Ruth is mentioned as a servant, Handmaid, maidservant, slave, foreigner, Moabite. What I would like clarified is:

  1. The Hebrew & Greek word that are used for servant, Handmaid, maidservant and slave?

  2. Which is the correct word that described her standing?

Ruth 2:13 Holman Christian Standard Bible

My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.”


1 Answer 1


The operative word here in Ruth 2:13 is שִׁפְחָה (shiphchah) which means:


  1. literally, maid, maid-servant, as belonging to a mistress Genesis 16:1,3,6,8 (PJ) Genesis 29:24; Genesis 29:29 (P) Psalm 123:2; Proverbs 30:23; Isaiah 24:2; even where concubine of master (compare אָמָה) Genesis 16:2,5 (PJ) Genesis 25:12; Genesis 35:25,26 (P) Genesis 30:4,7,9,10,12,18 (all J E); less often reference to master Genesis 29:24,29 (J), Ruth 2:13, of concubine Genesis 32:23, compare Genesis 33:1,2,6 (all J); marriageable Leviticus 19:20 (H, compare Exodus 11:5; not elsewhere in legisl.); in General, especially of menial service (never אָמָה) Exodus 11:5 (J) 1 Samuel 25:41 (opposed to אָמָה) 2 Samuel 17:17 ("" עֶבֶד) Genesis 12:16; Genesis 24:35(J) Genesis 20:14 (E) Genesis 30:43 (P) Genesis 32:6 (J; collective) Deuteronomy 28:68; 1 Samuel 8:16; 2 Kings 5:26; Isaiah 14:2; Jeremiah 34:9,10,11 (twice in verse); Jeremiah 34:16 (twice in verse); Joel 3:2; Ecclesiastes 2:7; 2Chronicles 28:10; Esther 7:4.

  2. figurative in address, שִׁפְחָֽתְךָ, etc., of speaker, in token of humility (see אָמָה) Ruth 2:13 ("" אָמָה Ruth 3:9), 1 Samuel 1:18 ("" id. 1 Samuel 1:16), 1 Samuel 25:27, ("" 1 Samuel 25:24f.), 1 Samuel 28:21,22; 2 Samuel 14:6,7,12 (twice in verse); 2 Samuel 14:15,17,19; ("" אָמָה 2 Samuel 14:15; 2 Samuel 14:16); 2 Kings 4:2,16; not toward God; but see אָמָה.

Thus, BDB suggests that Ruth is using a self-imposed title of humility (typical of the ancient Hebrew culture of the time). This is confirmed the literal truth that she was not actually the maidservant of Boaz (Boaz did not know who she was!) or anyone else at the time because she was living with her mother-in-law.

  • Thanks - I didnt want to confin to Ruth 2:13 - do all the Ruth passages for maid, servant etc... all use - שִׁפְחָה (shiphcharh) - such as Ruth 3:9 “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. And can the same word be used for 'slave' Sep 26, 2023 at 12:22
  • @another theory Ruth, being poetically idyllic in character, might reasonably use all or any such forms - hope this helps
    – user59096
    Sep 26, 2023 at 13:31
  • @anothertheory - Ruth 3:9 uses a different word signifying "servant", ie, that she was will to obey him.
    – Dottard
    Sep 26, 2023 at 20:48
  • 2:13 שִׁפְחָה shiphqhah (both instances). 3:9 אָמָה 'amah (both instances; note that Ruth's "me" in the NIV is actually "your maidservant", a common way of referring to oneself in the OT). Both are about equally common without a clear semantic difference between them. shiphqhah shares a root with מִשְׁפָחָה mishphaqhah "family" but I couldn't find a clear def'n to link them. (Strong's says "to spread out".) 'amah is said by Strong's to be a primitive root. Sep 26, 2023 at 20:54
  • many thanks to all, much appreciated Sep 27, 2023 at 9:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.