Eaten by two She (sow) Bears (2Kings 2:23-24)? by Jack Kettler
This study will look at a seemingly difficult passage in the Bible. How is this passage to be understood? Is this too cruel a fate for little children?
“And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children (נַעַר) out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood and tare (בָּקַע) forty and two children of them.” (2Kings 2:23-24 KJV)
From Strong's Concordance on “children.”
Naar: a boy, lad, youth, retainer
Original Word: נַעַר
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (nah'-ar)
Definition: a boy, lad, youth, retainer
In the New American Standard Bible, naar is translated young men 38 times.
Strong's Concordance on “tare.”
baqa: to cleave, break open or through
Original Word: בָּקַע
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (baw-kah')
Definition: to cleave, break open or through
This “taring” is best understood as a mauling.
Little children: The Hebrew word naar does not mean little children. Its range can include teenagers or young men.
Old enough to mock: In addition to the meaning of word naar itself, the context of the text demands that naar be translated as teenagers, not little children.
Together in a large group: Little children do not congregate in large groups and chase people.
The mocking Elisha because he was a prophet.
Matthew Poole's Commentary on the text clears up any confusion about the age of these youth and the mocking of God’s prophet:
“He went up from thence unto Beth-el, to the other school or college of prophets, to inform them of Elijah’s translation and his succession into the same office; and to direct, and comfort, and stablish them, as he saw occasion.
Little children; or, children, or young men; as this Hebrew word oft signifies, as Genesis 22:5,12 Ge 41:12 2 Chronicles 13:7 Isaiah 11:6. It is more than probable they were old enough to discern between good and evil as their expression showeth.
Out of the city; Beth-el, which was the mother city of idolatry, 1 Kings 12:28,29 Ho 4:15 5:8, where the prophets planted themselves, that they might bear witness against it, and dissuade the people from it; though, it seems, they had but small success there.
Mocked him, with great petulancy and vehemency, as the conjugation of the Hebrew verb signifies; deriding both his person and ministry, and that from a profane contempt of the true religion, and a passionate love to that idolatry which they knew he opposed.
Go up; go up into heaven, whither thou pretendest that Elijah is gone. Why didst not thou accompany thy friend and master to heaven? Oh, that the same Spirit would take thee up also, that thou mightest not trouble us nor our Israel, as Elijah did!
Thou bald-head; so they mock his natural infirmity, which is a great sin.
Go up, thou baldhead: the repetition shows their heartiness and earnestness, that it was no sudden nor rash slip of their tongue, but a scoff proceeding from a rooted impiety and hatred of God and his prophets.” (1)
These young people were mocking God’s prophet. These young people knew who Elisha was and mocked him nonetheless. These young hooligans were consciously sinning against God. These hooligans knew how to distinguish good and evil. Their sin was overt and a transgression of God’s law. These hooligans held God’s prophet in contempt. Furthermore, to mock Elisha was to scoff at the Lord, who called him.
Deuteronomy provides an interpretive key in understanding the principle, which undergirds God’s judgment upon the young hooligans in 2Kings, 2:24:
“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
The rebellious youth in 2Kings 2:24 were seemingly incorrigible like the stubborn son in Deuteronomy who experienced judgment by God through the hands of the men of the city. In 2Kings, God used two she bears to bring His punishment.
A modern translation that clears up the ambiguity in 2Kings 2:23-24:
“From there, Elisha went up to Bethel, and as he was walking up the road, a group of young men came out of the city and jeered at him, chanting, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24Then he turned around, looked at them, and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Suddenly two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the young men.” (2Kings 2:23-24 Berean Standard Bible)
The King James Version Bible has beauty because of its literary style. However, as seen in 2Kings 2:23-24, a more current translation avoids the obscurity and misunderstanding often generated by the older King James translation. The newer translation correctly translates the Hebrew naar as “young men” and baqa as “mauling.”
Considering their sin, the hooligans in 2Kings got off with unwarranted mercy. The evil of mocking God and His prophet was worthy of the death penalty. Thus the passage rather than generate a question like “how could God do something like that?” to how could God not judge them with a more substantial penalty?
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) And “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
1. Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Holy Bible, 2Kings, vol. 1, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 719.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com