At the end of 2 Kings 2, there is a story that many Bible critics have used to falsely claim that God is a bully and murders little kids. It’s the story where some little kids (pre-teens) mocked the prophet Elisha, then after he cursed them, two bears came out and mauled dozens of them. Here’s how the scene unfolds:
19 And the men of the city [Jericho] said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.
20 And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.
21 And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.
22 So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: 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.
24 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.
25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
Was this brutality on the part of the prophet and God himself? If we look at the context of the scripture, I believe these little miscreants got what was coming to them. I love kids, but there are times when kids who cross the line have to be punished.
In this scripture, Elisha was visiting the region of Jericho and Bethel with Elijah because, like many prophets, they were circuit preachers. Jericho and Bethel were teeming with prophets and most likely had schools to train prophets in the area given the numbers we see mentioned earlier in this chapter (vv. 3, 5, 7). Elijah performed several famous miracles during this time and was eventually caught up to heaven in a fiery chariot at this time after he gave Elisha a double portion of prophetic abilities.
Soon after Elisha saw Elijah taken up, he himself performed famous miracles that were broadcast throughout the area. It was a common practice for prophets to shave their heads at this time when they had a vow to the Lord. So when this group of children came along to harass the man of God, they were well-educated about who Elisha was, what prophets of God did, his double portion from God as Elijah’s apprentice, that he had just performed a miracle to heal their waters, and was on his way to do more godly ministry at Bethel.
Having known all of this, they should have honored the man of God. Instead, they mocked him and showed that they despised God himself. So Elisha justifiably cursed them. But, of course, it was not Elisha who decided how the curse would play out. It was God who decided to send two female bears to attack the dozens of kids, hurting 42 of them. This shows that God holds children accountable for what they know. Even in today’s society we do the same when we put children on trial as adults in some cases.
The incident reveals how serious God was about Elisha’s ministry, which had vital spiritual ramifications for the nation of Israel and the ministry which genuinely promoted God’s holiness and his name were not to be despised or taken lightly even by little kids who knew right from wrong.
Harry A. Gaylord