The acts of charity of Tobit (Tob 1:15-1:18)

“When King Shalmaneser died, his son King Sennacherib reigned in his place. The highways into Media became unsafe, so that I could no longer go into Media. In the days of King Shalmaneser, I performed many acts of charity to my kindred. I would give my food to the hungry. I would give my clothing to the naked. If I saw the dead body of any of my people thrown out behind the wall of Nineveh, I would bury it. I also buried anyone that King Sennacherib put to death, in those days of judgment, when they came fleeing from Judea because of his blasphemies. In his anger, King Sennacherib put to death many Israelites, but I would secretly remove the bodies and bury them. So when King Sennacherib looked for them, he could not find them.”

Apparently, things were pretty good when King Shalmaneser (727-722 BCE) was in charge. When he died, things deteriorated so that the roads were not safe. When King Shalmaneser was alive, Tobit was active in charitable works of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. He also began burying the dead outside the walls of Nineveh. However, things changed under King Sennacherib (689-681 BCE). He was killing Israelites when he was angry. Tobit began burying the dead Israelites.  

Tobit would not eat the Gentile food (Tob 1:10-1:14)

“After I was carried away captive to Nineveh, every one of my kindred and my people ate the food of the Gentiles. However, I kept myself from eating the food of the Gentiles. Because I was mindful of God with all my heart, the Most High gave me favor and good standing with King Shalmaneser. I used to buy all the provisions he needed. Until his death, I used to go into Media, and buy for him there. While in the country of Media I left bags of silver worth ten talents in trust with Gabael, the brother of Gabri.”

Although the family and friends of Tobit ate the Gentile food, he did not. It is not clear what food he actually ate. Because of this God was good to him. Somehow he became a messenger of the king. He would buy provisions for him in Media, which was pretty far away. One day he left 10 talents of silver with some person called Gabael. Why he did this is not clear. This was a lot of money, worth about $60,000 USA. However, as the rest of the story unfolds, the return of this money will be important.

Tobit (Tob 1:1-1:2)

“This book tells the story of Tobit son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, of the descendants of Asiel, of the tribe of Naphtali. In the days of King Shalmaneser of the Assyrians, he was taken into captivity. Tobit was taken from the town of Thisbe. This town was south of Kedesh, in Naphtali, in Upper Galilee, above Asher, toward the west, north of Phogor.”

This book is about Tobit. It is not in the Hebrew Bible, but is in the Greek Septuagint. Thus it is here, since I am following the structure in the Bible of Jerusalem. Who is Tobit? He was from Naphtali in the north region of Galilee. This was east of Asher near Manasseh at Kedesh. This is the only mention of any of Tobit’s ancestors, Tobiel, Hananiel, Aduel, and Gabael. There is one mention of Asiel in 1 Chronicles, chapter 4. There is no other mention of Thisbe or Phogor in biblical literature. King Shalmaneser V probably ruled Assyria from 727-722 BCE at the time of King Hoshea of Israel, the last king of Israel before the captivity. This would put this in the 8th century BCE at the time of the Assyrian captivity. It probably was his successor, King Sargon (710-705 BCE) who completed the captivity. The other Babylonian kings mentioned in the biblical literature were King Tiglath Pileser III (729-727 BCE) and Sennacherib (689-681 BCE). Nevertheless, the context is the northern Israel captivity by Assyria. Tobit must have been important to be deported in captivity, because they left the poor people behind.