Lesson 5: Ruth 1:19-22

Audio and help for translating vss.20-22 have now been added. See bottom of post for audio from a live class.

וַתֵּלַכְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶם עַד־בֹּאָנָה בֵּית לָחֶם וַיְהִי כְּבֹאָנָה בֵּית לֶחֶם וַתֵּהֹם כָּל־הָעִיר עֲלֵיהֶן וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הֲזֹאת נָעֳמִי׃
(Ruth 1:19)

See “Reading Tutor, Ruth 1:19,” for pronunciation help.

See “Shaddai, an Earthy Title for God,” a comment on Ruth 1:20.

First, Hiphil is pronounced HIF-feel and Niphal is NEEF-fall. It is a strange concept, perhaps, but in Hebrew and other Near Eastern languages, the same verbal root may occur in more than one form (stem, pattern, or binyan [בִּנְיַן]). The use of one verb root in more than one pattern gives different meanings to the verb.

Second, it is good to understand how each pattern works in terms of spelling (form). The most common pattern (70% of verbs in the Bible) is known as Qal (which means “light” or “easy”). It is the simple active or stative verb (action or state of being). In this week’s lesson, we find examples of the Hiphil and Niphal patterns.

Hiphil gets its name from two characteristic matters of its form in some (not all) conjugations: in the Perfect the Hiphil adds a הִ (“hee”) before the root of the verb and the final syllable has the khireq (“ee” sound) blended with י between the second and third letters of the root, as in הִקְטִיל.

Niphal gets its name from the fact that ִנ (“nee”) is prefixed before the first root letter, as in נִקְטַל.

Hiphil is the causative form. So בּוֹא (Qal for “he arrived, he came”) becomes הֵבִיא (“he caused to arrive” = “he brought”). מֵת (Qal for “he died” from the root מות) becomes הֵמִית (“he caused to die” = “he killed”). גַדָל (Qal for “he was large/great”) becomes הִגְדִּיל (“he makes great” = “he exalts/magnifies”).

Niphal verbs can be passive or reflexive (grammars often list as well middle and reciprocal, but these are similar enough to passive an reflexive not to weary the student with categories). “Reflexive” is not a familiar word to many and it bears explaining. It means action toward oneself (“kill” becomes “commit suicide”) or toward the group involved (“talk” becomes “talk amongst themselves”). A classic example of the reflexive is הֶאֱמִין (Hiphil for “he believed, he thought”) which becomes נֶאֱמַן (Niphal for “showed himself believable” = “was faithful” or “was entrusted”). In a Passive verb, the subject of the sentence is acted upon rather than doing the acting (“the door was shut by her” instead of “she shut the door”). A classic example of the passive is אַמָר (Qal for “he said”) which becomes נֶאֱמַר (“it was said” or “one says”). How do you know if a Niphal verb you find is Passive or Reflexive? Start with the lexicon and see what meanings it suggests. Beyond this, context is your only clue.

How do you identify a Niphal or Hiphil? Learning or at least familiarizing yourself with verb charts is helpful. But most students will recognize a verb and its pattern by first determining the root, looking in the lexicon, and finding the matching form in the lexicon to determine which binyan (pattern) the verb occurs in.


