Women in the Old Testament: Sarah, the Daughter of Raguel
The Book of Tobit is not one of the best known books of the Bible, not least, I suppose, because it is not found in the Hebrew canon and therefore not recognised as Scripture by Protestants. Thus, not so many people, perhaps, have heard of Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, as of some of the other women we have looked at in our series so far.
In fact, though, Sarah plays a central role in the story related in the book, which relates something of God’s providence, as well as helping us think about the question of suffering, a little like the book of Job.
Sarah is Raguel’s only child, and has been married seven times, but on each occasion her husband died on their very wedding day. The distress this obviously causes her is only made worse by the abuse she suffers from her fathers’ maids, who accuse her of killing them all. This is how she is first presented to us in the book, intending to kill herself because she can’t bear it any more (Tob 3: 7-10).
Instead, though, she decides to pray to God: she stills sees no way out of her situation other than death, which is what she asks the Lord for, but for her father’s sake she at least doesn’t take her own life.
This prayer of Sarah’s in fact takes place at the same time as the prayer of Tobit, who is also in great suffering and also asks for his life to be ended: instead, these two seemingly unrelated situations both end up being solved when Tobit’s son Tobias, seeking to restore his family’s fortunes by reclaiming some of his father’s money, ends up marrying Sarah (and surviving), as well as finding the way to heal the blindness with which his father has been afflicted.
Sarah’s terrible experience of the loss of seven husbands is not, and cannot be fully explained – though it’s attribution to the demon Asmodeus affirms that it really is an example of evil in the world, and doesn’t merely seem to be bad. On the other hand, the joint solution of Sarah’s and Tobit’s problems gives us a glimpse of one tiny aspect of the workings of God’s Providence, showing how he can draw good out of seemingly terrible situations. Sarah’s prayer in her distress is not exactly the height of piety – it’s near desperation, and concern for her father, rather than high religious sentiment that brings her to turn to the Lord – but even so, that desperate cry for help finds an answer she could hardly have dreamt of, and reminds us too of the value of prayer, however imperfect it might seem.