Did God allow Elisha to send bears to kill children?

On the issue of 2nd Kings 2:23-34 in which is says, “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.”
So, what are we to make of this? Elisha makes a curse upon the children in the name of the LORD and out of no where two female bears come out and kill 42 of them. So, did God do this or was it mere perfect timing of a tragic event? Honestly I don’t know what to think about it, I want to go down the same road as with Judges 11:30-40 in when Jephthah makes the vow to sacrifice anyone first and it’s tragically his daughter. God is silent and doesn’t give approval and thus I feel this is the same for Elisha in this story. But what do you all have to say about this oddity?

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I’ll just quote from the Bible course that I’m working through at the moment. (Shameless plug: it was written by my father.) We studied the story of Jephthah just the other week as our study of the second half of Judges, and the introduction to the worksheets says this:

Beware of thinking that every story in the Bible sets a godly example for us to follow. The
stories here certainly do not. They do contain glorious moments, but on the whole they testify
to disastrous decline in faith and morale, and stand as warnings. We may delight in some of
Samson’s heroic exploits in the power of the Spirit, for the Lord did indeed use him, but his
manner of life was no example for anyone.

Reading the story of the Elisha episode, I get the impression that these weren’t just young children – they sound more like juvenile delinquents in their mid teens, and they were probably being aggressive or even threatening towards Elisha. The fact that as many as forty-two of them were mauled sounds like a mob to me. It could potentially have been a pretty dangerous situation for him. Remember too that this was a time when morality had largely broken down – it was hard on the heels of the height of paganism in Israel under Ahab and Jezebel after all.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible tells it like it is, warts and all. It doesn’t make any effort to whitewash people, no matter how much God used them.


Nicely said. The book of judges is particularly a good example of collecting significant “negative examples” of behavior that God may still choose to work through. Judges was always very confusing to me until I learned that principle in a study of it myself, and it was confirmed especially in the repeated refrain in the end of the book, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Not sure if it is interesting to you, but I found something analogous to the song, “gangsta’s paradise.“ When I first heard a selection of that song on the radio, I was a bit taken aback by the explicit violent rhetoric (You better watch how you talkin’ and where you walkin’, Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk.) I wondered what in the world was such violent rhetoric doing in a mainstream radio station…

Then, when I heard the chorus, it put in perspective and clearly showed It was critiquing the violence it was so bluntly describing… “Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me?”

I realized that was essentially the same rhetorical strategy employed by judges… describe the horrendous anarchist chaos and godlessness in all its ugliness, but with that refrain “see, this is what happens when everyone did what was right in their own eyes…” to clarify that you’re describing the horrendous ungodliness in al, it’s ugliness as a critique of it.

(And meant to mention I very much appreciate and concur with your take of the Elisha episode as well,)

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I think you’re correct, possibly even late teens. I read that somewhere a long time ago. They were not infants, they were old enough to know and take responsibility for what they were doing.

That is my impression also, yet being mauled by bears hardly seems an appropriate punishment for taunting. Maybe the Bethal Bears was the local football team, and they gave the Hooligans a beat down in the playoffs when they traded for Elisha who was know for his ability at heading the ball with his smooth head. (football being soccer of course in the ANE) The story just got a little jumbled in the telling.


I think it was that they were mocking God more than Elisha.

As I said, it was probably a whole lot more than just taunting. It only takes half a dozen or so youths to create an unpleasant or even threatening atmosphere, and more than forty-two of them (the implication is that there were a whole lot more than that) could easily have turned very, very ugly, very, very quickly. It sounds more like a mob than just a bunch of kids over to one side off the road.

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Without sounding ridiculous, and meaning of no sarcasm, Plenty of people have suggested that Christ’s promised punishment of having people entering “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” merely for crimes of omission is an appropriate punishment either.

I cannot help but wonder if, perhaps, it is our standards of justice that need modification, rather than us explaining to God why his standards of justice are so out of whack?

And we all know that grisly capital punishment is the universal response to this. All civilized nations use bear mauling of teenagers, especially when some god gets his feelings hurt. It’s perfectly normal.


This wasn’t a god who got his feelings hurt - it was Elisha apparently.

Capital punishment is the immediate go-to for bald-humor. :man_bald:

And no amount of ‘…but they must have really deserved it!’ can be allowed as an excuse. Cause if we do that, next thing you know we’ll be looking the other way for fat-shaming, or sexist humor, or … it’s just a slippery slope. Best to nip it in the bud. :cloud_with_lightning:


Ha, don’t get me wrong, I’d cheer if these kids had seen bears charging at them, so they all had to run to the river Jordan to rinse out their britches. And I’m not even bald!


I am.

I think I’d insist on at least a few of them having scars to show to their own children and grand children later. :bear: :angry: :bear:

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I think running in squishy britches, especially in olden times, leaves scars that only a good therapist can fix. But I wouldn’t know since I’m not bald. :smiley: Now I’d better scram before someone named Mervin summons gnats or hail or something on me.


I am definitely thin up there…my 5 year old daughter frequently remarks, “Daddy, you need more hair up there!”
This type of punishment definitely makes me scratch my head like the case of Uzzah, who caught the Ark as it fell. I know some say there are explanations, but even David was angry at God for that one. I am less comfortable with it than with the story of the bears and the youths.


If I recall, the whole “having respect for elders” thing was quite a big deal back then. Maybe it was less about the specific taunt and more to do with viewing an older man (and a prophet of God) in a disdainful way. The Old Testament law didn’t seem too enthusiastic on offering second chances for many things, especially when “honor” was involved.

So how should this story cause us to modify our standards of justice?


The “smiting options” that moderators have available around here are depressingly scant. I keep pestering tech support to get the gnats option up and running. But no one’s listening. So everyone’s safe.

For now.


It shouldn’t. One hopes that’s rather the point.

The only way out of this one is to hope that the O.T. [or such stories as these in it, anyway] can be seen as a genre more-or-less like Grimm’s Fairy tales where the boy and the girl who wander into the woods get eaten by beasts or witches or something. No middle ground there because you want to make your moral points with a sledge hammer, not a dainty screw driver.


Indeed. If some bald religious bully really did summon bears to exterminate kids, he would have known that “the law” commanded death for lesser offenses, including disobedience to parents and using the god’s name disrespectfully. And this particular crank was reportedly the acolyte of a prophet who led a massacre. OT ethics are today called crimes against humanity.


What is this? Are you trying to demonstrate that someone can make up verses that are not there and people will not read the Bible to see that 2 Kings 2:26-34 do not exist?

Oh, I see… typo… you meant 2 Kings 2:23-24.

But then why do you say that Elisha sent these bears? The passage doesn’t say any such thing. The most difficult thing about this passage is the idea that 2 bears would kill 42 boys. Very unlikely. Bears do not behave this way.

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vI think the verses everybody seems to be looking for are…

2 Kings chapter 2, verses 23 -24.