So he said, “Who are you?”

And she answered, “I am Ruth your servant. Please spread the wing of your cloak over your servant, because you are a kinsman-redeemer.” Bible

“Who are you.” Boaz did not yet know who was there with him.

“I am Ruth your servant.” The Hebrew word used here in Ruth 3:9 and translated “servant” is 'amah (#0519 אָמָה), and it generally referred to a female servant or female slave, a maid or handmaid, a concubine. However, 'amah is a different word from the Hebrew word translated “servant” in Ruth 2:13, which is shiphchah (#08198 שִׁפְחָה). Although shiphchah also means female servant or female slave, maid, handmaid, or slave girl, shiphchah is considered by many scholars to refer to the lowest rank of female slave, who was also often the female slave of the mistress of the house.

The words 'amah and shiphchah are often used synonymously, or seemingly without distinction in the Hebrew text, especially when they are used in Hebrew poetry. But sometimes, such as here in Ruth, the difference between the two words is important. When Ruth first meets Boaz in the field and he is unexpectedly kind and generous to her, she refers to herself as a shiphchah because that was how she was debasing herself and portraying herself, the Moabite girl, as the lowest form of servant girl. But here in Ruth 3:9 Ruth is about to ask that Boaz marry her, so referring to herself as the lowest possible slave would have been inappropriate. Thus, here in Ruth 3:9, Ruth calls herself an 'amah, a female servant who Boaz could marry. So Ruth portrays herself in two different ways using two different words, depending on her situation. The fact that she takes advantage of the words available to her and appropriate to each situation displays some of the wisdom and tact that Ruth had.

Unfortunately, today’s English language does not have a large vocabulary when it comes to the status of servants. In fact, the only English word that is well recognized and that mostly fits with what Ruth called herself is the word “servant,” and so most English Bibles use “servant” in both Ruth 2:13 and 3:9, even though the English text then loses some of the richness that can be found in the Hebrew text.

“the wing of your cloak over your servant.” The same idea occurs in Ezekiel 16:8, where God spread the corner of His garment over Israel when she was young. What Ruth said was picturesque and humble, but her meaning was unmistakable. Ruth epitomized boldness with humility and tact. The Hebrew word “wing” is used of the corner or end of the garment (cp. Deut. 22:12; 1 Sam. 15:27; 24:5-6, 11).

Commentary for: Ruth 3:9