Elisha was a kind man who had received the double portion of Elijah's spirit. But this occasion shows that he could also be stern. On the way to Bethel, ungodly youth who had come out of the city mocked him. These youth had heard of Elijah's ascension, and they made this solemn event the subject of their jeers.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: 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 bald head; go up, thou bald head. (2
Kings 2:23, KJV)
The translation of "little children" is not accurate. There are two words here in the Hebrew, the first being the word for youth, lad, or servant, and the second being a word for young, insignificant, or unimportant. A stronger translation, therefore, would be something like "young people" or simply "youths"--putting the concepts together into their actual meaning. Clearly, if these youths were going out of the city on their own, without their parents, they were older than "little children" who would have been watched at home.
When the prophet Elisha heard their mocking words, he turned back, and under the inspiration of God he pronounced a curse upon them. The awful judgment that followed was of God.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of
the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare
forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:24, KJV)
If Elisha had allowed the mockery to pass unnoticed, the rabble would have continued to ridicule and jeer him, and his mission to Israel would have been seriously compromised. This single instance of terrible severity sufficed to command respect throughout his life. For half a century afterward he went in and out of Bethel, traversing the land from city to city, and passing through crowds of idle and coarse youth--but none mocked him or made light of his qualifications as the prophet of the Most High.
God, who inspired him to pronounce the curse, had brought the judgment upon these youth, and by doing so, many were kept in the path of right afterward.