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                 Two Bears and Some Gang Members

                         2 Kings 2:23-25


     a.   Elijah had been the great prophet to Israel.
          1)   We remember him from Mt. Carmel.
          2)   Discouraged, he thought the entire nation
               had turned it's back on God. (I Kings 19:13-14).
          3)   God still had 7,000 faithful Israelites who
               refused to bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings

     b.   Elisha was selected to succeed Elijah.  Elisha was
          called when he was just a teenager, plowing his

     c.   About 7 or 8 years later, Elisha followed Elijah to
          the eastern banks of the Jordan and was there
          when Elijah was taken up to heaven.

          1)   He returned with Elijah's mantle, parting the
               Jordan, and stopped for a short time at
          2)   This young successor to Elijah then went on
               up toward Bethel.

          3)   READ TEXT

2.   Now the question can logically be asked -- what kind
     of a place was Bethel?

     a.   Bethel had been the center of apostasy in Israel
          throughout many generations.  The degeneration
          of Bethel began in the reign of the wicked king

     b.   That king had pulled the 10 northern tribes
          away-- he made two golden calves to be worship,
          one of which he placed in Dan in the northern
          portion of his territory, and the other in Bethel,
          at the southernmost point, about twelve miles
          north of Jerusalem.

3.   Who were the persons involved?
     a.   Incorrect impression of the incident.
          1)   A casual reading of the passage has often left
               an impression somewhat like this:

          An old bald-headed prophet was trudging slowly
          up the main street of Bethel when he chanced
          upon some innocent little children merrily
          playing together.  In the midst of their
          merriment they spy him and shout, more
          playfully than tauntingly, "Go up,  you balk head;
          go up, you baldy!"  Instantly the old prophet
          becomes enraged with their childish banter, and
          with eyes flashing in anger he whirls around and
          curses them in the name of the Lord.  Suddenly,
          as if in direct according with his curse, two she
          bears rush out of the nearby forest and "devout"
          forty-two of the little children.
                    I)   But is this picture right?
          2)   Robert Ingersoll, the renowned agnostic,
               said of this story ...
               "I find in this Bible that there was an old
               gentleman a little short of the article of hair. 
               And as he was going through the town a
               number of little children cried out to him,
               "Go up, thou baldhead!"  And this man of
               God turned and cursed them... And two bears
               came out of the woods and tore in pieces
               forty-two children! ... Now, just think of an
               infinite God [doing this] ... You hate a God
               like that.  I do; I despise him." [Ingersoll's 44
               Lectures (Chicago: J. Regan & Company,
               n.d.), p. 244.

          3)   Even Adam Clark remarked "But then, as
               they were little children they could scarcely
               be accountable for their conduct; and
               consequently, it was cruelty to destroy

     b.   Let's consider the Age of these boys--
          1)   It is true that our English translations says
               they were "little children" but in a case like
               this we need to go back to the Hebrew.

          2)   The two words translated "little children" are
               ketanaim and na'arim (plural of na'ar).

          3)   Used in reference to Isaac in Gen. 22:12. 
               (One commentary indicates that Isaac must
               have been around twenty.)

          4)   The word is also used in connection with
               Joseph: "Joseph, being seventeen years old,
               was feeding the flock with his brethren; and
               the lad (na'ar) was with the sons of Bilhah"
               (Gen. 37:2).

          5)   The word is used just a little earlier than the
               time of our text when Ahab and Benhadad,
               the king of Syria, were on the verge of war, a
               company of two hundred and thirty-two
               "young men" (na'arim) of the princes of the
               provinces" (I Kings 20:14-15) put to rout the

               a)   So these young men were of age to go
                    into battle.

          6)   The word ketanarim (plural of qatan) Used
               frequently in the scripture to denote a
               younger son.  

               a)   Genesis 27:42, where it is applied to
                    Jacob at the time when he fled from his
                    brother Esau-- 

               b)   "And Samuel said to Jesse, Are here all
                    thy children (na'arim)? And he said,
                    There remaineth yet the youngest
                    (qatan), and, behold, he keepeth the
                    sheep.  And Samuel said unto Jesse:
                    Send and fetch him; for we will not sit
                    down till he come hither.  And he sent,
                    and brought him in.  Now he was ruddy,
                    and, withal, of a beautiful countenance,
                    and goodly to look at (1 Sam. 16:11-12).

               c)   Here David is referred to as the
                    "youngest" of Jesse's "children."  Yet,
                    down in verse 18 of the same chapter we
                    are told that David, even at this time,
                    was "... a mighty valiant man, and a man
                    of war, and prudent in matters, and a
                    comely person."  

