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Elisha had just recently taken over the mantle from Elijah, not to mention all his God given powers, who he had witnessed being taken up, at God's behest, into the heavens in a whirlwind (2:11). Shortly after Elisha is on his way to Bethel, he is then mocked by many young lads from the city who said to him, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!" Apparently, they had heard of Elijah's translation up into the heavens and were challenging Elisha's prophetic office. Go up. i.e., ascend, as you claimed Elijah did. On seeing these lads, Elisha then cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up 42 of their number.

Elisha cursed these lads for in effect cursing him, but why such a harsh punishment, or are we to believe that the she bears just came out by chance and were possibly "rabid" or something ??

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  • There is an explanation for this, but one that comes from out of ‘left field’. Rather than simply re-hashing this, (it is quite complex, and needs a lengthy introduction.), I’ll post this link for you to take, if interested.
    – Dave
    Oct 1 at 22:08
  • @Dave- Just finished listening to that link you sent. Very interesting. It explains a lot. Thank you so much for that. Much appreciated. Oct 1 at 23:09
  • Related Question: Why did Elisha curse 42 boys?
    – Lucian
    Oct 2 at 13:14
  • @Lucian-Thank you for that. Did not see that come up when I was asking the question. Oct 2 at 15:16
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There’s a lot more to the Elisha case than meets the eye. First, they weren’t children in the sense we think of children. There was no classification of ‘teenagers’ way back then. The youths who ganged up against this solitary man were a mob. Forty-two of them at the least. They came from the town that was the royal cult centre of the northern kings, in opposition to Elisha’s mission. Elisha and his predecessor were in the business of confronting the wickedness of the kings who had given the nation over to apostasy and idolatry. So you might view this mob as the Youth Wing of the Cult Party. (2 Kings chapter 2)

As you say, the particular phrase of abuse they hurled might have been a reference to how Elisha’s predecessor had been taken away from the scene of the earth, wishing Elisha would disappear just as suddenly, before his ministry could start. Well, God had just ordained Elisha, verifying that with signs, and those hooligans should have known that God was the power behind the ministry. They had clearly identified themselves as being on the side of idolatry and rebellion against Yahweh, so when Elisha called down an unspecified curse, the result was two bears coming out of the woods, mauling 42 of them. Notice that it doesn’t actually say they were killed?

The mauling of so many could have been exacerbated by the topography. We know that the event happened somewhere along the road between Jericho and Bethel, and a sizeable river would run parallel to the road. That river feeds into the Jordan river. We also know that the bears came out of a wood. Now, what if (and here I speculate) the wood was on one side of the mob, and the river on the other? What if there was a ravine, or a steep rock-face nearby? Many things could combine to make a rapid escape impossible. The mob might also have been terrified to run towards Elisha in case he requested God to administer another curse. That could account for why most of the mob didn't run away from 'only' two bears.

What the Bible account actually says show that they were taught a mighty lesson for taunting the Lord’s anointed prophet. Elisha’s new ministry was thus proven to his enemies as being something to fear, but for those who stood for Yahweh, it was encouragement to know that the departure of Elijah was not the end of God’s hand of power in the godless land. Baldness was not the issue – just an insulting adjective added to the mocking mix.

Further, when the parents of the mauled youths heard the dreadful news, they would remember the warning God had given them in Leviticus 26:22 - "If you remain hostile towards me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children..." Nobody can ever accuse God of not warning them first, before his patience runs out with them.

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    Excellent! Didn't know about the Levitical reference. Interesting that it actually does talk there about death (bereavement) of one's children. Makes one wonder again about the actual fate of the 42. Upvoted + 1 also. Oct 2 at 15:13
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We might consider that some of the details in the account are vague and might, if considered in-depth, change our perspective. We do not know how old these youths were; they may have been into their late teens. Such might change the perspective from simple childish banter to more harmful teenage threats.

Second, it is not the case that any died, which is odd for such a moment, and so it is worth considering that the term used here for "tear" is often translated "broke apart" or "separated"; it is very possible the terms used suggest that the bears "broke up" this gang of youths intent on harm.

