A Study of Ruth 1:3-5 in Hebrew and English – Why Punctuation is so important when reading the Bible

וַיָּ֥מָת אֱלִימֶ֖לֶךְ אִ֣ישׁ נָעֳמִ֑י וַתִּשָּׁאֵ֥ר הִ֖יא וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנֶֽיהָ׃  Ruth 1:3-5

וַיִּשְׂא֣וּ לָהֶ֗ם נָשִׁים֙ מֹֽאֲבִיּ֔וֹת שֵׁ֤ם הָֽאַחַת֙ עָרְפָּ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית ר֑וּת וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָׁ֖ם כְּעֶ֥שֶׂר שָׁנִֽים׃

וַיָּמ֥וּתוּ גַם־שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם מַחְל֣וֹן וְכִלְי֑וֹן וַתִּשָּׁאֵר֙ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה מִשְּׁנֵ֥י יְלָדֶ֖יהָ וּמֵאִישָֽׁהּ׃

Ruth 1:3-5 (NASB) Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

Introduction: How Punctuation Can Make All The Difference In Reading The Biblical Text

We can see the painful seasons of life unfolding in the main female protagonists of the Book of Ruth: Naomi, Ruth and Orphah.  Whether reading the Hebrew or English text of Ruth 1:3-5, the pain and agony is noticed more when attention is paid to the punctuation markers in either the Hebrew or English. Their husbands are gone. Nothing is left for them in Moab. What will they do? We are no sooner introduced to the husbands than to find out that they have died.

The NASB has captured as close as possible the punctuation we find in the Hebrew text. In the Hebrew text above, we find all sorts of squiggles, dots and lines included in and among the block-style consonants. When the Hebrew Bible was originally revealed, there were only consonants and no vowels. As the Jews were dispersed by exile and return in the intervening centuries between the Old and New Testaments, a small segment of the population knew how to pronounce the Hebrew text when reading it aloud.

In-and-around the 5th to 9th centuries A.D, a group of Jewish scribes called the Masoretes devised a system of pronunciation that would aid in retaining the accurate method of pronouncing Biblical Hebrew. The dots one sees below the block-style consonants represent the vowel letters (called vowel-pointing). In addition to these, the various squiggles represent logical and grammatical divisions of each verse or line of the Hebrew text.

In our English text we have a system of our own by which we insert different punctuation marks to denote pauses and ways of preventing ourselves from running together the words of a sentence. We have commas (,) and semi-colons (;) that are used in the NASB to help us slow down and think on what we are reading. The Hebrew text above is dramatic when read closely with all the attendant Masoretic text marks. The NASB text should also be read with the same attention paid to our more familiar English punctuation.

What the English Text of Ruth 1:3-5 is like when read according to the punctuation of the Hebrew Text

We will close out today’s post with the English text restructured in a dramatic way so as to instruct readers when to pause, reflect and feel the emotions of Naomi and her daughters-in-laws’ loss of their husbands (these pauses will be in italicized print in parentheses):

Ruth 1:3-5 (NASB)

“Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died;    (pause for a little bit, let this sink in)                     and she was left with her two  sons.

(pause again, and think that at least there is the consolation that she has here two sons)

(They took for                                           themselves Moabite women as                          wives; the name of the one was                         Orpah and the name of the                                 other Ruth.) And they lived there about ten years…..

Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died.

(Pause again: Oh no! Lets pause here. Let this second major blow sink in. Naomi has lost two sons, in addition to her husband ten years prior)

and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

(Final Pause: We will close out the post for today. The tone of sadness hangs here at the beginning of Ruth. What is needed now is the purpose of God to unfold to relieve the tension.)



About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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