TOBIT - JUDITH - ESTHER STORIES:
Outstanding People; Saintly Lives
Introduction to Tobit, Judith, Esther.
The books of Tobit, Judith, and Esther are usually run together. Each deals with the lives of individual people. These people were heroes or heroines coming through some major difficulties.
Are the books history in any sense of the word? At one time, they were presented as stories of actual people. Today, most scholars would hold rather that they are stories that were told
1. to depict the conditions of the times, and
2. to teach a lesson of how to act in difficulties.
The first book is called the Story of Tobit. This was translated as Tobiah because the son's name was Tobiah. The names are important because of their meaning. “Tobit” is the Hebrew word for “Goodness.” “Tobiah” is the Hebrew word for “Yahweh is good.”
The story of Tobit takes place in the early post-exilic period in the 5th Century B.C. It was probably written about that same time. Tobit was down in captivity in Ninive. The Jewish exiles had given up because of the harsh treatment. They were eating the food offered to the idols. Tobit absolutely refused to take part in any of this wrongful conduct.
As the captives were killed or died, they were not given proper burials. Tobit took it upon himself to bury all the dead people. After one of these burials, he was unclean legally. He was sleeping under a tree or near a wall when a bird's droppings landed in his eyes and blinded him. His wife tried to support the family, but a foolish quarrel broke out between them over some misunderstanding.
Years before, Tobit had left a large sum of money with a man in Media. Tobit figured he was soon to die, so he called his son to his bedside and gave him a final bit of advice. He told him about this huge sum of money and told Tobiah to go after it for himself.
The man in Media had a daughter named Sarah. She had been married to seven men. Each one, in turn, died on their wedding night. Sarah seemed to have some kind of curse on her. Her maids made fun of her and, of course, no man wanted to marry her in spite of her good looks and her wealth. What good were these if he died the first night?
Young Tobiah, on his way to pick up his fortune, and young Sarah, the slayer of new husbands, were the main characters of this story. As Tobiah set out, a young man named Raphael appeared and offered to be a traveling companion. Tobiah gladly accepted the company and as it turned out, Raphael was actually an angel - a messenger - sent by Yahweh. Raphael’s name means “God cures” which is very appropriate for the rest of the story.
When they reached the Tigris River, Tobiah went in for a swim. A huge fish jumped at him and almost swallowed him. Raphael told him to grab the fish and take out his gall, heart, and liver. Raphael said he was to burn the heart and liver, and the smoke would drive the demon out of any possessed person. The gall, when rubbed on the eyes of a blind person, would remove the blindness.
They got to their journey’s end and went to Raguel’s house. Sarah, the daughter, was there and Raphael told Tobiah to ask for her hand in marriage. Tobiah was really hesitant. Raphael had been a great companion but Sarah was a bit frightening to new husbands. Raphael reminded him of the fish heart and liver.
Tobiah and Sarah got married. Raguel was sure that Tobiah would be dead the next morning so he had the grave dug and advised his men to get the body early and bury it before the word got around. They went into the room and both young people were peacefully and happily sleeping. Tobiah had burned the fish heart and liver and the demon was expelled, and all was well.
After a proper wedding and all the feasting, Tobiah, Sara, and Raphael and their entourage started for home. As they drew closer, Tobiah and Raphael hurried ahead. When Tobit and Tobiah met, Tobiah squeezed the fish gall on his dad’s eyes and they burned. So Tobit rubbed his eyes, the scales were removed, and his sight was restored. They lived happily for generations to come.
This is the basic story. There are many more details and it is told in a perfect narrative style. Be sure to read it completely.
There is no doubt that this is the story of the valiant woman who uses all her knowledge, wisdom and charm to accomplish the purposes and plans of Yahweh.
There are some historical inaccuracies in the story according to the western style of history. However, this is not western history but Semitic history. In Semitic history, the purpose or lesson of the story is the only important point.
Nebuchadnezzar and his army chief, Holofernes, were the archenemies. Their plan was to set up a world empire of slave nations. They arrived in Palestine and the people were petrified with fear. Uzziah, the official adviser, told the people not to worry. They should wait a certain number of days and if Yahweh had not saved them by that time, then they were to go to Holofernes and surrender.
Judith was a beautiful and wise lady. She heard what had been said. She was horrified that the leaders dared to put a time limit on Yahweh’s help. They acted as if they were telling Yahweh what he was to do and when he was to do it. Judith told them this was the worst kind of blasphemy against Yahweh.
Then Judith came up with her plan. She and her maid got all dressed up and went through the city gate at night. The enemy troops intercepted them. Judith asked to be taken to Holofernes because she realized how powerful and great he was. She was rushed to the tent of Holofernes and he was stunned by her beauty. He set a great banquet for her and Holofernes was so overcome with awe that he got drunker than he had ever been in his life. His servants decided he wants to be alone with this beautiful lady.
