What is going on in this passage? What was it that moved Elisha to curse the young men – and even more – what moved God to have two bears come and tear them up in this way? Well, let’s take a look at that and see why Elisha and God found the sin of these young men so unbearable.
The first sin we see in this passage is that of disrespect. There was disrespect on a number of different levels. We need to remember how ungodly the nation was at this time. Idolatry was running rampant in the country – as was violence toward God’s messengers and message. The people had watched Ahab and Jezebel rule – and it was pretty well known that Jezebel was systematically killing all the prophets of God that she could find. In addition to this the people of Israel were following a false god – and thus respect and honor for the true God was at an all time low. Here, evidently, was the new prophet chosen of God – the very God who had struck their nation with a 3 and a half-year famine! Supposedly he was the heir apparent after Elijah was taken up in a flaming chariot to heaven. These young men began to mock Elisha in a very disgusting way. First of all they referred to his lack of hair by calling him “bald-head.” There are two possibilities for this name. First would be that Elisha was baldheaded by nature. Being called “baldy” is not exactly an honorable way to address the new prophet. The second was that Elisha had shaved his head to mourn his mentor as Job had done when he lost everything. If the second of these is true – it was not only disrespect of Elisha – but also a horrible lack of graciousness to someone who had lost his greatest mentor and friend. I tend to lean toward the second of these because they not only mocked him for his baldness – but also they also said, “Go up you baldhead.” The phrase “go up” was in reference to how Elijah had been taken from him. It was a mocking phrase that meant that they didn’t want Elisha around either. They reacted this way because the last thing they wanted was another prophet of Jehovah coming around and continuing to make trouble like Elijah did. “Yeah baldy – why don’t you go up too with the other guy who was such a bane to our existence.”
The second sin of these young men was that of rejecting the Word of Jehovah that was already coming from Elisha to the nation. They didn’t want it when Elijah was there – and they certainly didn’t want another one of these prophets of Jehovah! These guys made their lives miserable. So there was a rejection of God in all that they were saying – of Elisha and of Elijah.
Elisha simply turned his head to look back – and he cursed them in the name of Jehovah. We come from a time in history when people are squeamish about God judging and cursing people. But such things are a fact of Scripture as God has revealed Himself to us. We live in a time when we think our rights are what are most valuable and important. We have come to think that for someone to judge us is wrong in every case. Reality – at least Biblical reality thinks far different from this. God has made it clear that those who disobey the law are cursed. God had an entire ceremony when two groups of people stood on two opposite mountains. They called out not only the blessings of God upon those who obeyed – but they also called out the curses on those who disobey. God also has the authority to call actions wrong – even using words like abomination when referring to sins we commonly embrace in our day. We need to grasp that to be guilty of sin before a holy God will render us cursed if we have nothing to pay for our sin and speak on our behalf. We can furrow our brow at the thought of God judging and cursing people – but He does not dwell under our judgment – we dwell under His.
When Elisha cursed them in the name of Jehovah, he was simply speaking the same thing Scripture does. God is merciful in not giving us what we truly deserve for sin. But we should remember that this was God’s newly anointed prophet. The rejection of him and of his predecessor was a very stupid and wicked thing to do. God was about to make an example that would ring in the ears of the people and warn them not to mess with Elisha. We need to remember that Elisha did not call for the bears. He simply uttered a curse – it was God’s providence that immediately afterward 2 mama bears came out and torn in half 42 of their number. It was a lesson that would long be remembered. Before we get to huffy about God doing this we might want to revisit the beginning days of the New Testament church. It was in the very early days of the church that a godly man named Barnabas sold his land and gave all the proceeds to the church. In a wicked plan to gain favor and honor – a couple named Ananias and Saphira decided they would do the same, but would keep back money for themselves. Even though they kept money for themselves, they would lie to the church and make it seem like they gave it all to the Lord! There was only one problem – God can see behind closed doors – and into dark hearts. The Holy Spirit, who had been lied to through all this, moved through Peter to confront Ananias about this – and when Peter did this – God struck him dead. Just as the men who took his body to bury it arrived back at where the church was meeting – in came Saphira – who confirmed their godless plan – and God then spoke through Peter as He struck her dead. Yep – that was pretty judgmental of God wasn’t it – except that God was absolutely just and right in doing this. The fledgling work of God was facing a serious threat – just like Elisha did through the mocking of these godless young men. God found both situations unbearable – or at least he found Ananias’ and Saphira’s unbearable. Considering what happened – we might say He found Elisha’s situation very “bear-able.”
God is not mocked. We cannot reject or lie to Him without serious consequences. Just because He shows great mercy so often does not mean that His justice doesn’t exist – or that judgment of the severest kind in not in order for all who disobey Him. We praise Him for showing such incredible mercy every day. But we would be very unwise to think that His mercies mean that judgment is not coming. He is praised throughout the Psalms because He is coming to judge the earth and the peoples with equity and in truth. We would do well to remember that as we read of a group of young men who had to bear the weight of their rebellion and disrespect towards God and those who brought His message to them.