2 Kings 2: 23-24
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 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 boys.
A friend in Malawi has a great talent for telling Bible stories as dramas and sometimes as comedies, and even though you know the story well you find yourself listening with bated breath for the ending. This short passage from 2 Kings enables him to give full reign to his talents, it may only take up two verses in a book of 25 chapters but he can spin the yarn for a good ten minutes as he builds to the final scene of the bears retreating back into the woods leaving children strewn all over the road! A horrific story but in my friend’s account you feel Elisha was more than justified in bringing the bears down on the hooligan kids.
More seriously this passage is one beloved of atheists who eagerly point to it asking how a God of love can call out the bears to slaughter three and a half dozen children.
And on the face of it it’s almost impossible to answer that question.
On the face of it though is the operative phrase, for when you go deeper into the story it is not as horrible as it at first appears. For a start it does not say that all or indeed any of the 42 children were killed but that they were mauled and presumably all recovered from any injuries. Technically the Hebrew word here translated as ‘boys’ is actually the word used to describe youths who are teenagers and above, those who have reached manhood at 12 up to about 25 years old, young adults probably not much younger than Elisha who could only have been in his mid-twenties at the time of this story.
Yet even so it is a legitimate question why would God do this?
Well the town of Bethel was far from God fearing at this point, indeed that was why Elisha was going there to preach repentance to the people in the hope they would turn away, so although the teenagers taunted Elisha for being follicly challenged they were also warning him off as a Priest, they did not want God coming in and upsetting their corrupt but materially well off life styles. In demonstrating that God could control both nature and the wild bears of the woods, Elisha was showing his power but also issuing a warning that if Bethel continued in its ways it was doomed.
As a Prophet Elisha had a duty to warn people and give them a chance to repent before God would send an enemy far worse than a couple of mother bears; a foreign king and his army no less who would take them into captivity.
It is not recorded if the teenagers and the others of Bethel heeded the warning, but eventually of course the whole Kingdom failed and they were transported off to Babylon for 70 years.
We know we do things wrong sometimes, by fault of commission, sometimes omission, but we know if we carry them to God and lay them down he will bear our sin for us.
Lord God our loving Father, hear us as we cry to you. Hear us as we regret the things we have done and failed to do, things we should have done, and having heard us give us again that assurance that we are forgiven.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,