Tobit- Dharma (not karma) in the Bible?

Tobit 2:9-14

v. 9-10

As this fictional character, Tobit, explains his life, he describes washing himself and sleeping in his courtyard, outdoors. Droppings from sparrows fall into his eyes and, as a result, he is blinded for four years. Other Israelites, who were also in exile, had sympathy toward him. This is reminiscent of the book of Job, in which Job is described as being an upright man before the Lord, yet goes through a great degree of suffering. There are a couple differences between Job and Tobit. Job is more likely a historical person who lived around the time of Abraham. The book of Job identifies God as the source of Job’s suffering for Job’s good. In Tobit, suffering seems to be chalked up to simple bad luck. Throughout the Old Testament, there is a consistent high view of God’s absolute sovereignty. By the time Tobit is written in the 3rd to 2nd Century B.C, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty has been diminished in the minds of the Jewish people. Because 1st Century A.D. Jews will be products of this sort of teaching, Jesus will have to correct this doctrine that came out of the intertestamental period. If God is God, there are no coincidences and nothing is a matter of luck. It’s a pagan idea. Jesus will teach that the man born blind is born blind for a purpose, that God may be glorified (John 9:3). In fact, even if someone is to receive eternal life and be part of God’s eternal people, the Father must draw him and Christ must raise him up on the last day (John 6:44). This is only a brief example of Christ’s emphasis on the sovereignty of the Father as He will teach in the midst of a superstitious people- people whose worldviews will be influenced by apocryphal works like Tobit.

v. 11-14

Because Tobit is blind, his wife sells the goods that she makes in order to earn a living for them. After Tobit gets angry with his wife for bringing home what he thinks is a stolen goat, she replies by saying, “Where are your acts of charity? Where are your righteous deeds? These things are known about you!” The idea is that since Tobit has lived a righteous life, God should provide Tobit with good things. Do you see the sense of entitlement in these verses? While this is reflective of Job, Tobit’s response is to ask for God to repay him according to his own righteousness- releasing him to his eternal home if he can never see again (3:1-6). In contrast, Job rebuked his wife for insinuating that God was somehow unjust (Job 2:10). In 3:17, God answers Tobit by restoring his sight  and releasing him from his distress, presumably because of Tobit’s acts of charity and righteous deeds (v. 14).

Instead of seeing God’s providence as plainly as we see it described in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Job, God is reduced to one who ensures that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. So, not only do we see how doctrines of luck or chance might have made it, even if informally, into the worldviews of the Pharisees and scribes but also how the modern-day Hindu and Buddhist idea of dharma (what is popularly referred to as karma in America) made it into the formal teachings of the Pharisees and scribes. Do good and good will be done to you. Follow the Law and you will be blessed and have life in the resurrection. Jesus will oppose this sort of theology and anthropology, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4, italics added for emphasis). Jesus asked the question; why did some people die and others live? Were the people who died worse people? He will answer his own question, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5, italics added for emphasis). Dharma is a myth and contrary to the teaching of Scripture. Yet, an idea similar to the modern idea of dharma made it into the worldviews of First-Century Jews. In contrast to Tobit, the Old Testament elevates God’s sovereignty and providence. Jesus’ message in Luke 13 will be that all people are sinners, none righteous. Without repentance they will perish forever.

So, according to Scripture, Tobit’s charitable works and righteous deeds could never merit God’s answer to his prayer. Instead, there was need for Tobit to repent and trust in God’s sovereignty and providence whether or not he was healed or put out of his misery. These are the very things we do not see from Tobit. Tobit is such a character that he is religious but as lost as lost can be according to the Old and New Testaments.

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