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    Forcing the hour

    The bones of the Ephraimites, by Gustave Dore, 1866

    The bones of the Ephraimites, by Gustave Dore, 1866

    The departure of the Israelites from Egypt began the long saga of Jewish history.

    A people that had endured common suffering and shared a common dream of salvation were finally able to leave Egypt and weld themselves into the People of God as they crossed the Red Sea, reached Mount Sinai, moved through the wilderness and finally reached the Promised Land.

    A remarkable story of growing unity – but with one exception. The tribe of Ephraim simply couldn’t wait and on their own initiative left Egypt thirty years before everyone else. A disaster.

    When the rest of the Israelites departed from the “house of bondage”, they came across the bones of the impatient Ephraimites piled up in the sand.

    They had been killed by the Philistines: according to the M’chilta (Shirata chapter 9), because they “kept not the covenant” (Psalm 78:9-10) and did not wait for God’s signal to leave.

    The tribe of Ephraim symbolises people who “force the hour”. No-one denies their genuine yearning for freedom, but in life there is a moment when the time is ripe for action and one has to wait for it.

    An athlete who is not ready for a sporting contest, a musician who has not rehearsed enough, a surgeon whose training is incomplete – all are eager to go, but going too soon can bring catastrophe.

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