Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 29
This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.All right, welcome back to the podcast, everyone.We are here with another episode and another question.And the question for this episode is, what’s the deal with she bears killing children?And that’s a good question.I love this question because it gets brought up from time to time when I’m talking withunbelievers.Typically, at some point when they’re trying to show me how the Bible promotes evil andhow God is evil and not good, they’ll say, didn’t a bunch of bears kill children in the Bible?That’s messed up.And hey, listen, that’s a fair point.But is it really that simple?I mean, what actually happened in that situation?If you’re unfamiliar with the story that we’re talking about, it occurs in the story of the prophet Elisha and is found in 2 Kings chapter two, verses 23 to 25.This is what the Bible says.He 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 bald head, go up, you bald head.And 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 42 of the boys.And there he went on to Mount Carmel and from there he returned to Samaria.Now admittedly, this story seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?So let’s dive into some details to see if we can make sense of it.Right.And the most important thing to remember when you’re trying to understand the Bible is you need to remember that context is King.I say this to my church all the time.You cannot properly interpret the Bible unless you understand the context of what you arereading.The context is King.Context determines meaning.So let’s consider the historical context.What was going on at this point?And this story occurs at an important point in the history of Israel and in the life ofElisha.In order to really understand, we have to go all the way back to First Kings chapter19.Most of you will be familiar with this story because of the famous still small voice.All right.In verse Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is on a mountain and he is upset because he feels as though he alone is faithful to the Lord.He’s complaining that all have abandoned God and that he alone is the only true believer.Now it’s important to remember that he’s a prophet and as a prophet, he is supposed tobe interceding for the people.That is the role, part of the role at least, of a prophet.He is supposed to intercede to God on behalf of the people.But he is failing in that role and instead he’s condemning everyone.He’s saying, God, everybody is awful except for me.They’re all just a bunch of no good sinners.You should just be done with them all because I’m all you’ve got.And he says that he doesn’t want to do this anymore.He wants to be done being a prophet.So then God speaks to him in a still small voice and he tells Elijah that actually, even though he thinks he’s the only faithful person left, actually God has a remnant of people.There are 7,000 people who have not bowed their knees to other gods who have not abandoned the Lord. And so Elijah was wrong in his understanding of the situation and he could have been interceding for at least 7,000 other people that he was condemning.But the Lord accepts that he’s done serving as a prophet and he tells Elijah that he isto go and anoint two new kings and one new prophet.Now this is a very important point, okay?Elijah was wishing destruction on the people of Israel because he viewed them as a bunch of unfaithful sinners.And what’s going to happen is the Lord is essentially going to grant Elijah’s wish because the two kings that he anoints and the new prophet that he anoints will be some of the most violent and deadly kings and prophets in the entire Bible.So Elijah goes and he does as he’s told.He anoints Hazael, king over Syria.He anoints Jehu, king over Israel.And you can just go back and read about all that Jehu did and the bloodshed that he caused.And he anoints Elisha as the new prophet of God.So then 1 Kings ends and we come to 2 Kings.And as 2 Kings starts, we get a description of Elijah’s appearance.The Bible says that Elijah was a hairy man, long hair, he wore a garment made out of hair,and he had a belt of leather around his waist.And right after we hear about his appearance, we get this famous story in which God takes Elijah up into heaven.So Elisha is with him at this point.And three separate times, Elijah says to Elisha, stay here.But each time, Elisha responds by saying, I will never leave you.Then Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.And Elijah says, that’s a hard request, but it’s going to be done for him.So then we get the chariots of fire and the horsemen who descend and they grab Elijah.And the Bible says, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.Now this is kind of the important background to note as we come to the She-Bear story.And there are a few details that I want you to remember about this background.So first, you need to remember Elijah’s appearance.He was a really hairy person who even wore a garment of hair.Second thing you need to remember, remember that Elisha said that he would never leaveElijah.But when Elijah goes up, Elisha cannot go with him.He stays behind.And finally, you need to remember that Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit,meaning he should be twice the prophet that Elijah was.All of these details are going to be essential for understanding the She-Bear story.And so immediately after Elijah is taken up into heaven, Elisha demonstrates that he really is the new prophet of God and has the power and authority of that position by healing a contaminated spring of water.And immediately after that, we get the She-Bear story.They come back to back in the Bible.But there’s one more bit of information that we need to understand before we can fully understand the She-Bear story.And that’s the significance of the location in which it takes place.The She-Bear story takes place in the city of Bethel.Bethel is significant in the Bible for many reasons.But at this point in Israel’s history, the city had become the center of idolatry and false worship.Shrines had been established in Bethel to rival Jerusalem.Essentially, the king wanted people to come and worship at the shrines he had set up in Bethel rather than go to Jerusalem to worship as the Lord