The word “catechesis” means to “echo back.” It refers to a process of instruction in which the catechist asks questions and the catechumens recite set answers, echoing back the instruction they’ve received. When the catechumen is catechized in a catechism that is faithful to the Word of God and comprehensive in its scope, then that catechumen has a proper view of God, himself, and the whole world. Blessed is the man who is catechized in a single, faithful catechism!
Yet there are competing catechisms, which reflect different opinions of God, man, and everything. The devil propagates a variety of catechisms: the catechisms of Islam, and Materialism, Social Justice, and Hedonism. The one thing that unites all of these catechisms is idolatry; they all alike set forth a god who is not the one true God. The devil isn’t picky about which false god we trust, so long as it is indeed a false god.
The questions and answers from these lying catechisms echo all about us. This devilish catechesis calls for vigilance on the part of parents and pastors as they bring up children in the faith. Children must learn to recognize lies and hold fast to the truth, and they will learn this through devotional practice. Catechesis is never a mere intellectual exercise, not even when it comes to the devil’s catechisms. Catechesis always involves worship, which is to say, all catechisms are prayer books. The questions and answers don’t show themselves in students taking exams, but in worshipers practicing piety toward whichever god corresponds to the questions and answers.
It is, therefore, one thing to protect children from satanic questions and answers, but it is something else entirely to protect them from the piety that accompanies the satanic catechisms. If the right language from the true catechism is maintained but is accompanied by piety toward an Other God, that is not faithful catechesis. That is schizochesis, a divided echo, the mouth resounding with words from one catechism, the body living by the words of another catechism.
But let’s move from the abstract to the concrete. What does schizochesis look like? We have seen a broad picture of schizochesis in the entirety of the sons of Israel in the book of Judges. But here in Judges 6, we get to examine schizochesis in the portrait of an individual: schizochesis looks like Gideon’s upbringing.
11 And the angel of Yahweh came and sat under the terebinth which is in Ophrah, which belongs to Joash the Abiezrite. And Gideon his son was threshing wheat in the winepress to make it escape the notice of Midian. 12 And the angel of Yahweh appeared to him, and said to him, “Yahweh is with you, O mighty man of valor!” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Oh my lord, if Yahweh is with us, then why has all this found us? And where are all his wondrous deeds which our fathers have recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not Yahweh bring us up from Egypt?’ But now Yahweh has abandoned us and given us into the palm of Midian.”
The angel of the Lord greets Gideon in much the same way that the angel Gabriel would later greet Mary: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Lk. 1:28). The Lord greets people not according to how they appear, but according to what he has made them. Mary is favored because the Lord favored her. Gideon is a mighty man of valor because the Lord has raised him up to be such. The Apostle Paul constantly greets the members of the churches as “saints,” and the Apostle John calls Christians “children,” as in children of God. The Lord calls us what he has made us, not what we are of ourselves.
Now here Gideon reveals something most interesting, namely, that the fathers in Israel have recounted the Lord’s deeds of old, and they say, “Did not Yahweh bring us up from Egypt?” And yet we shall hear later in this chapter that the local altar of Baal belonged to Gideon’s father (Judg. 6:25). The men of the town are ready to kill Gideon when they find out that he tore Baal’s altar down (Judg. 6:30). And yet these same men recount the deeds of the Lord? These same men say, “Did not Yahweh bring us up from Egypt?” How can both of these be?
Gideon was the victim of schizochesis, a divided instruction in the faith. On the one hand, the fathers quoted words from the right catechism. They echoed the Lord’s words to Israel in Exodus 20:2, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.” They apparently took comfort in those words and heard them as a sure testimony that they had the Lord’s favor.
Yet they ignored the very next words: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). They recited from the proper catechism, but only as they saw fit, only as they derived comfort. When it came to the Law of God, the requirements laid out in the catechism, they turned aside.
