🔼The name Raphael: Summary
- El Heals, El Has Healed
- El Lowers, El Has Lowered
- From (1) רפא (rapa'), to heal, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
- From (1) רפה (rapa), to sink down, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
🔼The name Raphael in the Bible
The name Raphael (or Rephael) occurs only once in the canon, and several times in the delightful and deuterocanonical book of Tobit. The Raphaels of the Bible are:
- A son of Shemaiah, the first-born of the gatekeeper Obed-edom (1 Chronicles 26:7). Modern translations of the Bible insist on calling this man Rephael, possibly to distinguish him from the Raphael of Tobit. But this is rather silly because the Septuagint calls both this man and Tobit's Raphael: Ραφαηλ.
- The disguised angel who calls himself Azariah, and who accompanies Tobias, the son of the blind but righteous Tobit, on a journey to retrieve some money from a distant repository (Tobit 5:4). On their way, Tobias catches a fish and Raphael tells Tobias to gut it and save the heart, liver and gall bladder (6:4). Tobias meets a girl named Sara and falls in love. But her seven previous suitors all died before the marriage could be consummated, and this due to a demon called Asmodeus (3:17). As Raphael continues to get the money, Tobias repels the demon by burning the fish' heart and liver. By the time Raphael returns, Tobias and Sara are well into their fourteen day wedding feast, and when the feast is concluded, Tobias, Sara and Raphael head home. Once there Tobias heals his father's eyes by means of the fish' gall and Raphael finally reveals that he is not Azariah but one of the seven holy angels that carry man's prayers to God, and that God had sent him to heal both Tobit and Sara (12:14).
🔼Etymology of the name Raphael
The name Raphael consists of two elements, the final one being אל (El), the prominent Canaanite deity, whose name became applied to the God of Israel, or the common abbreviation of Elohim, the genus God:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
The first part of the name Raphael comes from either the verb רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal, or רפה (rapa), meaning to sink down:
The verb רפא (rapa') means to heal or rather to restore or even repair. Noun רפאה (repu'a) describes a remedy, and nouns רפאות (rip'ut), מרפא (marpe') and מרפה (marpe) mean a healing or a restoration.
The verb רפה (rapa) means to lower, sink down, let drop or be slack, whether literally or figuratively. Since healing often had to do with bringing a fever down, this verb and the previous are obviously akin. Adjective רפה (rapeh) means slack or weak.
The difficult noun רפאים (repai'm) refers to the "sunken ones," i.e. ghosts or shadows of people that are no longer alive. This is probably best understood as the waning legacy of foregone generations that still influence and shape our world today, even though the members of that generation are dead, inert and decomposing in the ground.
Technically, we can't be sure from which verb Raphael comes because the third letter of the verb (that distinguishes it from the other) is absorbed by the א of אל. It appears that the context of Tobias suggests that Raphael is a healing angel, but his name would mean El Heals, and not An Angel Heals. Of course, we could see Raphael as the instrument through which God heals, but Raphael may also mean God Lowers. This latter interpretation might refer to the lowering of the angel from heaven, but perhaps it doesn't really. Perhaps the name Raphael reflects the difficult truth that God alone has the power to plummet people in states of despair, and the appearance and acts of Raphael illustrate that God is also the only hope we have on getting out of trouble.
The Naphtalite Tobit and his family lived in Nineveh as a result of the exile, and the final cords of the book lavishly refer to the prophet Jonah, who predicted Nineveh's destruction. Tobit appears to be largely political in essence, but its theology is an unmistakable reflection of the book of Job.
The sources we commonly consult omit Tobit. But for a meaning of the identical name Rephael, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads God Has Healed and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Healed Of God. BDB Theological Dictionary doesn't offer an interpretation of the name Rephael but does list it under the verb רפא (rapa'), meaning to heal.