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.