commanded.Not only that, but Bethel was also well known at this point for establishing a prophetic school in a community that trained prophets who propagated false messages.These false prophets served the interest of the ruling establishment and supported the idolatrous practices that were common at the time.They were often seen as adversaries to true prophets like Elisha, who spoke on behalf of the Lord and called for repentance and fidelity to God’s commands.So that’s the background to the She-Bear story.So with that in mind, let’s see if we can make sense of it now.So Elisha, having been anointed the new prophet of God and given a double portion of Elisha’s spirit, enters into Bethel, a city that has set itself against the Lord and His ways and has devoted itself to raising up false prophets.And immediately upon entering the city, Elisha encounters what our English Bibles refer toas some small boys.That’s not a great translation here.The Hebrew phrase that’s actually used here indicates that these were not children atall.They were most likely young men in their late teens or early twenties who were students at the prophetic school there in Bethel.So when you’re thinking about this story, don’t picture a bunch of elementary age boys,but picture some college age guys.That’s the people who he was dealing with here.And when he encounters these college age guys from this false prophet school, they start mocking him and they say, go up, you bald head, go up, you bald head.So let’s just think about this.Okay, first, that’s not a great insult, right?I mean, maybe not.It could be depending on what you’re trying to communicate.What’s up with that insult?I mean, was Elisha bald?Who knows?Probably not though.For instance, Elisha at the time is a relatively young man.He probably would have been in his late twenties or maybe early thirties. It would have been highly, highly uncommon for him to be bald, but someone might say,well, maybe he shaved his head.Also probably not because at the time prophets typically wore their hair long like Elisha and didn’t shave the sides of their head in keeping with the law.Furthermore, prophets, as well as many other holy men at the time would wear head coverings,especially considering you’re in a very arid environment.So even if he was bald, how could they tell?When you begin to ask questions like these, you realize that it’s not actually about baldness at all.These mocks of, go up, you bald head, are specifically tailored to call into question Elisha’s authority and calling as the new prophet of God.You might be saying, well, where on earth did you get that?How do we know that?Well, it’s simple.Do you remember Elisha’s appearance?I told you you would need to remember it.Do you remember Elisha’s appearance?How does the Bible describe him?He was a really hairy man who even wore a garment of hair.You think about Elisha, you think about hair.What’s the opposite of hairy?Bald.So they’re saying to him, you’re no Elisha.But not only that, notice what else they’re saying.Go up, you bald head, go up.Why would they say that?Why say go up?What does that even mean?What’s the significance of that?Well, remember, Elisha was taken up into heaven and Elisha had told him, I will never leave you, but he was unable to go with him.And so these young men are saying, if you were really as holy as Elisha, if you were really a prophet like Elisha, and you really had a double portion of Elisha’s spirit, then you could go up into heaven just as he did.But since he is here on earth and it seems as though he can’t do that, they’re saying once again, you’re no Elisha.You’re no prophet of God.Does this make sense now?Because they are false prophets from Bethel who are opposed to God in his ways and promote a false teaching and have no desire to recognize someone else as the true prophet of God, they make a taunt specifically aimed at undermining and calling into question Elisha’s authority and position.Go up, you bald head, which again is essentially saying, you’re no Elisha.You’re no true prophet of God.And how does the true prophet of God respond?Well, not well, admittedly.He demonstrates his authority as the prophet of God.And he does do so in a violent way, which again, that’s why we talked about earlier that God was essentially granting Elisha’s wish that God would just destroy the people.And God does so by anointing violent kings and a violent new prophet.He’s basically saying, okay, Elisha, if that’s what you want, let me grant your wish foryou.Here are the new kings of Israel.Here’s the new prophet of God.And you find that the kings are violent and even this prophet is violent.And so Elisha, being the violent prophet that he is, curses the young men in the name of the Lord and two she-bears come out and tear 42 of them.Now also, it’s important to note here that the Hebrew word for tor is ba’ka.And I’ve done a great deal of research on this.I cannot find one instance in the Bible where ba’ka refers to killing or death at all.Usually throughout the Bible, it typically means to rip open.So we don’t know if anyone died here.Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, but the Bible does not say here that these two she-bears came out and killed these young men.All we know for sure is that they were mauled and ripped into by the she-bears.It’s their punishment for seeking to undermine God’s ways and God’s authority and for questioning the person that God specifically chose to be his new prophet.And so that’s the she-bear story.It’s very misunderstood today.It’s very wrongly interpreted today.It is not God sending some she-bears to kill a bunch of children because God is some cruel or angry God.That’s not it at all.It’s a story about a bunch of college age false prophets setting themselves against God and undermining and questioning Elisha’s authority and position as the new prophet of God.They are saying if he was truly the new prophet with a double portion of Elisha’s spirit,he would be able to go up into heaven now.And Elisha responds by demonstrating his authority as the true prophet of God.So I hope that this helps you understand the Bible better.I hope that this helps you understand this story better.Always remember to pay attention to the context.Context is king.Thanks for the question and I look forward to answering more in the future.