I noticed in the first lesson this morning from Dt. 18 that one of the practices of the surrounding nations that the Israelites were to utterly reject was that of “observing times” (18:10). I was reminded of Gal. 4:10 where Paul is concerned for the Galatians since they are observing “days, months, times, and years.”
The word in Dt. 18:10 is often translated “practice divination” or “soothsaying,” referring to practices which involved studying entrails, blood, various liquids, or signs or omens to have knowledge of otherwise hidden information. Interestingly, the word for this in Hebrew is related to the word for “serpent.” Apparently scholars aren’t really sure what to do with that connection other than to point out that “diviners” sometimes make hissing noises like snakes. Leave it to academics to give us that gem. It seems far more likely to me that there is a deep relationship between the Serpent and the various practices of trying to tell the future.
While I couldn’t find any direct connection, it certainly seems possible that what Paul is getting at is the fact that fanatical (legalistic) religious observation actually becomes a kind of superstitious divination at some point. The same word is used several times in the gospels and in Acts to refer to the actions of the priests and Jewish leaders “watching/observing” Jesus (and later Paul) making sure he’s crossing his t’s and dotting his i’s according to the rabbinical traditions. The fanatic/soothsayer says that if you don’t keep such-and-such requirement exactly and perfectly then this, that, and the other thing is sure to befall you. In other words, superstitious observances are always based upon explicit or implicit claims to hidden knowledge.
Anyway, Paul may very well be warning the Galatians about this sort of neopaganism, observing days and times like a bunch of soothsayers, hoping they don’t step on any cracks and keeping clear of all the black cats in the neighborhood. Paul calls that living in bondage under the old elements. And since he’s obviously talking about the Jewish calendar, he’s claiming that after Christ, the Jewish Calendar is no better than a bunch of pagan divination rituals.
Finally, the picture is of my daughter, and while it isn’t really directly related to this post, I did mention a serpent, and I really just wanted an excuse to show off her fearlessness.
Seed of the Serpent, meet Seed of the Woman.