“Ask the Lord for rain in the season of spring rain. The Lord makes the rain clouds, and he will give them showers of rain and crops in the field for everyone. For the idols speak falsehood, and the diviners see illusions; they relate empty dreams and offer empty comfort. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they suffer affliction because there is no shepherd.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever stood in the wrong line for something? Was it a long wait? Lisa and I were going to a show once and spent 30 minutes waiting in line to get in with a whole crowd of people. The line never moved. An inch. Eventually, an employee came out and announced this was the line for will call. I think 75% of that line moved over to the pre-ticketed line. Our hopes in that were entirely false. It would not have gotten us where we wanted to go. It looked awfully similar, yes, but it was a fake all the same. As Zechariah points out here, this is kind of like what idolatry does to our lives.
It’s hard to identify a single, primary problem that resulted in Israel’s exile to Babylon, but idolatry would make a pretty good candidate to be it. In a sense, idolatry is at the root of all sin. Some argue that pride is more deserving of that particular label, but what is pride but an idolatry of self? The people of Israel wantonly engaged in a disgusting idolatry for generations until God finally called a timeout.
Here, when He is more focused on the restoration of the remnant, God wants them to understand what He is redeeming them from. He is redeeming them and restoring them from the idolatry of their forebears. Also, people have always turned to idolatry of some kind and He wants them to understand well the threat of this particular path.
Indeed, if we turn from Him at all, the only thing to which there is to turn is idolatry. But given our drive to worship something, this tendency toward idolatry actually makes a lot of sense. Idolatry is easier than worshiping God. It’s a whole lot more complicated because sin always complicates the Hell into whatever it touches, but it is easier. It’s easier because we can see what we are worshiping when we are worshiping an idol, and it’s easier to worship something on which we can physically lay our eyes than someone on whom we can’t.
We can see this in the fact that ancient peoples–and modern ones too–tend to make idols out of things in the world around them. Thunder was caused by the god of the storms. Crops growing were caused by the goddess of fertility. The sun and moon were both effects of various gods. And so on and so forth. And once you get started down this road, it’s tough to stop. There are gods for everything. Hinduism, for instance, has tens of millions of gods. They obviously don’t all have a big audience, but they are part of the narrative.
Here’s the problem with all of this: It’s all fake. All of it. Every single bit of it. Idols aren’t real. They don’t have real power beyond what we give to them and that is only a gifting of the authority God has given us as His image bearers. They can’t actually do anything. Specifically, they can’t accomplish any of the things with which we credit them. There is no little-g god who makes the rain fall or the thunder clap. There is no mysterious force that makes the plants grow or the flowers bloom.
That’s what God is telling the people–and us–through Zechariah here. Listen to this again: For the idols speak falsehood, and the diviners see illusions; they relate empty dreams and offer empty comfort.
What those idols tell us are lies. It’s not true. When they whisper in the quiet and encourage you to go after the desires of your heart and that whatever you want will be just fine (so long as you do it in a way that honors them), they’re lying to you. That’s nothing more than your own heart deceiving you. Or worse, it’s something actively of the enemy. Don’t listen to a single word of it. Rely on what’s true.
When the heralds of idols see great things in your future, they aren’t really seeing anything at all. They’re putting on a show they think will be to your liking. It may not always be good news because what show doesn’t have at least a bit of drama to it, but it will always be suited to your fancy. A little too suited to your fancy in fact. It’s not real. It’s a song and dance act. It’s a smoke and mirrors show to distract you from what is real.
And, when we turn to these voices and the empty dreams they offer we won’t find anything of substance. We won’t find any comfort from the burdens of the world around us; the burdens of our own lives. After all, think about why people have always turned to worshiping something in some way. The world is a scary and difficult place. As much as we can accomplish, there is much in the world that easily overpowers us. Every time we think we have mastered our environments, something comes and reminds us of just how powerless we really are. Consider the season we are in right now. All the power in the world has proven insufficient before a tiny virus. We need help and we know it even if we are loath to admit it. So we reach up. We imagine that there is a god behind the storms to whom we can appeal for help and relief. And when no relief comes, well, the god must be angry and we need to find some way to appease him in order to make the storm pass. But it doesn’t work. Not in the big picture. We will live with this nagging sense that we aren’t enough and the gods aren’t really all that interested in us. There is no real comfort in our idols.
So what did Zechariah say? Therefore–that is, because of all of this–the people wander like sheep. Sheep are stupid. They will wander around with their heads and eyes pointed firmly at the ground, consuming whatever they can see, and without realizing it, wander straight into danger. Sheep need a shepherd. Without one they will perish. So it goes with us.
When we turn to some made-up power in this world, we will not ever even once find the hope, the help, and the direction we need to see our lives become something more than the empty shells they otherwise seem to inescapably be. What we have, though, is something Zechariah and the people of Israel could only dream about. Their dreams and hopes were given for our benefit. For now has come the Good Shepherd, the Savior of our souls. As the apostle Peter proclaims when talking about His Lord: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was revealed in these last times for you. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
We don’t worship what is unknown any longer. We worship who we know to be Lord. The Good Shepherd has come and we can enjoy the life that is truly life. We can enjoy standing on the rock that cannot be moved. Eternal life is ours for the living. We only need be willing to set aside our illusions that we will find this hope and life in any other source and receive what He gives freely to those who will have it…who will have Him. Let’s do it.