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Ruth 1:14-17

Context

1:14 Again they wept loudly. 1  Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, 2  but Ruth 3  clung tightly to her. 4  1:15 So Naomi 5  said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her god. 6  Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 1:16 But Ruth replied,

“Stop urging me to abandon you! 7 

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! 8 

Only death will be able to separate me from you!” 9 

1 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).

2 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.”

3 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.

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

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

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.



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