Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Bear Necessities

In 2 Kings 2 we read about Elisha on his visit to Jericho. The people there were whining about not being able to grow crops for lack of water, so Elisha decided to come to the rescue by dumping salt in the water and thereby curing it. So far Elisha seems like a pretty nice guy.

His work in Jericho complete, Elisha decided to head up to Bethel. En route, a strange thing happened, which we read about in 2 Kings 2:23-24:

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.

First of all, what kind of weird kids lived in Bethel? Did forty-two kids all come out of the city at once and say in unison, "Go up, thou bald head."? Had they been practicing? Did they do this for comic effect? What would possess such a large group of kids to say such a weird verse, and then repeat again? Was there nothing to occupy them in Bethel? Couldn't they have got together a game of football or baseball or something?

Whatever the reason, why did Elisha get so pissed off. Was he really bald? If so, and he was so self-conscious, couldn't he have worn a wig? And what the hell was so bad about what the kids said? If he was going up, were they not just telling him to continue, while making note of his lack of hair? Were their words not better than something like, "Move your ass, you old fart!"?

Regardless of what they said, could Elisha not just see that they were children? Had he been a little angel during his childhood? Had he and a group of friends never hurled insults at a strange looking adult? Or was he pissed off because as a kid he never had any friends? As for these kids, were they the first to comment on his bald head? Had the insults just been building up? Could he not have gotten some medication to help him with his stress? Did he not think that calling down the wrath of God was not a little out of line?

But the big question is, what the hell was God thinking? Could God not see that Elisha was overreacting? Did God agree that 42 little kids deserved to die just for calling a bald man bald? Was there a missing Commandment that Moses had lost that had said, "Thou shalt not call a bald man bald."? And even if such childish disrespect pissed off God, could He not have gone about it in a different way? Did He have to send a couple of bears to kill the kids? Could He not have sent a couple a counselor to give the parents some help?

On the other hand, is it possible that this never happened? I mean, with the kids dead, Elisha would have been the only witness and I hardly think it's something he'd be bragging about.

However, in Leviticus 26:22 God makes it clear that He's not opposed to sending wild animals to tear little children apart, for there He says:

I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate.

Were the people of Bethel thankful that their cattle were spared? And what's the deal with these two bears? How could two bears tear 42 kids apart? Did the kids all stand there and wait their turn? Couldn't the other 40 have run away while the first 2 kids were being torn asunder? Were these bears special terminator-bears, capable of mass smiting? Were they God's familiars?
Can they be called down upon adults as well? Are all bear killings some sort of divine retribution? Must we fear bear attacks if we fall asleep in church? Or if we fail to give 10 percent of our income in the collection plate?

On the other hand, can we call out these divine intensive-care bears ourselves if somebody pisses us off? I mean, God liked Elisha, right? So if we get on God's good side too, can we access the power of the bears? Can we go strutting through the ghettos in confidence, knowing that bear protection is just a call away? Can we call them out against the IRS if we get audited? Are they there to help us if we get pulled over for speeding? Where are the limitations on the uses of the special God Bears?


  1. There's a good ebook that's free to help pastors and their wives with discouragement and burnout. You can find it at It's quite helpful.

  2. Jehovah’s prophet Elisha was bald. After he had succeeded to the prophetic office of Elijah, he was proceeding uphill from Jericho toward Bethel when he was mocked by a mob of children who cried: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” The primary reason for their jeers seems to have been not that Elisha was bald but that they saw a bald man wearing Elijah’s familiar official garment. They did not want any successor of Elijah around. He should either keep going his way up to Bethel or ascend in a windstorm to the heavens as the former wearer of that official garment had done. (2Ki 2:11) To answer this challenge of his being Elijah’s successor and to teach these young people and their parents proper respect for Jehovah’s prophet, Elisha called down evil upon the jeering mob in the name of the God of Elijah. It was a test of his prophetship. Jehovah manifested his approval of Elisha by causing two she-bears to come out of the nearby woods and to tear to pieces 42 of them.—2Ki 2:23, 24.
    Some peoples made a practice of artificially imposing baldness by shaving in time of sorrow at the death of a relative or for religious reasons, but the Israelites were forbidden to practice this. (De 14:1) Priests were given a specific command that they should not make themselves bald or shave the extremities of their beards for the dead. (Le 21:5) Israel was commanded that they should not cut the sidelocks or extremity of their beards.—Le 19:27; Jer 9:26; see BEARD.
    In Egypt, the men generally shaved their heads, and they looked upon beards as a sign of mourning or slovenliness. For this reason Joseph, when taken out of prison, shaved before being brought into the presence of Pharaoh. (Ge 41:14) However, the Egyptians covered baldness with wigs, and many who shaved their heads and beards wore wigs and tied on false beards. In the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical treatise from the second millennium B.C.E., there are 11 prescriptions for preventing baldness.
    In the Law, one with head leprosy was to shave his head at the beginning of his quarantine period, on the day of purification, and again on the seventh day. (Le 13:33; 14:8, 9) If a Nazirite became defiled, then at the time of establishing his purification he shaved his head. (Nu 6:9) A captive woman whom an Israelite soldier was to take as a wife had to shave her head.—De 21:12.
    Nebuchadnezzar’s troops experienced temporary baldness during the strenuous and difficult siege of the land city of Tyre. Jehovah said to Ezekiel that “every head was one made bald, and every shoulder was one rubbed bare” as Nebuchadnezzar’s military force performed “a great service” in rendering judgment on Tyre. Their heads were made bald by the chafing of helmets and their shoulders from the rubbing of materials (for the construction of towers and fortifications).—Eze 26:7-12; 29:17, 18.
    In some places in the days of the apostles, such as in the immoral city of Corinth, women caught committing adultery or fornication were punished by having their hair shaved off. Slave girls had their hair clipped short. Paul apparently draws on this circumstance for illustration, showing that a woman in the Christian congregation who would pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, even though she had her hair as a covering, might as well go the whole way and show her shame in disrespecting God’s headship principle by having her hair completely shaved off.—1Co 11:3-10.

  3. I stumbled across this and would like to add a short comment. There is a war going on here on earth and all humanity has a target painted on it. God is motivated by and all he does is love. So he says, stick with me and I'll get you home. Stick with me and I'll do what I can to prosper you and help you (aka blessings). He also warns (aka curses) - if you don't want to be with me that's up to you - but then you are in the battle zone by yourself. In addition to the notes made by Bible guy, Bethel at the time had clearly rejected God. This disrespect of Elisha was their way of saying F-off God. Elisha wasn't freaking out - he was simply restating the covenant curses. Meanwhile, God respects that and removes his protecting presence. These bears are much like the serpents in the desert; some force was likely driving them into an attacking frenzy. But that force wouldn't have been God.

  4. Actually in the Hebrew Scriptures we often see divine attributes of God being being brought out in metaphors regarding animals. It is likely that the children actually stand as representing the priests of Bethel, who mock Elisha by saying "Go up, baldhead", reminding him that Elijah had ascended to heaven. The two female bears then attack the children, representing the priests, as an act of divine justice. The two she-bears may even represent the two cities of Israel.