When Elisha is jeered by youths in 2 Kings 2:23-25 he is told (as many translations have it) to "Go up" or "Go on up". The new NIV (2011) renders this as "Get out of here." Is this a fair translation of the idiom? What were the young boys telling Elisha to do? To go on up to Bethel? To go on up to heaven like Elijah? Is it just an idiom for "Get out of here?"

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The full text of the verse is:

וַיַּ֥עַל מִשָּׁ֖ם בֵּֽית־אֵ֑ל וְה֣וּא ׀ עֹלֶ֣ה בַדֶּ֗רֶךְ וּנְעָרִ֤ים קְטַנִּים֙ יָצְא֣וּ מִן־הָעִ֔יר וַיִּתְקַלְּסוּ־בוֹ֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ עֲלֵ֥ה קֵרֵ֖חַ עֲלֵ֥ה קֵרֵֽחַ׃ (Melakhim II 2:23, Westminster Leningrad Codex)

And he went up from thence unto Beth-el; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him: 'Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead.' (Melakhim II 2:23, JPS 1917 Translation)

As can be seen, Elisha was literally going up, as the path sloped upwards, so the children did not mean anything by saying "go up"; the mocking was just of the fact Elisha was bald.


God's prophet Elisha was bald. After he had succeeded to the prophetic office of Elijah, he was proceeding uphill from Jericho toward Bethel when he was mocked by a mob of children who cried: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” The primary reason for their jeers seems to have been not that Elisha was bald but that they saw a bald man wearing Elijah’s familiar official garment. They did not want any successor of Elijah around. He should either keep going his way up to Bethel or ascend in a windstorm to the heavens as the former wearer of that official garment had done. (2Ki 2:11) To answer this challenge of his being Elijah’s successor and to teach these young people and their parents proper respect for God’s prophet, Elisha called down evil upon the jeering mob in the name of the God of Elijah. It was a test of his prophetship. God manifested his approval of Elisha by causing two she-bears to come out of the nearby woods and to tear to pieces 42 of them.—2Ki 2:23, 24.

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Korah was one who challenged the authority of Moses. His name means 'bald one'.

The children were apparently challenging the authority of Elisha who had just picked up the cloak of Elijah, and would be granted a double measure of Elijah's spirit.

In other places baldness, or hair, concerns authority. The woman's hair represents that she is covered. The baldness of the leper represents that he is unclean, yet at times he is clean, as a symbol of Christ bearing our sin yet remaining Holy. Long hair on a man, by an interpretation of the flesh, is a shame, but as an interpretation by God for the Nazarites is his righteousness.

There is another subtle hint in the notarikon of 'bear' ''dob'': 'the command ד revealed to man ב'. And a word for speak contains the gate of bear: dobar דבר.

The bears gave a double testimony of 21 each. The full authority (seven) of God (three) in heaven and earth (two).

The idea that they challenged his authority is matched with word-play in the response.

What then of the challenge "Go up!"

It is recorded that Elisha was going up from there to Beth-el, the house of God. Perhaps the children saw the parallel to Elijah being taken to heaven. Perhaps they just ignorantly mocked him and did not realize the prophetic riddle that God was writing.

It is also recorded that he was going up in the way, which is also commonly used for a symbol of a life. It would be a cruel jest to reverse his going up in life with the death of Elijah.

The word עלה for 'Go up' has the gate 'yoke' על. This is a subtle acknowledgement that Elisha had taken the burden of Elijah. The taunt is perhaps something like: You have the cloak and burden of Elijah, but you have no authority.

Children love word-play.

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