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Ruth 1:11-18

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1:11 But Naomi replied, “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! 1  I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands! 2  1:12 Go back home, my daughters! For I am too old to get married again. 3  Even if I thought that there was hope that I could get married tonight and conceive sons, 4  1:13 surely you would not want to wait until they were old enough to marry! 5  Surely you would not remain unmarried all that time! 6  No, 7  my daughters, you must not return with me. 8  For my intense suffering 9  is too much for you to bear. 10  For the Lord is afflicting me!” 11 

1:14 Again they wept loudly. 12  Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, 13  but Ruth 14  clung tightly to her. 15  1:15 So Naomi 16  said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her god. 17  Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 1:16 But Ruth replied,

“Stop urging me to abandon you! 18 

For wherever you go, I will go.

Wherever you live, I will live.

Your people will become my people,

and your God will become my God.

1:17 Wherever you die, I will die – and there I will be buried.

May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! 19 

Only death will be able to separate me from you!” 20 

1:18 When Naomi 21  realized that Ruth 22  was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to dissuade her. 23 

1 tn Heb “Why would you want to come with me?” Naomi’s rhetorical question expects a negative answer. The phrase “to Judah” is added in the translation for clarification.

2 tn Heb “Do I still have sons in my inner parts that they might become your husbands?” Again Naomi’s rhetorical question expects a negative answer.

3 sn Too old to get married again. Naomi may be exaggerating for the sake of emphasis. Her point is clear, though: It is too late to roll back the clock.

4 tn Verse 12b contains the protasis (“if” clause) of a conditional sentence, which is completed by the rhetorical questions in v. 13. For a detailed syntactical analysis, see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (WBC), 78-79.

5 tn Heb “For them would you wait until they were grown?” Some understand הֲלָהֵן (halahen) as an interrogative he (ה) with an Aramaic particle meaning “therefore” (see GKC 301 §103.b.2 [n. 4]; cf. ASV, NASB), while others understand the form to consist of an interrogative he, the preposition ל (lamed, “for”), and an apparent third person feminine plural pronominal suffix (CEV, NLT “for them”). The feminine suffix is problematic, for its antecedent is the hypothetical “sons” mentioned at the end of v. 12. For this reason some emend the form to הלתם (“for them,” a third person masculine plural suffix). R. L. Hubbard raises the possibility that the nunated suffix is an archaic Moabite masculine dual form (Ruth [NICOT], 111, n. 31). In any case, Naomi’s rhetorical question expects a negative answer.

6 tn Heb “For them would you hold yourselves back so as not to be for a man?” Again Naomi’s rhetorical question expects a negative answer. The verb עָגַן (’agan, “hold back”; cf. KJV, ASV “stay”; NRSV “refrain”) occurs only here in the OT. For discussion of its etymology and meaning, see HALOT 785-86 s.v. עגן, and F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (WBC), 79-80.

7 tn The negative is used here in an elliptical manner for emphasis (see HALOT 48 s.v. I אַל; GKC 479-80 §152.g).

8 tn Heb “No, my daughters.” Naomi is not answering the rhetorical questions she has just asked. In light of the explanatory clause that follows, it seems more likely that she is urging them to give up the idea of returning with her. In other words, the words “no, my daughters” complement the earlier exhortation to “go back.” To clarify this, the words “you must not return with me” are added in the translation.

9 tn Heb “bitterness to me.” The term מָרַר (marar) can refer to emotional bitterness: “to feel bitter” (1 Sam 30:6; 2 Kgs 4:27; Lam 1:4) or a grievous situation: “to be in bitter circumstances” (Jer 4:18) (BDB 600 s.v.; HALOT 638 s.v. I מרר). So the expression מַר־לִי (mar-li) can refer to emotional bitterness (KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, NJPS, CEV, NLT) or a grievous situation (cf. NRSV, NAB, NCV, CEV margin). Although Naomi and her daughters-in-law had reason for emotional grief, the issue at hand was Naomi’s lamentable situation, which she did not want them to experience: being a poor widow in a foreign land.

