For years, I have thought of reading the Apocrypha (19 books for Orthodox, 15 for Catholics that have been omitted from Protestant Bibles), but I have never taken the time. A couple of days ago, Amanda and I were talking with Rod Richards on Skype and he asked me why they had been excluded from Protestant Bibles. I gave him my typical Church history account of why but had to admit that I had never actually read them.
Today, I read Tobit for the first time.
It has been fun to peruse a book without a theological bias, well more specifically without any assumptions of context or content. I know historically what was going on during this period of time, but I had (and for the most part have) no idea as to what God is doing or trying to do in these books. Protestants talk about this period as the (in my best Baptist voice) “400 years of silence” where God ceased to speak in any notable way, and I have heard countless sermons as to why and how we as Christians can relate this period to our lives. I have never been satisfied with the assumptions and I have always wanted to (as a good Berean, again, sarcasm intended) read the books for myself.
As I read this book (interesting apocalyptic literature stories aside – i.e. the story of the Angel Raphael giving Tobit’s son advice on how to fend off a demon who has been killing his future wife’s previous husbands), I am struck by Tobit’s commitment to the Lord and generosity to the poor. In a time that is thought of as Israel’s demise because of sin and idolatry, he alone stands as the voice of reason. He alone continues the tradition of training his son in the way he should go even when he (Tobit) loses everything including his eyesight. Even if the story is not “true” or even intended to be “true”, it is an amazing story of charity and love for people. Tobit continually says, “I walked in the ways of truth and righteousness…I performed many acts of charity…I alone went for the feasts…I remembered God with all my heart…I gave my bread and my clothing and buried the dead…”
So as I close, I left with the advice Tobit gave his son as he became a man. It is almost as if Tobit is giving me this same advice as I wonder what to do with this particular story:
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, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you do what is true, your ways will prosper through your deeds. Give alms from your possessions to all who live uprightly, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from any poor man, and the face of God will not be turned away from you. If you have many possessions, make your gift from them in proportion; if few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. So you will be laying up a good treasure for yourself against the day of necessity. For charity delivers from death and keeps you from entering the darkness; and for all who practice it charity is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High.
…For in pride there is ruin and great confusion; and in shiftlessness there is loss and great want, because shiftlessness is the mother of famine. Do not hold over till the next day the wages of any man who works for you, but pay him at once; and if you serve God you will receive payment.
Watch yourself, my son, in everything you do, and be disciplined in all your conduct. And what you hate, do not do to anyone. Do not drink wine to excess or let drunkenness go with you on your way. Give of your bread to the hungry, and of your clothing to the naked. Give all your surplus to charity, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you made it. Place your bread on the grave of the righteous, but give none to sinners. Seek advice from every wise man, and do not despise any useful counsel. Bless the Lord God on every occasion; ask him that your ways may be made straight and that all your paths and plans may prosper. For none of the nations has understanding; but the Lord himself gives all good things, and according to his will he humbles whomever he wishes.
So, my son, remember my commands, and do not let them be blotted out of your mind…Do not be afraid, my son, because we have become poor. You have great wealth if you fear God and refrain from every sin and do what is pleasing in his sight.