“[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ He turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys” (vv. 23–24).
After Elijah’s ascension to heaven, Elisha began his ministry. Today’s passage reveals that he did so in a series of events that confirmed him as the inheritor of Elijah’s prophetic mantle.
The first event confirmed Elisha’s knowledge. “Sons of the prophets” at Jericho wanted to search for Elijah, believing that perhaps God had simply moved him to another mountain. They prevailed on Elisha to let them send a search party, though Elisha said they should not go. When they came back without Elijah, Elisha’s knowledge of the situation was confirmed. He was right to tell them not to search for Elijah, for he knew they would not find his predecessor (2 Kings 2:15–18). Thus, Elisha was revealed as a prophet to be trusted.
In the second event, Elisha performed a miracle that demonstrated his prophetic vocation. Elisha was at Jericho, a city under God’s curse that was rebuilt by a man who offered up his son as a sacrifice (v. 18; see Josh. 6:26; 1 Kings 16:34). Since its rebuilding, Jericho had suffered from a bad water supply that made the land “unfruitful.” More specifically, the sense is that the water caused miscarriages. Life was taken unlawfully to construct Jericho again, so the Lord cursed Jericho with continuing loss of life (2 Kings 2:19). Throwing salt into the water, Elisha gave a word that the Lord had healed the water (vv. 20–21). One scholar says the salt probably indicated a decisive break from the city’s past, for salt was often used to set sacrifices apart to the Lord, to break them from their past uses (Lev. 2:13).
The third event in today’s passage demonstrates Elisha’s authority as God’s spokesman. Some “small boys”—probably between the ages of ten and twelve—from Bethel jeered at the prophet, calling him a “baldhead,” and Elisha called down judgment on them (2 Kings 2:23–25). Importantly, Elisha did not just happen to run into these boys; they came out of the city of Bethel intentionally to curse him. Also, Bethel was a center of Israel’s idolatry (1 Kings 12:25–33) and thus a center of opposition to God’s prophets. These were not “innocent” children acting immaturely but responsible individuals knowingly mocking a prophet and thus the words of God. In this we see that treating the Word of God inappropriately is no insignificant matter. Individuals who mock divine revelation are liable to divine judgment, but those who remain indifferent to it will not escape the Lord’s wrath either. We must pay heed to the Word of God, or we will likewise be condemned.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Matthew Henry comments on the boys who opposed Elisha: “Let the hideous shrieks and groans of this wicked, wretched brood make our flesh tremble for fear of God.” The Lord does not take the mockery of His Word lightly, so we should fear Him and honor His revelation. Those who mock His revelation impenitently will not escape destruction.