WARNING: REVERENCE THE WORDS OF GOD'S SERVANT!
Dear Members in Christ,
Warning: Reverence the words of God’s servant!
The miracles of Elisha recorded in chapters two to chapter eight of the Book of First Kings give us a clear picture of the working of the Spirit of the LORD in the ministry of Elisha. Some of these miracles, like the birth of a son to the Shunnamite lady occupy an entire chapter. Other miracles were recorded in shorter passages. Today’s article about the mauling of forty-two youths by bears is one of the shorter miracles recorded during the ministry of the prophet Elisha.
In three short verses, the bible records how the prophet was mocked and how he cursed the culprits. The result was the sudden appearance of two she-bears that mauled the youths. The question often asked is, why did God exact such a drastic punishment upon those youths for what appears to be nothing more than a mischievous, childish prank? This is a misunderstanding of the word of God. Firstly, these were not little toddling children as some commentators suggest. Secondly, it was no childish prank, not some mischievous child’s play, the mockery was an offense against God.
They were not little children but unruly and ungodly youths
The account begins with the prophet Elisha going to the city of Bethel, and there he was mocked.
“And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.” 2 Kings 2:23
This miracle is often misunderstood by commentators, because of the understanding of the phrase “little children.” There is no mistaking their actions, they mocked and ridiculed the prophet. The Hebrew word that is translated as children is also translated as “youths” or “young men” in other places in the Bible such as Genesis 14:24, 22:3, and Judges 18:15. Even with the adjective “little” the phrase can mean youths or young men. In King Solomon’s petitionary prayer to God asking for wisdom, he refers to himself as a “little child” (1 Kings 3:7). At this point in 1 Kings 3, Solomon was about to be crowned king, so he was already a young man, not a little child as some assume. These forty-two mockers were probably unruly youths, and their irreverence to God is displayed in the way they disparaged God’s servant Elisha.
The phrase they shouted, “Go up, thou bald head”, was an offensive taunt against the servant of God. Although I personally believe that Elisha may have the appearance of baldness, or is in the initial stages of balding, whether the prophet was bald in the head may not be material to the discussion. The phrase itself is offensive. In the Bible, it is used as an expression of reproach. The description of baldness is used in biblical language, in a literary way to call something unclean and undesirable. For instance, in Isaiah 3:17, a scab on the head is used to describe God’s smiting the haughty daughters of Zion. In Isaiah 15:2, God’s judgment upon the Moabites was expressed as “baldness” and in Leviticus 13:43, it is associated with uncleanness and leprosy. Little did they know that they were mocking the servant of the most high God.
Beware! those who hold no reverence nor respect for the sacred word of God and the bearer of God’s word. They will be like evil Ahab and Jezebel who rejected Elijah’s warning to their demise. Beloved, we who are God’s children should know better. We honour the word of God, we aid and co-labour in the ministry of His word through His church. And we help in any way, as fellow laborers in God’s vineyard to bring His word to His people.
The word of God’s servant comes true
The response of Elisha upon hearing the young men’s derogatory remarks was a simple pronouncement of God’s Word. We read in 2 Kings 2:24, 25 the following account,
“And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.”
We know that this was not an address to a personal affront by the prophet Elisha. The Bible tells us that Elisha “cursed them in the name of the Lord.” It was in God’s name and according to His will that the curse was pronounced. It was the prophecy of judgment upon these impudent young men from Bethel. You see, there is some historical baggage of apostasy amongst the people of Bethel. Bethel was the center of golden calf worship instituted by Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:32,33) when the nation was split in two after Solomon’s reign. Undoubtedly, the worship of false gods had taken such deep roots that the people were hostile and disrespectful of the true and living God.
The test of the veracity of the ministry of God’s servant is that the words spoken will come true as in Jeremiah 28:9, “the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.” Whatever Elisha pronounced in the name of the Lord is prophecy. And come to pass it did, two she-bears came out of the forest and mauled the forty-two impudent young men.
Beloved, this account of the mauling of the forty-two would likely have spread far and wide in the land of Israel. It attests to the verity of prophet Elisha’s ministry and it confirms that he is a servant of God. At a time when the land of Israel was filled with unbelief and idol worship, this is a sorely needed message. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to labour in the study of God’s word, for therein lies the true power of God’s servant. The servant called of God will speak God’s word, let none be so stiffed-necked as to rail against the word of God. Instead, when we know and obey God’s word, we will be found in His will, and therein, we shall know the true power of God both to judge and to save according to His will. To God be the Glory. Amen.
Dn. Lim Seh Beng