In 2 Kings 2 v 23 Right after Elisha heals the dodgy water, some kids call him a baldhead. He then turns around and curses them in the name of God… Two bears pitch up and maul 42 of the kids. This seems to go against everything that prophets stand for. I get it when, for example, Elijah kill the prophets of Baal, but how can a prophet kill kids just for calling him bald?
Clearly, no human by himself has the right to make such a seemingly harsh judgment on these little children. One possibility (not the correct one, in my opinion) is that Elisha’s curse caused the death of the children, but that he was in sin on this one. In other words, the Bible is recording an event accurately, but the behavior of Elisha in this case is an example of sinful behavior–not to be emulated by those who read this account. Elisha abused his prophetic power in a horribly sinful way to take the lives of these children. This would not be entirely unlike David’s use of his kingly position to have Uriah, the husband of Bathsheeba killed.
Now, whether or not Elisha got annoyed and angry at these kids is one point. If nothing else, Elisha should not have called down a curse on these children. Jesus said to love our enemies and to pray for them. Elisha sinned. The Bible writers do not hesitate to show the Jewish prophets and political leaders as sinners. Whether he is the one responsible for the children being mauled by the bear is another thing. A second possibility is that Elisha’s curse was not what led to the death of these children. As it says in Romans, "Do not take vengeance. It is mine to repay." God has every right to judge those who disrespect him. When these children hurled insults at Elisha, they were guilty of disrespect, not only for a prophet of God, but disrespect against God himself. The Old Testament has some very strong words against such youthful rebellion against God and against adults. I believe that what happened here is that God, in his sovereign place of power, chose to make an example of these out-of-control, rebellious children. An analogy is the situation with Ananias and Saphyra. When they lied to the apostles, they lied to the Holy Spirit. They blasphemed. God chose to make a striking example of Ananias and Saphyra. I believe the apostles would have been way out of their own sphere of authority to have Ananias and Saphyra executed for lying to the leadership of the church and to God. However, God is ruler of all. He has full authority to exercise his judgment on anyone he chooses (Romans 9). Elisha probably sinned when he called curses on these children. However according to this view, it was not Elisha who had them killed by the bear. It was God. This appears to us to be a harsh judgment. In fact, if I were perfectly honest, I would admit that I am personally uncomfortable with what God did to these children, but I accept that God is soveriegn. In the end, he will judge all sinners. What happened to these boys is but a dim foreshadow of final judgment. God will judge those who do not repent of their sins and put their faith in him. As difficult for us to accept physical death as it is, to God the death of the body is not important. It is the second death (Revelation 20) which is of concern to God. From God’s perspective, it is not an evil thing that these children died. The concern of God is where we end up for eternity.
So, Elijah is most likely not responsible for the death of these children. The message of this story is not "Do not disrespect God’s servant or you will be immmediately struck down by almighty God." Rather it is, "Do not disrespect God or God’s servant." Hopefully, all of us will take this seriously.
John Oakes, PhD