I received the following question:

(Ruth 1:17) Is it possible that Ruth was the first to say, “May the Lord do to me, and worse, if…”? I imagine it’s a Hebrew saying, and one which we can’t really relate to, as Grace Believers. God is working differently in this day, and so His justice is not dealt out this way today, but it was then. Do you think it was actually just a saying that Naomi taught Ruth? Could it have been something that other Nations also had?

Here’s why I’m thinking she could be: Ruth is the first recorded occurrence of the phrase. Half of all the occurrences, David, being Ruth’s great-grandson, is quoted using the phrase. It’s really not something we see very far from that family line. I could go either way on this one though, because Saul uses it… and unless he got it from David, then it must have come from somewhere else. Any light you could shed on this would be helpful.

While it is certainly possible that Ruth is the first to use this phrase chronologically in the Bible, it is quite a stretch to suggest that she originated it. This sounds like one of those popular sayings that goes around and is almost impossible to trace back to its original source. No matter who you find whom you think is the first to use it, it is always possible that that person heard it from someone else. Many of our popular slang phrases that are supposedly phrases of the day can be found in use decades before they became the “in thing,” if one looks hard enough. But there are always those who can’t believe that a phrase preceded their own day. I once heard a guy marvel that the Bible predicted today’s nose rings, not realizing these were common 3,000 years ago!

The popular schoolyard version of Jingle Bells, “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg, the Batmobile has lost a wheel and the Joker got away,” has lately been credited by children as coming from the Simpsons cartoon show. The creators of the Simpsons admitted they got it from the schoolyard themselves, but seemed to credit the children with coming up with it. Its real origin, of course, was the Batman TV show, wherein the Joker mocked Batman and Robin with it as they were about to be killed by their sabotaged Batmobile. But without something traceable like a television show to go back to, the origin of a popular saying quickly is lost to time.

Your guess that it was a Hebrew saying taught Ruth by Naomi is a good one, and could be true. However, it could also have been picked up by other nations to refer to their gods, or could have originated with other nations and their gods and been picked up by the Israelites and modified to refer to the LORD. It really is hard to say in such a case.

The family of Ruth/David idea does not work out, because Eli uses the phrase in I Samuel 3 long before the family of Ruth and David had come to mean anything in Israel.

It is interesting that the last time the phrase is used in the Scripture chronologically is by Jezebel, so the first and last uses of it are by a woman. Jezebel was an idolater, of course, but she had become the queen of Israel, and could have picked up the phrase there. She adapts it to her gods, of course.

I have guessed that the phrase could have been accompanied by some suggestive gesture, like when we draw one finger across our throats to indicate death, “God do SO to me.” But that is just a guess, of course, since we cannot see any of them when they were saying it.