  • וַתֵּלַכְנָה is the vav-conversive 3fp of הלך.
  • שְׁתֵּיהֶם is the number two in construct (word pair, genitive) form with the 3mp suffix attached (“[the] two of them”). How can the suffix be masculine when the referents are female and the verb is feminine (we should expect שְׁתֵּיהֶן)? This may possibly be another example of words deliberately “mispronounced” to give an archaic effect to the story (although this example does not occur in the speech of Naomi, where most similar examples do).
  • עַד–בֹּאָנָה begins with the particle עַד attached to an unusual verb form. בֹּאָנָה is listed under the root בוא as a Qal Infinitive form (but you have to look through many forms in the lexicon before coming to it). The kholem (long “o”) vowel is the clue that this is an Infinitive (“coming, arrival”) and the suffix is 3fp (“their arrival”) so that the whole phrase means “until their arrival” or something similar.
  • בֵּית לַחֶם is Bethlehem, but why the patakh (“a” sound) under the lamed? This happens when לֶחֶם is in the “pause” position in a sentence (no need to worry about understanding “pause” — just know the spelling sometimes varies).
  • וַיְהִי is the vav-conversive 3ms of היה.
  • When you see כְּבֹאָנָה you should notice that it is the same as what we encountered a few words earlier in the sentence — בֹּאָנָה — except a כּ preposition is prefixed. This may confuse the student, since the כּ preposition is usually “like” or “as.” Looking up כּ in Holladay’s lexicon, we see that definition 7b shows that when it precedes an Infinitive verb, it indicates time (“when”).
  • בֵּית לֶחֶם is Bethlehem (this is its normal spelling, when not in a pause position in a sentence).
  • וַתֵּהֹם can be recognized easily as a vav-conversive 3fs, but what is the root and what is the binyan (pattern)? Even grammarians debate whether this rare word is from המם or הום. The Holladay lexicon lists it under הום and shows this form to be a Niphal pattern (passive or reflexive in meaning). Holladay shows that the Qal pattern means “to throw into confusion” and the Niphal pattern means “to be thrown into confusion” (a passive meaning).
  • Who was thrown into confusion by the arrival of Ruth and Naomi? כָּל–הָעִיר, the whole town. Note that the definite article takes the long vowel הָ here because ע is a guttural and cannot take the sh’va vowel (some grammars call this “compensatory lengthening”). Note also that the vowel in כָּל is pronounced with a long “o” sound (because it is in a closed, unaccented syllable, making this kametz a kametz hatuph).
  • עַלֵיהֶן is the preposition עַל with the 3fp suffix attached.
  • וַתֹּמַרְנָה is the vav-conversive 3fp of אמר. This indicates that the talk of the town was primarily (or only) among the women of the town.
  • הֲזֹאת נָאֳמִי has the interrogative הֲ preceding the feminine adjective זֹאת. You can recognize that this is not the definite article which would be הַ. Therefore, these last two words form a question.

By this time you should be able to handle many of the kinds of words found in Ruth, so the translation comments will now concern only items in the verses which may seem difficult for a new reader of Hebrew.

VS. 20: We’ve already seen עַלֵיהֶן in vs. 19. אַל negates the verb which follows it. תִּקְרֶאנָה is the Imperfect 2fp of קרא. The preposition ל with 1cs suffix may seem strange if translated “to me,” but remember Hebrew verbs sometimes take a preposition where the corresponding English verb would not. Better to omit the “to” and simply render “me.” מָרָא is listed in the Holladay lexicon and refers the reader to מַר “bitter.” Occasionally א replaces ה as the feminine ending. The verb הֵמַר is from the same root, but is a Hiphil Perfect 3ms from מרר. Since Hiphil is causative, the meaning is “Shaddai has caused me bitterness” or “Shaddai has made me embittered.” מְאֹד is used as an adverb modifying הֵמַר.

VS. 21: Why is the אֲנִי here since הָלַכְתִי Perfect 1cs הלך already has the “I” in it? The effect is something like “I, I went.” Pronouns are used in cases like this for some type of emphasis. Robert Holmstedt (Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text) says the אֲנִי here signals a change in topic (she was talking about Shaddai, but now about herself). מְלֵאָה is the fs adjective from מלא. The next clause begins with the adjective רֵיקָם. We find another Hiphil verb in הֱשִׁיבַנִי, which is the 3ms Perfect of שׁוב with the 1cs suffix attached as the object of the verb (if שׁוּב in Qal means “return” then in Hiphil the meaning is something like “caused to return” or “brought back”). The next clause begins with a question word, לָמָּה, and this is followed by the 2fp Imperfect of קרא and the 1cs לִי follows as the object of the verb. The meaning of עָנָה בִי requires a careful look at the lexicon. Holladay lists four categories of meaning for this root, but only one Qal pattern use of this root takes the בּ preposition before the object. When this happens it can mean either “testified for me” or “testified against me.” The Hiphil verb הֵרַע from רעע is the Perfect 3ms with Shaddai as the subject.

VS. 22: הַמוֹאֲבִיָּה is “the Moabitess” and six times Ruth will be called this in the book. This emphasizes her status as an outsider in Judah, a key theme of the book. כַלָּתָהּ is from כַּלָּה “daughter in law,” but has the 3fs suffix attached. עִמָּה is simply the preposition with 3fs suffix. הַשָּׁבָה is the Qal Perfect 3fs of שׁוב but has the definite article attached. How can the definite article be in front of a verb? Robert Holmstedt explains that this is a relative use of the article, so that “she returned” שָׁבָה becomes “who returned” הַשָּׁבָה (note: this is a rather advanced point of grammar for a new reader). בִּתְחִלַּת is the construct (word pair, genitive) form of תְחִלָּה with the בּ preposition prefixed to denote time. The last word is the plural of שְׂעֹרָה.

Ruth Lesson #5


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