Prolonged Singleness and the Bible: A Study of Tobit Part I

When I was in my mid-thirties and really struggling with this entire singleness issue, I asked God why no one in the Bible ever struggled to get married? I complained to him that there were several women in the bible who had wrestled with infertility – Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. He saw their pain and performed a miracle, thus enabling each one to bear and birth a child.   

Infertility is still a problem today, as it was back then. In my logic at the time, getting married must have been a problem to some degree before its modern prevalence. I asked God why there was no indication of this in the Scriptures. I was genuinely frustrated!

It was the year 2004, and I had just returned to the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic but had left the Catholic faith around age 17. After I graduated from law school, I yearned for a more authentic relationship with God. This led to me spending ten years in different evangelical, non-denominational churches. It was my desire to learn the truth about singleness and marriage which introduced me back to the Catholic Church and the fullness of truth contained therein.

Having only returned to full communion with the Church for approximately six months, I was not too familiar with the Catholic Scriptures as I had only been exposed to the protestant version of the Bible.   

An Answer from God

I had begun attending daily mass in the Fall of 2004 when God answered me in amazing way. It was the week after I lamented to him about there being no comparable situation in the bible regarding prolonged singleness. I was leaving the church and on a shelf in the Narthex was a single booklet about St. Raphael: The Angel of Marriage, of Healing, of Happy Meetings, of Joy and of Travels.  Of course, I picked it up because it said the word marriage on it, and I immediately read it. It was basically a summary of the book of Tobit, which we are going to unpack.

Nonetheless, I was completely stunned. Since I had never read the book of Tobit before, I had no idea what it was about. God wanted me to see that there was indeed a person in the Bible – Sarah – who struggled to get married. Her story is in part of what the Book of Tobit shares. I was dumbfounded.

The Book of Tobit

This book opens with one of our main characters, Tobit, living in Nineveh, in exile from Israel. Tobit was a righteous man. He performed charitable works amongst all the people, inclusive of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and burying the dead.

Tobit came upon some years of hardship. This included the loss of his sight due to cataracts and the failing treatment he was given. Tobit cried out to God for death because of his misery.  

Next, we meet Sarah. Her plight is prolonged singleness. She has been married seven times. However, each one of her husbands has been killed on the wedding night prior to the marriage being consummated.

One of the household employees was tormenting Sarah, accusing her of strangling all seven of her husbands in the bridal chamber. Sarah, too, was deeply grieved by her situation and prayed to God for death as she saw no other way out of misery.

A Journey

Tobit remembered that he had money buried with a relative in Media, which was also where Sarah lived. Tobit relayed this information to his son, Tobias. Tobit directed Tobias to go to Media to collect the money and bring it back. Also, Tobit advised him “to find yourself a trustworthy man who will make the journey with you.” (Tobit 5:3c NABRE) Tobias met up with St. Raphael disguised as a young man, named Azariah, and he accompanied Tobias to Media.

On the way, they stopped at the Tigris River. Tobias washed his feet and a giant fish leaped out and attempted to bite his foot off. St. Raphael ordered him to grab the fish and bring it on the shore, cut it open and retain specific organs as they were useful as medicine.

In addition, St. Raphael told Tobias about Sarah. She was a relative of his, and Tobias is the closest relative in line to marry her, the kinsman redeemer. Tobias had heard of Sarah and her history of seven husbands who died on their wedding night. He was frightened. St. Raphael assured him that this would not be the case between him and Sarah, and counseled Tobias on how to proceed in the bridal chamber to secure a different outcome.

Once in Media, the two men went straight to the home of their relative, Raguel, the father of Sarah. At dinner that evening, Tobias and Raguel discussed Tobias’ marriage to Raguel’s daughter, Sarah. Raguel agreed Tobias was the kinsman redeemer, and a marriage contract was signed.

Marriage for Sarah

Tobias and Sarah went into the bridal chamber to consummate their marriage. Tobias recalled everything St. Raphael advised him to do and carried it out. In response, God had great mercy on Tobias and Sarah, and Tobias did not pass away.

After celebrating their wedding feast for 14 days, Tobias had his father’s money collected the relative’s home in Media. Tobias then left Raguel’s house to head back home with both his bride, Sarah, and St. Raphael.

Upon returning home to Nineveh, Tobias was joyfully greeted by both parents. At St. Raphael’s direction, Tobias applied the remaining fish gall on his father’s eyes and Tobit regained his sight. Tobias then showed his father the collected funds from Media, as well as announcing his marriage to Sarah.

After all these events, St. Raphael revealed his identity to Tobit and Tobias. He gave them both insight regarding what had transpired in heaven when Tobit and Sarah had each prayed for death. St. Raphael noted that he was not the one to be thanked for the miracles received, but it was God almighty who all thanksgiving and praise needed to be directed.

Now that you have a good summary of the book of Tobit, I encourage you to read this Bible book for yourself. In part II of this series, will explore how Sarah’s struggle with marriage mirrors the prolonged singleness struggle experienced today, along with God’s response. I am excited to share this information with you because it is what I learned when I was single!

By Julieanne M. Bartlett           All Rights Reserved           Copyright 2021

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