Beware What You Do In Bear Country: Was God Just in 2 Kings 2?

Question: In 2 Kings 2:23-24, a group of youths tease Elisha the prophet because he was bald headed. God then sends a pair of she-bears to kill 42 of the children. How could this be a good thing to do? They didn’t lay a finger on the man. Also, what kind of bears could kill 42 children? Wouldn’t they run away?

This question, silly as it seems, gives an opportunity to illustrate common mistakes made by skeptics and critics.

First, the word for the “youths” is the Hebrew term nahar, which does not mean innocent little children. The word is used of Isaac when he was 28, Joseph when he was 39, and for a group of counselors to the king in 1 Kings 12. So it could mean anything from young men to anyone who is not an elder. Here the critic did not do the due diligence of searching the terms or reading the commentaries. Second, the passage does not say anyone was killed. The term is translated mauled or tore up. So here the critic conveniently inserted a term that the passage does not say.

Third, these people were not merely mocking a person, they were ridiculing God’s prophet, denouncing God and His message. Elisha was God’s spokesman, and ridiculing Elisha was a rejection of God. Here the critic puts God in a paradox: if God would have allowed the ridicule, He would have been guilty of not dealing with open rebellion and rejection of God’s righteous message, but when God judges the men, the critic complains again. The critic would have found fault no matter what happened. Fourth, that 42 of them were mauled says that a mass demonstration had gathered, a large enough crowd that when the two bears attacked, they managed to hurt so many. Fifth, they were not just saying he was bald but also saying “go on up” a reference to his predecessor Elijah who went up to heaven. They were saying for Elisha to go away, a rejection of him and his message. sixth, God is sovereign and has the divine right to defend His servants.

Questions like this one illustrate that skeptics and critics often read things into the passage which are not there, fail to read what is there, do not consider the context, and generally do not research the scholars who have spent their careers studying the passages.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible, Skepticism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Beware What You Do In Bear Country: Was God Just in 2 Kings 2?

  1. Thank you for this post. I often see people jumping to conclusions about the Eternal One and I believe it is because they do not know HIM…or more importantly HE doesn’t ‘know’ them.

    I appreciate how you have gone into the Hebrew to see what was actually written here and when one digs deeper, one will discover that we serve an Almighty awesome all powerful Creator…and I am so thankful that HE does defend HIS own.

    I too have discovered many things by digging into the translations to see what on earth is being said for real…there are a lot of things that are mistranslated and if one doesn’t search the Scriptures one can easily fall into traditions of men, among other things.

    Bless you for standing up for HIS truth and HIS name as David did when he came face to face with Goliath. Many people seem to cower behind the bushes and they do not stand up for Truth.

    Glad to have found your blog. :)

  2. Hausdorff says:

    “if God would have allowed the ridicule, He would have been guilty of not dealing with open rebellion and rejection of God’s righteous message”

    I find this defense interesting. You seem to be arguing that responding to mere words with pretty severe violence is not only warranted, but necessary. Would it really be so bad to have simply ignored the jeers? Or perhaps responded to the words with words?

    You also said that it matters that he was God’s spokesman. Suppose I were to go up to the pope and jeer him similarly, let’s say I made fun of him and said I wished he was dead. Would it be appropriate for him to send some wild animals after me to maul me? Would he be obligated to do so? Would he be rejecting God’s message for not doing such a thing? I would think not.

    • humblesmith says:

      One of the most popular criticisms of God is that evil exists, and if God is good, why He would not stop it. In a situation like the one above, God does stop people from fighting against good. So the critic puts God in a box, where He is guilty no matter whether He takes action or does not take action against evil.
      In the end, those who do not like the good presented by God will have their wish, when they will be allowed to not only throw away God’s messenger, but stop living under God’s influence at all. But hell is another topic.

      • hausdorff says:

        When people talk about the problem of evil, I really don’t think they are referring to people saying mean things to other people. In this story people make fun of elisha saying he is bald and wishing he was dead. Granted, this is mean, but I don’t imagine many people using it as an example for problem of evil.

        But suppose they did, are God’s only options to do either do nothing or to assault those people with a couple of bears? You say that God is guilty whether he takes action or not, but the problem is not THAT God took action here, it’s HOW he took action.

  3. If we were dedicated enough to look at this through the eyes of purity and righteousness we would see exactly what is going on…Hatred is the same as killing as the Saviour pointed out “Mat 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If one speaks evil…even in jest…he is not of the same Spirit as the Eternal One and if he is not with HIM he is against Him.. By HIM sending bears…that was actually merciful…Elisha could have easily had them burned up right there, but instead he cursed them and the translation for the word ‘cursed’ in this instance from e-sword is:
    H7043
    קלל
    qâlal
    kaw-lal’
    A primitive root; to be (causatively make) light, literally (swift, small, sharp, etc.) or figuratively (easy, trifling, vile, etc.): – abate, make bright, bring into contempt, (ac-) curse, despise, (be) ease (-y, -ier), (be a, make, make somewhat, move, seem a, set) light (-en, -er, ly, -ly afflict, -ly esteem, thing), X slight [-ly], be swift (-er), (be, be more, make, re-) vile, whet.

    and from Blue Letter Bible is:
    1) to be slight, be swift, be trifling, be of little account, be light
    a) (Qal)
    1) to be slight, be abated (of water)
    2) to be swift
    3) to be trifling, be of little account
    b) (Niphal)
    1) to be swift, show oneself swift
    2) to appear trifling, be too trifling, be insignificant
    3) to be lightly esteemed
    c) (Piel)
    1) to make despicable
    2) to curse
    d) (Pual) to be cursed
    e) (Hiphil)
    1) to make light, lighten
    2) to treat with contempt, bring contempt or dishonour
    f) (Pilpel)
    1) to shake
    2) to whet
    g) (Hithpalpel) to shake oneself, be moved to and fro

    It seems to me that Elisha was merciful and so was the Almighty, as Humblesmith pointed out there was a gang of youth, more than 42 from what I see…stirring up anger…we may be able to compare this to today, but I have a feeling it was worse for Elisha being visibly a man of the Eternal One…today do we see a difference between the righteous and the wicked? However, when the righteous will fully stand for Righteousness, the wicked will certainly be persecuting them and as Scripture points out, they/we will be killed, thrown in prison and so on… the wicked never have a cause to persecute the righteous, but some of the righteous, like Elisha, will be defended and some will be examples.

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