23Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
In 2 Kings, these verses are discussing the prophet Elisha. Elisha had been traveling through the city of Israel with Elijah, who eventually would become his successor. His job was to lead people back to God and worship only him. In this situation, Elisha was on his way to a city near Bethel, known for idolatrous worship and when he arrived some children came form the city and made fun of his head.
“Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” We know that Elisha is bald and according to http://carm.org/why-did-god-kill-42-lads-merely-saying-elisha-was-bald the word “baldhead” was a word of disgrace in the east even if one had a head full of hair. Apparently, lepers had to shave their heads and were considered to be outcasts. The story does not give the circumstances that led to Elisha’s baldness, so we are unsure whether or not he had hair and he shaved it off to symbolize his role of a prophet or if he went bald from natural occurrence.
I decided to write my blog on these two verses to explore the significance behind what made the insult of Elisha’s baldness punishable by death.
The phrase “go up” in verse 23 stands the true insult, according to http://www.gotquestions.org/Elisha-baldhead.html was said to be a reference to his mentor Elijah being taken up to Heaven earlier in chapter 2. The children were being sarcastic and insulting the Lord’s prophet by telling him to go up like Elijah did. This would be looked at as an insult to God because it could be viewed as a suggestion that Elisha was not meant for the position. In a sense they were not only rejecting Elisha, they were rejecting God.
I wondered why a death so extreme as to be mauled by bears?
By reading the word “youth” in these verses my first thought was children and I found it somewhat disturbing; Did over three dozen children get attacked by bears? Further research showed that “youth” or “little child” didn’t necessarily mean little kids.
I found out that evidently the phrase nerium qetannim evidently translates to refer to immature young men. These could range from ages twelve to thirty years old.
The verse states that forty-two of the youths were mauled. The definition of mauled is to attack something by scratching or tearing. These men were literally ripped apart by the bears after he cursed them in the Lord’s name.
So, why was a bear chosen to be the sentence of death out of anything else? I looked into the meanings of bears and how they were displayed in the bible. By doing so, I found out that a bear is symbolic of power. For example, when David killed the lion and the bear in Samuel 1, he was thought to prove he had the power to take on Goliath.
To conclude my research, I found out that the youths were being punished not for per say making fun of Elisha and his baldhead but for insulting him and the Lord by telling him he was not fit to be a prophet. This could almost be looked at as blasphemy and the punishment of blasphemy is death. In Elisha’s curse, the two bears are symbols of power and the highest power in accordance to the Bible is God.