Elisha And The “Children”

It is written:

“Then 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. 25  Then he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.” (2 Kings 2:23-25)

Critics of the Bible often claim that this passage shows injustice in the Nature of God. How could God attack small children in this way?

The answer lies in assuming that these were not actually “children.”

“But this is a false reconstruction of the event. The problem begins with the two Hebrew words for “little children,” as many older translations term the youths. If we are to untangle this puzzling incident, the age and accountability level of these children must take first priority. “Little children” is an unfortunate translation. The Hebrew expression ne’urim qẹtannim is best rendered “young lads” or “young men.” From numerous examples where ages are specified in the Old Testament, we know that these were boys from twelve to thirty years old. One of these words described Isaac at his sacrifice in Genesis 22: 12, when he was easily in his early twenties. It described Joseph in Genesis 37: 2 when he was seventeen years old. In fact, the same word described army men in 1 Kings 20: 14–15. If someone objects, yes, but the word qẹtannim (which is translated “little” in some versions) makes the difference in this context, I will answer that it is best translated “young,” not “little.” Furthermore, these words have a good deal of elasticity to them. For example, Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all your children ne’urim]?” But Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest [qatan].” But David was old enough to keep sheep and fight a giant soon after (1 Sam 16: 11–12). “Little children,” then, does not mean toddlers or even elementary-school-aged youngsters; these are young men aged between twelve and thirty!” (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., F.F. Bruce, Peter H. Davids, Manfred P. Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 232-233 (Kindle Edition); Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press)

These were not innocent little children running around and playing pranks; this was the equivalent of a modern day street gang. As such, God defended His Prophet, and in this way, He called the people of Israel to repentance.

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