Wednesday, January 5, 2011

God is a Meanie II (2 Kings 2:23-24; God Kills Little Children)

Prophet Elisha, Russian icon from first quarte...

Image via Wikipedia

The last passage Numbers 31 was a favorite, but my experience is that this passage is a second favorite of atheists.  Atheist would have us to understand that a Prophet of God had is feelings hurt by a group of unruly kindergartners (or grade schoolers) followed by God's directing two bears to come kill them.  Unfortunately they are not interested in details so they miss the point of this verse they also jump to conclusions about that it is saying. 

As I have said before, "Why is it that atheists are so interested in what an imaginary deity does?"  The level of interest in these God is a Meanie passages from the Bible seem sort of bizarre.  I do not believe for a second that people who are considering faith in God pick up a Bible and come to this passage in particular and say, "Well I was considering that God might exist, but this passage is a deal breaker.  After reading that I am convinced He does not exist."  Really?  Let me suspend my incredulity and assume that there is an atheist that has a genuine interest in this passage. 

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and harassed him, chanting, "Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy!" He turned around, looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the children.
2 Kings 2:23-24 (HCSB)

A straight reading of this passage seems to favor the interpretation of the atheists.  I must admit that it seems to describe a serious consequence for a rather trivial offence and it does appear based on the language we are dealing with little children.  Lets dig a little deeper into the passage though to see if first impressions are accurate.

Little Boys"Small Boys" 

The phrase in Hebrew "qtnim norim" is translated in this passage "little boys", "little children", and "little lads."  Depending on which English translation you are using.  Since there is some variation between translations that usually indicates that it is a difficult phase to translate.  Looking elsewhere in the scripture the word "little" refers to size and relative importance in many cases.  When it is used to describe a person it is often used to establish birth order namely the youngest in the family without regard for a specific age.  The word translated "boys" is translated "Young men" (76 times) or "servant" (54 times) and then "child" (44 times), "lad" (33 times), "youth" (6 times).  It would seem that this term is roughly equivalent to adolescent or youth.  

Looking and the instances these two words occur in combination we discover it is used in 6 passages in addition to this one (1 Samuel 16:11; 1 Samuel 20:35; 1 Kings 3:7, 1 Kings 11:17; 2 Kings 5:14; Isaiah 11:6).  The first reference was to David who was tending sheep at the time.  We know that David was able to kill a lion and a bear while he was tending sheep so it is unlikely he was a young child while doing this (see 1 Samuel 17:34-35).  I would put David's age between 15 and 18 at the time.  The second reference was a companion of Jonathan.  He was old enough to retrieve arrows and to return home on his own.  It is difficult to say how old that makes him.  The third reference Solomon uses to describe himself when he is coronated as king.  Solomon was 18-21 when he became king.  The forth reference was to Hadad who escaped, but there are not real clues to his actual age.  The fifth is describing youthful skin.  And the sixth is describing a child leader in poetic (prophetic) language.  So based on the times we can identify and age range it would put our "small boys" in the 15-21 age range. 



In verse 24 it says that 42 children were attacked by these bears.  The word children in this case again seems to be a generic child without a specific idea of age.  Two examples would be Daniel 1:4, 17 and 1 Kings 12:8.  In these cases it is translated "young men."  Daniel and his companions were taken to Babylon somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18 to serve in the royal court.  Rehoboam (and young men he grew up with) was a mere 41 years old when he became king (1 Kings 14:21).  So with this term we have an age range of middle childhood all the way up to age 41. 

With that kind of age range it seems to change our understanding of this passage.  It seems that it was a mob of at least 42 young people came out to greet the Prophet of God. 

"Go up, baldy.  Go up, Baldy"

Where is it that these children wanted Elisha to Go up to?  It would seem that they had heard about Elijah (Elisha elder companion) being caught up into the sky.  Elijah was not always popular and I suppose that some were happy to see him go.  I believe that is the message being sent here.  They want Elisha to leave so they are mocking him (and God) in regard to Elijah being caught up to God.  "Baldy" seems a strange insult.  In the culture of the time though "it was using an extreme curse, for the prophet being a young man, may not actually have been bald-headed."1

How serious was this?

So it is possible if not likely that this was not a group of third graders, but rather a mob of adolescents.  But boys will be boys and we cannot make much of them being rude to Prophet of God.  God kills for rudeness. 

First it is not clear that these young people were killed.  They were mauled, but it does not say they were killed.  Is it possible that they were attacked but not killed by these bears?  I would think that it is possible and likely that is what happened here.  If they were killed then why would you not say they were killed.

Second a mob a teens is a serious matter.  I came across this story as I was preparing this post.

This story is eerily similar to this event in the Bible.  These youth were insulting and threatening.  They were age of 15-17.  They were able to subdue a Marine.  Think about if a handful of teens could take down a Marine then a mob of 42 would seem a serious threat to Elisha.  If we were to apply the atheist interpretation of the Bible to this event here then we would have say that the bystander that flashed his gun to scare off the teens and the police that tasered the teens were meanies also.  Again if you are looking for moral high ground it seems very strange to side with these unruly youth over the Prophet of God.


1 Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands, (Chicago: Moody press, 1980), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 96.
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