2 Kings 2:23-25 – Elisha and the Lads of Bethel

By Wayne Jackson

Idolatry was rampant in Israel during the days of the prophet Elisha, and paganism influenced young and old alike. On one occasion the great prophet was traveling from Jericho towards Bethel when some “little children” (KJV), or “young lads” (ASV), accosted him and cried: “Go up, you baldhead. Go up, you baldhead,” whereupon Elisha cursed them in the name of God, and called two bears out of the forest that mauled the youths (2 Kings 2:23-25).

Some have cited this as a case of obvious child abuse and an example of conduct that would be unworthy of a prophet of Jehovah. Several alleged problems require our attention.

First, the rendition “little children” is unfortunate. The Hebrew word is naar, a generic term which can encompass anyone from an infant to a mature man — the context being the deciding factor. Joseph was called a naar when he was thirty years old (cf. Genesis 41:12,40,46). Joshua was a naar when he was forty-five to fifty years of age (Exodus 33:11; Joshua 24:29).

Contextual evidence in 2 Kings 2 indicates that the youths harassing Elisha were spiritually mature. For instance, they “mocked” the prophet; the term is not employed of innocent, childish conduct (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:16).

The admonition, “Go up … go up,” likely reveals the wish that he would ascend (like Elijah did), i.e., it reflected their desire to be rid of him. The reference to baldness may be a curse-wish of these rebels (cf. Isaiah 3:17a,24). Clearly, these young men were not sympathetic with the mission of God’s prophet.

Second, the term “curse” is a pronouncement of divine judgment upon these spiritual misfits (cf. Genesis 9:25; 49:7; Deuteronomy 27:15ff; Joshua 6:26).

Third, the tragedy that befell these young men was obviously by divine design since Elisha would have possessed no personal power to call bears from the woods to do his bidding. But the sovereignty of God over the animal world is alluded to frequently in the Scriptures (see Numbers 21:6).

Thus, in connection with the key problem words in this context, make appropriate notations from the preceding comments, such as: Underline “children,” and note that the original term can mean a mature man. Then enter a reference, etc.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.