One of the more beloved Old Testament selections for a wedding liturgy is the bedtime prayer of the newlyweds Sarah and Tobiah. In popularity, it probably comes in third behind the creation accounts.
These two have had a rather unorthodox courtship, even for ancient times. The angel Raphael, in disguise as a distant relative, has been employed by Tobiah’s father to accompany the son on a mission to recover money set aside in a far land many years ago. During the journey, the angel speaks of a “beautiful and sensible” woman who, by rights, is Tobiah’s to wed. (Tob 6:12ff) The very night the young man meets her, he practically demands Sarah be given him as his wife. (Tob 7:9ff) This, despite the knowledge that each of her seven previous husbands have been killed by a jealous demon on seven previous wedding nights.
Sarah is tearful at the thought of another young man’s likely death, and the shame this brings to her father. She is comforted by her mother Edna. (Tob 7:16-17) Raguel, the father, resigns himself to another tragedy. After the couple is put into the bridal chamber, Raguel instructs his servants dig a hole just in case a hush-hush burial is needed (Tob 8:9b).
Thanks to the advice and assistance of the angel, the young man has healed Sarah of this demonic possession. Throwing fish liver and heart on the coals drive away the jealous demon. Raphael gives chase to the other end of the world and binds him. (Tob 8:2-3)
Before the couple commences with marital bliss, the groom urges his bride to get up and thus they pray:
Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, “My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.” She got up, and they started to pray and beg that deliverance might be theirs. He began with these words:
“Blessed are you, O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night.
Tobiah is well-schooled in the Torah we see, as he quotes the second creation story in his prayer.
When would I counsel this reading be used? Couples who pray together seem drawn to it. Couples who have experienced hardships or who have known healing. Can an engaged couple express their hopes for marriage as a “noble purpose,” above physical desire? It’s the expression par excellence of Christian marriage: the elevation of the spiritual life, the placement of nobility above lust, the recollection of tradition, the role of the family.
Reading the whole book of Tobit is useful for an engaged couple. Or anyone, really. It’s the only romance book in the canon of Scripture. It’s a great bedtime story.