Rafael brought before the throne of God a record of Tobit’s prayer and good deeds (cf. Tob 12:12-14). While wisdom literature of-ten resorts to the personification of wisdom to grant divine provenance for sapiential claims, the narrative of Tobit uses an interpreting and guiding angel, one of the seven holy angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord,208 to bestow divine authority upon the sapiential instructions of the story. In Tobit, the divine foundation of wisdom is rooted in the revelation of a divine messenger. Rafael’s repetition of Tobit’s instructions validates them as divine, and therefore universal. In short, Rafael is necessary not only to resolve the pragmatic but also the cognitive aspects of the plot. The reader thus progresses in the knowledge and awareness that Tobit’s wisdom instructions enjoy God’s seal of approval.

Since the fate of exile is the final concern as suggested by the narra-tive, Rafael’s disclosure of divine providential actions, however puz-zling, is certainly significant for the reader, for it makes the chaotic world of exile seem intelligible. His revelation functions as an assur-ance and his instructions as a type of divine guidance, motivating the scattered, encouraging them to remain in righteousness before God, whose hand continues to penetrate clandestinely through the muddled events and the changes and chances of history in order to deliver his people from their misery.

Originally posted 2020-03-10 09:48:12.