• Fr. van Zee

Reading the Book of Tobias in This Time of Exile

After posting about silence and prayer, I thought it would be good to suggest some content for meditation. Since our prayer life should affect our prayer life, the subject of our meditations should be analogous to life and its struggles to remain faithful to God.

In these days when we are exiled from the presence of Christ by not being able to go to the Church or to Mass, I suggest meditating on the book of Tobias. Tobias is an Israelite of the tribe of Naphtali. He is in exile far away from Jerusalem and describes the plight of the exiles who remain faithful to the Lord. He and his fellow Israelites are not able to offer sacrifice in the Temple and pray that their pious practices will be acceptable to God in lieu of the sacrifices prescribed by the Mosaic covenant. Many are now exiled from the true sacrifice to be offered in the Temple of the Church yet we must continue to offer praise to God in the ways that we can. Tobias buries the dead, a corporal work of mercy, and a real sacrifice especially given that he is ridiculed by his Gentile neighbors and ultimately causes him to lose his eyesight. When Tobias believes to be near the end of his days, he gives his son some important spiritual advice (ch 4) and emphasizes that “charity delivers from death” and is a kind of offering or sacrifice (Tob 4:10-11). He even gives his son a version of the Golden Rule: “And what you hate, do not to anyone” (4:15).

Tobias does not die then but is still unable to work because of his blindness and his wife is forced to become the breadwinner. This causes the breakdown of their marriage. His wife leaves him poor, blind, and now alone.

Then he meets Sarah who is oppressed by a demon named Asmodeus (which means “destroyer” in Hebrew or is perhaps taken from a Persian phrase which means the demon of lust). Sarah has married seven husbands but each one died on the night of their wedding. It seems that these men lusted after Sarah (cf. Tob 8:7). It is no stretch to say that the demon of lust has taken many men of our day and has assaulted the Virgin Bride, the Catholic Church.

Tobias and Sarah are not left without help from the Lord. God sent the Angel Raphael (which means “God has healed”) to bring healing to both. Tobias is healed of his blindness and Sarah is no longer oppressed by the demon after Tobias performs a type of exorcism. The latter of these healings reminds us that the devil is real and is prowling about seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8), especially those who are married; notice that the demon attacked these grooms on their wedding night. Yet, we are not frightened because we know good and well that God is more powerful than the evil one and all the demons put together. We should be especially consoled that our Blessed Mother is prophesied to crush his head (Gen 3:16) and that her Immaculate Heart would triumph. And if all this were not enough to console us in these trying times, we then read that the Angel Raphael tells Tobias that he interceded for him with God.

And so, when you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you…So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. 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. (Tobias 12:12, 14-15)

The intercession of the angels and saints is right there, in black and white, in the pages of scripture! The angels and saints intercede for us constantly. Our confidence in the power of prayer should be renewed.

Some exegetes have suggested that Tobias is a kind of “new Adam” and Sarah a “new Eve.”[1] When we look at the parallels between these four Biblical characters, we can see the similarities and dissimilarities especially in the triumph over evil by Tobias and Sarah versus the fall of Adam and Eve.


1a. Fails to protect his bride from the serpent

2a. Says and does nothing in the face of the serpent’s attack

3a. Evil spirit triumphs

4a. He and his wife suffer spiritual death


1a. Protects Sarah from the demon Asmodeus

2a. Cries out to God in prayer and offers sacrifice in obedience

3a. Evil spirit is bound

4a. He and Sarah pray and are saved from death


1b. Attacked by the serpent after her wedding to Adam

2b. Speaks with the demon; entices her husband to sin

3b. Sins and dies physically

4b. Wedding turned into a funeral


1b. Attacked by a demon on her wedding night

2b. Remains silent in the face of the demon; follows her husband’s lead in prayer

3b. Prays and is delivered from social “death”

4b. Funeral turned into a wedding feast

These parallels show us that although Tobias and Sarah were tempted by perhaps the same demon as Adam and Eve, the former did not fall because they resisted and called out to the Lord for help and help He did! Thus, there is much meat for meditation in this book. May it be helpful in these troubled days of ours.

[1] John Bergsma & Brant Pitre. A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament. Pgs 470-71.

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