2 Kings 2:23-25
Sometimes you can read a passage of the Bible and come away feeling confused, unsettled, or just plain wondering what you just read. This can be one of those passages. A quick synopsis of this at face value could read like this: A bunch of kids made fun of Elisha for being bald, and so they got killed by bears. Lesson? Don't make fun of preachers or God's going to kill you.
Something doesn't sit right with that lesson. We know God is not petty. He's incredibly patient with us. Why would He be so harsh with a group of grade schoolers while being so lenient with the idol worshippers of the time? And what kind of an insult is "Go on up" anyway? Is this some cultural thing?
A few searches later brought some clarity to this odd example of a seemingly impatient, vindictive man of God. First, Elisha was on his way to Bethel. While the town's name means "house of God", it was anything but in Elisha's day. Jeroboam had turned it into a center of idol worship, so there would very likely be animosity toward a man of God.
Second, while many translations use the term children, the Hebrew word used has a wide range of ages involved, from infants to young adults. It is used in Ruth to describe Boaz's servants, in 2 Samuel to describe David's son Absalom, and in 1 Kings to talk about a man Solomon put in charge of the house of Joseph, hardly a small child. These were likely young men, proud and brash, immature, who had decided the path of idolatry was far more exciting, much like many young men today.
Third, there was the odd insult of "go on up". This suddenly makes sense when you take a look at what just happened. Elijah, Elisha's mentor, had just gone to be with the Lord in a spectacular fashion. He was taken up before Elisha's eyes in a whirlwind, accompanied by a fiery chariot. When Elisha returned from this awesome display, he told his friends about it, letting them know it was pointless to search. While they went to look for the body anyway, word surely spread of Elisha's incredible tale. As he approached Bethel, the young men had heard this preposterous story. One thing they were glad of: That annoyance Elijah was gone. Now they just wished Elisha with his tall tales would also disappear. "Go on up, Elisha! Why don't you just go like you say your friend went!" They mocked him, belittling his dear teacher, making fun of the one true God, calling Elisha a bearer of fairy tales and nonsense.
So, this was not a case of little boys behaving badly. This was an instance of grown men openly mocking God and His servant. They had made their decision who they would serve, and God, like the jealous God the scriptures describe Him as, defended His beloved.
Through familiarity with all of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, we can learn the nature of God. When we come across something that seems contrary to what we know, it can encourage us to dig a little deeper. We may find that we have misunderstood a key aspect of God, or we may find that there is more to the story than we first thought, and that it all falls into place.
Father, we love you, and we know you love us. You care for us as a perfect Father, teaching us, leading us, providing for us, and helping us grow each day to be more like you. You've given us curiosity, a desire to know more about you. Encourage us to follow through on that curiosity, to ask questions and to find answers, which will only increase our love and devotion to you. In Jesus' name, amen.