“Remember the Lord our God all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments. Live uprightly all the days of your life live uprightly all the days of your life and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you do what is true, your ways will prosper through your deeds.” Tobit 4.5-6 ESV
Tobit has made prayer, he has told Yahweh of his plight, and has requested death instead of the injustices which has been given to him. “…Command that I now be released from my distress to go to the eternal abode; do not turn your face away from me.” (Tobit 3.6) He has now begun to give his son a lesson, what he presumes to be his final lesson, before Yahweh grants him his request. These are Tobit’s last words, he can nothing more on this topic to his son. Thus as Tobit begins to instruct his son on this last lesson on what is wise and righteous in the world, he is saying what he feels is the most important to be said. In essence he has called Tobiah over and is saying “Listen to me, for that which I say is very important.”
In calling his son over, he at first gets over the things which are important, namely since he is to die, his death, and secondly since he is to die, the care of his wife and Tobiah’s mother. Even in this he is he is teaching his son, “Do not neglect your mother. Honor her all the days of your life,” why, because “she faced many dangers for you while you were yet unborn” (see Tobit 4.3-4). Which that said, Tobit covers what is to him, going to be important immediately. The care of his body and the care of his wife, yet these both are tied into teaching his young son on the way things are to be done in a way that his pleasing both for himself and for God.
“Remember the Lord our God all your days, my son, and refuse to sin or to transgress his commandments. Live uprightly all the days of your life live uprightly all the days of your life and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing.” Tobit 4.5
But then Tobit begins to teach and thus he’s delivering key parts of wisdom, of what Tobit felt is a key part and Tobit says in a way “Remember Yahweh, the god of our people, and listen…”
“Remember Yahweh our God.” We hear these words time and time again: “To remember the Lord our God.” It is not a question of which god; it is not remember “a god” nor simply “remember god.” Its remember “Our God,” our specific lord; Yahweh the god of Israel. There are many things which Tobiah could remember about Yahweh. Words that he could listen to from the Torah (which according to the Vulgate, Hannah did teach him), or he could learn from the words of the other writings, of the history of his people. Was it not Yahweh their god who brought them out of Egypt? Who showed them many great signs and wonders, and gave them a land overflowing with wonder? Was it not this “god” who gave them their kingdom, and their prophets? (Tobiah does after all know either Jonah or Nahum).
But the Tobiah could also remember the many not so great things tied to Yahweh. Yahweh was a god of justice and holiness. Tobiah could easily reflect upon the exile, the fact that he was no longer in his land where he ought to be. Were they not being punished for the sins of their fellow countrymen? Was it not recorded in Tobit 1.6a: “But I [Tobit] alone went often to Jerusalem for the feasts, as it is ordained for all Israel by an everlasting decree.” Tobit therefore know full well what remembering Yahweh entails, and yet he still tells his son to remember, to remember “Yahweh our God.” What of Tobiah though how much did he really know of the land of his people?
Tobit 1.9 records for us that “When I became a man I married [Hannah], a member of our family, and by her I became the father of [Tobiah].” It then that verse 10a records that: “Now when I was carried away with the captive of Nineveh…” We aren’t told when Tobiah was exactly born but would seemed to have been before the exile, but I have to wonder (since he is constantly called a young man in the book) if he was old enough really to have been affected by being pushed into another land. Yet, though Tobiah might not realize fully what exile had meant, he surely had to of felt the burden of it. 1.20 tells us in one particular way in which Tobiah was affected: “Then all my [Tobit’s] property was confiscated and nothing was left to me except my wife [Hannah] and my son [Tobiah].” Moreover Tobiah saw the persecution of his people first hand. In Tobit 2.3b he tells his father: “Father, one of our peple has been strangled and thrown into the marketplace.” He surely knew of the burden that exile placed upon his people and himself, even if he didn’t have the same feel for it that his father would have in remember the lands of their forefathers.
So Tobit says, “Remember Yahweh our god, all your days,” so therefore “refuse to sin or to transgress his commandants.” In remembering our God Tobit is advising his son to remember that Yahweh does punish for sins, and the exile is something fresh in Tobiah’s mind that he lock onto that. Therefore Tobit is in his way saying “Remember Yahweh and remember our sins, therefore do not sin.”
