Tobit Who?

Many of you know I’m an enthusiast of hymns.  Here’s an old hymn that you’ve probably never heard of, which isn’t in Lutheran Service Book.  The hymn is O Starker Gott, Herre Zebaoth, which would be “Almighty God, Father, Lord of Armies.”

This hymn is intriguing.  It has 35 stanzas!  But that’s all right, because it’s a hymn to be sung on various saint days of the Church, to remember and honor a Christian who died in the faith.  What intrigues me is that this hymn from the 1550s (we are now into 2nd-generation Lutheranism) includes several Old-Testament saints from the Apocrypha, and even calls Mary, the mother of our Lord, as “ever virgin.”  I don’t write this to shock you, but just to let you know how Lutheranism has changed over the centuries in many ways.

Anyway, one of the saints in this hymn is Tobias.  He’s an interesting man from the book of Tobit.  A rough translation of that hymn stanza reads:

Youthful Tobias by the angel stood,

Trusted in his words, as was good,

Went from his father,

Rightful gold to gather,

Sarah loved he fain,

Whose seven grooms were slain

He chased the slayer off, and they were wedded.

Our Missouri Synod’s first president, C.F.W. Walther, asked his fiancée Emilie Buenger to read Tobit because he thought it would be helpful before they married.  Our Lutheran Confessions also reference Tobit at least three different times.  So let’s explore the book of Tobit, to remember what we Lutherans have long forgotten.

The book of Tobit is about, well, someone named Tobit (and his son, named Tobias).  Tobit is virtuous, who does his best to help care for the poor and needy.  One time, Tobit even stops eating his supper, still hot on the table, to bury those who have died, those whom no one else cares about.

But shortly after that, Tobit suddenly goes blind.  So there is Tobit in a bind.  He’s old and blind–but wants to find a suitable wife for his son before he dies.  Ah, but not all is lost.  God sends an angel, Raphael, to pose as a distant relative, who agrees to take Tobias to find a wife.

Raphael takes Tobias to a woman, named Sarah.  But now it gets interesting, because Sarah had been married seven times!  Granted, this sounds ridiculous; how could this happen?  This is how: On the wedding night of all seven marriages, a powerful demon appeared, killing the groom, leaving the new bride, Sarah, husbandless.  That’s why she married seven times.

Nobody in his right mind will now marry her.  It’s then that Tobias arrives, and bravely proclaims that he will marry Sarah.  But it is different this time.  For when the demon appears, Tobias drives the demon away, and takes his lovely bride, Sarah, back home.  It is then that Raphael reveals himself as an angel, and Tobias and Sarah live happily ever after.

That’s my “Reader’s Digest” version.  You’ll want to read Tobit, because it’s not only fun to read, but you’ll want to find out how Tobit became blind.

But you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with Christianity in any way?  Why did first New Testament Christians hold this book in such high regard?  Why did Luther, our Confessions, and C.F.W. Walther all consider this book of the Apocrypha worthwhile?”

Let’s consider the story in Tobit.  A loving father sends his only son, accompanied by a holy spirit, to rescue a helpless bride held in bondage by an evil spirit who fills her days with dark despair and death.  This son defeats the evil spirit, saves the bride, and takes her back to live with him in the father’s house.  Hmm, is it becoming obvious now?

This is the story of the Incarnation, just in a different setting!  It’s the story of Christ.

But there’s even more to Tobit than that.  To understand the New Testament fully, you need to know the story of Tobit.  Here’s why.  Remember when the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in the Resurrection, that is why they were “so sad you see”) tried to make Jesus look foolish because He believed in the Resurrection?

The Sadducees asked Jesus:

“Once there were seven brothers who lived here.  The first got married and died, but since he had no children, he left his widow to his brother.  The same happened to the second brother, and then the third, and finally with the rest of the brothers.  Finally, the woman died, too.  Now in the Resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be, since all of them had married her?” (Matthew 22:25-28)

The Sadducees were referring to the seven dead husbands in the Book of Tobit.  But as you can tell, they were clueless about the real meaning within the text of Tobit.  Jesus tells them as much: “You are mistaken because you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power” (Matthew 22:29).  They didn’t get it and missed the main point.  They wanted to make anyone who believed in the Resurrection look foolish and ignorant.  Little did they know to whom they were speaking–the living Resurrection Himself!

The Book of Tobit is compelling.  It foreshadows Jesus’ incarnation, sent by the Father, accompanied the power of the Holy Spirit, to rescue humanity from the devil, and take us back with Him to His Father’s House.  Now isn’t that just too good of a story not to know?  Who would have thought that was in one the books of the Apocrypha that we Lutherans used to read?  Now you know.


  1. Rich thank you for the link to your Tobit piece. Truly enjoyed it. I will have to go look up O Starker Gott, Herre Zebaoth. Tobit is one of my favorite books from the Apocrypha and I use the prayer of Tobias and Sarah on the night of their wedding in every wedding I perform. I agree that this story is floating in the background of Jesus and his debates with the Sadducees and that there are connections with the resurrection. Excellent.

    Bobby Valentine