2 Kings 2:23–24—How could a man of God curse these 42 young men so that they were mauled by she-bears?
Problem: As Elisha was going up to Bethel, he was confronted by some young people who mocked him saying, “Go up, you baldhead!” When Elisha heard this, he turned and pronounced a curse on them, and two she-bears came out of the wood and mauled 42 of the young men. How could a man of God curse these young men for such a minor offense?
Solution: First of all, this was no minor offense, for these young men held God’s prophet in contempt. Since the prophet was God’s mouthpiece to His people, God Himself was being most wickedly insulted in the person of His prophet.
Second, these were not small, innocent children. They were wicked young men, comparable to a modern street gang. Hence, the life of the prophet was endangered by their number, the nature of their sin, and their obvious disrespect for authority.
Third, Elisha’s action was designed to strike fear in the hearts of any other such gang members. If these young gang members were not afraid to mock a venerable man of God such as Elisha, then they would have been a threat to the lives of all God’s people.
Fourth, some commentators note that their statements were designed to challenge Elisha’s claim to be a prophet. They were essentially saying, “If you are a man of God, why don’t you go on up to heaven like Elijah did?” The term “baldhead” might be a reference to the fact that lepers shaved their heads. Such a comment would indicate that these young men looked upon Elisha as a detestable outcast.
Fifth, it was not Elijah who took their lives, but God who alone could have providentially directed the bears to attack them. It is evident that by mocking this man of God, these young men were revealing their true attitudes toward God Himself. Such contempt for the Lord was punishable by death. The Scriptures do not say that Elisha prayed for this kind of punishment. It was clearly an act of God in judgment upon this impious gang.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.