Elisha's Bears


“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. 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 2:23-24)

This account has occasioned much criticism by skeptics, charging Elisha with petulant cruelty in sending bears to kill the little children who were taunting him. Actually, it was God who sent the bears, not Elisha.

The fact is, however, that Elisha did not curse little children at all. The Hebrew word for “children” used with the phrase “little children” can be applied to any child from infancy to adolescence. The word for the 42 “children” torn by the bears, however, is a different word commonly translated “young men.” Actually, both words are used more often for young men than for little children.

The situation evidently involved a gang of young hoodlums of various ages, led by the older ones, with all of them no doubt instigated by the pagan priests and idolatrous citizens of Bethel. The bears that suddenly emerged from the woods “tare” (not necessarily fatally in all cases) 42 of the older hooligans.

The jeering exhortation to “go up, thou bald head” was both a sarcastic reference to Elijah’s supposed ascension, as well as an insult to God’s prophet. This was actually a challenge to God and could not be excused. So God made good—in miniature—on a warning issued long before: “And if ye walk contrary unto me. . . . I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children” (Leviticus 26:21-22). It can be a dangerous thing, for young or old, to gratuitously insult the true God and His Word. HMM