Have you been angry at someone else’s success and thought that could have or should have, been you? Flip side of that question have you ever succeeded and someone close to you was not happy about it and tried to tear you down? Jill Biden, the first lady, recommended that both the winning and losing teams be invited to the White House. She is fully engaged in the participation trophy culture. Participation trophies are cultural rot where everyone wins regardless of talent, timing, or effort. It is a common problem with human nature that we do not like to see other people succeed especially those close to us because it exposes our own failures.
Jephthah a Judge over Israel is given success by God in battle. He frees the people who called on him to lead and the cousins from the other side of the river show up for the victory party making demands for something they did not help secure.
The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” Judges 12:1 ESV
Ephraim is angry. They have been getting participation trophies for so long that they have become entitled and demanding. Unfortunately for this people the participation mindset will end violently. Before getting to that it will be helpful to have some background. It is needed to understand the country and family dynamics of this encounter.
The nation of Israel are descendants of Jacob. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, has 12 sons. Joseph one of the 12 sons, the favored son, has 2 sons Ephraim and Manasseh. The 12 tribes are now living in the promised land and Jephthah who has won this victory over an enemy is from the tribe of Manasseh.
Jephthah from Manasseh is confronted by the men of Ephraim. They are from the same tribe. They are all Israelites that speak the same language and share the same culture. And God has made Jephthah Judge over Israel.
Why then would Ephraim come to the land of Manasseh and start making violent threats? The answer is generational participation trophies. We will look at this escalating depravity of participation trophies and how eventually it gets the men of Ephraim killed.
Participation Trophies Step 1: Complain but Don’t Take Action
14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” Joshua 17:14-15 ESV
Ephraim was not satisfied with their allotment in the promised land so Joshua told them to go clear more land and remove the inhabitants. Guess what? They only complained and they never followed up with the option to go get more of that they wanted. If someone else had cleared the land for them they would have taken it. But they did not have the character to go and get it for themselves.
Participation Trophies Step 2: Make Demands of Those Close to You
Gideon with his 300 men, and God’s blessing, defeats multiple armies. Gideon sends messengers to all the tribes asking for help to capture the retreating kings
24 Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25 And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. Judges 8:24-25 ESV
Ephraim mop up duty gets a huge win for Israel including a large share of what those armies possessed. One would think they would be happy about this but when you live a life of participation trophies you can never been content.
Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. 2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this. Judges 8:1-3 ESV
Gideon is called by God and followed what God wanted becomes the Judge of Israel. Ephraim never content is angry even when they got to participate in the victory. I assume they wanted to lead the victory and take credit for the victory but participation trophy mindsets will never be winners. Gideon to his credit displays a great moment of diplomacy and averts their anger.
Participation Trophies Step 3: Can’t Handel What is Coming
Gideon was a diplomat at heart but Jephthah is not. Jephthah is an outcast, the son of a prostitute, who lived his entire life outside of polite society. He has worked hard for everything he has and for all the leadership that has come his way. Jephthah is the opposite of entitled participation trophies.
But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” 8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Judges 11:7-8 ESV
Imagine Jephthah takes his own life into his hands, puts his trust in God, and goes to war. Now in the moment of Victory his cousins show up and start making threats “We will burn your house over you with fire.” Jephthah has no use for threats from participation trophies winners and being already in a war mindset strikes back.
Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim… Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell. Judges 12:4-6 ESV
Jesus is Always Enough
Culturally America has become the Ephraim peoples. We are lazy, entitled, complaining, and demanding. Destruction is coming because this is not a character that God will allow forever. Christ calls us to live lives of contentment and humility. Submitting to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Pray that we would turn away from the pattern of a tribe that is never content but always demanding.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV