She was the most beautiful woman Ephraim had ever seen in this small town, and he was instantly smitten. He acquiesced immediately when she approached him about gleaning in his master’s grain fields. This most perfect of women (his private description) showed up in his life in what was generally considered the most beautiful month in Palestine, Iyyar (April), the month of flowers, when apricot and almond trees were in full bloom.
Spring had always been Ephraim’s favorite time of year. What more could a man ask for in this life than to be immersed in Jehovah’s beauty all day while working as harvest foreman for a kind master like Boaz. This day, whenever he lifted his eyes from cutting barley stalks in the fields outside Bethlehem, he saw beauty: ripe grain swaying in the breeze; trees thick with red, pink, white blossoms…and Ruth.
Ephraim was trusted by Boaz to make day-to-day decisions in the fields, and he had just exercised that responsibility by granting Ruth permission to glean. At the midday break Ephraim called out to her, “Come, refresh yourself, Ruth. Sit with us and tell us of yourself.”
She approached shyly and sat in the shade of the lean-to. “Thank you sir,” she said in a soft and melodious voice. “I’m…I’m Naomi’s daughter-in-law, recently come from Moab with her.” Ephraim nodded with recognition. He’d heard about Naomi’s return to town after 10 years; her now a widow and childless. This Moabitess, who was rumored to have embraced Jehovah and was devoted to Naomi, was the subject of much town gossip. Now Ephraim saw for himself the object of that chatter. He tried to look casual as he snuck repeated glances at her. Flames of hope kindled within. Maybe, just maybe this jewel would notice him, he thought.
Later that day Boaz came to the fields and immediately noticed the new gleaner. “Who is that young woman Ephraim?”
“Ruth, the Moabitess, sir. Naomi’s daughter-in-law,” Ephraim responded. “I gave her permission to glean,” he added.
“Hmm, I’ve heard of this woman.” Boaz watched as Ruth methodically retrieved stray barley heads from the ground. “Ephraim, since Naomi is kin to me, I want to show Ruth extra kindness. Tell the men not to harass her. And leave extra stalks on the ground for her…but don’t make it obvious.” Ephraim assured his master it would be done.
But now Ephraim was unsettled. How could he have forgotten that Boaz and Naomi were kin? That meant his chances of winning Naomi’s affections were slim. But not impossible, he reasoned; after all, she was a Moabite, not high on the Jewish social scale. Maybe, just maybe Boaz would take no more notice of her.
The weeks of barley harvest led directly into wheat harvest. Each morning Ephraim eagerly awaited Ruth’s arrival, her presence brightening his entire day. Over time Ephraim noticed that Boaz was polite to Ruth when the two had occasion to talk, but their relationship had not progressed further so far as Ephraim could tell. Encouraged, Ephraim pursued his friendship with Ruth. From her easy manner with him, he thought she returned his friendship, and the possibility of a future together was intoxicating.
Seven weeks gone, the harvest nearly ended, and still Boaz hadn’t made a move toward any claim on Ruth. So Ephraim made up his mind that the next day he would approach Ruth and admit his true feelings for her. His knees felt weak when thinking about what he would say. “What’s the matter with you, Ephraim,” he chided himself. “You’re one of the strongest men around. Why does talking to Ruth turn your limbs to water?”
The next morning Ephraim hurried to the fields, eager to get his first glimpse of Ruth. But she didn’t appear. At midday one of his men returned from a supply trip to Bethlehem. “Let me tell you what our master Boaz did this morning,” the man said, quickly becoming the center of attention. “He claimed kinsman-redeemer rights for Naomi’s field--and her daughter-in-law Ruth--after Levi turned it down.”
Stunned, Ephraim moaned inwardly. He felt like someone had just twisted a knife into his belly. Seven long weeks and now his hopes were dashed! He should have known Boaz would claim Ruth. What a fool he had been to even consider that Ruth might marry him. He sighed with resignation. Could he force himself to give Boaz the expected congratulations? Maybe, just maybe.
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