                    1)   Certainly it can be argued that
                         David was no mere child, bur rather
                         a strong young man well along in
                         his twenties. 

                    2)   [For further study of the occurrences of the
                         two words together, see 1 Samuel 20:35 and
                         1 Kings 11:17.]

          7)   We now conclude that these "little children"
               were not primarily little children at all, but
               rather boys and young men whose age could
               vary anywhere from twelve to thirty.  

               a)   They were in that age group, apparently
                    old enough to be married, but not yet
                    married and established with a home of
                    their own.

               b)   These persons were old enough to know
                    what they were doing, and cannot be
                    excused for their vicious behavior on the
                    grounds that they were under-aged.

Besides the rude and insolent young men, there is only one
other person involved in our story, the prophet Elisha

4.   How old was the prophet Elisha?

     a.   A hasty reading out of context one may get the
          impression that Elisha was getting along in

     b.   But actually "Elisha, when the incident occurred,
          was certainly not an old man. Very probably he
          was not more than twenty-five years of age; for
          he lived for nearly sixty years after the date of
          this event." [ ]
     c.   As to the character of Elisha, he seems to have
          been  very merciful, courteous, and completely
          devoted to God and the welfare of his

          1)   A true gentleman, merciful , courteous. -- 2
               Ki. 4:9; 2Ki. 6 -- he is revealed as a man of
               gentle and noble character.

5.   Why and How Did He Curse in the name of the Lord?

     a.   Did he lose his temper?  

     b.   Why were the young men saying "baldhead"  

          1)   Perhaps Elisha was prematurely bald -- and
               used as a term of scorn.

          2)   He may have cut his hair in mourning for
               Elijah --  With the Jews artificial baldness
               was a sign of mourning (Isa 22:12 Jer 7:29
               16:6 )
                Jere 7:29 "Cut off your hair and throw it
               away; take up a lament on the barren
               heights, for the LORD has rejected and
               abandoned this generation that is under his

          3)   Elisha may not really have been bald at all.

     c.   "Go up" = 
          1)   Go on your way-- get out of town, or 

          2)   It is most likely an allusion to Elijah's
               ascension .   "Why don't you ascend also, and
               get out of Bethel"

     They picked up the sentiment of Bethel and Israel
     against Elisha.

          The sentiment was that Elisha, this new prophet
          leader,  would be just as troublesome to their
          town and idolatry as Elijah had been. 

           One writer said on this passage: "It is readily
          admitted that teenagers reflect the views held by
          their parents.  In this case, the parents were
          members of a wicked and corrupt society which
          was bound to influence their posterity."

     d.   This doesn't mean he cursed or swore, using the
          name of the Lord profanely.
          1)   The main reason, however, for Elisha's curse
               was that he, as a prophet of God, was duty
               bound to do so.  
          2)   The citizens of Bethel were walking contrary
               to the Law and were under the curse of God:
               "If ye walk contrary unto me, and will not
               harken unto me, ... I will also send wild
               beasts among you, which shall rob you of
               your children and destroy your cattle; and
               your highways shall be desolate." (Lev.

          3)   We might remember the story in I Kings 13,
               of the young prophet who came up to Bethel,
               and was told by the Lord not to eat or rest
               there, but an old prophet persuaded him to
               come to his house and eat, this young
               prophet was killed by a lion on the way back
          4)   We might say that Elisha was abiding in the
               law when he cursed the youths and was
               certainly in the will of God. 

     e.   How did he curse?   The Hebrew word has a
          twofold meaning.  It can mean either to "revile"
          or "to pronounce judgment," depending on the

          1)   Elisha, as a true servant of God certainly did
               not revile or abuse the boys, therefore he
               simply asks that God deal with them in a way
               that will show God's judgment in the

          2)   This is, after all, is the Scriptural way, for
               God says in Deut. 32:35 "To me belongeth
               vengeance and recompense."

          3)   Elisha did not curse in his own name, but "in
               the name of the Lord."

     f.   It was the Lord's doing when two bears came out
          of the woods and mauled the young men, not

          1)   It was the Lord's affirmation of Elisha as his
               prophet, and God confirms his word spoken
               in Leviticus.


     a.   Let us first remember that Bethel was the seat of
          Baal worship and headquarters of idolatry in
          Israel.  Bethel in the time of Elisha was truly the
          focal point for the calf worship instituted by

     b.   It is quite possible that these "young lads," (old
          enough to be married, but not yet married)  along
          with some counsel  and prompting from parents
          and the false prophets of Baal, planned to waylay
          Elisha and make him look ridiculous and
          contemptible, and discourage him and end his
          career at the very commencement of his work. 