When he fell into his drunken stupor, Judith said a prayer, and then cut off his head with two blows. She carried the head back to the Israelite camp in her basket. The head was put on a spear and the Israelite army went to challenge the enemy.
Holofernes was not out of bed. They went to awaken him and found the “headless wonder” on his bed - dead. The troops went into a tailspin and the Israelites won a tremendous victory.
The keynote of the story was the heroine, Judith. Also the words of Achior to Holofernes are very basic to the story. He said that the Israelites cannot be defeated unless they had been sinning against their God. So Holofernes should see whether a sin had been committed. If it had, he should attack because Yahweh would give his people to them. If there was no sin, then don’t attack because Yahweh would defend his people and no one could overthrow Yahweh.
The story is well told and its fundamental truths are clear and repeated several times in different ways.
We come to the third of our three stories. This story also tells us about a beautiful and wise lady who used her wisdom and beauty to save her people. The lead characters of this story are a Jew, named Mordecai, and Esther, his adopted daughter.
Background information: It is well to note that the Hebrew names, Mordecai and Esther, could very well be adaptations of the Babylonian names Marduk and Ishtar. The story would have an origin in the pagan annals but was taken over and adapted to the Hebrew lore and to their advantage.
Mordecai, a Jew, was the prime minister of the Babylonian King. One night, Mordecai had one of those apocalyptic dreams made up of dragons, rivers, floods and rays of light. The ultimate meaning of this dream was that the lowly would rise up and devour the mighty.
Mordecai learned that a couple of eunuchs were plotting to slay the King. He warned the King. The plot was uncovered and the two eunuchs and their fellow conspirators were put to death. Mordecai was rewarded handsomely by the King. However, this did not sit well with Haman, who was also in great favor with the King.
Ahasuerus was finding life a bit dull since he controlled the whole known world of that time. He decided to have a royal party and show off a bit of his wealth to all the other rulers and dignitaries. It was a real celebration that went on for 180 days. In the midst of the festivities, the King decided that he should show off Vashti, his queen, who was noted for her beauty. He sent the eunuchs to fetch her. Queen Vashti refused to come. This really upset the King but even more so, it upset all the other men. As soon as their wives heard of the insubordination of Vashti, they could expect the same or worse conduct in their own domains.
They thought the King should make an example of Vashti. He should put out a royal edict that Vashti would never again appear in his presence. Then he should run a contest among all the beautiful girls in the realm to select a successor to the deposed queen. In this way, the King would be protecting the authority of every man in his own household.
Mordecai had an adopted daughter, Esther, who was really striking in her beauty. She entered the contest and when the King saw her, the choice was automatic. The contest stopped and Vashti’s replacement was named. It was Esther. On Mordecai’s advice, Esther did not tell the King she was Jewish.
Then the King decided to give Haman some special honor. All the other members of the royal court were to bow down to the ground before Haman. Mordecai absolutely refused this kind of obeisance to any man because it was an insult to the dignity of Yahweh. Haman ranted and fumed each time and then he learned that Mordecai was a Jew. So Haman decided that in some way he would take out his anger and vengeance on the whole race of Jews.
Haman duped the King into agreeing to the wholesale slaughter of the whole Jewish race. Mordecai was overcome with grief and told Esther about it. Then he reminded her that she was also a Jewess and therefore she had an obligation to use her royal position to stop the slaughter. Both Mordecai and Esther composed a special prayer asking for guidance and help from Yahweh.
Then Esther went into the King's presence uninvited. This was a very strong royal “no-no.” When the King rose in anger, Esther swooned in a faint and the King took her tenderly in his arms. Then she told him there would be a special banquet and she wanted Haman to attend.
Haman left for the banquet and was in the best of spirits until he saw his nemesis, Mordecai. Haman decided the time for action was now. He ordered a gallows to be erected. He would remove Mordecai once and for all.
That night the King could not sleep, so he asked that the royal annals be brought and read to him. The account opened with the story of Mordecai and how he had saved the King's life when it was threatened by the plot of the two eunuchs. The King listened to the story and then asked what had been done to reward the man who had saved his life. There was nothing in the record. So the King immediately ordered this oversight to be rectified. Mordecai was given top honors.
The banquet followed and Haman had to come. While he was there he tried to plead with Esther to do something to help him. He was kneeling at the feet of Esther's couch. Esther pointed him out as the villain in the picture and he died on the gallows he had made for Mordecai. The Jews were instated in the kingdom as a privileged part and a new feast was instituted. It was called the feast of Purim or Lots. The Jews had seemed to have one lot - total annihilation. Yahweh intervened and they received the other lot - not only deliverance but also great glory and honor.
There is no doubt of the moral of the story: The complete trust of the people should be in Yahweh's ability to deliver them - if they put their complete trust in him and live according to his Law.