The Bible has some really strange stories in it. There are some that you read and think, “Wait a minute. What?!” Yesterday at church I told a friend I had just written a post about this story and he said, “I have that story highlighted in my Bible. I have no idea what it means though!” Let’s explore one of the weirdest stories in the Bible.

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. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
2 Kings 2:23-25, ESV

I remember reading this as a teenager and thinking, “What in the world is going on here! God had a bear eat 42 kids because they called someone bald?!” As always, reading this story in light of what came before and what comes after is the key to understanding what happened. We also need to know something about Bethel’s relationships with the prophets of God. 

Context: Why Did Elisha Call Down a Curse?
This story comes immediately after Elijah (Elisha’s mentor… not confusing at all, right?) was taken up into Heaven by a fiery chariot.

And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
2 Kings 2:11-12, ESV

By shouting at him “Go on up” they were casting doubt on Elisha’s legitimacy as Elijah’s successor. It’s as if they said, “Hey old geezer, go do some miracles. You’re nothing like Elijah. You’re a joke. Go back where you came from.”

If you look at this verse in your Bible, it is probably in a section entitled something like, “Elisha Succeeds Elijah.” 2 Kings 2:15-25 present a transition from Elijah’s ministry to Elisha’s, and is meant to demonstrate a continuation from the mentor to the mentee. These youth were not simply mocking his baldness, they were mocking the LORD and they were pouring contempt on God’s prophet.

Bethel and the Prophets
There was a school of prophets in Bethel. In v.3 of the same chapter we read, “And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” Elisha has clearly had some interaction with the children of the prophets in Bethel. Since the Hebrew don’t match, it’s safe to say “young men” in v.23 aren’t the same as the “sons of the prophets” in v.3. Perhaps the “young men” were common towns-folk from Bethel rather than youths who were associated with the prophetic school. It is unlikely these youths were young children, though they definitely would at oldest be considered teenagers. Even today, it would be fairly easy to believe some measure of contempt between the kids of regular families and the kids of the prophets – just think about the competition between “army brats” and the kids of non-military families in cities where there’s a military base.

These youths clearly have no respect for the authority of God, nor for the LORD’s prophet. If the bears mauled 42 of them, there must have been a huge group of them following Elisha around in order to taunt and mock him. Because of their blatant disregard for the authority of God, Elisha called down a curse, and God delivered in a totally unexpected way.

What Can We Learn Today? 
As a guy who’s recently needed to embrace impending baldness, I’d like to say, “Show respect to those who are bald.” But that’s really not the point at all. Their mockery over his baldness was just the tip of the iceberg.

  • We must live with respect for the authority of God, and demonstrate that respect towards godly men and women we encounter.
  • Rather than mockery, our attitude should be one of humility. We ought to live with a desire to be taught the Word of God.
  • When we are mocked for our faithfulness to God’s call, it is not we who are being mocked, but the Lord. Elisha could have tried to shut them up on his own, but instead, he relied fully on God’s Word to defend him. He remained faithful to the call of God, so should we.