Of course, this is speculation, but just about any takeaway from this passage is speculative. Probably the main point was not to abuse the Prophets of God

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  • I like this answer. Wow! I had never thought (first thought, and was disturbed, about this some 30 years ago) that the "youths" may not have died. What you have just said makes so much more sense. Thank you so much. Upvoted + 1. Oct 1 at 22:45
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There are often many details missing in Bible stories. We don’t know how many young people came out to mock Elisha. We don’t know everything they were saying and what their ultimate intent was. We also don’t know what Elisha said in his curse upon them. We also don’t know how many, if any, were actually killed. What we do know is that 42 were mauled and they were doing something that displeased God, because he was ultimately the one responsible for causing the bears to attack the lads. We can also be certain that neither Elisha’s character nor God’s righteousness can be called into question by this incident.

If two bears were able to attack 42 of the youths there was probably a large mob of them accosting Elisha and many likely escaped unharmed. Elisha may have justifiably feared for his life knowing how mobs can easily be incited to violence if left unchecked. And if this behavior had been allowed to continue, Elisha would have lost credibility and respect in Israel. Disrespect and rebellion lead to chaos and anarchy. Youths who do not respect their parents or the man of God do not respect God and contribute to the destruction of society.

The 5th commandment demands respect for parents, and Elisha was the new “Father” of Israel. That commandment came with an implied warning that breaking it could lead to a shortened life. Respecting the 5th commandment set the stage for following all the subsequent commandments like, “You shall not kill.”

The second curse pronounced from Mt. Ebal was “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.” following the curse on those who make idols. Deut. 27 Elisha may have well said, “A curse upon all who dishonor his prophet!” He would have been speaking God’s truth and God chose to fulfill the curse that all Israel should have been well aware of. We can be certain that the people of Bethel quickly learned to respect God and his prophet.

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  • Nicely done also Martin. This is the second upvote I have given to you, for answers given by you since I got out of bed. A belated welcome to you. You are now on my radar!! Oct 3 at 14:05
  • As you answered 9 hours ago and I got another upvote 9 hours ago, I am going to assume you gave it, so thank you for that. Oct 3 at 14:13
  • Well, thank you, my friend. Congratulations on your well-received question! Oct 3 at 16:04
  • Thank you! I don't ask questions very often. I post way more answers than questions (probably at around a ratio of 10 to 1). I don't want to ask Q's, just for the sake of it. The, somewhat alluring, numeric reward, for asking rather than answering, although appealing, does not give me as much satisfaction as a well researched and, hopefully, well and carefully written answer does. Oct 3 at 17:19
  • I see. I haven't been posting here long, but my ratio seems to be about 2:1. There are a lot of interesting questions asked here so I get tempted to respond and hopefully the amswers can be of benefit to people. I also ask questions about things that occur to me as I meditate or study the Word. Many of the answers stimulate my thinking even as I consider how to answer my own question. Oct 3 at 17:28
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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.

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  • Good answer! This, as well as other posts here have really enlightened the scriptures meaning. Upvoted + 1. Oct 1 at 23:18
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There is a common misconception that the incident with the youth and the bears was an isolated case. This is not necessarily true - it may have occurred after a series of related incidents. However, whether this be true or not, the purpose was clear - God's appointed prophets must be treated with respect because they are God's mouthpieces.

Disrespecting God's prophet is equivalent to blasphemy! Such youthful behavior, if ignored, would have completely neutralized Elisha's influence and ministry.

Pooles astutely observes:

this Hebrew word signifies not only young children, but those also who are grown up to maturity, as Genesis 32:22 34:4 37:30 Ruth 1:5.

Benson observes this:

Upon the whole, it appears that the persons who mocked Elijah were not infants, but arrived to years of maturity; that they did not insult him by chance, but by design; that they went out in great crowds on purpose; that they mocked him because he was the prophet of the true God, from whom they had apostatized;

The time of Elisha was a fearful time when respect for the Word of God had sunk to new depths and had to be restored by drastic means. Elisha's ministry last about 50 years and definitely checked (for a while) the decline in Israel's spirituality and rising idolatry.

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  • Good answer also, and the feedback may only have just started. It's an upvote for you too. Oct 1 at 23:21
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Except Gods prophets were seldom treated with respect by their own people never mind foreigners. A gang of at least 42 youth, in the wilderness. Read the whole story, not just this verse. Extorting water maybe?

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