Surely as Tobit’s grandmother Deborah taught him the Torah, he too taught the torah to his child, but even more Tobit lived it. (As a side note, the Vulgate tells us that indeed it Tobiah was taught the Torah not by Tobit, but instead by his mother Hannah). Therefore Tobit can rightly say “Sin not, obey Moses, even here in our exile.”
Tobit as he continues upon his last class to his son, speaks in terms not too dissimilar from Solomon to his child. “my son, do not walk in the way with them [sinners];” (Proverbs 1.15). As compared to Tobit’s command: “do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing,” (Tobit 4.5c). He is saying nothing new, but he still must feel these words of great importance to impart before he dies. He begins his teaching with the key things, “my child Listen to Moses, to Solomon; Lady Wisdom’s call, follow Yahweh and sin not.”
Tobit then says something remarkable considering the situation his life has been in “For if you do what is true, your ways will prosper through your deeds.” Tobit 4.6
After all a fool benefits no one, including himself. So wouldn’t it then make sense that Wisdom would prosper you? Yet looking at what has been mentioned above, how has following Yahweh benefitted Tobit? He’s been chased from his home, on at least one recorded occasion, his neighbors have mocked him (see 2.8), and he’s been exiled despite the fact that he truly indeed followed God, despite all the other tribes of the land. How then has Tobit’s deeds helped in any way? Why is he giving this advice in lieu of everything that has happened? On one hand Tobit is saying to be wise, to follow Yahweh and Moses as Solomon once wrote proverbs about. Yet on the other hand his experiences should have showed to him that as Qohelet has said it was useless and vain, it was senseless.
His deeds never helped him; they never prevented Yahweh from exiling him, nor from protecting him from the cruel persecutions of the lands. Moreover he is now wishing for death, and could well echo the words of Qohelet (2.17): “So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after the wind.” Yet even as he is wishing for this death to come, he tells his son to “still follow Yahweh, to be wise, don’t sin, do Moses, because you will prosper!” But how!?
Everything pints to the opposite, it points toward Qohelet’s line of thinking that to be wise is senseless, than to Solomon’s thinking that to be Wise is to prosper! Though the reader knows at this time that Yahweh has sent his angel as it is recorded in Tobit 3.16-17, Tobit doesn’t, Tobiah doesn’t, even Sarah has no clue. In this way Tobit begins to come along with the wisdom of Job, all of heaven was watching him after Yahweh’s bet with the Satan, only the reader knowing the outside influences of Job’s plight. So here too we have Tobit’s plight and only the reader knowing that Yahweh is indeed working. Therefore perhaps Tobit like Job realizes that serving Yahweh even when circumstances are horrible is till what ought to be done. Never curse God and die, since God is still God even in the hard times.
So following Yahweh and in some way you will prosper, maybe in men’s eyes, but most surely (and more importantly) in the eyes of Yahweh our God. Of course one could also backtrack again to Tobit’s prayer for death and see that he says “Remember me and look favorable upon me;” 3.3a. How is Tobit’s way supposed to prosper if he needs to be remembered by God? How are his deeds seen by Yahweh and looked favorably by Yahweh if he feels the needs to say such a thing. One could of course say that God is God, and it’s Tobit’s theology that is messed up. But when Tobit is calling out to be remember it is in the framework of him also asking for the forgiveness of his sins and the sins of his people.
Moreover like Job it could be said he doesn’t necessarily see himself at fault, but asks for forgiveness of his people as it is expected, but (unlike Job) assumes that he might have done something wrong just to cover all his bases. Besides Sins equal foolishness and foolishness equals not prospering. Yet how for his deeds has he prosper in Yahweh’s eyes? Is as his son’s name suggests “Good is Yahweh,” or even for that matter to be slightly more generic is his name correct in “Good is God?” Ironically it would seem no and still Tobit calls out to his son to remember their god, their Yahweh and to not sin since that will bring about prosperity. Yet we will come to find out later on that Yahweh does bring Raphael and changes the situation of his faithful servant. Still, Tobit said all of this prior to that, not expecting any of that. God merely showed him how he would prosper in man’s eyes and that by extension he had done so in Yahweh’s eyes.
Thus in essence the beginning of Tobit’s class is thus: “Follow Yahweh, remember all that he has done both the good and the bad for our people, do this all of your life Tobiah, do the Torah, heed Lady Wisdom’s call, and in some way you will prosper.”
– Le Bel Inconnu