10 tn Heb “for there is bitterness to me exceedingly from you.” The clause כִּי־מַר־לִי מְאֹד מִכֶּם (ki-mar-li meod mikkem) is notoriously difficult to interpret. It has been taken in three different ways: (1) “For I am very bitter for me because of you,” that is, because of your widowed condition (cf. KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV, NJB, REB, JB, TEV). This does not fit well, however, with the following statement (“for the LORD has attacked me”) nor with the preceding statement (“You must not return with me”). (2) “For I am far more bitter than for you” (cf. NASB, NIV, NJPS, NEB, CEV, NLT). This does not provide an adequate basis, however, for the preceding statement (“You must not return with me”). (3) “For my bitterness is too much for you [to bear]” (cf. NAB, NRSV, NCV, CEV margin). This is preferable because it fits well with both the preceding and following statements. These three options reflect the three ways the preposition מן may be taken here: (1) causal: “because of, on account of” (BDB 580 s.v. מִן 2.f; HALOT 598 s.v. מִן 6), not that Orpah and Ruth were the cause of her calamity, but that Naomi was grieved because they had become widows; (2) comparative: “more [bitter] than you” (BDB 581 s.v. 6.a; HALOT 598 s.v. 5b), meaning that Naomi’s situation was more grievous than theirs – while they could remarry, her prospects were much more bleak; and (3) elative, describing a situation that is too much for a person to bear: “too [bitter] for you” (BDB 581 s.v. 6.d; HALOT 598 s.v. 5a; IBHS 267 §14.4f; e.g., Gen 4:13; Exod 18:18; Deut 17:8; 1 Kgs 19:17), meaning that Naomi’s plight was too bitter for her daughters-in-law to share. While all three options are viable, the meaning adopted must fit two criteria: (1) The meaning of this clause (1:13b) must provide the grounds for Naomi’s emphatic rejection of the young women’s refusal to separate themselves from her (1:13a); and (2) it must fit the following clause: “for the hand of the LORD has gone out against me” (1:13c). The first and second options do not provide adequate reasons for sending her daughters-in-law back home, nor do they fit her lament that the LORD had attached her (not them); however, the third option (elative sense) fits both criteria. Naomi did not want her daughters-in-law to share her sad situation, that is, to be poor, childless widows in a foreign land with no prospect for marriage. If they accompanied her back to Judah, they would be in the same kind of situation in which she found herself in Moab. If they were to find the “rest” (security of home and husband) she wished for them, it would be in Moab, not in Judah. The Lord had already deprived her of husband and sons. She could do nothing for them in this regard because she had no more sons to give them as husbands, and she was past the age of child-bearing to raise up new husbands for them in the future – as if they could wait that long anyway (1:13a). For a discussion of these three options and defense of the approach adopted here, see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (WBC), 80-81.

11 tn Heb “for the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (KJV, ASV, NASB, NIV all similar). The expression suggests opposition and hostility, perhaps picturing the Lord as the Divine Warrior who is bringing calamity upon Naomi. See R. L. Hubbard, Jr., Ruth (NICOT), 113.

12 tn Heb “they lifted their voice[s] and wept” (so NASB; see v. 9). The expression refers to loud weeping employed in mourning tragedy (Judg 21:2; 2 Sam 13:36; Job 2:12).

13 tc The LXX adds, “and she returned to her people” (cf. TEV “and went back home”). Translating the Greek of the LXX back to Hebrew would read a consonantal text of ותשׁב אל־עמה. Most dismiss this as a clarifying addition added under the influence of v. 15, but this alternative reading should not be rejected too quickly. It is possible that a scribe’s eye jumped from the initial vav on ותשׁב (“and she returned”) to the initial vav on the final clause (וְרוּת [vÿrut], “and Ruth”), inadvertently leaving out the intervening words, “and she returned to her people.” Or a scribe’s eye could have jumped from the final he on לַחֲמוֹתָהּ (lakhamotah, “to her mother-in-law”) to the final he on עַמָּהּ (’ammah, “her people”), leaving out the intervening words, “and she returned to her people.”

14 tn The clause is disjunctive. The word order is conjunction + subject + verb, highlighting the contrast between the actions of Orpah and Ruth.

sn Orpah is a literary foil for Ruth. Orpah is a commendable and devoted person (see v. 8); after all she is willing to follow Naomi back to Judah. However, when Naomi bombards her with good reasons why she should return, she relents. But Ruth is special. Despite Naomi’s bitter tirade, she insists on staying. Orpah is a good person, but Ruth is beyond good – she possesses an extra measure of devotion and sacrificial love that is uncommon.

