The She-Bear Gang - 2 Kings 2:23-24

Question

How can we justify Elisha calling down a curse of she-bear death upon 42 young people for calling him bald? (2 Kings 2:23-24)

Answer

2 Kings 2:23-24 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. Go on up, you baldhead! they said. Go on up, you baldhead! He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

The odds were 42 to 1 - humanly speaking. However, the 42 young men were not innocent youths, but rather a depraved group - similar to what we may call a gang today.

With the ascent to Bethel, the journey of Elisha is understood as retracing the steps both he and Elijah took earlier. He was a prophet walking In the steps of a prophet. This so-called gang disrespected both his office and authority. "These boys parallel the soldiers in 2 Kings 1:9-12 who order Elijah to come with them, for both groups seem to lack respect for the prophets authority and position" (House, 2001). Their comments were more than a mere set of words teasing him because he may have been bald (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A., & and Brown, D., say it may have been a reference to the fact that lepers shaved their heads and thus this gang was looking upon Elisha as a detestable outcast - compare Lev. 14:8-9). It basically may have been an ungodly challenge 'you are unclean and not truly the man of God, if you were you would go up like Elijah did' (compare 2 Kings 2:23 ("Go on up") to 2 Kings 2:11).

Whatever the sin(s) and its intent was, it was meant with swift judgment from God. All sin is worthy of death (Rom. 3:23). As House states:

Elisha pronounces a swift curse on the group, and bears maul forty-two of the boys. This punishment comes as a punishment of the Lord, in whose name the curse was offered (cf. Lev 26:21-22). The youths were typical of a nation that mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets (2 Chr 36:16). Some commentators think this story was originally meant to frighten the young into respect for their reverend elders, while others believe the account is legendary and represents the worst notions of certain prophetic circles.Cogan and Tadmor are more in touch with the story itself, for they argue that the account demonstrates Elisha's effective use of the name of YHWH and his role as new father of the prophets. It is also true that the scornful have discovered Elisha is no more to be trifled with than Elijah was. Three groups of characters are now aware of Elishas prominence. Others have yet to learn this fact, however, so further miracles may be required.

Reference

House, P.R. Vol. 8: The New American Commentary, Vol. 8, 1, 2 Kings. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).