Ever since I was a kid and heard the story of “Elisha and the Youths” it’s been one of my favorite Bible stories because it’s just so strange. But I’ve never actually understood the story until digging into it a few weeks ago. When I read this story to my wife she said, “That’s a terrible story! How is that in the Bible!” Clearly, this story deserves some explanation.
2 Kings 2:23-24 “From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.”
So what’s up with this? Was Elisha just super-arrogant and cruel? Why couldn’t he just have some grace, laugh about his balding head, and move on?
Well… it’s important to remember what just before this happened before this. Elisha’s mentor, Elijah, had just been taken up directly to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:1-18). Elisha’s time to serve as God’s prophet to Israel had now come! Immediately after Elijah “goes up” to Heaven he is tested by the people of the city (2 Kings 2:19-22) and then he’s mocked by the youths.
A few important points to notice:
- The point of their mockery wasn’t his baldness. They were mocking his call from God to serve as a prophet, and were either daring him to prove it by “going on up” like Elijah went up into Heaven or they were telling him to join Elijah and to go away.
- “Youth” in the Bible didn’t always mean “child.” David and Isaiah were called “youths” at different points in their lives when they were probably in their twenties! These “youths” weren’t mere kids and should have known better than to mock and ridicule God as they did.
- Elisha didn’t call for the bears. He called a curse upon them, but I wonder if he stood there thinking, “Whoa! That’s not what I expected to happen!” But God, who is the Judge of all, saw fit to demonstrate to Elisha to validate his ministry through this harsh a judgment on those who questioned him. If that wouldn’t give Elisha confidence going into the beginning of his public ministry I don’t know what would!
So What? Ultimately, God has provided human authority in each of our lives to remind us that we are all under God’s authority. These youths forgot that. They did not submit to God’s authority and they would not submit to Elisha’s either!
As a youth pastor, I don’t think God is going to put you to death by mocking my receding hairline (which I’d rather not talk about!) or by questioning my call to ministry… but God does want you to learn from me. It’s important for us to be humble and teachable and to submit to the authorities God has put over us (at home, in church, in school, on our team, etc.).
In Romans 13:1 God says (through Paul), “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
- Do I respect authority or do I rebel against it? Why? Do I treat God’s authority the same way I treat human authorities?
- Am I teachable, or do I live like I have nothing more to learn from people?
- Who might God have put in my life to learn from that I’m disrespecting?