15 sn Clung tightly. The expression suggests strong commitment (see R. L. Hubbard, Jr., Ruth [NICOT], 115).

16 tn Heb “she”; the referent (Naomi) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

17 tn Or “gods” (so KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, CEV, NLT), if the plural form is taken as a numerical plural. However, it is likely that Naomi, speaking from Orpah’s Moabite perspective, uses the plural of majesty of the Moabite god Chemosh. For examples of the plural of majesty being used of a pagan god, see BDB 43 s.v. אֱלֹהִים 1.d. Note especially 1 Kgs 11:33, where the plural form is used of Chemosh.

18 tn Heb “do not urge me to abandon you to turn back from after you.” Most English versions, following the lead of the KJV, use “leave” here. The use of עזב (“abandon”) reflects Ruth’s perspective. To return to Moab would be to abandon Naomi and to leave her even more vulnerable than she already is.

19 tn Heb “Thus may the Lord do to me and thus may he add…” The construction וְכֹה יֹסִיףכֹּה יַעֲשֶׂה (koh yaaseh...vÿkhoh yosif, “May he do thus…and may he do even more so…!”) is an oath formula of self-imprecation (e.g., 1 Sam 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2 Sam 3:9,35; 19:14; 1 Kgs 2:23; 2 Kgs 6:31). In this formula the exact curse is understood but not expressed (GKC 472 §149.d; BDB 462 s.v. כֹּה 1.b). In ancient Near Eastern imprecations, when the curse was so extreme, it was not uttered because it was unspeakably awful: “In the twelve uses of this formula, the calamity which the speaker invokes is never named, since OT culture (in keeping with the rest of the ancient Near East) accorded such power to the spoken word” (F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 82). Ruth here pronounces a curse upon herself, elevating the preceding promise to a formal, unconditional level. If she is not faithful to her promise, she agrees to become an object of divine judgment. As in other occurrences of this oath/curse formula, the specific punishment is not mentioned. As Bush explains, the particle כִּי (ki) here is probably asseverative (“indeed, certainly”) and the statement that follows expresses what underscores the seriousness of her promise by invoking divine judgment, as it were, if she does otherwise. Of course, the Lord would not have been obligated to judge her if she had abandoned Naomi – this is simply an ancient idiomatic way of expressing her commitment to her promise.

20 tn Heb “certainly death will separate me and you.” Ruth’s vow has been interpreted two ways: (1) Not even death will separate her from Naomi – because they will be buried next to one another (e.g., NRSV, NCV; see E. F. Campbell, Ruth [AB], 74-75). However, for the statement to mean, “Not even death will separate me and you,” it would probably need to be introduced by אִם (’im, “if”) or negated by לֹא (lo’, “not”; see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 83). (2) Nothing except death will separate her from Naomi (e.g., KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV, TEV, NJPS, REB, NLT, GW; see Bush, 83). The particle כִּי introduces the content of the vow, which – if violated – would bring about the curse uttered in the preceding oath (BDB 472 s.v. כִּי 1.c; e.g., Gen 42:16; Num 14:22; 1 Sam 20:3; 26:16; 29:6; 2 Sam 3:35; 1 Kgs 2:23; Isa 49:18). Some suggest that כּי is functioning as an asseverative (“indeed, certainly”) to express what the speaker is determined will happen (Bush, 83; see 1 Sam 14:44; 2 Sam 3:9; 1 Kgs 2:23; 19:2). Here כִּי probably functions in a conditional sense: “if” or “if…except, unless” (BDB 473 s.v. כִּי2.b). So her vow may essentially mean “if anything except death should separate me from you!” The most likely view is (2): Ruth is swearing that death alone will separate her from Naomi.

sn Ruth’s devotion to Naomi is especially apparent here. Instead of receiving a sure blessing and going home (see v. 8), Ruth instead takes on a serious responsibility and subjects herself to potential divine punishment. Death, a power beyond Ruth’s control, will separate the two women, but until that time Ruth will stay by Naomi’s side and she will even be buried in the same place as Naomi.

21 tn Heb “she”; the referent (Naomi) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

22 tn Heb “she”; the referent (Ruth) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

23 tn Heb “she ceased speaking to her.” This does not imply that Naomi was completely silent toward Ruth. It simply means that Naomi stopped trying to convince her to go back to Moab (see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 84-85).



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