He (Elisha) went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead! And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys, (2 Kings 2:23-24, ESV).
It seems outrageous. I mean to be mauled because you called a prophet a baldy seems to be a bit much. Well to understand this passage one has to understand the context of the situation. Elisha just succeeds Elijah after Elijah was taken up to heaven, (2 Kings 2:9-14). He then goes into Jericho and heals their water supply. He was well received there, but then he goes on to Bethel. A different situation awaits him along the way.
The phrase “go up, you baldhead” was more than just some kids making fun of his lack of hair.
“The public insult against Elisha was a mocking caricature of Elijah’s going up into heaven, aimed ultimately at the God whom he represented. Indeed, Elisha’s whole prophetic ministry was in jeopardy; therefore the youths’ taunt had to be dealt with decisively. The sudden arrival of the two bears who mauled forty-two youths to death would serve as both an awful sentence on unbelievers – and thus, too, on Jeroboam’s cult city – and a published reminder that blasphemy against the true God and his program would be met with swift and certain consequences, (pg. 538, “1 & 2 Kings”, NIV Bible Commentary – Volume 1: Old Testament, Austel & Patterson, Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
When they said “go up” they were clearly referring to Elijah. The bears didn’t come out because they called Elisha “baldhead”, but rather because they were mocking God. Also I learned that…
“Two different descriptions are used for this group (referring to the mockers). The first (v. 23) uses a noun and adjective combination that elsewhere refers to children or prepubescent youths. The second (v. 24) typically refers to the younger generation, from babies (e.g., Ruth 4:16) to middle-aged men (e.g., 2 Kings 12:8; Rehoboam was over forty, and these are his peers). This is probably a group of young teens. It was Elisha’s curse but God’s judgment.” Regarding the use of the name “baldhead”, “If Elijah was a hairy man (see 2 Kings 1:8), Elisha’s baldness would be a stark contrast and perhaps suggest to some that he could never have the same powers of his master. This taunt would therefore be a disavowal of his prophetic office and calling and would be strikingly refuted by the immediate fulfillment of his curse…. Ravaging wild beasts were often seen as punishment sent from God,” (pg. 387, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament; Walton, Matthews, & Chavalas; Downers’ Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press).
So to answer this gentleman and those who may be confused by this passage. Prophets are not petty people who curse people because they taunt physical features. This is also a great example of how context is king. Too many poor arguments or shaky theological positions have been formulated because of people cherry picking certain verses out of the Bible without understanding the proper context and interpreting the whole of Scripture.
Some may say that “this is an unfair judgment on young teens!” A couple of passages to keep in mind.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life, (Galatians 6:6-8, NIV).
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).
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