This is a passage that is an uncomfortable reminder of what happens when we defy God’s word in our lives. I’m not talking about ignorance of God’s word. I’m talking about outright defiance.
In this passage, Elisha was going up to the city of Bethel, when some youths came up to meet him. I should note here that while some translations say it was small boys, the words in the Hebrew are much broader in meaning than the definition in English. The very same word for boys is used when talking about the soldiers that led the charge against Ben Hadad in I Kings 20:14-17. In this case, it was probably young men, perhaps in their teens or perhaps a bit older, that came out to confront Elisha.
And that’s exactly what they did: confront Elisha. Elisha didn’t enter the town and run into these young men by chance. Rather, they came out of the town to chase him away.
They went up to him en masse saying, “Go on up, you baldhead.” (verse 23).
They seemed to be referring to Elijah’s ascension into heaven, and they were essentially saying, “Get out of here. Go join your master and leave us alone. We don’t want anything to do with you.”
Some Bible commentators have suggested that their hostility went beyond words, that they were actually hinting at physical violence. I don’t know if that was true or not, but what is clear is these young men’s utter contempt for the word of God and the prophet who brought it.
As a result, Elisha called a curse on them, and God sent two bears that attacked these men.
It seems a bit extreme, to be sure. If these young men were indeed threatening violence against Elisha, then perhaps it was necessary in order to preserve his life.
But whether they were actually threatening Elisha’s life or not, God made something crystal clear to these men and to the people of their town: If you despise the word of God, and utterly reject him, there will be judgment for it. It may come sooner. It may come later. But it will come. In the case of these men, it came sooner, to their regret.
What can we learn from this?
How do we respond to God’s word in our lives?
Sometimes, God’s word can make us uncomfortable, because it shows us areas in our lives which are wrong. Sometimes it makes us mad, because we don’t like what it says.
But however it makes us feel, God calls us to respond to what he has said. We cannot just ignore it. And if we openly rebel against it, we will pay the price.
God is a patient God. But his patience will not last forever. In II Chronicles 36, it talks about the judgment that would eventually fall on Judah, for like Israel, they would eventually fall into sin and corruption. It says,
The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. (15-16)
How about you? How do you respond to God’s word in your life? How do you respond when it makes you uncomfortable or angry because God is confronting you in your sin? Do you just ignore it? Do you even openly rebel against it?
By doing so, you harden your hearts to God, just as the Israelites did. And if you do it long enough, eventually, there will be no remedy for you any longer, and judgment will come.
But if you soften your heart to God, confess your sin, and let his word transform your life, then forgiveness and healing will come into your life.
Which will you choose?