For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain…
There are not many who think for themselves; and even those who are reckoned to do so, depend for the materials of thinking upon what they hear, or see, or touch. In the things of God this must be so, much more than in others. God's place is to speak, and ours to listen. He expects us to listen, for He has a right to speak. But it is irksome to be always in the attitude of listeners; at least, of listeners to God. We prefer guessing, or speculating, or reasoning. If we find that we must have recourse to some authority beyond ourselves, we betake ourselves to any pretender to wisdom, — and above all, to any one who professes to be the representative of the invisible God, and to speak in His name. Hence the Gentiles resorted to their "oracles," and the apostate Jews to their "witchcrafts," and to the household gods or teraphim. These are the "idols" referred to by Zechariah. They whom you consult as the depositories of Divine wisdom, who pretend to guide you, and to utter truth, have spoken vanity; they have cheated you with lies. Such was Israel's history. They trusted in faithless oracles. They became the dupes of these to whom they had come for guidance in the day of perplexity. Their teraphim spoke vanity. This has been man's history too, as well as Israel's. He has chosen another counsellor, instead, of God; it may be the Church, or reason, or public opinion. The world's teraphim have not been few; nor has their authority been either weak or transient. There is "public opinion," that mysterious oracle, whose shrine is nowhere, but the echo of whose voice is everywhere. There is the standard of established custom — schools of literature, and philosophy, or theology. There is what is called the "spirit of the times." There is the idol of personal friendships, or of admired authors, or of revered teachers. Mark on what points these teraphim mislead us. They misrepresent the real end and aim of life, assuring us that the glory of the God who made us cannot be that end, inasmuch as that is something quite transcendental, something altogether, beyond our reach, or our reason, or our sympathies. Why are men thus misled and befooled? They have no confidence in God Himself; nor have they learned to say, "Let God be tree, and every man a liar." They seek not the Holy Spirit, nor submit themselves to Him as their teacher. Men do not like the teaching that they get from God and His Word; it does not suit their tastes. Hence they choose the prophets of smooth things, the teraphim that utter lies and vanity. But how do these teraphim speak their vanities? They do not need to do so by uttering gross error. They mingle the true and the false together; so that the true is neutralised by the false, and the false is adorned and recommended by the true. And why do these oracles speak thus? They are fond of speaking, and they like to be listened to. It is a great thing to be consulted as an oracle, and to be quoted as an authority. They have no high and sure standard of their own, and hence they can only speak according to their own foolishness. It is as the angel of light that Satan is now the world's oracle, or rather, the inspirer of its oracles. He has changed his voice as well as his garb and aspect. He has hidden his grossness, and modified his language to suit the change. There are those who cleverly substitute philosophy for faith, reason for revelation, man's wisdom for God's; who prove to us that, though the Bible may contain the thoughts of God, it does not speak His words; who artfully would reason us into the belief that sin is not guilt, but only a disease; a mere moral epidemic; who maintain, with the philosophic Buddhist, that incarnation, not death, is the basis of Divine reconciliation; that the tendencies of creaturehood are all upward, not downward. As an angel of light, all his snares and sophistries partake, more or less, of light. He instructs his oracles to appeal to man's natural humanity; to our intuitions of virtue and uprightness. The illumination coming from the Sun of Righteousness is one thing, and that proceeding from Satan, as an angel of light, is quite another. Shun the idols that speak vanity. Listen to no voice, however pleasant, save that which is entirely in harmony with God's.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd.
WEB: For the teraphim have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie; and they have told false dreams. They comfort in vain. Therefore they go their way like sheep. They are oppressed, because there is no shepherd.