And to whom did they turn? To Baal, the deity of the Canaanites who dwelt in the land. Baal was supposedly responsible for the fertility of the land. He was an agricultural god, and the Canaanites who worshiped him were farmers. Now for many years, God’s people had not been farmers. Abraham was a sojourner in the land of Canaan, not a landowner. The wealth of the patriarchs was measured in livestock, not bushels. Israel and his sons went to Egypt as shepherds. It’s not certain whether or not they took up farming in Egypt. Whatever the case, they weren’t farmers as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and so even if the Israelites had farmed in Egypt, all those who did so had died by the time Israel inherited the land of promise.
When the sons of Israel settled in the promised land, they were a bit out of their element. They knew how to keep flocks and herds, and they could continue to do that. But they had inherited fields of crops, orchards, and vineyards. Rather than letting these things go to waste, they learned to tend them. But because they were somewhat new to farming, it became tempting to listen to the seasoned Canaanites who knew how to use a plow rightly, yet unfortunately didn’t know how to use an altar rightly. Who knows how useful the Canaanites actually were to the Israelites? All we know is that the sons of Israel took to worshiping Baal.
And now imagine how Gideon was raised. He heard stories of the glory days of Israel, particularly the events surrounding the exodus. He heard that the Lord had brought them up out of the land of Egypt and saved them. This would be the modern equivalent of hearing that Jesus died to save us.
And Gideon heard these stories from his father who owned the local altar to Baal: “And then, son, the Lord killed all the firstborn of Egypt, and Pharaoh sent us from the land. The Lord led us to the Red Sea, and the Egyptian army pursued, and we were stuck between the water and Pharaoh’s troops. The Lord told Moses to raise his staff, and the Lord drove the waters back and split the sea in two. The Lord led us safely through on dry ground and delivered us from the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves. And now let’s go to the altar of Baal and offer sacrifice.” This would be the modern equivalent of cutting oneself off from the right worship of God, worshiping instead the gods of the nation around us (whether Mammon, Sex, Power, Fame, Entertainment, or some other), and then still calling oneself a Christian.
It is a comfort to schizochized children that the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon. This appearance shows that suffering schizochesis at the hands of one’s parents or congregation does not automatically disqualify one from the kingdom of God. God may not intervene with an angel from heaven, but he can intervene in other ways to rescue people from partaking of dissonant catechisms.
14 And Yahweh faced toward him and said, “Go in this your strength, and save Israel from the palm of Midian. Have I not sent you?” 15 And he said to him, “Oh Lord, with what shall I save Israel? Behold, my clan is low in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 16 And Yahweh said to him, “Indeed, I will be with you, and you shall strike Midian as one man.”
Notably, the “the angel of Yahweh” in this verse is not called an angel, but simply Yahweh. The Lord himself has appeared to Gideon, which Gideon will realize later. Three times Gideon uses the Hebrew word “adonai” to address the one who has appeared to him (Judg. 6:13, 15, 22). The first time I have not capitalized it in translation, as it seems Gideon does not realize that he is addressing Yahweh. The second time I have capitalized it, as he seems to be realizing that he is not dealing with a mere man (although he does not seem to comprehend completely who stands there before him). The third time he says it is when he gives voice to the full realization that it was indeed Yahweh who appeared to him. When the angel of the Lord turns out to be the Lord himself in the Old Testament, in these cases the angel of the Lord is generally considered to be the pre-incarnate Son of God.
Gideon will be an image of the Son of God as he saves Israel, particularly the fact that the Son of God will be poor and lowly. Gideon’s poverty and lowliness do not prevent him from doing what the Lord is giving him to do. Rather, because Jesus would make his power perfect in weakness and give life to the world through the death of the cross, therefore the Lord chooses someone who resembles his Son.
These verses also remind us of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
In the account of Gideon, more than that of the other judges, the Lord takes care to prevent the boasting of man (see Judg. 7:2, 4), and to show that the “weakness” of God is stronger than man’s strength.