          1)   We read in verse 23 that the young men
               "came forth" to meet Elisha.  it appears as if
               this was a deliberately planned attack
               against him.
     c.   Another indication that this was a premeditated
          assault is found in the number of persons "torn"
          or "mauled" by the bears.

          1)   If two angry she-bears attacked a crowd of
               young people today so that forty-two of them
               were injured and some perhaps killed, how
               many would there have been in the crowd at
               the beginning?

          2)   It seems logical to assume that the moment
               the bears appeared there would be a
               scrambling in all directions.

          3)   It would be no exaggeration to say that
               probably two escaped for every one that was
               hurt, which would make the crowd of
               renegades who followed Elisha number at
               least one-hundred at the beginning. 

          4)   Why were there so many?  Because this was a
               planned reception for Elisha.

     d.   We read then that the young ruffians cried, "Go
          up, thou bald head," which we should point out to
          be blasphemy-- not only against Elisha but
          against the Lord Himself.  

          1)   They were saying in effect, "Ascend, you
               empty skull, just as it is pretended your
               master did!  Get out of here-- we have no
               need for you!  Ascend, you empty skull!!

     e.   Elisha turned and "cursed them in the name of
          the Lord."  

          1)   This was not a lose of temper, but uttered as
               Divine judgment upon a disobedient and
               rebellious people.

          2)   The Lord had warned the people in the law
               that if they walked contrary to Him that He
               would send wild beasts among them and rob
               them of their children (Lev. 26:21-22).

          3)   In what way more clearly could God show the
               Truth of His Word than what befell the city.  
               The very fact it is recorded indicates the
               lesson was not lost, if to Bethel, certainly it
               was not to the rest of Judah!  Who could say,
               "Aha, God's warning was true!"

     f.   We can easily see now that this was not the
          revenge of an angry prophet, but rather the
          punishment of a righteous Judge.

          1)   It was a judgment designed to walk the
               people up, lest a worse disaster befall them.

          2)   A loving God, he warns and leads before His
               wrath descends.
     f.   But Bethel and Israel persisted in the flagrant
          disobedience; they continued to walk in their own
          ways; they worshiped according to the evil
          imaginations of their own hearts; they sank
          deeper into idolatry and immorality, until the cup
          of God's wrath was filled.

          1)   In the closing chapter of the Second book of
               Chronicles there is the pathetic summary of
               God's dealings with His chosen but rebellious

          2)   "The Lord God of their fathers sent to them
               by His messengers, rising up early and
               sending; because He had compassion on His
               people, and on His dwelling places: but they
               mocked the messengers of God, and
               despised His words, and scoffed at His
               prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose
               against His people, till there was no remedy"
               (2 Chron. 36:15-16, RSV).

               "15  The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent
               word to them through his messengers again
               and again, because he had pity on his people
               and on his dwelling-place.  16  But they
               mocked God's messengers, despised his
               words and scoffed at his prophets until the
               wrath of the LORD was aroused against his
               people and there was no remedy."  (2 Chron.
               36:15-16  NIV)

7.   If I were to make my own amplified para-phase of this
     passage I would say:

     And as Elisha laboriously worked his way up the steep
     and rugged road which led to Bethel, the seat of Baal
     worship and the headquarters of idolatry, a large mob
     of young hooligans, urged on by the townspeople,
     waylaid him.  And they began to jeer and ridicule him
     saying, "Ascend, you empty skull-- just as you say
     your master did!  Away with you-- you troublemaker! 
     Ascend, you empty skull, if you can! Ha! Ha!"   (verse

     And he turned around and looked at the offspring of
     apostasy and said, "May the Lord God reward you
     according to your deeds-- as Moses has written."  And
     two vicious she bears rushed out of the nearby forest
     and mangled forty-two of the derisive young
     renegades, just as the Lord had warned would
     happened.  (verse 24)

     And he continued on his way to Mount Carmel for a
     time of spiritual refreshment, after which he went to
     his home in Samaria.  (verse 25)


1.   Attitudes toward spiritual things are arrived at from
     a.   "If this generation is  going to the dogs' it is
          because of the training we gave them as
     b.   We need to bring our children to Bible Class., and
          worship, and see that they associate with the
          finest young people -- we are shaping their

2.   Youth should not despise Sacred things.
     a.   Knew report of Elijah's ascension
     b.   Many of today's youth despise the Bible, think it
          old fashion, out moded.

3.   Don't despise God's instructions for you on how to
     live pure lives.

4.   Don't despise God's commands how you can find
     forgiveness of sins.
     a.   Hear the word of God --
     b.   Accept its message for you
     c.   Give your life to Christ.

5.   Candle illustration --
     a.   Now-- a lot more time for you light to shine for


-- Windell Gann -- Sermons --

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