17 And he said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, then do a sign for me that you are speaking with me. 18 Do not depart from this place until I come to you and bring out my gift and place it before you.” And he said, “I will remain until you return.” 19 And Gideon came in and prepared a kid of the goats and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The flesh he placed into a basket, and the broth he placed into a pot, and he brought them out to him under the terebinth, and he presented them. 20 And the angel of God said to him, “Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes and place them on this rock, but pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 And the angel of Yahweh sent forth the end of his staff, which was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes. And fire came up from the rock and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of Yahweh went from his eyes. 22 And Gideon saw that he was the angel of Yahweh, and Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord Yahweh, because I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!” 23 And Yahweh said to him, “Peace to you; do not fear: you shall not die.” 24 And Gideon built there an altar to Yahweh, and he called it “Yahweh is peace.” Unto this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Gideon asks the Lord for a sign that will prove that he is indeed Yahweh. This is the first sign that Gideon asks of the Lord, and it will not be the last. While Gideon seems focused on the sign, the language used here is the language of worship. The word translated “gift” can mean gift or tribute. Most often in Leviticus, it is the liturgical term for a grain offering (e.g. Lev. 2:1, 15). Gideon then “presents” the offering, another term used of Israel’s worship to refer to bringing offerings to the altar in the tabernacle (e.g. Lev. 2:8, 8:14).
Gideon brings the meat in a basket and broth in a pot and also has the unleavened cakes. The Lord now instructs Gideon in the right worship of Yahweh. The flesh and bread don’t belong in vessels but on an altar. The Lord directs Gideon to place the flesh and cakes on a rock. Since the meat is from a goat and the bread is unleavened, these are proper sacrificial elements. Broth, however, is not involved in the worship of Yahweh in the tabernacle. While the ESV translates Judg. 6:20, “and pour the broth over them,” the words “over them” are not present in the Hebrew, even though the Hebrew language has a way of saying “pour over.” To say “pour over,” one might use the verb from this verse along with the preposition “over,” as in Deut. 12:27, or one might use a different verb entirely (also paired with the preposition “over”), as in 1 Kgs. 18:33. The Hebrew verb for “pour” in this verse more often refers to pouring out rather than over, such as pouring water out on the ground (e.g. 1 Sam. 7:6) or spilling man’s blood (e.g. Gen. 9:6). It is also used of pouring out blood at the base of the altar during sacrifices in the tabernacle (e.g. Lev. 4:7). The KJV, NIV, and NASB all translate this phrase, “and pour out the broth.” It very well may be in the present verse that the Lord is instructing Gideon to discard the broth. Perhaps it was used in sacrifices to Baal, or perhaps Gideon was merely bringing the standard fare for setting before a guest. Whatever the case, broth is not used in sacrifices to Yahweh.
Now one might make the argument that, even though different Hebrew words are used, the angel is instructing Gideon to do what Elijah would later instruct the prophets of Baal to do: drench the offering so that when it burns it may be clearly seen that the fire is God’s fire (1 Kgs. 18:33-34). Perhaps this is the case, though if it is, that does not negate the fact that the Lord is instructing Gideon in right worship.
The angel of the Lord sets fire to the offering, which is the usual way of turning an offering into a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The Son of God has catechized Gideon in sacrificing to the true God, and this catechesis will continue in this chapter of Judges.
Gideon’s eyes are opened in this sacrifice and he realizes that he has seen the angel of Yahweh. In seeing the angel of Yahweh, he considers that he has seen Yahweh himself. He cries out like Jacob did when he realized he had seen the Lord face to face: “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Gen. 32:30). For this reason, Jacob named the place where he was “Peniel,” which means “the face of God.” Gideon similarly gives a name to the place where he saw the Lord face to face. Yahweh himself said to Gideon, “Peace to you,” and therefore Gideon named the place “Yahweh is peace” according to that Word.
Unto this day “Yahweh is peace” is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites, wherever that is. There’s a question mark on the map for good reason. But if you’d like to go to “Yahweh is peace,” you may. Go to a faithful congregation, and note the elements on the altar, and consider that in approaching the altar and receiving those consecrated elements you are seeing the Son of God face to face. The Lord continues to catechize us, not only in questions and answers but in the accompanying worship and piety. He silences the catechetical cacophony of the devil and unites true doctrine and right worship in the symphony of the Divine Service. The Lord rescues us from schizochesis and answers our prayer: “Instruct me, O Yahweh, in your way, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).